It’s a Thursday night, I am arriving at the house of a colleague and friend for dinner. This particular colleague and his wife are hosts of extraordinary measure. They love to entertain, and treat guests happily with an assortment of cocktails, wine, aperitifs, hors d’oeuvres, snacks, post dinner cheese and crackers, not to mention a main course that will make your toes curl. Tonight, we are having fish pie, a thing which I have both never had and hate myself for having never had. My excitement is palpable.

I ring the bell.

My friend greets me at the door and I hand him chocolates and Becherovka, and we go upstairs to the kitchen. His wife is taking care of their two small children, and they ask me to meet their infant daughter for the first time. I poke my head in and say hello to their three-year old son. Their daughter takes one look at me and immediately collapses into tears.

Tears are nothing new for me. As a teacher, friend, uncle, and all around asshole, I have experienced my share of firsthand tears. I have been trapped in my office with a recently failed, currently crying student. I have been on awkward dates with weepy women (not about me and not my fault. I swear). And I have sat across the table from a friend who’s been recently dumped (who hasn’t?). Even though I deal with tears from time to time, I, like many people, never know how to react. I often freeze up.

Naturally, today I run away and hide in a different part of the house. My hosts explain that this is her first reaction to new men. I explain that this is most women’s first reaction to me.

But actually, when it comes to baby’s tears, I seem to adapt quickly and snap into clown mode. I make faces, stick out my tongue, cross my eyes, make moose ears at them. This is in the hopes that I can trick them into laughing, or at least confuse them into forgetting why they were crying in the first place. Sometimes it totally works, and their gaze becomes one of gobsmacked contemplation. I feel relieved, of course, with only minor hints of guilt that I may have just created a lifelong phobia of bearded men and Hobbits.

Sometimes it doesn’t work and I have suffered uncomfortable tram rides, restaurant visits, and Israeli checkpoints. No matter, I have always found this tendency to clowning for crying babies fascinating. Faced with a crying student, I rarely make moose ears at them. Comforting a weeping dumped friend, I probably wouldn’t thumb my nose at them and cross my eyes. It’s a tactic solely for babies.

This evening, we have enjoyed cocktails, hors d oeuvres, and nice conversation in the kitchen. The children have played most of that time in the dining room on the other side of the wall. Their mom has become an expert on keeping an eye on the kids while keeping in an adult conversation. The comforting signs of children at play are apparent, a light rattling or a toy truck getting rolled over experimentally over carpet. Now and then I hear a satisfied laugh.

Occasionally, though, I hear the high-pitched moans evidential of tears and I’ll look around to spy the girl spying me from a patch of carpet nearby or from just on the other side of the wall. I start in on my technique, making faces, crawling around on the ground with my gin martini. My efforts prove marginally successful.

As we sit for dinner, I place myself across from the baby’s high chair. The girl looks at me in a tired wonder now, as though she’s a date who’s had too much to drink. She sometimes makes the face which I’ve learned predates tears by 3 seconds, but then I snap into clown mode and they are held off. As I work on my fish pie I periodically and suddenly break into an assortment of faces.

The rest of the evening is relatively free of tears. We have wine and lounge on the couch, and a night cap in the form of liquid Christmas. I contemplate the success of clowning to eradicate tears, maybe I’m wrong, maybe it will work with those other than babies.

Hell, maybe I’ll start making faces at those unhappy students. Couldn’t hurt, right?

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