We're All Damaged

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Aged to Lack of Perfection

The wife and I went to the mall the other day. If a trip to Banana Republic can be significant, this one was. It was our daughter’s first time out among strangers.

Things were going fairly well. No one had jumped out of a fountain and kidnapped her, and we’d managed not to drop her on her head. Those were, for reasons I don’t understand, my two biggest fears. I’d just finished trying on some pretty awesome jeans, and the wife had picked out two new sweaters. I’m fairly certain we didn’t need any of these things, but we were celebrating. She was able to fit into normal clothes again, and I . . . well, I have a weakness for distressed denim.

I heard the noise from the stroller before my wife did, and I laughed like a child, because that’s what men of my generation do when we hear bathroom sounds. The smell that followed was impressive to say the least, and it filled the Women’s Department like one of those noxious chemicals characters on 24 are always unleashing in crowds.

From beneath her blanket, my daughter looked out at the chaos she’d created, indifferent, a little bored. “That’s how I do what I do, ya’ll,” she seemed to be saying. As her father, I was proud.

Frazzled, my wife snatched up the baby and headed for wherever it is that people change diapers in malls. I was instructed to pay for our stuff and meet her by the pretzel stand. Shortly thereafter, I realized that a guy with an empty stroller and a handful of women’s clothing gets a lot of attention. “Where’d your baby go?” asked the clerk, smiling. She was pleasant looking, my age, give or take.

“I sent her on a Starbucks run,” I said. “Daddy needs a chai tea latte, stat.”

My whole life I’ve been cursed with an inflection-less voice, and so I sound serious even when I’m saying absurd things. This makes for a lot of awkward silences. When I handed her my credit card, she asked to see my ID. Normally, this process doesn’t end in me feeling bad about myself, but this was a day of first.

“Wow, when was that picture taken?” the woman asked.

I looked down at the tiny image of myself in my hand. My hair was a little longer. I was clean shaven, grinning stupidly like people do in drivers license photos. “Um,” I said. “Like, two years ago.”

Speaking of awkward silences, the clerk’s expression changed. She started to say something, and then stopped. She did this two or three more times. Finally, she managed a complete sentence. “Oh. Well, fatherhood has . . . matured you,” she said.

Next stop, Men’s Cosmetics. Daddy needs some eye cream, stat.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, but at least your driver's license photo doesn't make you look as though you're about to shoot up a school. I wish I could show you--angry and on drugs, that's what I look like (but I was neither, that day--just very unphotogenic). You should have told the clerk that Sarah ate your baby, because I do that, sometimes. You're not alone in the misunderstood-deadpan camp.