Today was January 14th, 2011, and years from now, my friend Arthur and his wife Andrea will look back on today as one of the happiest, most monumental days of their lives. They will re-live it over and over, thinking of today as the day that turned them from a young couple into a small family, and here I am like a giant turd in a coat, waltzing around listlessly during the birth of their son, looking at the prices on non-stick fry pans, cheerfully noticing that my spatula is printed with the conversion table from cups to ounces and going, “That might be really helpful with some of my recipes in the future!”
When I first learned that his wife was in labor my heart picked up a little bit and I went, “Oh boy, it’s really happening,” and immediately thought, “This is exciting! I should do something.” But as exciting as it is, it is not my baby and I am not the doctor delivering the baby, so there is nothing for me to do except to continue to do what I was doing. So I continue walking through the Bed Bath and Beyond, which has suddenly become oppressively mundane.
Arthur, when he is not pacing hallways as an expectant father, is a post-production film editor, and if he were editing this for a movie trailer he would begin with a shot of pandemonium. He would start off with a frantic hospital room, with close ups of his wife panting and screaming and holding her stomach while nurses and doctors run in frantic circles—blurry flashes of seagrass green as their scrubs fly past the camera lens, people yelling things like, “Stat!” and “Give her 9 cc’s!” or “She’s dilated to 25 centimeters!” And right when your conscious mind kicked in and went, “Excuse me? 25 centimeters??” he would immediately cut to a shot of me, walking lazily through the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond to the hum of repetitive Muzak, casually picking up egg timers shaped like chickens and setting them so that they all go off at the same time. The camera would cut again to a shot of me looking confusedly at a long pipe cleaner-type mechanism whose purpose I was unable to discern (it’s for drying the insides of bottles, I was later told) and then again to a shot of me trying to adhere suction cup-mount bathroom appliances to my forehead, before knocking over a display of toilet brushes and slinking guiltily behind a display of trash cans.
And then suddenly, without warning, you are back with his wife in the hospital, surrounded by noises and beeps and craziness. Back to innumerable people holding clipboards and a woman whose mouth is covered by a doctor’s mask but the camera zooms in on her eyes as she realizes that they cannot slow the pre-labor—that despite the fact that the due date is not for another two months, they can’t keep the fetus in utero. And if you are close enough to her face maybe she says something under her breath, like, “This baby’s coming out today,” And then it zooms to his wife’s face, which is steeled with resolve, and then zooms in on Arthur and Andrea’s hands, which are gripping each other tightly, the veins bulging in their fingers and wrists as they wheel her towards the delivery room. And as the couple is separated momentarily, we watch Arthur’s mouth become a small, thin, determined line—as if he will deliver this baby himself—as if inherent in his mouth is the determination in all his 36 years of life that his baby will live and thrive and succeed. And as they wheel his wife into the delivery room she becomes a silhouette against the blinding, ethereal light that emerges as they open the doors.
And you hear a woman’s angelic voiceover promising that your life is about to change, and you see Arthur’s face thinking, “Yes. This is a defining moment in my existence,” except that the woman keeps talking and specifies that your life is about to change, thanks to the new SodaStream Genesis—the video for which I am skeptically watching in-store while standing near a collection of Brita Water filters. The SodaStream genesis is a device that turns water into sparkling water or, if you add a capful of some sort of syrupy concentrate that is being sold for $4.99 a bottle, into a variety of different sodas. And your heart is still beating rapidly, going, “The baby! What will happen to the baby?” but sorry, no dice, you’re back to the aimlessness-of-one’s-twenties montage as I cynically watch the SodaStream video, which is now showing a shot of a waterfall, announcing that buying this product will keep 2,000 cans and bottles a year out of a landfill, and out loud to nobody in particular, I go, “No it won’t.” The ad cuts to a woman in a hot pink V neck sweater who cannot seem to stop smiling, filling up a bottle with water, installing the Soda Stream cartridge, and (ta da!) turning it into sparkling water with the gentle press of a button. The woman then decides she would like to turn it into a cola drink of some kind, and so she takes a capful of the allotted syrup and pours it into the bottle, in much the same way one would pour detergent into a load of laundry. I make a disgruntled face, imagining what it would be like to drink laundry detergent. I quietly walk away from the display.
The camera cuts again to me (Yes, me. We’re still on me) as I peruse the now-extremely-on-sale Christmas decorations—wreaths and ornaments and things you’re supposed to hang over your doorknob that say “Ho ho ho!” on them. I roll my eyes at most of it, being drawn toward the decorations that make noise, finding one that is playing the song, “Up on the housetop the reindeer pause…out comes good old San-ta Claus! Down through the chimney with lots of toys! All for the little one’s Chris-mas joys!” And immediately after the song ends you hear a woman going AAARRRRGHHHHHH, which, admittedly, is just a stereotype I have from seeing pregnant women in other movies. I have no idea if most women actually go AAAARRRRGGGHHHH when they have babies, or if they do, if Andrea did that. But for now—just for now—we’re going to have her going AAARRRRRGHHHH as she has the baby because it’s such a nice contrast to the Christmas music that was playing directly beforehand. So she goes AAARRRGHHHHHH, and there will be crying, and then an overwrought voice going, “It’s a boy!” even though they knew in advance it was going to be a boy—it’ll be better for the montage if they pretend they just found out.
And then we’ll cut to them a little bit later, when we are positive the baby is ok and is going to make it. Arthur is standing by the side of her bed and she is holding the baby for the first time and they look at each other and smile. And inherent in their smiles is the realization that all three of them will be ok. That they are filled with pride. That it is a long, hard road ahead, but that they are looking forward to it, except for maybe the whole ‘paying for college’ part. And as the camera pulls away from them, the angelic newly-born family, we hear an obnoxiously loud chime go, “Don-DING. Don-DING,” and just as you wonder why the hell none of them are reacting to it it cuts back to me, apologizing to the Bed Bath and Beyond Cashier as I both hand her my coupon for 20% off one item and reach into my pocket to read my text message. And I smile, reading the message that says that Aidan Reese was born and that he weighed 3 lbs. 11oz. and that mother and baby are doing fine, and I go, “Aaaaack! This is exciting!” Because it is exciting. I will go home and put away my quiche pans and my pyrex dish and my vegetable brush and my spatula with the conversion of measurements on it, which is stupid, obviously—none of those things is the least bit important in the grand scheme of the universe. But Arthur will go home, eventually at least, with a tiny genetic experiment—an amalgam of himself and his wife whose tiny hands are balled up into fists. Aidan Reese weighed only 3 lbs. and 11 oz, which, in case you are curious, is 3 lbs and one and one third cup, according to my spatula.
And I will go home and look for baby gifts online and will maybe make some sort of casserole in my pyrex dish and watch documentaries that are streaming through Netflix. And Arthur will go home and never be the same again for the rest of his life.
And the woman says, “That’ll be 44.19,” and I hand her my gift card, and she swipes it and hands it back to me with a long receipt and says, “You have 26.50 left on the card. Have a good day,” and smiling—still smiling, I say, “Thanks.”