One problem with being around young parents is that they will often sit you down and begin to demand (there is no other word for it) that you look at their baby pictures.
There is a certain procedure one should follow here so as to avoid bruised feelings on the part of everyone concerned.
First, suppress the perfectly natural urge to elbow both parents in the stomach and bolt for the nearest exit. Instead, remain calm and try a few simple deep-breathing exercises.
Then, upon being shown the first snapshot of the baby, quickly say: "Awww, how cu-u-u-te."
This will immediately put the parents at ease, and they will be eternally grateful that you didn't point out that the baby strongly resembles a honeydew melon with eyes, as they originally feared.
The fact is that a good portion of today's babies are flat-out ugly. There is no getting around this.
Yet sitting there on the sofa between the proud parents, a photo album on your lap and two glasses of cheap wine warming your insides, it would be bad form to mention (even in passing) that the child is a strong candidate to play the lead in "Mr. Magoo: The Early Years."
Still. . . just once I'd like to see someone peer at a baby picture, stiffen noticeably and blurt out: "What the. . .? That's not a baby, is it?"
As the father of three kids (the youngest 10 months old), I used to do my share of cornering innocent bystanders at parties and whipping out baby pictures.
Now, though, I know how the game is played.
Now, after I show off my baby pictures and hear the obligatory "Awww, how cu-u-u-te!" I'll often follow that person right over to the onion dip and ask: "You don't think his eyes are too close together, do you?"
That reminds me of an incident that took place not long ago when I found myself at a wedding reception with 200 drunks doing the Hokey-Pokey.
This is neither here nor there, but my philosophy on the Hokey-Pokey is this: There is not enough booze on the entire planet to get me to do that stupid dance.
If you get a kick out of that nonsense, fine, knock yourself out. Just leave me out of it.
Anyway, I was sitting at a table at this wedding, minding my own business, when the couple next to me struck up a conversation.
Maybe they thought I was bored, although I assured them that I always bring a 18-inch portable TV to social functions.
Whatever the reason, this couple was real chatty, to the point that I could barely follow what was happening on "Cops."
Even when I turned up the volume to hear what this undercover officer was saying to the hooker, this couple didn't get the hint. They just kept talking and talking, telling me all about their 4-month-old baby boy.
Then came the moment I was dreading: The woman reached in her pocketbook and pulled out a stack of baby pictures.
Well. Let me say this. I have seen a lot of babies in my time. I !! have seen fat babies and thin babies. I have seen cute babies, and babies that were so ugly you figured they were raised by wolverines.
But this was absolutely the ugliest baby I had ever seen. Oh, Lord, he was a homely little cuss!
All I kept thinking was: It's a good thing this couple left their kid home. Because if they had brought this kid to the wedding, you would have seen people stampeding to the exits all night long.
All I know is, if I had to look at this kid for four hours, I'd even think about hitting the dance floor and doing the Hokey-Pokey -- booze or no booze. I know that's a tough thing to say about a baby and, believe me, it gives me no great pleasure to say it.
So here I was, staring at a snapshot of the kid, the parents searching my face for some sort of reaction.
The dilemma was obvious: Do I go with my gut instinct (honed considerably by four Molsons) and blurt out that the kid looks like a young Peter Lorre, which would send the mother fleeing tearfully in the direction of the rest rooms and possibly precipitate a brawl with the father?
Or do I lie shamelessly (as usual) and say that the child is adorable, thereby preserving the peace and, with any luck, catching the last 10 minutes of "Cops?"
In an instant, my mind was made up.
Studying the snapshot, I mustered what I hoped was an earnest look and mumbled: "Awww, how cu-u-u-te."
Listen, I wasn't in the mood for any hassles.