Infant Jest


Styles change, and fads come and go, but you know what’s always popular? Babies! People love babies! Not all babies, because some are ugly, and not all the time, because sometimes they stink or make noise, but in general. You show up with a cute, happy baby dressed in an adorable li’l outfit, and you’ll make even the mudgiest curmudgeon drool in adulation.

Some people love babies all the time, no matter what. These people are known as “the parents of those babies.” The rest of us have our limits. My two sisters-in-law had baby boys within a week of each other this past June, and I was pleased to be able to visit them over the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. (The births occurred, as do most births, in Utah.) The babies, named Mack and Ryan, are gorgeous, fine specimens of babyhood, and it was with great avuncular pride that I engaged in the traditional cooing and dandling and so forth. But no matter how much I love the little creatures that my brothers have spawned, the minute those creatures poop, I am no longer interested. (To be fair, this is my policy with most people.) I can’t even watch when a diaper is being changed, because I know there’s a chance I’ll catch sight of some vile substance that will make me never want to come near that baby again.

Their doting parents, meanwhile, are enthralled. First-time parents Lane and Kelly can’t get enough of Mack’s excrement, and though this is the third child for Jeff and Beth, they too find utter delight in everything that issues forth from Ryan’s anus. Which is good, I guess, because babies poop all the time — frequently, vociferously, and prodigiously. I was at Lane and Kelly’s house for dinner one evening, and Mack pooped twice just in the time I was there. This led me to write a song about Mack, which goes as follows:

Poopy McPoopsalot;
He’s the baby who poops!

At the end you can make a little poop noise, if you want to. That part is optional.

But we don’t have time to talk about baby poop forever, because I also want to talk about the lady who got kicked off a bus because her baby was crying. This happened in Portland, where I live, and it gets right to the heart of the matter. We’ve all been in situations in public where a crying baby was driving us crazy. If you’re a parent yourself, you regard the baby’s caregiver with sympathy, recalling times that you have been unable to soothe your own child no matter how hard you tried, and how stressful and embarrassing it was for you. If you’re not a parent, you assume that the baby’s parents are negligent and don’t know anything about raising children, and you smugly remind yourself how much better you’ll be when YOU have kids. (It’s common knowledge that the people who know the most about how to raise children are the people who do not have children.) Perhaps we’ve even thought, while on a miserable airplane trip, that it would be wonderful if the offending baby and its parents were suddenly sucked out of the cabin and into the night sky, never to be heard from again. But we don’t REALLY want that to happen, do we?

The bus incident was a test case. Seems the No. 57 bus was on its usual route one night a few weeks ago, taking passengers to wherever it is that people who ride buses have to go. (The county fair? The check-cashing place? I don’t know.) A 2-year-old girl started crying and wouldn’t stop, no matter what her mother did. Other passengers say the mom tried all the usual things — feeding her, singing to her, rocking her, administering NyQuil to her, moving to another seat and pretending the baby wasn’t hers — all to no avail. Finally the driver got on the loudspeaker and told the lady she either needed to shut that kid up or get off the bus, because she couldn’t keep driving under these conditions. She didn’t quite threaten to turn this bus around and go right back home, but pretty close. Unable to quiet the child, the mother took her baby and got off the bus — as did all the other passengers, in solidarity with her.

As it turns out, this particular driver has had three dozen customer-service-related complaints filed against her in the last 12 months alone. I suspect the only reason she still has a job is that she hasn’t run anybody over. Honestly, that’s all a public transportation agency wants in a bus driver. They don’t care how rude or surly you are, as long as you’re not killing pedestrians.

And to some extent, we’re OK with that. You get on a city bus, you’re not expecting to be treated with dignity and politeness. You’re expecting to be jostled and shoved; to be alternately exasperated by how slow the bus is going and terrified by how fast it’s going; to arrive at your destination disheveled; and to discover in the process what a lot of different strangers smell like. It’s not like taking a plane, where you’ve spent hundreds of dollars for a seat, and the employees go out of their way to at least pretend that they want you to be comfortable. What’d you pay to get on the bus? A dollar seventy-five? Yeah, you’re entitled to not die, and that’s pretty much it. You might not even get a seat.

If an airline pilot were rude, you’d be shocked. When it’s a bus driver, you think, “Well, yeah, of course. It’s a bus driver.” What if you had to maneuver that loud, cumbersome thing around town all day, that hellish motorized prison in which it’s always either too hot or too cold, surrounded by the dirtiest, craziest people your city has to offer, who are only there because they can’t find any other way to get where they’re going? That’s gotta be depressing. Imagine being in charge of the thing that people use as a last resort. Imagine having a customer base consisting entirely of people who exhausted every other resource before giving up and coming to you. I’m surprised when I see a bus driver who DOESN’T hate all of mankind.

So nobody wanted to be on that bus. Not the baby, not her mother, not the other passengers, certainly not the driver. When the baby started crying, the regular passengers — the ones who have resigned themselves to this life — probably just sighed and thought, “Oh, sure, Satan, throw another coal on the fire. What difference does it make now?” There are things that may distract a driver and pose a genuine safety hazard, but a crying baby is insignificant compared to the general level of bedlam that prevails on the average city bus. How did the driver even hear the baby over the sound of meth addicts stabbing one another?

At any rate, it is heartening to realize that while there’s a limit to how much nonsense we’ll tolerate from other people’s babies, we draw the line at kicking them off buses. The other passengers exited with the poor mother and her child, a major uproar ensued, and the driver has been disciplined. How you punish someone who’s already a bus driver, I don’t know, but may I recommend something involving poop?


A Year of Snide Remarks was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. This week’s column was sponsored by Eric Herman. Sponsor had no editorial control over the column, and the author alone is responsible for its content.



[ If you’d care to read the details of this stirring saga, The Oregonian has a page devoted to its extensive news coverage. The end of it, presumably, came in July 2012, when the driver — who’d had 112 complaints against her since 2009 — quit before she could be fired.
Also, I have nothing but respect for the many bus drivers who go about their business in a professional and courteous manner and have not yet snapped and murdered their passengers. ]