Saturday, February 24, 2007

“Wanna Buy a Duck?”

Matthew is involved in a little love-hate relationship with another little girl at Natalie’s dance class. It’s totally cute, and the fact that only a couple of the other mothers have even noticed it makes it all the more like a soap opera that only I get to enjoy. The class meets every Friday morning, about eight little girls all Natalie’s age, for tap and some muscularly-uncoordinated ballet of some sort. There’s lots of aimless running around and piercing shrieks of delight. It’s cute seeing a half-dozen little girls in pink tights (Natalie wears purple, naturally) and pony tails flutter about the dance room, but the rules of the dance instructor are strict and unforgiving. Most important, no crying in the studio room, even if it’s not your fault that another little girl smacked you in the head for no reason at all… you get in as much trouble for crying as you will for hitting.

Those two girls didn’t come back after, what we parents in the dance class call, “the incident.” But we try not to speak of it.

Back to the soap opera: There’s another little girl Matthew’s age…let’s call her Jessica—not to protect her 16-month-old identity, but only because I can’t remember her name right now. Jessica is a little sister of one of the dancers, and she’s a regular, always coming along with her mom to the class. Since we’ve been going to dance class for over a year (I started Natalie with a Mommy&Me class…yes, I know I’m clearly a daddy, the only one there as it turned out), we’ve watched Matthew and Jessica grow up from just newborns to walking toddlers, and it would be foolish to say that they haven’t noticed each other. After all, they’re the only two toddling around who are directly in each other’s line of sight.

At first, they were enamored with each other, as all babies are with other babies. I think they have a tough time believing that their plight is not a singularity, and when another baby comes along, to them, it’s like being in space and running across another astronaut. “Hey, I’m not alone!” Jessica and Matthew would point at each other, and when he was really small, she peer over the baby carrier and try to poke his eyes or steal his bottle.

Good times were soon to change.

About a month ago, I couldn’t tell you who had it first, who picked it up first or who started playing with it first, but one of them had a small rubber duck, exactly like the kind you would find in a bathtub, yellow with an orange bill. Not an especially attractive duck and it didn’t squeak, so I’m not sure what the fuss was all about. But for some reason, there was an equal attraction to this rubber duck, even though there are buckets full of toys in the play area, and they both wanted to play with it. I suppose if one threw it down and ignored it for the rest of the class time, the other wouldn’t have found it so intriguing, but one toddler’s possessions is another’s envy.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume Matthew was up to his old tricks of climbing on everything and hobbling around the dressing rooms, making faces and blowfishes in the mirrors… and Jessica was the one who discovered the magic of the duck. Once the yellow rubber caught his eye, Matthew too wanted the duck. He can be kind of a bully, and after a short foot chase (remember, toddlers, short legs), he got it, just took it away from her. Jessica, of course, burst into tears and looked to her mom to rectify the situation, as if to say, “That baby has my duck and I demand that it be returned.” Given to polite convictions, her mother wasn’t about to tear the duck out of Matthew’s hands. That was my job.

I couldn’t have cared less who had the duck and I would have let him keep it if it were not for six set of parental eyes judging me nearby. Begrudgingly, I took it from Matthew and explained, fruitlessly, that it wasn’t his duck and that Jessica was playing with it. As if he understood. All he saw was that his prized possession, the very purpose his soul was placed on this earth: to take, hold and care for that rubber duck, was in jeopardy, dire jeopardy. As I gave back the duck to Jessica, Matthew burst into tears.

Then it was on.

The two chased each other around the viewing room of the dance studio. One would get the duck, by means usually nefarious and sly, and the other would fall into pursuit, protesting the injustice vehemently all the while. This went on the whole hour of dance class. And once all the girls piled out of the room and recoupled up with their rightful parent, all was forgotten. The duck lay neglected again on the floor, forgotten.

Until the following week. But Jessica had the jump on us. She was smart enough to convince her mother to get their early, so she could find and grip onto that rubber duck like there was no tomorrow. Matthew took an interest again, but it seemed that his heart just wasn’t into it anymore. There were rings and ponies and a little red fire truck that squeaked when he pushed it, much more important fish to fry than to conduct a war over a duck.

You would think that this is where the story would end, that the duck found its rightful owner and all was happily ever after, especially Jessica who ended up winning the battle and the forever prized yellow rubber duck. But it wasn’t to be.

After that week, I didn’t see the duck again. Nobody had it and I couldn’t find it in the toy boxes… I wanted to stir up some trouble by anonymously placing it in the middle of the floor to see if either of them noticed (don’t judge me, I get bored listening to the endless babble of stay-at-home über moms). Matthew, good natured as he is, was unfazed by the loss of the duck and went along as merry as could be, as he always is. He would greet Jessica in the way toddlers do when they see another person their age: They’d stare at each other for a few moments and usually Jessica would turn away.

Lately, she’s been avoiding Matthew, never staying within a few feet of him and always putting out her hand at him if he gets too close, as if to say, “Back off buddy. You had your chance to be my friend, but you blew it.” She flashes him dirty looks too. It’s cute in that she is trying to be mean but she’s just not sure how to do it yet, and it’s funny because she’s the only one of the two who remembers the duck. Matthew doesn’t notice. He doesn’t care. Typical son of mine, oblivious to emotional world around him… just always looking for something to climb on.

But you know what they say: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…over a duck.”

Incidentally, the first person to tell me who penned the famous Depression-era comedy catch-phrase, "Wanna Buy a Duck?" wins a fabulous prize. Hint, if you say Joe Penner, you're wrong.

Yes the prize is a duck.


Tris said...

Who penned "Wanna Buy a Duck?"

I say Penner was the penner.

Even agrees: "The story goes that in [Penner's] routine he would customarily go out on stage with some sort of prop and say to his straight man, "Wanna buy a..." whatever the prop was. No laughs basically until one day when he went out on stage with a wooden decoy and said, "Wanna buy a duck?" The house went wild."

So where's my duck?

Ryan or Kara said...

Sorry... you're wrong, and so is IMDB. Penner was the one credited with it becuase he's the one that said it. But, behind every "Allan Bradey Show" there was a Robert Petrie writing the comedy. This time, for Penner, it's an Episcopal minister named Henry Scott Rubel, according to a December 1934 Time magazine article. Who is that? Thanks to my lengthy City of Glendora history book research, he is the father of local ledgend Michael Rubel. And who is that? Well, he built himself a famous "castle" in Glendora called Rubel Farms. And now you know the rest of the story...

It made for a nice tie-in with Matthew's duck story.


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