Public speaking is supposedly the average person’s greatest fear. Mine used to be getting a haircut in a country where I don’t speak the language. That’s been replaced by a fear of shopping with my son Robert and him demanding we get one of those shopping carts with the yellow car attached to it.
If you’ve ever used one of them, you know that the wheelbase’s relationship to the track is so out of kilter that you don’t push the cart but wrestle it. “It’s like navigating hairpin turns in a double decker stretch Hummer towing a horse trailer,” wrote Marc Cozza and Rebecca Cohen in their aptly titled blog, Whoever Designed this is an A**hole. After 20 minutes of shopping you’ve got spondylolisthesis so bad you require hospitalization. You suffer pain for weeks, all in the name of pleasing a little kid.
I’ve developed a number of techniques to distract Robert from the car shopping cart. We walk past every store entrance until I see through the window that only regular shopping carts are available.
If Robert sees a car shopping cart, I then tell him they’re too dangerous: 24,000 American children are injured each year in shopping cart accidents (they're hit by them in parking lots, but why split hairs?).
Another technique is to shout at him like an angry Russian mother as soon as he points at the car. “Paidjom!” Or I can run ahead of him and yell, “Idi sudá!” This visibly perturbs Estonians who see me as the shale mining lumpen they wish would move further east. Russian proles are not bothered, but I notice the educated class will attempt to hide themselves. But it makes little Robert convulse with laughter. To him, there’s nothing funnier than dad’s bad Russian.
I’m not saying that thrilling Robert with a 30-minute ride isn’t worth throwing my back out for, but once Robert gets in the car cart, he’ll inevitably get bored with it and be on his feet in three minutes, me left to pilot the awkward barge for the remainder of the shopping experience.
Once on his feet, Robert begins singling out fellow shoppers, usually of recognizable professions, blocking them with his body to demand they identify themselves: “Kes oled?”
“Soldier,” the man in BDUs answers.
“Fireman,” replies the man in giant boots.
Sometimes Robert complicates things by selecting someone for his “kes oled?” who appears no different than the rest of us. Like the balding, overweight man he chose last week.
The man paused a second before answering “Politician.”
Robert literally scratched his head. “What’s that?”
“We’re the people you hate as a class but make exception to as individuals.” It was likely his stock answer, but it was election season and maybe the man just needed to get it off his chest. Although the explanation was over Robert’s head, he stood a while and gazed at the man. I wondered if he was somehow sympathizing with him? And whether I should step in and make him stop.
Just the other day friends were in our kitchen bemoaning Centre Party’s overwhelming victory in Tallinn. They seemed truly dumbstruck that Tallinners had elected Edgar for another term, even though most of them admitted to not having voted. As justification some offered an argument Russell Brand made in a recent interview: that voting is “tacit complicity” in the crimes of the ruling class. But when voter turnout is only 58 percent, it seems that if more people bothered to vote, the result might just be different. It’s hard to say if Edgar is the The People’s Choice, but there’s no question he’s The Choice of The People Who Voted. Robert had witnessed this kitchen discussion and remained silent. I wondered how much he had understood, since there were no Jedi knights or Hot Wheels cars involved.
As Robert stood staring up at the politician, I saw what I wanted to interpret as a wry smile come over his face. He reached out, extending a tiny hand to the balding man, who gently took it. “Who’s that?” Robert demanded, pointing his free hand at an approaching bearded young man.
“Non-voter,” the politician replied, hardly missing a beat.
“What’s that?” came Robert’s standard follow up.
“Part of the problem instead of part of the solution.”
This politician cannot be real, I thought. I couldn’t recall which party he represented, and made a mental note to look it up when we got home.
As we drove home with a car full of groceries, Robert looked out the window at the dark October sky and cooed, “Hey, moon, don’t follow me. Go away, moon.” Sometimes kids floor you with their observations and unknowing wit.
I wondered for a moment if it hadn’t been Robert who supplied the wit to the supermarket politician, subconsciously beaming witticisms into the man’s bald, yet otherwise empty, dome. What if Robert is one of the indigo children that my wife Liina likes to talk about, the super-empathetic next stage in human evolution, the children who will supposedly save us from ourselves?
But then, still looking out the window, Robert began to sing. It was an Estonian song I’d never heard before, a very serious drama about a pair of trousers: “Mamma mia, mamma mia. Anna püksid kohe siia.”
I figured it was smart not to report any of this to Liina. If Robert’s chat with the politician could be interpreted as him being indigo, then it followed that the simple-minded trousers song was evidence of the politician hijacking Robert’s mind.
Better to avoid supermarkets altogether, I thought. Avoid politicians, too. Perhaps Russell Brand was right. Better to reject the world, hermit ourselves away in a comfortable place until that day arrives when society somehow better meets our expectations.
Vello's new book is available in Estonian. Or the old standby in English.