ONE THING I've learned over the years is, you can never win going up against a baby.
Babies have a built-in sympathy factor going for them.
No matter what the baby does, if he stares at you until he gives you the creeps, if he throws strained peas in your face, people will automatically take the baby's side.
"Oh, he's just a baby," they say.
As if that excuses everything. Which, apparently, it does.
All of this is by way of explaining an incident at a restaurant the other night, when I almost got into it with another baby.
Two hundred seats in the place and this man and woman slide into the booth next to my wife and me, and the woman has a baby propped on her shoulder.
Naturally, the baby starts staring at me.
I say "naturally" because babies are always doing this to me.
On a flight to Florida once, a baby stared at me for two and a half hours. Think about that.
You would think a baby would get tired or bored staring at someone for that long, and fall asleep. But this baby had incredible stamina.
Also, I think I have the kind of face that babies find fascinating.
It's a pale, doughy face with drooping eyes and a few sun blemishes, and it must speak to them in some way about what life has in store for them, the terrible emotional and physical toll it exacts, how it can beat you down, etc.
In any event, the baby in the restaurant kept staring and staring. "This kid is creeping me out," I whispered to my wife.
"Oh, he's just a baby," my wife said.
Big surprise there.
I don't know if you've ever tried to eat with a baby staring at you, but it's very difficult. Basically, you have two huge blue eyes following your every move.
You butter a roll or eat a forkful of pasta and look up, and there's this baby practically sending you a telepathic message: I saw that.
And this baby's eyes were like pie tins. Of all the babies that have ever stared at me, this kid had the biggest peepers by far.
One thing I've noticed over the years is that when a baby stares at you as you eat, you become very self-conscious.
Even though he's a baby, you tend to focus a little more on your table manners.
You don't want the baby to see you dribbling iced tea down your chin or dropping a tomato in your lap or spraying food in someone's face when you speak.
It sounds silly, trying to impress a baby. But that's sort of what happens.
There were a few times when the baby's mother turned around to see what the baby was doing, and once she leaned over to my wife and said: "I hope the baby's not bothering you."
"Oh, no," my wife said. "He's a cutie."
But that's another thing about babies: Their mothers rarely know how unnerving they can be with all that staring.
Mainly, this is because the mothers hardly ever catch the baby staring at anyone.
Babies are sneaky that way.
They will stare at you and stare at you as long as their mother is not paying attention to them. But as soon as she turns around to see what the baby's doing, the baby will pretend to be looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor.
Then as soon as the mother goes back to doing whatever she was doing, the baby will start staring at you again.
If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself. Some babies are so good at this, you just know they're going to grow up to be spies or involved with homeland security.
Anyway, the baby stared at me throughout the entire meal.
There were a couple of times when the mother put the baby in her lap and attempted to feed him something off her plate.
But that apparently didn't work out too well. Because the next thing you knew, he was back up on her shoulder, staring a hole in me again.
On our way out, the hostess asked us how our meal went.
My wife said it went fine. I stuffed a mint in my mouth and said nothing.
There was no point in getting into the whole thing again.
You can't win going up against babies, so you might as well save your breath.