It's Cubby's Birthday!

It’s Cubby’s birthday today.  He’s 22.  Born April 12, 1990

I still remember the first time I saw that date.  It was on a white plastic nametag, attached to his cage at The Kid Store in the Holyoke Mall.  Even now, I remember what a close-run thing it was.  I almost didn’t buy him.

“You can’t get a kid in those places,” my friends had cautioned me.  “All those mall stores sell are kiddie mill babies.  They’re awful, the way you take them home and they just go bad.  I've seen them turn crazy, and gnaw their own legs off.  It's horrible.  You want one from good natural stock.   Go to a small breeder, out in the country.“   I had that advice in mind but he looked so cute wiggling his little paws in the window.  I’d heard my buddies’ warnings loud and clear though, and I grilled the salesman.

He was very enthusiastic, to say the least.  “Sir,” he said, “this is the best baby we’ve gotten here in a long time.  Look how perfectly formed he is.  Watch him wiggle those ears.  Isn’t he irresistible?  He even smiles when you poke him in the belly!”   I had to agree, but I was still cautious.

I picked him up, hefted him and tossed him in the air.  “Careful, Sir!” The salesman was indignant.  “These babies are expensive!  If you drop him you’ll have to buy him, even if he’s damaged.”  Money was tight in those days, and I set him down gingerly.  We took a few other babies out and compared them. He was the obvious winner, but I could not let on that I was smitten. I had to seem dispassionate and logical.

“What about kiddie mills?  Is that where he came from?” I challenged the salesman.  “Sir!”  The fellow seemed indignant though I was sure he’d heard that question a hundred times before.  “The other store at the far end of the mall sells kiddie mill children.  We sell good country raised kids here.  Go down there and look.  I’m sure you’ll see the difference.  Even now, all their kiddie mill babies are howling and biting in their cages.  Look how sweet and placid this one is, in comparison.” 

“He’s perfectly formed too.  Two arms, two legs, eleven fingers and ten toes.  Just a stub of a tail.  Half those kids at the other store are missing a leg and one has two heads.  Who’d buy a baby like that?”  I thought of my friends in the circus but I kept my mouth shut. 

Meanwhile, The Kid crawled around on the carpet.  All he needed was a name and a home.  “Isn’t he precious?”  Two couples had appeared.  As they talked, I began to worry that one might pluck him from the floor and carry him to the cash register while I stood there undecided.  There’s nothing worse than a bidding war.  I’d see them myself at the car auctions.

Thinking fast, I made up my mind.  This baby was clearly one of their better specimens and much better behaved than any of the other units.  Only the issue of cost remained.  “That’s no problem,” the salesman said.  “We have twenty percent off on baby packages today.  All you need to do is buy a baby and two items of clothing, or a case of food and something else for him.  Best of all, we can charge your credit card in twelve installments, interest free!”  What else could I say?  I put a case of peach flavor Feed-A-Tyke and a bag of little OshKosh trainman's overalls in the cart and took him home.  “He’s going to be a great kid,” they all told me.  “He’ll do every chore you give him, and then some.  You just wait and see.”

I brought him home, and watched him grow.  Chores came and went, and still I waited.  In the blink of an eye, he was walking around and babbling nonstop.  But he would not work on command.  “Go shovel the driveway,” I told him that first winter.  He just giggled and rocked back and forth on the floor.  I put him in a snowsuit and carried him outside.  I handed him a shovel.  “Let’s go,” I said.  In response, he just swung the shovel around in circles, making shapes in the snow and howling with excitement. 

I never did get that driveway shoveled.  Finally, I bought a snowblower.  Pour the gas in, pull the handle, and it clears snow.  No talking back.   One by one, my dreams of child labor were replaced by machines.  Meanwhile, the kid got bigger and ate more food.  He took my things and claimed they were his. 

Eventually, he grew up.  Now he lives on his own, and denies any of this ever happened.  “I’m a hard worker,” he says.  Look here, and you can see his latest creation:

Here's another one:

I’m very proud of him.

And this is only the beginning . . . Read the whole story in my newest book, The Best Kid in the Store, coming in January from Crown.  Woof.


Kate said…
Awww! I bet that 11th finger comes in handy somehow :) Happy birthday!
Kevin Routh said…
Great post John! I met you in St. Louis a few weeks ago and you were kind enough to sign your book, "Be Different" to my son Connor. He has Asperger's and today is his birthday as well! I guess April 12th is a great day for amazing sons! :)
I wrote a poem about my son and would be honored if you'd read it and let me know what you think:
waffles said…
Thanks for the chuckle. Your stories always make me smile. Happy Birthday Cubby!
forsythia said…
He's probably heard this a hundred times, but he was VERY cute. Looks like he turned into a handsome and creative young man.
Jean Sunell said…
John you are soooo funny! Cubby looks just like you, so don't make fun of him-haha!
Milly said…
Happy Birthday! (Look what else happened on April 12: 1961: first human in orbit. 1981: first flight of SpaceShuttle.)
SamD said…
From one parent to another--TERRIFIC story!!

And happy birthday to your son, too.
Bev said…
Can't wait for the book, John. Happy Birthday, Jack. Wishing you both all the very best!
tiger said…
Just finished your book look me in the eye. My father beat that into me when i was a kid great great book I was diagnosed asperger a week ago my wife seen it in me after being with me for three yrs shrinks just wanted to drug me.
Just wanted to let you know thanks for letting me know im not alone and im okay
Great read John :-)

MarcF said…
Cannot wait for the book. My own varmint, purchased at retail, now speaks Japanese.
Verbose said…
Hahaha this was just adorable to read. Happy belated birthday to him and yay for wiggling ears!!! I wish I had that talent. I sometimes wonder if my cats secretly comminicate in more ways than one and that ear movements are their sign language.
I should learn so that I can better predict when they plan to walk all over my homework and sleep on my laptop.
GretaCargo said…
It will be good! I know it!!

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