The Cruelest Taxi of All
When I was a baby I absolutely refused to crawl. It was just too humiliating: giant diapered rear up in the air, knees and hands unnaturally suffering. Forget it. For me, it was the Upright Bipedal Stride, or come pick me up. Even as an infant, I understood that compromise was the enemy.
Unfortunately, so was boredom. I have a very specific memory of one afternoon sitting on the floor looking at the back of my family’s orange couch, and being absolutely bored out of my little baby gourd. And my general sense of restlessness wasn’t helped any by the fact that I was wearing those white, plastic diaper-covering Giant Panties that I don’t think they use anymore and that even then I couldn’t believe anyone had the nerve to try and pass off as actual clothing. It was mortifying to have to sit around the house all day looking like the fuse on a whipped cream bomb. The industrial-strength elastic bands around the legs and waist of those things was so tight I sensed that one of the reasons I couldn’t walk yet was because I couldn’t get any circulation going in my legs. I’m telling you: one more little baby gas pass, and I was afraid I’d just start floating away.
(And now you see these babies today, with their streamlined, breathable, snug little “wetness control systems” comfortably Velcroed about them. Wimps. Why, when I was a baby, nobody worried about car seats or baby air-bags: you wore your entire, plastic, naturally-inflated impact protection system right there on your rear. Drop a kid face down in the back of a car, and that kid was safe. In my day, parents didn’t take their babies out and push ‘em around in strollers. They used to take ‘em out and bounce ‘em around the block a couple of times. Drop ‘em in a lake, strap a little engine on ‘em, and watch ‘em go! But there’s no use trying to get babies today to understand how good they’ve got it. They just … lack the context.)
Anyway, there I was, in serious need of a change (of scenery, that is). Rather suddenly, I was feeling the call of the open carpet, the need to strike out and explore the vast, relatively unknown territory of The Rest of the House, to become the ramblin’ gamblin’ kind of baby I was apparently going to have to be if my only other choice was to get so bored staring at the back of the couch that in my desperation to avoid slipping into a coma I’d be reduced to gnawing on my own toes.
But how to go ramblin’ and gamblin’ without the embarrassment of having to go via the Knee-Buster Shuffle (which I had once tried over the course of about six feet, before deciding that wherever I was going couldn’t possibly be worth that action).
It was clear to me that I was in need of a new and improved mode of transportation. And being Picked Up and Carried wasn’t going to make it this time for me, either. (Besides, that too often ended up involving me and near-harrowing amounts of water. For some unfathomable reason, my being dry for too long at a time triggered in my Giant Relatives a compulsion to plunk me down in water and essentially hose me off. It was like having it be periodically decided that since I was so short I needed to be put in a basket and hung from a hook in the ceiling, or that every so often my having a temperature of 98.6 degrees meant it was time for me to be shoved inside the refrigerator. I mean, I thought the whole point of life was staying dry. And yet, via “baths,” I got dunked in water so often it seemed like nobody in my house was going to be happy until I had grown fins and was flipping around on the carpet choking on air. And it didn’t help matters any that the bathing venue of choice for me was the kitchen sink. What was the thinking on that supposed to be? Nothin’ says lovin’ like the possibility of being mistaken for plate scrapings and fed to the dog?)
In a moment of Locomotive Inspiration, I realized that our pet German Sheppard would make the ultimate baby transportation system. I, for one, was delighted to discover a reason for having that dog in our house at all. To me, ol’ What’s-His-Name was mostly competition; we were in the same league. He lived in the same Low Country as I; his command of the English language was about the same as mine; like mine, most of his biological needs meant an increased workload for somebody else; he also tended to drool; and he, too, enjoyed eating things that fell on the floor. As far as I could tell, the only significant differences between the two of us was that he had a bigger nose, bigger ears, and was freakishly hairy.
Bottom line: I had the advantage of being an actual offspring of The Ones Who Feed Us; he had the advantage of having been there first. It was pretty much a draw.
Finally, though, I understood how Rex the Wonder Clog and I could work in tandem in a way that would ultimately benefit us both: He could walk by me, and I could grab onto his fur and not let go until he had dragged me to whatever place we were going, or my arms gave out. Either way, I’d have moved! Without crawling!
The perfect plan!
The thing is, though, the dog considered me his competition, too. Either that, or he was just born mean. But he had this thing he always did, where, with maximum faux-casualness, he would slowly stroll by me — only he’d stroll so close by me that my face would end up pushed so deep in his skanky pelt I had to either stop breathing or start inhaling fleas. It wasn’t particularly painful or anything (although there’s a reason you’ve never heard of luxurious German Sheppard fur coats), and he always stopped just short of actually knocking me over backwards, but as he dragged the length of his body across my face, his message was clear enough: he was a prime specimen of a breed famous for working in law enforcement and starring in TV shows, and I was a helpless, bald sack of suspicious odors who was so retarded he’d apparently forgotten how to crawl.
But, arrogant as he was, Uppity Dog knew he could afford to take his animal animosity only so far. He understood that if he followed his canine instincts — if he dragged me out in the backyard and buried me, or if he tried to mark me as his inferior by peeing on my head — then he’d be in serious, hit the road, what-time’s-the-pound-close?, Old Yeller-style trouble.
Thus was he was reduced to doing nothing more overt to me than the Snotty Dog Fur Snub.
Because I, in turn, was about to introduce into our relationship the diabolically brilliant Baby Clutch and Drag.
It wasn’t two seconds after I thought of this big idea that I saw Rin Tin Taxi diffidently ambling my way. When I saw him coming I got so agitated with anticipation it was all I could do not to burble inanely and flap my arms up and down like Dumpy the Wonder Chicken.
In his usual style, the dog, pretending to be interested in nothing more pressing than whatever might be happening in the kitchen, strolled by me so close that for a moment everything went dark brown. But I kept talcum-powder cool, reached up, snagged two fistfuls of fur — and launched out of my spot like a dragster with a green light.
I’d caught a ride! We weren’t two feet along our way before I was positive that Riding the Dog was the greatest method of travel in the history of … well, me. It involved almost no physical exertion — like most babies, I had the Baby Grip of Death down — and, by lolling my head back just a little and looking forward, it was a cinch to see where I was going. Except for literally, my new means of getting around wasn’t a drag at all.
And, as an extra bonus, I got to go wherever the dog was going! Who in this universe goes to more fun places than a dog? Ol’ Whoozits was always getting into something I wished I were doing instead of him. How many times had I wished it was him trapped inside my stupid crib and me snurffling around the kitchen garbage I’d knocked over onto the floor, or me pushing a huge plastic food bowl around with my face?
No doubt about it: dogs and Excellent Action went together like Gerber baby food and the front of all my clothes.
No ingeniously sneaky travel mooch had ever had it so good.
I leaned back to look ahead and saw that — be still, my happy heart! — we were, in fact, making a dog-line straight for the kitchen! Oh, how I loved the kitchen. Next to the kitchen, every other room in the house was a torture chamber. It seemed like the lights were always on in that warm, wonderful place; someone was always in there, doing whatever it was they did to create all those wonderful smells that would so often magically transform into truly choice baby chow.
But as we drew nearer, I realized that while the dog may have been heading straight into the kitchen, I was heading straight into the doorjamb. To get into the kitchen that conniving cur had an opening as wide as the Straights of Gibraltar — but it was all too obvious that he was planning to use the side of that opening — the wall! — to give me the all-too-literal brush-off.
In a flash I saw how it was going to be: he was going to innocently stroll into the kitchen, and I was going to writhe around on the floor with a big new flat spot on the top of my head. And there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it, either. The only plan I had ever made for disembarking was to softly plop back down to the floor once we’d come to a nice, normal, non-wound-inflicting stop.
Darn that stupid, brilliant dog!
I don’t remember any particular physical pain from getting walked into the wall. But I fully recall the agony of defeat; it hurt to know that while I was still out in the barely-living room struggling to get my face out of the carpet and the rest of me back up into a sitting position, Benedict Bowzer was blamelessly milling about the kitchen, getting scratched behind the ears and happily scarfing delicious snacks tossed to him by the same people who should have been lovingly tossing me snacks.
That’s what I figured would be happening, anyway. But when I was finally upright again, and leaned forward to peer into the kitchen, I saw the dog sitting on the floor. My mom and dad were in there, with two other adults — friends or neighbors, I suppose. And they must have all been preparing to go somewhere, or to do something, because everybody was moving around pretty quickly. They were busy. And the dog was kind of off in a corner, looking up at everybody. And no one seemed to know that he was there, either.