If you want to attract attention, hop aboard a subway train with a young child in tow. If you want to attract even more attention, be the daddy instead of the mommy.
Oh, how the world melts at the sight of a paternal ancestor coping with stroller, mittens, coat and Kleenex! But usually, it's strictly a spectator sport. The peanut gallery offers smiles and clucks only.
Sometimes, however, the peanut gallery is composed of clucks.
So it went the other morning with a dad who asks to remain nameless and his 3-year-old daughter. They were taking the subway to her day-care center, as they do each weekday.
They boarded an elevator to go down to the platform. The girl pushed the "down" button. Whereupon a man -- a total stranger -- offered the girl a quarter.
"I was a little taken aback, but recovered enough to say that wasn't necessary," the father says, in an e-mail message about the incident. "But it made no difference. My daughter didn't know exactly what to make of this but took the coin."
That's bad enough. What happened just a couple of minutes later was worse.
"As we waited to board the train, a woman knelt down next to the stroller and began to touch my daughter's knee while smiling and trying to talk to her," the father reports.
"I was so shocked," the father says. But he didn't pitch a fit or call a cop. He just waited for the moment to pass, which it soon did.
Then he had "a very general conversation with my daughter about strangers (our first)," the father says. "I don't want to scare her, but I do want her to have a little idea about what to do when people she doesn't know talk to her."
I have no idea what this father does for a living, but he could sell shares in turntheothercheek.com. How did he restrain himself, in either incident? I confess that if it had been my child, I would not have.
How dare anyone offer money to a child without asking the father first if it would be all right? Please don't smudge matters by pointing out that the quarter-offerer meant no harm. Of course he didn't. But he was causing it just the same, in several ways.
First, why reward cuteness or button- pushing with money? Why not just say, "Well done!" I've never met a 3-year-old who knows what to do with a quarter, anyway, except lose it. Bet your life on this: The quarter-offerer has never been a parent.
When my kids were young, the same sort of incident happened to me twice, both times in grocery stores, both times with food. In each case, Mr. or Ms. Well-Meaning slipped a Hershey's Kiss or a mini-Three Musketeers bar into the hand of my child, without asking permission first.
I managed to remain calm, although I was seething.
I asked my child to return the candy. I announced (for the benefit of both giver and receiver) that our family doesn't "do" candy between meals. I closed the book by telling the candy-offerer that it really was not a good idea to offer food to kids if you don't know them and they don't know you.
In one case, the reaction was a matter-of-fact okay. In the other, it was bewilderment that I could deny a child such a treat.
But that didn't divert me from the swift completion of my appointed rounds. I'm not going to allow my child to be treated like a hippopotamus in the zoo -- and the Metro Dad shouldn't have, either.
As for the knee-touch . . . you'll pardon me while I scream.
It was apparently not a sexual touch, which may be the only good thing you can say about it. Here are the bad things you can say about it: overly familiar, frightening, patronizing and annoying.
The toucher accompanied her assault with "How ya doing, sweetie?" in the saccharine, singsongy, phony voice that adults often use on kids. How sick to your stomach does that voice make you? Very, if you want my opinion.
In simple English, for simpletons:
If it isn't your child, you may not touch that child or offer any sort of gift.
The man and woman who lavished money and touches on a certain 3-year-old are lucky the father didn't get violent with them. That wouldn't have helped the situation -- but it would have been understandable.
"Amazing, even for a jaded Washingtonian," says Amy Morgan. I second the motion.
"On a recent Saturday," Amy writes, "my husband and I witnessed a man about to enter 495 off River Road . . . with nose hair scissors up his nose."
Yes, while he was driving.
"My blood ran cold," Amy says. "What if he had to stop suddenly?"
In one way, that's not a worry, Amy. The guy lacks a brain, so the scissors couldn't have done fatal damage.
Yet I worry about motorists who might be driving alongside this idiot. What if he hit a pothole and punctured himself? His pain-wracked swerves might kill or injure an innocent person.
Would that prospect occur to a person like this? In your dreams . . .
Bob Orben says that thanks to modern airplane travel, we can be sick in countries we had never heard of before.