December 26, 2006

Baby Boom

In the first week of Elliot, my parents and I -- and then Sarah and I -- and then just me -- and then all of us -- etc. -- made pilgrimages to the new Target. It's a brand new two-story affair, clad in red brick and with a spotless parking lot *underneath* the building instead of sprawling all around it. An expensive asset for for the Target Corp., to be sure, and a sort of guilty-pleasure palace for the urban bo-hos (or is it bo-bos? -- whatever), the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the hipster-turned-breeders of far-north-side Chicago. Which is where we live. We used to have to go slum in the suburbs -- or grind it out through surface traffic all the way down to Clybourn Avenue -- if we wanted a good deal on a clever strand of lights, a medium-quality wine glass, or a cheap blue flower pot. But those days are at an end. We have our own big-box store just around the corner now, thank you very much.

Our Target has its big, spacious Starbucks mounted proudly out front, cantilevered right over Peterson Avenue. From this vantage, forty feet above the ground, the Starbucks provides a commanding view of an enormous cemetery -- hundred-year trees and swaths of veterans' graves -- across the street. Face that way, and the cemetery extends so far, and so broadly, you can't see beyond it. Turn around to face the other way now, and the consumer products extend so far and in such profusion, you can't see beyond them, either. In life as we are in death.

Every day of September last, we needed some item or other that we'd been unable to picture ourselves needing the previous September day. Often, we had never heard of, or conceived, the item itself. Imagination fails, somehow, in the face of the baby's proliferating demands. Then the necessity of a moment clarifies the mind. We do not know what he will require next. We simply know where to get it.

Mats to put under his bum on the changing table; an extra set of bottles; a pack of milk bags for the freezer; a little plastic cage to put bottle parts into so they can be run through the dishwasher; a four-pack of terrycloth bibs; a ten-pack of those fantastic terrycloth bibs. We bought a liquid vitamin supplement for him that the pediatrician recommended; but when we discovered that the vitamin bottle didn't come with its own dropper, we had to hoof it back over there for a dropper, because how much is .5 ml anyway? We bought baby wipes aplenty, an avalanche of wipes; but unless you want the baby wipes to dry out and wither on the vine (quelle horreur), you have got to have one of those airtight plastic boxes to dispense the wipes from. We realized that we had made it home with only the refill pack -- no box. Somebody run out and buy something that includes the box.

The uncanny part, though, the kink in this tale of abundance, is the story of the things I cannot get from Target, and the ones who did get them -- the others. The other parents. We see them at Target more than anywhere else (especially since the winter weather kicked in, and it's too cold to roam at the park for long).

We see them others in flared pants, ironic t-shirts, with a shaven head, or in a very long indie-rock plaid sweater (or is that a bathrobe?), or conservatively attired, or with cornrows, or with three children, or speaking Polish. There are many kinds, really, though it's the most odd to see the kinds that look the most like *us*, because how bizarre. Look what happened to them. Look what happened to us all. What a picture we make.

I see them in the diaper aisle, or sifting the kiddie clothes around the corner. I know the wall where the nursing tank tops are, and I know their cart will be there, unless they are blocking up the way down at the bottom of the laundry detergent section where the scentless baby soaps can be found. There are only about eight or nine little corners of the store, in fact, where the new-baby pilgrims genuflect as they make their new-baby rounds, and I have seen them in each one, at all hours. From among the vast grazing patterns of we Target-borne ruminants, you can bump into the same couple two or three times in a quarter of an hour. The moms, to a one, have D (for decaf) scrawled on the sides of their cups, because they know the score. In half an hour, they plan to be back home, nursing, and after that, maybe some rest.

And what is weird is that so many of the children of these parental others are *exactly* the age of my own child. That is, within a week or so. All through last September as I have said, we went to Target frequently, but this was as much out of its nearness as anything else, because in truth, Target's newborn supplies were eerily . . . depleted. A single lonely box of the little newborn-size Pampers Swaddlers remained . . . and yet all the other sizes were available. That box of freezer milk bags I mentioned? I think it wasn't actually there. I think I ended up making another stop at the grocery store to get it.

Odd as well is that this pattern went on, month after month, and is still in evidence. Pinpoint shortages, affecting only infants of a certain age. Last week I went to buy new, larger bottles to accomodate my boy's new, larger existence. I sought nipples also. It turns out that you have your newborn nipples (one hole), one-month nipples (two holes), three-month nipples (three holes), and so forth. But the others, the September parents, got there before me again, making it absolutely impossible to find the hoped-for three-month nipple. I checked every nipple. We had to make do with the one-monthers. It was either that, or get the six-month nipples, and risk drowning the child. That would be absurd.

It's no Shyamalan movie, but I must say that I continue to find the situation a little strange. What *happened* back in December 2005 within range of this particular -- at that time not yet completed -- Target store? (Besides the obvious.) Did they mix something magical into the concrete? Was it a coupon they sent? Were they broadcasting (Vast Quantities of Goods) subliminal (Not Costly In Dollars Or Cred) messages (Budding Bourgeois Householders Seize) to (Your) us (Chance)?

And so we find ourselves roaming the aisles, sipping coffee, gently bumping carts with our doppelgangers. Whatever they did to get us all here, whatever mysterious panic button pushed us all over the brink into this new cloudland, blinking under the bright lights of the big box -- it worked. They got us. So what are they planning to do with us?


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