I'm not sure that reading about economics is the healthiest thing
for me. One one hand, it's intellectually enriching and allows me to
explore a topic that I never had the good sense to get into while still
in college, and develop a new skill set as a businessman. However, on
the other hand, it gets me thinking about just precisely what I would
pay for certain things, no matter how unsavory they are. Because, in a
purely economic world, if people are willing to pay for something, it
would be for sale.
Unfortunately for my girlfriend, if she ends up in the car with me, this means having to listen to me rant about precisely how much I would be willing to pay for a traffic-free rush hour trip to (or from) work (I've currently settled on $20 each way - if that can give you some sense of just how bad the traffic in L.A. is). As traffic worsens (inevitably), this leads me to point out all of the cars (and drivers) on the road who clearly wouldn't be able to afford such a toll, and beginning to opine about a requiring a minimum car value to use the highways or an intricate system of driver training and licensing that will keep all but the most skilled drivers out of the left-most lanes. In the end this usually devolves into a sort of driver's fascism that is a little too angry and serious to really be funny, and does little to calm my nerves.
But, since I have, despite its inadvisability, been reading on economics recently, my world view has become bent on pricing out of my life things that annoy me. Which became particularly tasteless during my flight from Burbank to Portland this past Thursday when I was seated a scant five feet or so from what I have determined to be the most terrible and annoying child I have ever encountered. We'll call him Jeffrey; for no other reason than it seems to fit. For reference, coming from someone who was raised by a mother that did in-home childcare, has four neices and nephews of his own, and has spent no less than eight years as a barmitzvah DJ - this is really saying something.
I had spotted this little bastard in the gate area. In fairness, I'm not sure if Jeffrey was a bastard. He was traveling with only his mother, who wasn't wearing a wedding ring. But I offer up the description as more of a declaration of his character than the martial status of his parents. I hadn't previously imagined that a 3 year old child could be a bastard, but now I'm certain of it. Normally, my least favorite groups of children are infants and teenagers. Infants who really can't help being noisy (and whose parents should keep them home), and teenagers who make noise because they're too stupid not to (whose parent should also keep them home). But, for the most part, kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are precious little mini-me's, who capture all the innocence and purity of what it means to be young. But not Jeffrey. No, it was apparent from his behavior before boarding that his parenting had imbued him with the impulse control of your average neurotic Chihuahua along with any number of other behavioral afflictions. Jeffrey was bent on screaming at the top of his lungs at random intervals, and then smiling while his mother half-heartedly attempted to quiet him. I joked as I got on the plane that I didn't care where I was sitting, as long as it wasn't anywhere near that kid. I should have known better. The jinx law was in full effect.
As I took my seat, my heart fell as I spotted Jeffrey in his dirty Mr. Happy t-shirt close enough to reach out and slap - separated only by his mother, who looked like she'd offer little, if any, resistance to such an action. I immediately thought better of this (messy litigation and such), and hoped against hope that either the flying experience or his woefully unconcerned mother might be able to quiet him without my intervention. My hopes were dashed as his gleeful screaming recommenced immediately, and I knew I was in for a bad trip. I smiled thinking about soon being able to strap my headphones on escape to some musical bliss, accompanied by crossword puzzles and some light reading.
But I was wrong. Jeffrey had apparently tuned his tiny little lungs and vocal cords to produce a frequency and volume which penetrated any possible masking. It blasted right through the rumble of the jet engines, the white noise of the cabin ventilation, the murmur of other conversations, and unbeliebably enough, the music in my headphones. I turned up my iPod to maximum volume, still to no avail. I tried pressing them into my ears the point of actual physical pain - and still, his chirpy little warble got right through. I looked back over my shoulder at the pair of them, seething and frustrated, and the look of glee on his face seemed to foreshadow a life of killing household pets, slapping around girlfriends and starting his own militia group. And yet, they were no more affected by the palpable air of discontent that surrounded them than if it were a light summer breeze, and I thought how liberating it must be to have that little concern for those around you.
It was at this point my mind turned to how to solve such a problem. This certainly wasn't the first time that the quiet enjoyment of my own life has been brutalized by disinterested parents and misbehaved children. I actually had to stop going to my local Costco for the same reason. But because I can put a price on my frustration, I began to try and think of a way to purchase my way out of it.
- Bribery. I thought briefly about how much money I could directly offer the apathetic mother to quiet her child, and then realized that the she would no doubt view the task as Herculean and require a commensurate sum of money. I wasn't ready to forgo a nice weekend in Vegas just to get a little nap.
- Drug Money. I then wondered if I could offer to buy the child a glass of juice which would perhaps have some night time cold medicine mixed into it. Or perhaps speak to the mother about the extreme hazards of airborne allergens on airplanes with regard to children and just happen to have a double dose of Children's Benadryl handy. Of course, I then realized this would only really help me next time (mental note to add to the packing list) and also required a mother who didn't treat their accompanying toddler like nothing more than an exceptionally noisy piece of luggage.
- The Other AAA. I've often fantasized about an All Adults Airline. I know it's not the sexiest thing to fantasize about, but keep in mind that I'm usually doing it under the duress similar to what I experienced on my flight to Portland. I mean, it's not that there aren't any adults who aren't annoying - it's just a much smaller percentage, and you can also call them out for being obnoxious without earning the ire of their parents. I think I'd pay at least an additional $50 to be guaranteed that there would be no one under the age of 18 on my flight. Richard Branson can you hear me?
- Loud Class. Imagine if you were the first airline to offer a seperate seating area for "families"; a soundproof compartment at the extreme rear of the aircraft which could come complete with crayons, Disney movies and an infinitely patient flight attendant. You wouldn't even have to charge extra. A small surcharge on all the non-family tickets should be adequate and if anyone was not willing to pay it - they could be invited to travel back in the "Loud Class" seats. You could even let them board the plane first (as they always seem inclined to do, anyways). Besides, it's been my experience (recent and otherwise) that parents seem completely immune to the cacophony of their brood - so they probably won't even notice!
In the end, it's unlikely
that any of these solutions will be adopted. Polite society has somehow
come to believe that the miscreant behavior of small children is one of
those things we simply have to endure, since even the most blatant
failures of parenting seem to be inviolate. We won't let someone's dog
pee on the trees on our front lawn, but their children can ruin
everything from restaurants to sporting events to travel without so
much as a word from us. And if any of do dare to speak up, we're cast as children haters, or as though we're somehow infringing on a parent's seemingly fundamental right to raise whatever kind of social disaster that they choose.
For the record, I don't hate children. In fact, I rather enjoy them. My sister's four kids are amazing - but she's also one hell of a mother, and believe me, if any of them acted up like Jeffrey in a public place, they'd be having a very bad day very quickly. Of course, I suspect my sis also has some emergency Bendryl in her purse, too. But I don't find a lack of volume control in mixed company to be charming or a fundamental right of childhood. I just find it rude. Of course, in our Brave New World - which seems devoid of any sense of shame, I suppose the best way to spend the money I've allocated to peace and quiet on the airplane, is on a Xanax prescription and a stiff cocktail.