Why Not?

07/23/2008 By Shawn Burns

We took Erin on one of those Duck-boat tours in San Diego. You know, the ones where you board on dry land, drive around for a while having things pointed out to you, then drive into the water and motor around for a while having things pointed out to you, but lower, with chance of spray?

I think Erin had a good time. I know that Emily and I did, but not because we could see the seals in the harbor (or sea lions, I don’t know the difference) or watch helicopters take off from North Island in pursuit of imagined bad dudes.

We had a good time because we watched people gush over our daughter. Sure, that happens all the time (because like every parent our child is the cutest one in the world and gets the most attention and blah blah blah…leave me alone), but this time it was particularly charming because Erin was the object of attention from an entire group of Japanese tourists.

Picture, if you will, the stereotypical, mildly racist archetype of the Japanese tourist from every 80’s film and television depiction. Now, add smaller cameras. That’s the group.

They laughed, smiled, pointed, took pictures, and eventually we let Erin go play with them for a while. She posed, she was bounced, she laughed, she stole glasses and hats. They couldn’t stop passing her around, almost fighting over the chance to steal a few extra moments with her.

I know how they feel.

That kind of attention goes right to my heart. I love knowing that other people are just as enamoured of my daughter as I am. I am proud of her and her enthusiasm for the world and its inhabitants. I love sharing her with the world when the world asks, both because that kind of sharing will benefit Erin in the long run as she remains fearless and confident, and because it’s really flattering, as though I have something to do with the way that she is and it is being recognized. A tiny little award for having some awesome sex one night fifteen months ago. (Uh. Where did I just go? Getting back to the family show…)

So, that’s the feeling that I took with me Wednesday morning as I rode the train up to San Francisco to meet with a modeling agent. Constantly seeing pictures of babies in magazines and thinking "My baby is cuter than that!" or people asking if we’ve considered letting Erin model finally piqued my curiosity. One of Emily’s friends does some modeling, and she has allowed her toddler to do some modeling as well, so eventually we slid a picture her way and it was passed along to the agency. Why not?

Why not?

Why not?

Do you know, "why not?" isn’t really a question? It’s a statement. A statement about an inability to see reasons, not an invitation to someone to provide reasons that you can’t see. It says "I can’t think of anything compelling the other way, so…."

I walked into the swank office in downtown San Francisco, with it’s posters of movies on the wall signed by actors the firm had represented, and I suddenly missed suburbia.

Yeah, this guy missed suburbia.

The agency was alien. Certainly it was an office like any other, with small rooms off to the side of the waiting area, and hardwood flooring throughout. But I couldn’t escape the feeling of "factory" as I looked around.

The agent who had been in contact with us came out from behind a wall after I had finished filling out Erin’s "stat" card. (She batted .327 for the Silicon Valley Toddlers last year with 47 goals and a 92% pass completion.) We sat down in her office and she gave us the run-down on the business side: little to no-notice calls, the agency handled both print and film castings, the need to get a work permit, late-morning weekday sessions, the trust accounts set up for earnings. It was all straightforward. She asked about our flexibility, and I felt the need to assure her that even though I’d be in school full-time in the fall I’d only have classes a couple of days a week and could be very flexible.

It was a straightforward "I think your daughter is cute, and has a great disposition, and I can find work for her" conversation.

But something turned my stomach about it. The agent was pleasant, and I immediately felt like trusting her judgment about things: she had the confidence that her position probably requires of her.

So it wasn’t her.

It was the factory. Erin would go in, be processed, and come out as some refined (as in sugar, not as in hoity-toity) version of a toddler.

And I realized that the flattered joy that I took out of seeing the world appreciate her would never be captured if this were a job. And she wouldn’t learn to love and trust the world as she does in those innocent, random encounters with Japanese tourists: she would learn to let the world love her.

That reversal was stark and bright at the same time. Stark like coming up to the edge of a chasm and feeling your intestines jump into your throat; bright like the hot lights of a police interrogation: "Why Not, Shawn? Why Not? Why Not? Isn’t it true that this is Why Not? Admit It? No. No lawyers here. No phone calls. Why Not?"

We left the agency and I was already dressed in mourning black. I mourned the death of that naive dad who thought he could say "Why Not?" without asking it. There was no way I was going to be comfortable letting Erin do this (or making her do it, I suppose you could say. It’s not like it’s been at the top of her little toddler list of things to do this year: (1) Be a model. (2) Learn how to use a spoon. (3) Figure out why the cat doesn’t respond to "kittykittykittykitty!!!!!" and sudden charges in its direction.)

Plus, they wanted 20%.

Fuck that noise. We’d burn the rest in gas just to get to the jobs.