Love my woman, love my baby, love my biscuits sopped in gravy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Control Your Children!

If you'd ever like to start a fight with someone with kids try telling them they can't control their children. In fact, someone tried it out on me just yesterday. Nobody got killed but that didn't stop me from thinking about it.

We met the cousins at the park by their house and threw around baseballs and frisbees until the kids were a little tired. There is a fine line to know when it's time to stop playing and go eat. If you go too soon the kids won't eat because they think they are not hungry, but if you wait too long they will go into thermonuclear meltdown, and then, well, you really *can't* control them.

Afterwards, we went to an empty Chinese food place, and we were having chow fun, which coincidentally the name of the plate we ordered. The kids are all pretty young, ranging from two to eight, and were having fun trying different foods. Now to be fair, their napkins were not folded in their laps, and they probably weren't using their best indoor voices, but none were running around, or swinging from the lights, or stabbing each other. It was not mayhem.

Until the Grouch showed up.

The Grouch in this case was one of those middle-to-close-to-retirement-aged California archetypes that have an easygoing appearance, which hides their bitter and lonely existence. Snowy haired on top, tanned skin, faded cotton in the middle, flip flops on the bottom are the uniform of these Jimmy Buffett fans, minds addled from years of illegal drugs and beer-buzzed afternoons.

As soon as he sat down he unlocked his phone and started playing some Steely Dan bootlegs from 1982, as loud as the phone would play, while the kids ignored it and the adults at our table looked at each other quizzically. California is a live and let live culture though, so normally, people do not engage strangers. It comes off as unfriendly, but it's how people who dress like Marilyn Manson, Donald Trump, or The Dude can all work in the same office. We shrugged at another weirdo, and my brother-in-law Derek mentioned the guy was off kilter and we went back to our own business. My wife said, "This is the weirdest meal I've ever had."

After another five minutes passed and his music was still playing louder than the obligatory Chinese mood music, we turned around to assess the level of crazy we were dealing with. The Grouch said, "Is my phone too loud? Because I can turn it up."

"We'd like you to turn it off," Derek said.

The Grouch said he wanted it loud as long as we were loud, and then clarified. "You can't control your children."

In the time that's passed since this happened, I've gone over about a million different ways that I could have handled this, other than the way I did.

"Sure, I can control them. Kids! Let's have a screaming contest! Loudest and longest gets a chocolate bar!"

That would have had the guy running for the hills as quick as anything. I didn't do it that way, though. Most of my post-game evaluation involved more Clint Eastwood versions of myself handling the problem, where I calmly walk up and put his head in his eggrolls, or drop his phone in his beer. Another version had me marching him out of the restaurant by his ear, like the way Kurt Russel did to Billy Bob Thornton in Tombstone.

Instead, what I really did was treat the guy the way I would treat my own kids if they were acting up.
I just looked at him, and said, "Do you want me to turn it off for you?"
That line works pretty well on little kids who decide quickly that they don't, but for an old goat with the personality of Nellie Olson, all it did was escalate the situation. He decided that he would indeed like for me to come over and try turning it off for him. He made a gesture, sort of an invitation, to come over and settle it, man to man. Or in this case, man to Grouch.
I obliged him, and got up and socked him in the dentures as he fumbled for his cane. 

Ok, he wasn't that old and I didn't sock him. But I was considering it, when my lovely and level headed wife laid a gentle hand of reason on my shoulder and told me to turn around, because it was not worth it in front of the kids. That was not as easy to do as you would think, but it worked. The Grouch got up and sought refuge at another table, in the only other room this place had.

He then ran his mouth some more wishing us a nice time, and complaining. I didn't really hear or care what he said but probably two more minutes passed before he had worn out his welcome in the other room. Derek went to offer to pay for his food by which time he was already at the register cussing out his frustrations and getting closer to another whipping from the customers in that room. It got louder again, so I walked over to offer to help.

Then I noticed that the customer he had started to anger was a guy who I have met a couple of times who works for a living, and is built like he could lift a septic tank over his head. He was about to stand up and offer the Grouch a demonstration when his wife talked him out of it and he sat back down.
The Grouch left cursing, effectively ruining dinner for everyone, with his dentures and phone intact.
What's the point of all of this?

For one, it's a good argument for marriage. My wife was probably the only person who would have stopped me from doing something stupid, and potentially dangerous and criminal. The same goes for Derek and the other guy in the restaurant. The Grouch could have been a retired ninja, but not likely, and came close to getting more than his feelings hurt.

It's also a chance for me to ask people who do not have kids and therefore think they should have complete control over their environments to have some patience and use the manners you expect from the children. Don't antagonize the parents, just ask politely if the kids could dial it back a notch, or complain to manager if you can't be polite enough. But don't act like a child yourself. Put on your big boy pants and act like an adult, because trying to guilt or shame parents by insulting them is only going to lead to a confrontation.

And I really don't want to have to turn your phone off for you.



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