Smile Politely

People, Conveyor Belts and Guns

“How do you like my new sunglasses?” My mother asked me. “They are Elle Scott Fitzgerald’s (or some other name),” she stated proudly. For a moment I wondered why mom stole another woman’s glasses and then I realized that the glasses had cost extra because of the name associated with them, and that my mom had paid to be respected and was trying to recoup some of it on me.

“Wow, they are really beautiful, I guess,” I smiled politely. “How much did they cost?”

“You don’t want to know,” Mom replied, even more proudly.

Well, you know Mom, I guess I don’t even know the significance of the name on the label; I’d not heard of those glasses before. Perhaps I’ve been in Champaign too long, but down here, Mom, we have a different kind of Keeping Up With The Joneses.

Mom’s bored. She doesn’t want to hear about the Who Is The Greenest and Who Has The Most Politically Correct Baby contests they run down here. It makes her Mercedes SUV feel bad and she doesn’t like to hear that The Preschooler doesn’t get to watch TV.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but I’m sure there’s some sort of Politically Correct Baby Hierarchy here. Let’s see if I’m right.

Case One. Bragging Rights.

My child did not know the name of Ronald McDonald. We went into the McDonald’s at Hamburger University in Oakbrook whilst visiting the P and M’s. (We’d never set foot in McDs unless it was the Experimental One.) My child said to The Husband, “Who’s the clown?” Man, was The Husband proud!

The next door neighbors on both sides eat McDonald’s. I’ve seen them bring it into the house. We don’t bring in the bags. And because we’re vegetarians so we only eat the fries.

A McDonald’s plastic cup showed up at The Preschooler’s workplace one day and all the parents were horrified. At a co-worker’s party, we parents all discussed how the evil was eventually exorcised from the daycare.

We’re second-tier here though; poseurs hiding our McDonald’s bags. There’s a kid down the street who eats homemade berry popsicles with kale hidden in them. That is Tier One: my mentors to learn from and the family to aspire to be. I went the next day to the food co-op and asked the girl at the desk to teach me about kale, but in the end, I wussed out of buying it.

Another point. Yes, I belong to the food co-op here, and I love it so much that I do the recycling for them and help bag figs — but my co-op number is 3185. I’m more than the three-thousandth member! Totally uncool. I’ve asked if I could pay extra in order to move my number up, and they laughed, but I’m going to try to get into the inner circle and then, see if I can move up. There have to be people who have dropped out, with open numbers.

Mom turns up her nose when I talk about the co-op, but she did call me that one time, in tears, to ask if the polar bear she heard about on Oprah really did bury itself alive because of Global Warming, and if that’s the case, what should she do? I told her to buy reusable bags. We had an argument after that.

The Husband, The Preschooler and I took a vacation. We went to Marfa, Texas, where apparently everyone in Champaign has been except us. We wanted The Preschooler to experience minimalist art, since he’s sort of a minimalist artist himself. Half of the trip was Donald Judd and Chinati, and then other half was Anaheim, California’s Disneyland. This was to mirror the last great adventure that The Husband and I had before The Preschooler came to us, which was to drive to Lhasa, Tibet from Kathmandu, Nepal, for a month and then to go stay at the Hyatt Shinjuku (with three winnebago-sized chandeliers) in Tokyo for 3 days. Contrast, contrast, contrast.

The Preschooler was nonplussed with Judd, enough to not even bother exposing him to the Flavins. We kept him in the hotel room, placated with a new toy, “Real Sugar” flavored Blue Sky sodas from Food Shark and Pizza Foundation restaurants, (Marfa) until it was time to go to L.A. He then continued to be nonplussed with the Disneyland rides — we have a picture of him, terrified on his first ride, the Buzz Lightyear cars which shuttle you and your Dad through a black-lit forest of whirring lights — and you hold a gun (a toy one) that is attached to your car and you are expected to fire at anything that moves.

Now, The Preschooler is not allowed to own guns, not even play ones, and yes, this has resulted in him biting gun shapes out of toast and firing them at us. So, sitting, surprised in that cart, I was horrified to find out the purpose of the ride. Shooting?!! But I looked in the front cart. The Preschooler sat huddled in the corner of the cart, holding the gun, terrified, whilst his pacifist father shot at every mechanical thing that moved during the ride and then proclaimed, “I’m going to get an even better score next time!” at the end of the ride.

Home at the co-op, I proudly suggested the women behind the counter ask The Preschooler if he’d had a good time on vacation. He had repeatedly said “no” when asked if he liked Disneyland. I was sure we were in for a good laugh and I might be moved up a couple of hundred numbers. But the toddler answered, “Yeah! I had a great time! The Buzz Lightyear ride! It was all about People, Conveyor Belts, and Guns!!”

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