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The pale boy was doing a kind of dance in the aisle of the restaurant, flinging first one red napkin aloft followed by the white napkin, tossing the napkins overhead in a kind of aerial dogfight he narrated with obscure sound effects, twirling in a tight circle. He was about six years old with light coppery hair and wire rim spectacles and had been wiggling in his seat while his dad talked to the younger Asian couple who were dinner guests at their table. The mom I presumed to be the stony-faced Asian woman sitting opposite her husband and both kids, making no attempt at conversation (the other kid, a girl of about the same age, lay in her father’s lap—it was about 9:30 PM, their bedtime)—and the boy twirled in his fantastic napkin dance as if reinventing the Chilean cueca. But he had not heard his father repeatedly tell him to sit down in his chair and stop doing that. Suddenly the father, a muscular white man with a military buzz cut in a polo shirt, reached out and grabbed the front of the little boy’s T-shirt, growling at him, forcibly sitting the child in his chair and telling him to sit down, sit there and don’t move! The boy, shocked, sat staring down at nothing, perhaps fighting tears, adjusted his eyeglasses. The father became aware that everyone was staring at him, including his dinner guests, the young Asian woman in particular looking on him with cold disapproval. The father fell silent, embarrassed and full of regret. Momentarily, he made the futile gesture of patting his son on his back. Then (probably saying to each other that the kids were tired and so were they) they all left the restaurant. I wanted to tell the father, don’t worry, you’ll love the boy and do your best by him. No one who saw this tonight will remember. The table was cleared and set, three Latina sisters in their late twenties and their mom, two boyfriends or spouses sat down.

March 2012