I was twenty-one and stationed in Germany, and my German girlfriend, Anna, wanted to see Judgment at Nuremberg, which was playing at the theater on post. We arrived so early that the lights in the theater were still on. We bought popcorn or candy or something, then seated ourselves.
A few minutes later a young couple with a baby came in and sat down right in front of us. The baby was perhaps six months old and at some point Mama put him over her left shoulder, looking right at me. As is the case with many adults faced with a baby, I became an instant idiot. I made a face at the baby, and to my surprise he wrinkled up his face and let out a howl.
Mama relocated the baby to her lap to calm him down. I looked at Anna and raised my eyebrows. I was greeted by a blank stare.
Mama put the baby back on her shoulder and the baby watched me intently. I returned the favor and after a moment made the face again. Instant howl. Mama took the baby around front again, and I felt an elbow hit my arm and heard a muttered "Stop it!" from Anna.
The baby quieted down and soon he was again looking over his mother's shoulder. The right shoulder this time. But did he look at Anna? Nooooo. He stared at me. I stared back. Neither of us blinked. I swear, that baby was daring me to make that face again. This was our own version of High Noon.
Well, there are some things you just gotta be a man about. I made the face, the baby shrieked, and I was reminded that Anna was wearing boots with high heels. Kicking backwards, she put one heel halfway through my right shin. Just writing about it, I can feel the pain today.
A minute later the baby popped up again and through my tears I could see it in his eyes: "How do you like them apples, hot shot?"
Just as I was caving in, just as I was thinking "There are some things you don't actually have to be a man about," and "I wonder how long I'll have to use a crutch," I was saved by the dimming of the lights and the onset of the previews.
I speculate that the baby went on to become a serial killer or something equally appropriate to his personality.