Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I'm such an idiot ...

Here's a little story to help everyone else feel better about their weekend!

(I know it's Tuesday, but I started writing this yesterday!)


It's Sunday afternoon; we are at a birthday party for a little girl from Kevin's class. The party is being held at one of Ilha's more popular "party places" -- a rented location that caters specifically to the trend that has become part of Brazilian middle-class child-rearing culture: the practice of holding elaborate and expensive parties to celebrate your kid's birthday, even when he or she is too young to really understand what's going on. The parties are, in reality, social events, with invitations usually extended to all of the child's classmates, as well as their families. Food and draft beer (for the adults!) is served, while the recreational staff of the party facility try and keep the kids entertained with activities, music, snacks, and a variety of playground toys, a video arcade, and the like. The closest parallel I can think of to compare it with would be maybe having a wedding reception at an amusement park. It is, however, an informal environment and a good chance to get to know your child's classmates and their parents, and often close-knit groups of friends are formed. Considering a class with around 25 students, it's not uncommon to have an average of 1 or 2 parties per month to go to.

This is Kevin's first party... and the first of what will be a new cycle of party after party; James & Christian have progressed to the next stage in festivities, where the parents are generally no longer invited. This party place ... called "Yabba-dabba-doo" ... is one we know well, having attended countless events there. We also held Christian's 4th birthday there, if I remember rightly.

So here we are at the party. A light rain is falling outside. Most of the place is covered, either by roof or canvas, except one part in the middle, where several larger trees rise up through an open central courtyard. Two of the trees are surrounded by suspended platforms about 10 feet off the ground-- kind of like large treehouses, but not covered. Between the two platforms is a suspended catwalk that sways in the breeze, surrounded by netting so that it's impossible to fall.
Someone has leaned a couple of chairs in front of the steep wooden stairway -- almost a ladder -- that leads up to the first platform, in what they must have hoped would be interpreted as a clear signal that the tree houses are off-limits, because of the drizzling rain that's been falling off and on throughout the day. The stairs, especially, are very slick and look rather perilous. The kids, of course, are somewhat disappointed, since the tree platforms are one of the highlights of the party place. Beer in hand, I take up a post near the stairs, where I gently but firmly steer away the kids who don't seem to capture the message that the chair-leaner was trying to impart.

Cristina and I have fallen into a pleasant conversation with a couple whose acquaintance we have just made. We chat about nothing in particular ... mostly school ... kids ... whatever. As we talk, each of us tries to keep tabs on the whereabouts of our respective two-year old. Kevin is keeping himself occupied in a playhouse right beside us. This couple's son ... a classmate of Kevin ... is Kevin's age, but of slightly more diminuitive stature, dark haired, neatly dressed in blue jeans and a sweater. He mostly roams around our perimeter, occasionally returning to the security of his Mom or Dad's pantleg. Christian is off playing video games in the arcade. James hovers around us, too old to act like he's having fun, but too young for idle conversation with the adults. Like me, he entertains himself by sampling every snack or hors-d'ouvre that passes in front of him.

Our conversation is distracting; between Cristina and I and the other couple, there are eight eyes to watch both toddlers. None of us, however, notice that the chair-levee has been breeched, and a steady flood of children is inundating the stairs. In a very short time, the flood has already risen to the platform level.

By the time I take notice, Kevin is half-way up the stairs. The other couple's child is already on the first platform. I sigh deeply, and, resigned that it is too late to stop the flood, head up the stairs to take Kevin's hand and lead him safely to the platform. At the moment, it is not raining, but the wood planks are still slick.

Kevin is delighted at his view from above. Securely surrounded by netting on all sides, there seems to be nothing to fear. Only the stairway leading back down at a vertiginous angle warrants my concern, so I again take up a position... this time at the top, so I can watch and aid the children climbing up and down the stairs.

Kevin wants to cross the hanging catwalk, but by now there are nearly half-a-dozen older kids -- most ranging from age 3 to 7 -- running back and forth between the platforms, occasionally jumping up and down to rock the bridge. He eyes it hesitantly, apparently waiting for a calmer moment to risk the crossing.

His big brother James comes to the rescue; having dutifully followed us up the stairs, he takes Kevin's hand protectively and guides his tenuous steps over the slick footbridge.

Smiling paternally, I take another sip of my beer just as I feel a tug on my pantleg. Looking down, I see the upturned face of the conversation couple's son. He extends his arms trustingly with a plaintive look on his face: "want to go there!" he says (in portuguese!), indicating the bridge with a turn of his head.

I glance around me. I'm the only adult on the platform. Down below, the boy's parents look up at us with smiling faces. Along with them, a small group of parents has formed, each watching their own kids from below. With a shrug, instinct takes over, and I take the dark-haired boy into my arms, pausing only to shift my beer into my left hand. Although he really doesn't even know me (other than having seen me talking to his parents), he trusts me implicitly: I am an adult, and adults mean security.

The crossing of the catwalk is uneventful, in spite of the fact that my hands are full (with a kid in one arm and a beer in the other), making it impossible to hold on to the railing. Although the bridge is slick, I cross it quickly and confidently, and place him on the relatively firmer ground of the second platform. Kevin is also there, running in circles under James' watchful eye and thoroughly enjoying himself.

After a brief stay at the second platform, in which I act mostly as a traffic guard to keep the younger kids from being mowed down by the older ones, I once again get the tug. The little boy extends his arms to me, in demonstration of his wish to make the return crossing, and I take him into my arms. James again takes Kevin's hand and carefully leads him back across the catwalk.

I step out onto the swinging footbridge and it rocks slightly beneath my feet. Several larger kids sweep past me, jumping and bouncing and nearly upsetting my balance. As the path lurches, I carefully adjust my beer to avoid spilling it, and accelerate the crossing. I am vaguely aware of the small crowd watching us from below, and I don't want to risk showering them with beer.


If you have read to this point without sensing the potential for an impending disaster, then ... well... you must be as clueless as me! You have no business being a caretaker for small children so stay away from mine!


So then, just as I reach the end of the crossing, at the point where the last few feet of span slopes up to meet the platform, another heave sways the bridge, and I stagger slightly. My sandaled-foot finds no purchase on the inclined slippery surface, and I careen forward dramatically.

"What the ..."

Suddenly the dreaded treadmill effect kicks in, and I find myself running in place on the upwardly ramped walkway. I feel like the Roadrunner, legs spinning in place before launching forward... but traction does not come.

"Oh, sh--!!!"

My hands are still full and I can't catch the handrail; although there is no time to think, I know I have but three choices:

a) drop my beer ... and bathe the people below, possibly even injuring someone if my glass happens to hit them.

b) drop the boy (not a very viable option!)

c) fall on my face; which of course probably means spilling my beer and dropping the boy.

Of course, this entire event takes place in milliseconds, so there is no time for a conscious choice: I therefore default to item (c).

Trying my best to control my fall, I raise the glass of beer over my head and twist violently to one side to avoid crushing the boy. I drive my right knee into the edge of the platform, and pivot forward, slamming my elbow hard to the wood floor in front of me in order to deflect my weight and avoid smashing the boy's legs beneath me. I manage to hold onto my glass, but my beer showers up and over me, drenching my hair and shoulders.

In the gallery below, the spectators, including Cristina and the boy's parents, release a collective gasp of horror.

As I come to rest, part of my weight still pins the boy's legs to the ground, although not hard enough to injure him (I hope). Stunned and probably feeling betrayed, he stares at me with a shocked look before breaking into a long, sobbing wail.

Somewhat in shock myself, I quickly roll him out from under me and surge to my feet on the platform. The boy's father sprints up the stairs and, practically before I am upright, rips his son from my incompetent grasp. I stagger to a standing position, blood flowing profusely from my gashed knee.

Other adults are quickly climbing the steps to retrieve their own children. Of course, they have finally woken up to the fact that it may be dangerous to let your kids play on a slick suspended catwalk! My feeling at the moment, however, is that they all must be thinking, "Let me get my kids away from this clumsy lunatic!"

Among those adults racing to the top of the platform is an extremely concerned staff member. She wants to know who removed the barrier and why we allowed the kids onto the off-limits tree-house. As the only adult involved, she seems to be implying that I am responsible for the confusion. Well ... I am responsible for the confusion. But only marginally responsible for having let the kids climb the stairs in the first place.

Back on the ground, things calm down quickly. The staff member hastily prepares a more effective barrier, adding rope to the chairs to make the passage more difficult. I apologize awkwardly to the couple, who are still trying to comfort their traumatized child, still crying despite having sustained no apparent injury. They in turn "thank" me for the attention I gave their son... my intentions were, after all, only the best.

I'm reminded of that old saying: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions".

After being alerted by six or seven different people that my leg is dripping blood, I finally go to the bathroom to "medicate" myself, with a splash of water and some paper towels. No major structural damage. My elbow is throbbing, however.

The rest of the party passes slowly. The couple seems to avoid me, and I self-consciously avoid them. I do note that, after awhile, their son is running around normally again. It comes as something of a relief when "Happy Birthday" is sung, symbolically indicating that the end of the party has arrived.


So what is the moral of this story? I think their are a number of lessons that can be learned. In all seriousness, I keep thinking that it could have been the little boy bleeding instead of me. It could have been a lot worse, and that is very distressing to me.

The message I hope to have imparted to you with this story is this:

If you are ever drinking beer on a suspended walkway in the rain, and it's really slick; and if you deign to pick up a total stranger's kid ... then



At October 05, 2005 2:54 AM, Mark said...

Excellent entry, Jim! This is what being a parent in the real world is all about -- those split-second choices (and some a bit longer, but just as important) that test your mettle. I am stricken by your writing style because, although it may sound conceited, it reminds me of my own. At the same time, I have to say that I could not have written it better myself.

Back when I was a newspaper reporter/photographer, I had the privilege of writing the occasional column. I would crank out something like this only to realize it was way too long for the space I had. I was so attached to it, I usually couldn't bring myself to submit a cut version. So, what to do with entries destined for limbo? Oh yes, start a blog! And so I did.

At October 05, 2005 9:46 AM, Anonymous said...

Jim, That was a fun one to read (at your expense!). I'm glad no one was seriously injured. That reminds of a certain cement mixer incident...hmmm.


At October 05, 2005 11:00 AM, Jim said...

Thanks for the comments, Mark.

I've long been fascinated by the potential for comedy, drama, and even tragedy locked within the most trivial details of life. Grand epics are great ... but it's the human element that can only come from real life experience that gives depth to a work of literature. Little things we can all relate to.

Like someone (?) said ... "Life is just one damn thing after another"!

At October 05, 2005 11:05 AM, Jim said...


I've thought about telling the cement mixer story in blog... along with a medley of other incidents from our youth. Between the farm, the lake, and Basehor, there should be more than enough material to fill an autobiography!

By the way ... I just realized that I missed posting a birthday wish for your Dad's birthday! Please pass along my best wishes ... or better yet:

A Belated Happy Birthday to my Uncle Bob! ... Oct. 3 (if MyFamily is correct!) Hope everything is well with you and the family!

At October 05, 2005 11:20 AM, Jim said...

A quotation search reveals:

"Life is just one damned thing after another."

Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915)
American Author

At October 05, 2005 1:58 PM, Simon (of not Space) said...

I'll have to keep this one in mind since my own boy is at 1.5 years (already!?!?) and if I can learn from the experience and mistakes of others, well then all to the good, eh?

And on an unrelated note:
It took me a minute to figure out why you commented on my site as "Jim (of Brazil)" Funny. I'm not so quick sometimes.

Also, who did you use to buy your Gramlingville domain from? I'm thinking of going strictly simianfarmer dot com, and want to get the best bang for a minimum buck.

I'll check back here for a reply comment or return Email works too.

See you 'round the Oubliette!

At October 05, 2005 3:27 PM, Jim said...

Hey Simon ...

my hoster is ICDSOFT ... They've got only two basic plans: 500 mb or 1500 mb for $60 and $120 annual respectively.

I haven't done much research lately, so I don't really know how it stands up with the rest of the market; but a couple of years ago I did do a little research and it had among the best cost/feature ratios that I could find at the time.

At October 06, 2005 11:22 AM, Mark said...

Simon, I use 1and1.com for my domain. They have some great, inexpensive plans. Otherwise, I certainly wouldn't use them!

At October 07, 2005 2:44 AM, Mark said...

Jim, this story also kind of reminds me of the old joke we used to tell in Arkansas.

What's the last thing the redneck said to his friends before he died?

"Hold my beer and watch this."

That said, the art of keeping one's beer from spilling while performing and/or enduring a physical feat, is highly respected in many circles.

The guy could have multiple contusions, even broken bones, but all that mattered was whether he could say, "But I didn't spill my beer."

The funniest dancing I've seen was a fraternity guy holding his beer arm out straight while he halfheartedly moved to the beat.

At October 07, 2005 12:41 PM, Anonymous said...

I just want to know where the photos are...you have all the kids antics covered, I want to see this!

At October 07, 2005 6:59 PM, Jim said...

Dear Anonymous (is that Greg, or another anonymous? care to identify yourself?),

Unfortunately ... or fortunately ... no pictures! As a rule, I don't usually take pictures at other kids birthdays (when they aren't of our family). I've got enough of our own family to cover!

However, there is a slight possibility that *someone else* was filming. Keep an eye out on those funniest home video programs because my bridge fall incident might just pop up!

At October 08, 2005 12:34 PM, Simon said...

Thanks both Jim and Mark for your advice.

I went a different route though with domainsmarty.com. I'm now officially at simianfarmer.com.

I feel so official!


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