Finally, one guy parted, giving mama a piece of his mind on the way out. "Why don't you try living somewhere without children!" she sassed back. A few more words were exchanged, but this thoroughly modern mom was holding her ground. "Where I go, he goes," she insisted. "What do you want me to do, put a muzzle on him?"
No, but how about a leash on you and every other rudely assertive parent who insists on breaching the civil peace by subjecting the rest of us to your uncontrolled offspring? Specifically, let's establish?reestablish?some boundaries on where it's okay and not okay to go with kids who either are too young or too undisciplined to pipe down.
OKAY: Amusement parks, playgrounds, block parties, public beaches, Chuck E. Cheese's and fast-food joints, the backs of sport-utility vehicles, the supermarket (if you must) and pediatric waiting rooms.
NOT OKAY: Restaurants without high chairs, airport lounges, work and study spaces, coffeehouses, movie theaters, dinner parties, quiet resorts.
By now, I've triggered the "he hates kids" reflex, so let me try to interject: It's not the children?although you could argue, as many have, that pampering by affluent guardians is creating a generation of kids with special problems. Rather, it's the adults and their absence of bounds that is the issue. I could just as easily have gone on a riff about the grownups in the library who no longer think it necessary to speak in hushed tones. Or about why the big people in charge there don't enforce the old rules?not just against small fry, but against the stinky vagrants who occupy chairs to snore loudly or blast the rest of us with their tubercular coughs.
Does this seem curmudgeonly? It only returns us to the day when manners demanded that children, when seen, be not heard. And it only applies where self-restraint fails. Kids with sweet dispositions and quiet voices are welcome most places. I can still remember my mother telling me, in any number of situations, "If you want to be here, you have to behave like an adult." (That was when adults behaved like adults.)
To voice these sentiments is to be scorned as a self-absorbed grouch. That's just what happened when editorial staffer Mary Anastasia O'Grady complained in The Wall Street Journal's "Weekend" section about "wild tykes" in inappropriate settings. When a supportive letter writer also noted vacations that had been ruined by rugrats, you'd have thought from the return fire that she'd left a "Happiness is Being Single" license-plate holder from the 1970s on her 280Z.
"As a start, maybe I can bring my family by sometime," threatened one father. "We seem to be the people you dislike the most. My wife and I are in our early 30s with three small daughters. They are almost constantly talking and singing and dancing and, yes, sometimes quarreling, but I would not trade a minute with them for a month at your historic inns and B&Bs."
Bully for you, bud. Spend all the time you want with your precious brood, right there in your backyard. But please, you (and the library lady) respect the fact not everyone worships their wails the way you do. You chose to bring these bundles of restless energy into your life; now recognize that, by doing so, you gave up your prerogative to go anywhere you want anytime. (Psst: same message to dog owners.)
I suspect for some young parents, there's a showoff element in this?who wants to keep his pride and joy entirely to himself? Sure, there's the photo-card blanketing every year at the holidays. (When did this habit take hold in America, by the way? I would have been mortified if my parents had sent a picture of me out each Christmas!) But that doesn't allow for real-time appreciation.
If the cold, clear off-limits approach outlined above won't fly in this anything-goes era, maybe there's a cumbersome half step: designated romper rooms in public spaces, just as there used to be smoking areas before we started banning that shit altogether. Visible, accessible, but cordoned off. Could we all then get along?
Or, since simple thoughtfulness seems not to do the trick anymore, we could try the punitive approach: civility complaints to parents who bring a child where his behavior is out of place. Too many notices, and you lose the special tax credits that Congress gave you as a birthright.
Tim Ferguson is assistant managing editor at Forbes magazine.
That Old-Time Religion by Komar, Melamid and Amy Douthett Most people (at least eight at the last count) give religion a serious working over at least once in their lives. There comes a moment when the mainstream faiths appear unveiled in all their bare and disappointingly flabby nakedness, mystery flies out the nearest window and you get all your utility bills on the same day. For without Mystery, there is No Mystery.
Once we were in those shoes (the shoes that are looking at the flabby naked religion thing), and although we had sensed they were a little tight around the toe area and squeaked when it rained, it had still never occurred to us to remove them altogether. We three were once living under that Turin shroud of No Mystery Whatsoever Due to Carbon Dating.
So, here we are: Vitaly, Alex and Amy (VAA), two barely pre-Alzheimer's Russian New York Jews and one displaced Brit with a superfluous theology degree (combined age: 136 years). If we had an Ian, Gregory and Roberta we could be VIAGRA, but these things never work out the way you plan them. Among the sum of our parts you might find two heavy drinkers, one beard, three prescription-drug users, one bronchial cough, two former spies, one manic depressive, five gold rings and a minimum of six personalities.
Despite that, we decided to start a new religion. Hey, it was Tuesday, it was raining and in the absence of any really gripping hobbies, we all have way too much free time. As it happened, in a meeting of three minds off Canal St., we did not invent, create, innovate, devise or contrive anything new. But we did notice something strange. Some people might say it wasn't much. To us, it was shocking. There we were, ready to count the sum of our lives, only to find we didn't have a calculator and none of us could divide in our heads. We sat down to start a new religion and discovered that one had already begun without anyone really noticing. And that religion was Art.
The followers of Art are everywhere. You've met them, you may even be one. What was once a New York cliche is now a national cult.
How do you recognize them? Well, they whisper in galleries, wear all black, stutter when they meet Real Artists, never say, "I could have done that," bow down before certain works, occasionally wear pashmina for a dash of color and wait in lines that stretch around the block for a Pollack retrospective.
Yes, Art has become the new religion of the masses. The churches are empty, but the museums are full. And like all good religions, Art the Faith really got going once the book had been written. The History of Western Art quietly ended without so much as a small bang or a whimper, and the deification of Art crept in. And we didn't even notice. Until now.
Which is why of course we're talking about elections. (Note to selves: add paragraph about election.) Did you know that George W. Bush names Jesus as his favorite philosopher, while Al Gore likes to stand in his theoretical sandals whenever he finds himself in a quandary? WWJD is currently his favorite acronym: "What would Jesus do?" This is why the Wayfarer and the Wooden have captured the imagination of nobody but the indentured slaves of current media moguls, who are obliged to report on their tedious trail of Christian campaigning. What they have failed to notice is the passing of the parables and the aura of the Art Movement. In short, they're barking up the wrong Bible.
George, Al, it's time to wake up and smell the turpentine. There are few things that last 2000 years, and Jesus wasn't one of them. Get down off the cross, we need the wood for the easels. Embrace the religion of Art and bask in an eternity of free love, canvas and loose morals. All you need to do is look to the legacy of your predecessor, President Bill Clinton.
In him you will find the greatest artistic wannabe of the last century, a man who brilliantly and self-consciously modeled himself on the ideal of The Artist. Just look at his lifestyle. Why do you think nobody cared quite enough about his outlandish philandering? Well, mostly because everyone was secretly impressed. According to the principals of Art, philandering is a virtue. Van Gogh paid weekly visits to the hookers of Arles, Picasso slept around. Nudity, drugs, alcohol and sex are all to be encouraged under the new order. By Christian standards, President Clinton performed some fairly wild acts while in office, but by artistic standards he barely registered on the scale.
And aside from all that, just think of the soundbites. "You're good to Gogh," "Van can, and I can," "Da Vinci can't pinch me," "Gogh for it," "I'm all heart and I love Art."
Under the new order, anything goes. Which is why we have founded The Way of the Living Gogh, a union of Great Ones, Curators and followers of the Artistic Faith in the New York area. We have the faith. You can, too. We have the power. We'll consider sharing it. And we're here to tell you: How Great Thou, Art.
Komar & Melamid are Moscow-born artists. Amy Douthett is an exiled English writer. All three live in New York.