Excerpt: Walking Tall

The Novelty Effect (or Little People, Big Problems)

Everybody’s got something that they simply can not put up with.

Some people can’t ride elevators. A friend of mine will visit anyone in the hospital and traverse numerous stairwells to visit the bedridden, as long as they’re on a single digit floor. If you’re on your death-bed in a hospital above the ninth floor, you’d better make sure you’re all prayed up and have dispensed your last goodbye to that particular angel of mercy because she’s not taking an elevator or climbing up ten flights of stairs to wish you auf wieder-bye-bye.

Another friend of mine can’t stand crazy people. He’s a generally well-liked, people person who can handle himself in any situation, except one that includes a nut job. He knows what to expect from a jackhole or a liar; but when he’s dealing with a person who’s a big plate of crazy, he doesn’t know if they consider him their savior or if they want to cube him up for a permanent stay in their deep freezer. Once he’s dubbed someone mad as a hatter, he’s pressing the eject button to catapult out of that tea party post haste.

What’s the bane of my existence?

Children.

Not all children make me want to open a vein. Only the ones that breathe. I say that because those are the only ones who talk.

Some might argue the point that I, myself, was a child once. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have no idea what I was like growing up. So to you I say, wrong.

If you knew me during my formative years, you would know, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that while my chronological age may have been that of a child my wisdom exceeded my years . . . as evidenced by my then nickname: Mr. Clay. My peers never really held my interest. I thrived in the company of adults. They engaged me and always had something stimulating to say—and I always had a witty response at the ready.

Children, those not old enough to drink in all fifty states, make me nervous. What do you say to them? They know everything. You’ve seen the type. The kids who are too smart for their own good and try to assert their claim to the title of Brightest Crayon in the Box. If they had any sense at all they’d know that yammering on only ruins the chance of getting a graduation present.

To use one of the more colorful colloquialisms of the day: fail.

Then there are the children who claim to know nothing at all. My own nieces and nephews fall into that group on a daily basis. I lived in California a while back, and typically almost a year passed between visits with them. And when I asked them about how their lives were going, invariably I received one of two responses: either the ever-ready “idunno” or the all-purpose “nothing.” You’d think I asked for a minute-by-minute debriefing of a frog dissection.

Epic fail.

They’ve since grown out of that phase. Now I just get a “nod.”

And younger children are no better. They’re born with an innate ability to see right through anything that is disingenuous. Not that that’s bad. But if you engage youth with even a hint of insincerity—game over. They won’t give you the time of day. I’m convinced their clarity of vision is the result of a secret prenatal micro-chip implant. What else could it be?

Keep in mind, I’m four feet tall. That’s forty-eight inches. A fully grown adult male who stands forty-eight inches tall is not something you see everyday, unless you’re me or you’re related to or friends with someone who’s my height. Dang it, children know this and they’ll tell you and everyone within the sound of their voice that they see someone out of the ordinary.

I call this “The Novelty Effect.”

The Novelty Effect occurs most often in my favorite obstacle course: the grocery store. I can’t tell you how many times the following scenario has unfolded. Indulge me, if you will…

I was in the snack aisle trying to figure out who to ask to help me snag a bag of Cape Cod Sea Salt and Black Pepper potato chips off the top shelf (because as Fate would have it, that’s where all the things I love in the grocery store live, on the top shelf), when some mom—it’s always mom, trust me—approaches with one kid in the cart and another in tow. True to form, little Billy is squealing in delight at little Susie’s tormented whinings, and the mom must have been hearing-impaired as her offspring’s caterwauls didn’t faze her at all.

The a cappella concert continued until Billy and Susie spied me. Then deafening silence, followed by dueling slack jaws. And…

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” in stereo.

I guess the kids assumed their mom was unable to see the forty-eight inch tall Black man standing only a few feet away from her in front of the potato chips. At this point one of three things happen.

  1. The mom will cover the kids’ eyes. (No joke. What am I? Porn?)
  2. The mom will calmly bend over and whisper something into the kid’s ear that silences them. Frankly, I’d kill to hear those sentences. I’m sure it’s something like “…I will give you a bag of candy as big as your head if you don’t say a single word till I tell you to.”
  3. The parent will openly say to the child in a voice loud enough for me to hear, as if to reassure me that she’s up on her parental skills, “You’re little, too, Billy” or “Everybody’s different. Some people are tall and some people are short.

That particular day the mother did nothing. I assume she became Sphinx-like because she was having an out-of-body experience. I calmly told the mother as she rolled by with her brats who were still screaming, “If you’d like to make sure your children’s pictures don’t wind up on a milk carton, I’d teach them some manners.” She was aghast and I was relieved.

I’m not normally that irritable. I think earlier that day my first dog died or something.

Another species of child who makes my blood absolutely boil is the child who has no concept of boundaries as they relate to time, space, or decibels. I’m referring to kids who have tantrums. You’ve seen them. The ones who consider any public place their personal stage to perform their own Masterpiece Meltdown while their parents half-heartedly try to talk them down.

What am I supposed to in those instances when I’m the unwilling participant in a public spectacle? I can’t tell the kid “Sit down and shut your Jell-O hole! Now!” And I can’t tell the parents “Look, you have until the count of five to turn that child’s frown upside-down. One!  Two . . .”  While both those options would be most satisfying, I don’t think they’d go over well. Another solution might be for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to tap into this new niche for its sedative, Propofol.

Keep in mind, I’m not referring to my friends’ kids. There have been kids who’s company I have relished. For fifteen minutes, tops. David, Josh, and Katie; Bo, Will, Elizabeth, and Olivia; Aimee and Spencer; Erin and Frankie; Jessica and Jason; Andy, Al, Allie, Joey M., Catherine, Malcolm, Juliet D., Madison, Aiden, and most of that lot; can’t forget Ryliegh; and the fruit of all my friends’ loins not named here. Generally, these kids are thoughtful, well-mannered, and a joy to be with well past the ten minute time limit.

Do I want kids?

As tempting as that prospect seems . . . I’ll pass.

Do I want others to have kids? Only if they parent responsibly. And if they can’t, may AstraZeneca can help.


The above is an excerpt from Walking Tall: A Memoir About the Upside of Small and Other Stuff, available in print, and for KindleNook, and iPad.

One thought on “The Novelty Effect (or Little People, Big Problems)”

  1. Brian Cook says:

    “Children should neither be seen nor heard from….ever again.” — W.C. Fields

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