Time and Punishment demonstrates Jason Kornblatt's ability to be Jason Kornblatt; a dude who sees comedy where other people see boring, everyday life. This was his first story for Pork Pony. -CL
I recently read a scientific article in the New York Times which theorized that if you fail to punish an animal for its crimes right away, it will not know why it's being punished at all. For instance, if you were to come home, notice your dog's mess on arrival, and instantly rub his nose in it, he would understand at once that messes aren't the way to go and endeavor to never create one again. However, if you were to leisurely wait until after dinner to introduce his nose to his mess, he will become confused and think you are just very strange and cruel. And he would be right.
This scientific argument flashed through my mind as I watched my young nephew, Evan, pelt a swan with rocks, at the North Woodmere Park. I have had my run-ins with this nephew before. He is not the clever sort of nephew, who hurts you with well-aimed bottle rockets, or by sending pornography to your boss's computer at work. No, he is more the base thug type of nephew. For instance, he is a notorious kicker of testicles, a skill he most likely began cultivating in the womb and has yet to grow out of. If he makes it through childhood, I suspect he could eventually become a professional punter for the New York Giants. For now, however, he is simply a pest.
For instance, last Passover. We were having a perfectly nice time, I thought. He was trying to attack me with matzoh balls before the Seder dinner and I was repelling him with a defensive system I've created for all little cousins and nephews, called `Tickle Fu'. This technique causes the attacker to break down into fits of giggles, rendering him or her unable to successfully kick you in soft spots, or to smush the contents of his hands into your ear. I have plans of recommending this technique to the New York Police Department for breaking up riots. A whole platoon of "Tickle Cops" would ease city tensions I think.
Anyway, this particular nephew was not taking my tickling lying down. Summoning all his strength, he pulled back his dress-shoe clad foot and booted me squarely below the knee. In reflex reaction, my tickling hand clamped shut on his ribs, causing him to begin to cry. Despite my efforts to calm him, he continued this activity for roughly 3 hours, assuring his parents I'd broken his ribs. I tried to put a positive spin on the incident, bringing to everyone's attention what a great lesson in cause and effect it was, but it wasn't until the family had safely put away 7 bottles of Manachewitz that I was forgiven.
Another time, as I lay napping after a filling lunch, Evan sat on my face and broke wind. I didn't see him do it, but upon waking I felt the ghost of strain on my neck and cheek. After smelling the evidence, I was further convinced when I heard him giggling hysterically at the top of the stairs.
In neither of these episodes was I able to employ the advice of the scientific article. According to the wisdom therein, had I run to my nephew and properly spanked him for gassing me, he could have assumed that it was for any number of offenses he'd caused since running up the stairs.
However, as I saw him now, continuing to hurl rocks and curses at the innocent swan, I decided that, this time, he would learn the extent of his crimes.
"Put down that rock!" I shouted, and saw him start satisfactorily. However, after regaining his composure, Evan remembered his elected position as the worst kid in the world. He turned in my direction, thought of David and Goliath, and fired the rock at me, hitting my stomach squarely, and coming very close to insuring that I never have the chance to give my sister a nephew as rotten as the one she'd given me.
Though the pain was in no way negligible, I composed myself and launched after the brat, who was half way around the pond by this time. Not nearly as committed to revenge as I, nor as embroiled in feelings of brotherhood, the swan placidly continued to float. Perhaps he would come over and participate when I got hold of Evan, but until then, floating seemed his best course.
Had I been faster, I might have caught up to my diminutive nephew before passing the tennis and basketball courts and the over-populated community pool, ensuring relative privacy for the distribution of his punishment. Evan's own quickness made this impossible. However, though I seemed in danger of losing him, thoughts of the scientific article pushed me forward. When I did reach him, it was in the grassy and densely inhabited Barbecue area. He had just run onto some family's checkered picnic blanket when I grabbed him by the shoulders and hoisted him into the air. Though this Barbecue area was filled with people, it was as if I had been fitted with blinders. I did not bother to explain Evan's offenses or my behavior. I simply held him in the air and began shouting in his face.
He spit in my eye. Twice. And that's when I lost control of hands and temper. Turning Evan around, I lowered him carefully to the ground and began spanking him repeatedly, as if I were back in my fraternity, making due on a freshman without benefit of the ceremonial paddle. "This is for the Swan!" I shouted. "This is for the Rock!" After I had spanked Evan as I'd never spanked anyone before, I caught my breath, regaining my senses. As he quietly sobbed, guilt began to creep into my soul. Guilt as I have rarely felt it. And when Evan began to curse at me, the guilt only grew worse.
Looking up, I saw barbecuers standing all around me, dumbfounded. Burgers sizzled without being flipped, flies flew on potato salad, nervous at the absence of swats. I knew I had acted inappropriately in public, but I didn't realize my actions merited this long, stunned silence. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a painted banner - "Long Island Survivors of Abuse - Annual Picnic".
Though I had previously suspected Evan of being nothing more than a thug, I could see now that I was mistaken. This was his plan all along. To run to this place of protection, where even I would not touch him. Only, he didn't foresee the level of my anger. And now I had triggered within these people the nostalgic memories of childhood they had been bravely trying to barbecue away.
There was nothing for me to say. I tried regardless. "He threw a rock. He tortured ... swan." But there were no nods of understanding. As I slowly backed away from the barbecue, nephew tucked under my arm, his hand held pleadingly out to them in a sign for assistance, I knew that these people felt powerless once again. To them, I was the man who made this feast necessary. They could do nothing. However, Evan was not so stunned. Biting my hand, he forced me to let him go with a squeal. And when he ran off this time, I did not follow, but silently wished that swan good luck.