A COLLECTION OF STORIES BY LUKE TAGG
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SMOKE: Attack Of The Child Monster

Originally published: 13 January 2005

I've written at length about two things before - Spur restaurants and mothers who can't control their kids.

I've never put the two into the same story before, however, and I'm happy to tell you that that's all about to change.

Both Tashi and I are suckers for punishment - we've been burned by Spur a few times recently yet we still go back for more. Our only concession to past disappointments this time round was that we didn't go to our regular Spur at Kenilworth Centre - we braved the hordes of swinging housewives and cuckolds that infest the leafy suburb of Pinelands, and went to their Spur.

The food was superb - everything I always expect Spur food to be, and which it hasn't been for some time now. The waiter was friendly and unobtrusive and only asked once if everything was alright. That's right, you heard me - only once. I shit you not.

I'd finished my meal and hauled out a Benson's and was drawing that first satisfying gust of nicotine, peroxide and arsenic deep into my starving lungs, when I heard a voice right next to me:

"Hello."

I turned in apprehension to face a small girl standing there looking intensely at me. She was about eight years old and was holding a bucket shaped like a pumpkin, complete with a Halloween face painted on it.

Inside the bucket was a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper. She took one out, handed it over to me and said:

"I drew this picture for you. It's a two-headed monster."

She looked on disapprovingly as I let the smoke ease from my lungs in despair.

I looked across at the table next to us - a real, good, old-fashioned family complete with Mom, Pop and about 500 children all sitting tucking into burgers-for-all. All of them except the one standing next to me, who was expecting some sort of response.

I looked wildly at the mother but she - and everyone else at the table - was curiously silent as they ate and all of them were looking down, avoiding eye contact.

I got what was going on instantly - the parents were obviously thrilled to get the kid out of their hair for a second and were hastily stuffing as much food down as possible before the next calamity struck.

Calamities have a way of striking large families regularly and with astonishing rapidity at any given moment in time, you see.

I had nowhere to go and nothing I could do - the drawing of the two-headed monster was still waving in front of my now-empty plate.

My companions - two females (of course) - were smiling on inanely as females do whenever a precious little child enters their lives, and their smiles were obviously a sign of encouragement to the pest next to me.

It repeated its earlier assertion: "I drew it for you", and rustled the paper alarmingly. I had no choice but to take it.

I looked at it unseeingly for a couple of seconds, mumbled something about it being very nice, handed it back and prepared to turn away, but then one of my companions did the unforgivable - she asked a question.

"What's your name?"

Bad, bad mistake. No matter how many times I tell the women in my life they simply don't listen: never, ever ask questions. Of anybody. At any time.

Questions lead to answers which lead to more questions which lead to more answers, all of which means I am always delayed in what I was wanting to do for at least another half an hour.

My worst is when you're leaving an engagement and making your goodbyes, and up she pipes with a question. Nooooo!!!!! Don't ask bloody questions!

I then have to stand, shifting from one foot to the other in discomfort, while the question is answered and another one is asked in response to the answer and so forth and so on until I want to start strangling innocent bystanders.

But chicks don't listen. It's that simple.

"Andrea", was the reply. Then she looked at me and asked: "What's your name?"

See? I was doing nothing - minding my own business and enjoying a post-meal ciggie - and all of a sudden I was thrust by third parties into a conversation and interaction I had no desire for, but one that was impossible to escape.

You can't just brush kids off - folks get upset when it comes to kids. They're precious little things and far more important than the rest of us and thus you have to be nice to them.

"Andrew", I answered, in a rather poor attempt at trying to be clever.

And I drew deeply on my cigarette, blowing huge pillows of smoke everywhere in the hope that her parents were actually concerned about the health and well-being of their child and would disapprovingly call her back to their table before she started spitting up blood and dying of cancer from secondhand smoke.

But of course they weren't concerned - they were in the smoking section with me, weren't they?


She then proceeded to ask the names of my companions, they asked her more questions and next thing she began hauling every single picture out of the halloween bucket - and there were loads of them.

She handed me each one, describing what it was supposedly about, and I had to sit there as she went through the whole bucket, with my companions cooing and chuckling and encouraging.

All very well for them - they were on the opposite side of the table. They didn't have to interact.

It went through all its pictures then selected a couple to give to me and I made dismissive noises and handed the rest back to her.

She was getting 'silly' - a mood kids get into when they're getting attention, which causes them to big things up and speak loudly and roll their eyes and do stupid things - and I had to get out.

I stood up, but my companions were in no hurry. Even as I was packing my smokes and wallet away - and viciously stabbing out a half-smoked cigarette that once held so much potential - they were still asking questions and the kid kept answering them in a stupid, high-pitched, strident voice.

I looked over at the parents - still sitting stoically staring down at their plates - but I swear they were wearing smirks. Not once throughout the whole thing had they made any attempt to haul their brat in and I felt like walking over and slamming their faces into the remains of their cheddamelt burgers and thousand island sauce.

Here's the thing, parents: maybe you find your kids cute; I sincerely hope you do. But I don't. I really and truly don't. I understand that you'd love nothing better than to foist your kids off on strangers sometimes - don't blame me, man. I never told you to have kids, did I?

But I would think that parents would know one of the stock pieces of wisdom that should be shared with all children from a very young age: never talk to strangers. Since I'm a stranger to most kids - why are they always talking to me?

It's weird, because despite my well-documented loathing of children they've always liked me. Ever since I was old enough to be older than other kids. Children are somehow magnetically attracted to me, and I have no idea why.

Please don't think it's because really, deep down somewhere, I do actually love kids and they can sense that. No! I don't. I really, really don't like them. You must believe me.

Maybe they like me because as far as possible I'm honest with them. I don't coo at them, I don't speak in baby voices and I use lots of big words they couldn't possibly understand when in conversation with them.

I speak to them as I would to an adult and maybe they like that, even if they don't understand everything.

I don't know. I'm no expert on kids. Just the ramifications of them.

But I really would prefer it if they left me alone.

The worst part about this whole thing? The pictures weren't even drawn by the kid. We realised afterwards that it was a bucket kept by the Spur with pieces of paper for all kids to draw on - not one of the pictures was her own.

So not only was she an irritating little gnat, but also a budding plagiarist as well, not to mention a fervent little liar.

Ah, what do you expect? Anything goes in Pinelands.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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