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Every day at 2:30, the Baby Brigade rolls into Starbucks, driving before them name-brand strollers teeming with toys and supplies. On most weekday afternoons, six to twelve chatty mothers exchange stories and tips while cooing over each other’s tiny little bundles.
Before they arrive, this particular Starbucks on the Upper East Side tends more towards the serene. Laptops dot the tables, soaking up the wireless Internet as their owners jockey for position, hoping that a seat will soon open up near one of the coveted electrical outlets.
If you’re there in the mornings, you see the steady stream of subway-bound commuters pick up their cups of awareness and head straight back out the door. Around lunchtime, the local school kids invade, imposing their ten-packs of over-exuberant bubbliness for a while.
If you earn your money working freelance—as I do—entropy erodes your work schedule after a while, especially if you don’t have the discipline to sustain any particular sleep pattern. And if you work from home—as I do—getting out of the apartment and seeing real live people for a few hours each day is imperative for maintaining your sanity. Hence my familiarity with the peaks and valleys of the Starbucks day.
Usually, the babies pose no problems. Like a cell phone user in an enclosed public place, the level of aggravation generated by a baby is largely a function of its volume and persistence. Sure, they’re loud at times, but it’s a nice break from the endless cycle of the same 20 songs that falls from some imperceptible location above our heads, especially now that Starbucks in its musical month-long orgy of corporate-mandated pre-Christmas holiday cheer.
No, on this particular afternoon, the babies were not the problem. At least not directly; they were more of a tool used by the ruling elite Mommy Class to unleash chemical weapons in a sinister plot to oppress the childless portion of society. The babies were not the problem, the unyielding generals of the Baby Brigade were the problem.
Shortly after the Brigade pushed their fashion strollers through the doors of Starbucks with their forward-leaning determination, they commandeered a set of tables that they pushed into one big island. The strollers were arrayed along the perimeter, while a field marshal—tasked with procuring elaborately-named coffees in small-is-tall doublespeak sizes—scouted about. A reconnaissance officer surveyed the occupancy status of the restroom.
I noted their efficient arrival as one would a clock striking. Instantly, I knew how long I’d been there, and I started planning how much longer I’d stay. Returning my attention to what I was writing—I was billing for the time, after all—for a while my mind drifted away from my surroundings. Apparently, the seat next to mine opened up, but the prime vacancy went unnoticed among the electricity vultures, as none circled down to claim the only available outlet.
Instead, a Baby Bearer snuck her little poop-factory a few diagonal feet below my nose. It must have been time for the noise machine to be changed, because before I could lodge a complaint, I detected some nasal evidence that it was being changed.
I inquired politely—so politely that you should imagine it said with a British accent—as to whether the adjacent seat had suddenly and without notice become an acceptable baby changing station. I offered that I had first-hand knowledge of a location more suitable for such a pursuit, and that it was conveniently situated within the confines of the store.
The mother informed me that the bathroom was presently occupied, a fact that apparently now entitles the Lavatorilly Challenged to treat the rest of the facilities as the facilities. I wondered whether relieving myself in the garbage can next to the condiment station would be an acceptable response next time I encountered a locked bathroom door at Starbucks.
A chill settled between us as she finished her wiping and re-wrapping, but I hoped she might at least think twice before subjecting others to the smell of her baby’s byproducts and the risk of its flailing frontal apparatus acting like an unexpected lawn sprinkler.
But I guess I didn’t make my point.
As she packed up, another Baby Bearer brought one by and helped the First Offender gather her maternity paraphernalia. The First Offender hopped back to her seat, and the new entrant began spreading pads and mats and wipes around the table and seat. She lowered the Second Defecator towards the mat, and I objected in a way that to her must have sounded like a non-sequitur: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The Mother of the Second Defecator protested, saying there aren’t many places to change a baby in Manhattan, as if having to wait for the bathroom to attend to bodily functions is somehow more of a hardship for a baby than anyone else. If anything, diaper babies and Depends-wearers should have the last claim on any public restroom; at least their tightropes are strung above a safety net.
When I suggested that people didn’t necessarily want to smell that while drinking coffee or eating sandwiches, the woman went on to declare that my mother must have done similar things when I was a baby, a preposterous proposition considering that I’m absolutely sure I was a perfect baby, so much so that I probably produced no waste whatsoever. (When asked to confirm this, my mother was willing only to go so far as to say that she did not change me within nose-shot of any eating or imbibing.)
Because they chose not change the babies at their table and instead relocated to the other side the store—presumably so the nostrils of the other mothers would be spared the assault—their pleas for sympathy sounded hollow. I held my ground, and Attempted Assailant Number Two retreated back to the Brigade Camp before the second nasal offensive began.
But was it a battle won?
These days, it’s hard to tell whether we’ve “progressed” to a point where it is now acceptable to, as the saying goes, eat where you excrete. Both Baby Moms sure acted as though this was the norm, and they made it quite clear that I was in the wrong. I guess that’s to be expected from a society where tolerance has been perverted into the right to impose anything you want on others, provided you’re in the right constituency.
Was I wrong? Honestly, I didn’t know. If this really is the new normal, then I look forward to my day of retaliation. One well-placed biscuit-on-a-napkin at the table next to Brigade Headquarters would get the point across. But it might upset the management, and—for the regulars like me—they’re quite generous with the free coffee. Considering the basic, non-fancy Starbucks coffee costs about $13.44 a gallon—nearly nine times the price of gasoline—this relationship is not one I’m about to jeopardize.
I guess I have only one request, really: if we’re going to be making such radical modifications to the social contract, can someone please notify me at least? There must be some e-mail list I’m not on...