In the 1968 fantasy "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," Dick Van Dyke is Carraticus Potts, a singing inventor who builds a magical car, which aside from making whimsical engine noises, can zip across water and sprout wings and fly. For reasons pertaining to the plot, Dick and company fly in the magic car to the land of Vulgaria, where men wear lederhosen and they're fine with that.
"Call out the Child Catcher!" Baroness Bomburst, wife of Vulgaria's rotund ruler Baron Bomburst cries when she learns that the magic car is carrying Pott's precocious offspring, Jeremy and Jemima. You see, children are forbidden by law in the land of Vulgaria, and it's up to the Child Catcher to enforce this regulation.
When I was a child and watched this film, the Child Catcher character, a rather sinister looking fellow with his black undertakers coat and top hat, frightened me to no end. I remember being quite distressed when he captures Jeremy and Jemima, (Who do nothing in the entire movie but jump up and down and shriek things repeatedly in horrifying cockney accents) roaring away with them in his evil wagon, which is essentially a giant cage with wheels being pulled by two jet black steeds.
Now that I am an adult, I whole-heartedly applaud the Child Catcher's efforts, and wish his services were available today.
Please don't get me wrong, I love children. I'm the proud Uncle of a nephew and two nieces, who are a joy to be around.
It's those other children I have a problem with.
You know those other children I'm talking about. The whiners, the screamers, the back of the seat kickers. The crumb leavers and germ spreaders. The wreckers of restaurants, the throwers of tantrums in the middle of a wedding. How could you not notice them? They shatter the quiet with their stubborn refusal to use their indoor voice. They fidget, bicker, dawdle, annoy, irritate, infuriate and exacerbate.
Again, let me make it clear that I love children.
Of course I am without a doubt considered a disgruntled minority in this family friendly country of ours. I'm sure there were a few citizens in the town of Vulgaria who loved Baron Bomburst's no kiddies law; who sat beaming in the tavern enjoying their bratwurst without having to listen to some screaming child two stools over knock over yet another stein of whatever children drank in a fictional 1900's Bavarianesque village. But were these folks heard from in the film? No. Just the mopey child lovers were seen shuffling long faced through the town square.
One of the perks of living in the fair city of New York is that if you really want to, you can completely avoid any and all contact with children. Sure, you will encounter a stray herd of them in your travels; tourist destinations like Times Square and Central Park are crawling with kids, and you're really need to remove your head from your posterior if you expect a complete absence of the wee ones on your occasional visits to Toys R Us.
But the beauty of this city is that for the most part, adults who have trouble holding court with the toddlers have so many places to go to get away from the whirling din of confusion and annoyance that is a family of five trying to order a meal in front of you at McDonalds. I point to of course the hundreds of bars, lounges and watering holes in Gotham that gloriously uphold one of the most beloved laws of the dwindling childless masses - "No One Under 21 Admitted." Like the rag tag group of Texas pioneers who barricaded themselves behind the walls of the Alamo, we hold our ground against the overwhelming masses urging us to join them in their family ways.
But for how long can we hold them off?
The powerful family friendly lobby in this country, which for a while now has been helping various communities across the U.S. to stage "families only" nights at restaurants and shopping centers, may some day decide that parents should be allowed to have a "Family Night" at your local bar.
My mind shudders at the very thought.
I can see it now; strollers parked out front, forcing the smokers even further into the street. The big screen televisions blasting "Spongebob Squarepants" instead of Sportcenter. Diaper bags stacked on the pool tables. The bar littered with sippy cups and soggy handfuls of cheerios. The "Elmo's World Soundtrack" playing on the jukebox.
Never a Child Catcher around when you need one.
Tom Levier lives in New York City. He loves children. Seriously.