It was late on a weekday afternoon when my assistant announced that a good friend, Ralph, was on the phone and that he "urgently" needed to speak with me. He sounded stressed and was uncharacteristically assertive.
"Luke," he said, "could you do me a favor?"
"What's up, pal?" I inquired apprehensively.
"Well," he replied, "I've got a special request. It's our anniversary, and the wife and I can't find a sitter. Would you mind watching the kid for a few hours while we go to a party and catch a bite to eat?"
"Not at all," I responded, "it would be my pleasure."
Why would a lawyer in his late forties accept such an assignment? Idiocy, I imagine. I had been spending a good part of that day fixating on tediously boring legal documents and my friend's call was affording me a welcomed reprieve from a torturous task. Besides, I had never been asked to baby-sit before and the request presented a novel challenge. This was my first opportunity to play "uncle" and I had found the prospect enticing.
When I arrived at my friends' home, there stood young Joey, only inches away from the television screen. "Should he be standing so close to the set?" I inquired.
"Of course not," chided Lauren, his mother, "but let's see you try to tell a two year old that! Joey's quite insistent upon watching his favorite programs that way."
Lauren then turned and addressed her son, "Look Joey, 'Uncle Lukey' is here to baby-sit. Make sure you're a good boy. O.K.?"
Joey was unfazed.
"Now listen," Ralph whispered, "should Joey start to act up, just drop in one of the 'Barney' DVDs. He loves Barney."
"Barney?" In my day, kids were raised on Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers, and characters of that ilk.
"Remember," Ralph continued, "the kid is only two years old. He can get a bit irrational. So, when all else fails, call upon Barney."
Only moments after his parents exited for their celebratory soirée, my young charge started to get a bit testy. "I want food!" he cutely demanded.
"What kind of food?" I inquired.
"Cookie! Give me cookie!"
"I'm not sure I can give you a cookie. Mommy and Daddy didn't give me permission to give you one."
"Cookie! I want cookie!" He instructed rather imperiously.
"Sorry, ... No." I patiently retorted.
Without a moment's hesitation, Joey's face contorted and out came a spine-curdling scream. His deafening cry persisted for what seemed like an eternity.
"Joey, relax. There's got to be something else I can get you. How about some juice?"
"Juicy!" he repeated approvingly. With that, his emoting ceased. Together, Joey and I walked to the fridge to inspect its contents. To my amazement, on the top shelf sat several brands and types of orange juice, among them were "home-style," "regular," "fresh-squeezed" and concentrate. There was even an unlabeled glass jar of the orange substance. The need for the variety was initially unclear.
"What kind of 'juicy' would you like?" I stupidly asked.
"Juicy! Give me juicy!" Seeking desperately to avoid a repeat of his shrill-ridden tirade, I randomly selected a container and poured the kid a cup.
"Yuck!" he screamed. While he removed bits of pulp from his tongue, he slowly and deliberately spilled the remaining contents of the disfavored beverage right onto the kitchen floor.
"Joey!" I exclaimed. "What are you doing?"
"Juicy! Give me juicy!"
"I just gave you 'juicy'!" I replied in utter frustration.
Up to that point, I had little practice playing "Russian Roulette" with a two year old and sensed my odds of winning this bout were far from good. Who knew which one, if any, of the four remaining containers contained the kind of "juicy" that Joey preferred. And I wasn't about to spend the evening mopping-up my friends' kitchen floor.
"Let's go back into the living room." I suggested. True to form, Joey disapproved. His rapidly-paced succession of screeches could likely be heard for miles. As if responding to adverse Pavlovian stimuli, my buddy's advice suddenly sounded in my mind. It was time for "Barney" to come to the rescue. "Let's go play with Barney!" I announced.
Miraculously, as the DVD player clicked, and the show cued, Joey became instantaneously sedate. He bobbed his head to the show's theme song and as "Barney" came onto the screen, the child let out a most reassuring giggle. Joey had found peace.
Yet, there on the tube stood this grotesque-looking, over-sized, purple-colored figure. You see, for those of you who have been in seclusion, "Barney" is no man. He's a talking dinosaur with a charming "schtick." His mission is to methodically extol the virtues of "sharing," "caring," and "loving."
While I initially found the program intriguing, Joey's parents were running extremely late and three hours of "Barney" were starting to give me an intense migraine. I could stand the artificially colored Tyrannosaur no longer. Besides, a nationally syndicated program was about to feature a discussion with individuals disenchanted with their sexual identities. According to the night's television guide, these guests were seeking the surgical modification of their body parts. Enough "Barney." This baby-sitter was looking for reality-based, sensationalistic, entertainment of the sordid, "adult" kind.
For the hours prior, while Barney had romped across the screen with his many young friends and fellow characters, Joey had remained motionless in his high-chair. It was only when I approached the set and switched on the talk show that the child resumed his precocious behavior.
"Barney! Give me Barney!"
"No, Joey, it's time for a change " 'Uncle Lukey' wants to watch a new program."
"No! Give me Barney! I want Barney! GIVE ME BARNEY!"
As he continued his deafening "Barney" mantra, Joey stomped his feet and pounded his parents' expensive T.V. set with whatever object was in his proximity. My attempts to reason with the child were to no avail.
"Joey," I spoke saccharinely, "Barney needs to take a nap. Just like you, Barney needs to sleep. He'll be back later."
"No! I want Barney now!"
"Listen kid," I reasoned somewhat irately, "Barney needs to sleep or he'll get sick. Why not give him a break?"
"No! Gimme Barney!"
I then attempted pleading with the child. "Joey, please, can we play with Barney, later?"
"No!" he coldly retorted. "Give me Barney! ... Now!"
At that point, the sense of helplessness was overwhelming and I desperately needed a reprieve. Besides, I was missing my program. It was in that state of desperation that I sank to a most despicable depth.
"Listen," I shamelessly proclaimed, "You wouldn't let him sleep, so he's DEAD! BARNEY IS DEAD! THAT'S IT!"
Silence ensued as the child carefully processed the news. By most evil and manipulative means, I had secured a reprieve. But my victory was short-lived.
"Nooooo! You kill Barney! Bad!" He proclaimed. "You kill Barney! BAAAAAAAAD!"
Without benefit of trial, or other due-process considerations, I had been found guilty of murder by a two year old! Riddled with intense guilt, and fearing charges from social welfare agencies and prosecution by governmental authorities, my fingers quickly reached for the DVD player and resurrected the obese creature. While Barney resumed his tautology on "sharing," "caring," and "loving," I maniacally flipped through the day's paper in search for the travel section. It was time for a nice, long vacation.
As a result of that night's experience, this "uncle" has permanently retired from the baby-sitting business. In my absence, should you get a call from my friend Ralph, or his wife Lauren, heed this simple advice: