~TC I SEE WHERE the baby-sitting industry has been rocked by two major developments that threaten the livelihood of all those bratty 15-year-olds who traditionally dominate the profession.
The first is a series of steady rate increases and perquisites (cooking the baby sitter's favorite food, renting whatever movie the baby sitter wants to see, etc.) agreed to by some desperate parents, which has set off a good deal of grumbling among other parents who are not -- how to put this delicately? -- completely out of their minds.
These rate hikes and perks are particularly hard to take when you examine the basic job description of a baby sitter, which is:
1. Lie listlessly on couch.
2. Jabber endlessly on phone to boyfriend/girlfriend.
3. Watch TV while compact disc player blares in background.
4. Wipe out entire household supply of Diet Coke and Cheetos.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but most people would kill for a job like that.
I myself have thought of getting into baby-sitting, especially since the pay -- what is it now, around $3 an hour? -- would represent a substantial increase over my present meager salary.
The one possible drawback to me being a baby sitter (and this is only if you want to get picky) is this: I hate kids.
Well, I don't hate all kids. For instance, I don't hate my kids (at least not while they're sleeping). And there are one or two other youngsters I can tolerate under the right conditions, such as when they live in a different area code.
But if I had to watch over a couple of whining little thugs who refuse to stop smacking each other while their parents are out getting tanked up at a Jaycees "Man of the Year" dinner, well, I . . . I couldn't do it, that's all.
There is every reason to suspect that when the parents finally stumbled home, they'd find their little darlings locked in the hall closet with a pan of water.
Me, I'd be perched on the sixth floor ledge of a nearby office building, threatening to jump while an Emergency Services cop with a bullhorn tries to talk me down and firemen scurry around below spreading out a huge air bag.
This brings us, conveniently, to the second development threatening the baby-sitting trade, which is the release of the wildly disturbing film "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle."
If you want to get technical, this is really a movie about a deranged nanny.
Apparently, the nanny (Rebecca De Mornay) comes across as a smiling, sweet-faced Singing Nun-type at first, then quickly turns into a bug-eyed, knife-wielding psycho who is trying to kill everyone in the phone book.
I say "apparently," because I myself haven't seen the movie, becoming so unnerved by the coming attractions that now I hide under a bed whenever someone knocks at my door.
The point is, if you see the movie, you will never, ever leave your kids in the care of a stranger again, even if she (or he) has references from . . . I don't know, the Pope.
That aside, here are some baby sitters you'll want to avoid at all costs:
* The baby sitter who arrives with homework. This is the oldest trick in the book. Believe me, as soon as you back out of the driveway, the textbooks will be tossed under the couch, the curtains will snap shut, and your kids will be herded down to the family room with a duffel bag full of M&M's to keep them occupied.
Soon a dozen biker friends will roar up to the front door with five cases of Budweiser. I've seen it a thousand times. Well, I've heard about it, anyway.
* The baby sitter who arrives without homework. This kid doesn't even try to pretend a beer party is not getting under way shortly. Don't be surprised if the kid breaks out a tube of glue and starts sniffing it right in front of you.
* The baby sitter who's polite and friendly. This is the child who annoys the hell out of you by arriving precisely on time. To make it worse, she's alert and bright-eyed, with that frozen Stepford Wives smile and the maddening habit of addressing you as "Sir" and "Ma'am" while she gushes on about how much she likes your kids. She'll even compliment your taste in refrigerator magnets. Dial 911 immediately, then round up the children and try to make a break for it. You probably won't get far, as the kid is no doubt armed.
Try to remain calm if the whole thing deteriorates into a hostage situation.