SENTIMENTS FROM A FIRE ESCAPE
Yesterday I was sitting on the front fire escape with my roommate Aurelia - who has just finished her MFA at Art Center and is a wonderful person to hang out with right now because she is feeling so relieved and accomplished - and we saw a series of interactions with some inflatable weeble wobble toys. We enjoy people-watching from time to time as there are literally thousands of people to watch and an infinite number of stimulants with which they can interact. This one struck home particularly hard.
At first we just noticed that there were five of the inflatable toys in a row, and two of them were turned around looking back at us (in case you don’t know what a weeble wobble is, it’s a blow-up punching bag kind of toy popular in the 90s that is round and weighted at the bottom so that it swings back upright when you hit it down). Shortly after we noticed the toys, two big and buff men walked up and stood next to them. One of them just looked at a toy for a minute, contemplating. Then he started to hit it. The other guy just laughed at him, and they both chuckled along through a conversation while one big guy hit a 4-yr-old’s toy over and over as the other bug guy watched ecstatically.
Eventually the other man picked up the toy and they started turning it around in their hands, obviously discussing how the thing worked. It was a very entertaining interaction to observe, and the joy on these men’s faces on a lazy Sunday afternoon as they followed their wives around the shopping district of downtown LA was one born of both the desire to make the best of the situation and a genuine enjoyment of the toy itself. Aurelia and I wished we had been recording the situation to later dub with some Tarantino-meets-Woody-Allen-style dialogue.
These men left with their wives and we were left to watch the toys rock in the breeze until the really impacting interaction with them occurred just moments later.
A man was walking ten or so feet ahead of what I will assume was his daughter, who could not have been more than three but was holding the stroller her mom pushed and chugging along on the sidewalk, outwardly showing a vast amount of pride for being able to walk around with mom and dad while shopping. The dad noticed the inflatable toys a good five seconds before his daughter, and turned the penguin and its outstretched flippers around to face the little girl. As she looked up he shook the penguin in her face and made a large gesture. She screamed and jumped and ran around behind her mom to hide from it.
The dad laughed and the mom righteously slapped him hard on the arm while demanding an apology. Laughing, nodding, and rubbing his arm, the father coaxed the cutest black and pink-polka-dot dressed, double-pigtailed, and frilly-socks-pouring-out-of-two-red-booted feet little girl out of hiding and over to the toy penguin. She stood with her elbows tight to her chest, hands covering the lower half of her face as she peeked out at the inflated and smiling animal that spread its arms outward to her and begging for embrace. Glancing up and absorbing her father’s reassuring smile and nod, she spread her arms far to her sides and lunged forward, grabbing the penguin hard around the neck and rocking side to side in a huge hug as the parents looked on with proud smiles.
Aurelia and I instantly teared up, together. We hadn’t spoken at all as we watched, but in the same moment we declared that interaction the cutest thing ever to have occurred in our neighborhood since the dawn of time. We declared this in unison, over and over, as the girl spun around in circles with the penguin. We declared this as much because it seemed the right thing to say as we did a distraction from the tears welling up in our eyes that against our best efforts were trying to fall to the street below our perch. And I declared it to distract myself from the pain of missing my little sisters.
I’ve been away from children for so long that I am like the big buff guys picking up an inflatable toy to reminisce a little as I describe to another grownup how the thing works, instead of kneeling down and giving the happy little penguin the big hug it is asking for. I want to be around children again. My recent tribulations and emotional battles with the life that I have been desperately trying to force into a decent behavior have left me feeling hopeless that I would be able to have children. A genetic minefield and a history of unenjoyable experiences sit heavy on my heart as a contemplate whether I am one of the few that is worthy of raising children in this increasingly less-livable country and planet.
But when I see something like that I reconsider. I have also had a lifetime of amazing experiences that I would trade for nothing, and many of them because of my childhood and that of four little sisters. I need to be around kids again. Whether I am suited to raise them is a question that I don’t plan to answer for another 5-10 years, but I do need their presence and awe-inspiring, innocent naivety injected back into my soul.
PS - the picture above was coincidentally taken immediately after finishing this writing and stepping out to take a photo of the toys themselves. Different little girl.