Monday, February 22, 2010

No Ugly Babies

Somewhere in San Francisco there is a dank, dark clinical facility, far off the beaten path from the cable cars and the barking sea lions at Pier 39. If the security guard looks up from his People long enough to buzz you in, you might make your way along the sticky linoleum of the corridors toward what sounds at first like the calls of many exotic birds. But as you get nearer and turn the corner, you'll see them in their special ward: the wall-eyed, buck-toothed, assymetrical, wrinkled, impossibly ugly babies.

I'm speculating about the existence of this facility because I want to believe that San Francisco's ugly babies aren't actually being sent somewhere to be killed. But stroll through Noe Valley some time and peer into the high-end Swedish strollers at all the gorgeous babies on display, like little models patiently biding their time while their Pamper commercial residuals roll in to fill their collge funds. They coast by in those tiny carts pulled by their daddies' bicycles, triangular orange banners bobbing down the street, their perfect round little faces turned to the sun. In Chinatown you'll see the cutest babies imaginable watching you over their mothers' shoulders, perhaps wondering just how ugly a baby you were when you started out. Even the poorest districts of the city flaunt their pretty babies, black and Thai and Cambodian and Iraqi and Mexican and Ecuadoran and Indian. Just last Friday I went to lunch at a Japanese place on Portrero Hill, and as we walked by some sort of daycare storefront studio on a corner I saw a group of young mothers sitting on the floor, each with a perfect, cherubic child under the age of one. At the time, anyway, I assumed they were mothers, but more likely they were au pairs and nannies assigned the child-rearing duties of all the women who'd already returned to work after their brief maternity leaves, which may be why the women were all young and beautiful, too. I stood in the window and waved to the babies, who seemed to appreciate the attention, though my coworkers were perplexed that I was so mesmerized. There were amazing little ginger-haired babies, delicate doe-eyed Asian babies, blonds and brunettes and bald babies, and two or three waved back at the strange man in the window. Some of the women laughed and waved back, too, proud to be protecting the secrets of the beautiful babies placed in their care.

I'm sure there used to be ugly babies. I can remember peering into bassinettes to look at the newly minted offspring of friends and coworkers and recoiling like Kramer on Seinfeld. But the cherubs that are now brought into the office for display are all milky, glowing examples of infant perfection. I'd prefer to think it's a result of improved nutrition, yoga, Pilates, or even genetic engineering, than to consider that the ugly babies are being shipped to the Ugly Baby Home, or worse, left on the city's hillsides to be torn apart by ravens. Or did my ugly baby filter somehow break, and now they all look beautiful to me?

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