There are a number of feeling-states appropriate to the avuncular role, among which insane jealousy is not generally cited. And yet, in assessing Daniel Augustino, some strain of envy appears inevitable. There are several reasons for this, though we are best to start with his look, which is of the angelic-tousled-blond-not-quite-ready-for-bath variety. Women swoon in his presence. On occasion, they will follow him home from the Parco Fantastico, his favorite daytime haunt. Daniel is three and preternaturally handsome.
I have discussed this situation with his father, who shares my distress.“Yeah, we’re a little worried. If he gets my brains and Lisa’s social skills, it’s pretty much lights out for the lady babies.”
Daniel also speaks three languages, the most prominent being Italian. He will occasionally throw in bits of English and Spanish, which lend his speech a distinct, Eurotrashy flair, only slightly hampered by his inability to dependably form complete sentences. During a recent visit to his home in Napa Valley, Daniel drew attention to his toilet-training skills by announcing (with a certain rakish self-satisfaction) his intention to fare cacca. Not long ago, he set about inventing a fourth language, which, to this point, consists of only two words, both, apparently, exclamations: stockabiko and uhmbobilee.
He is physically unafraid of anything and has displayed a disquieting tendency to jump from moving vehicles. Daniel’s interests tend toward the obsessive. As a toddler, he passed through a phase of bus worship. Recent preoccupations have included organic gardening, with an emphasis on the process of digging for vermi (worms), archery, the preparation of pancakes, and attempting to slay his younger brother, Lorenzo Jacob (aka Butterbean aka the Belly).
These homicidal tendencies have been tempered of late by Daniel’s enrollment in a progressive preschool, where the student body spends much of the day engaged in such pacifistic endeavors as the making of apple sauce and fresh bread. His favorite activity at school is riding a long laundry line that has been rigged with handlebars so that children can glide, Batman-style, over dirt. It is unclear what heuristic value this holds for the child. Then again, I am not entirely certain what heuristic means.
As a tandem, Daniel and Lorenzo are variously referred to as the Wrecking Crew and Team Head Contusion, designations that are lent authenticity by their current preferred hobby, which consists of running headfirst into doors.
Daniel’s most recent obsession—to which I must confess an unwholesome influence—is candy. Last spring, I took him on an outing to the jelly bean factory not far from his home. We had both hoped the factory tour would include an informal walk-through, during which we might be able to scoop several handfuls of jelly beans into our pockets. Alas, the tour was conducted by means of video presentations, which kept us separated from the actual beans by means of thick glass partitions. Daniel solved this problem by making a fearless, if misguided, break for the production floor. This set off a piercing alarm, which caused him to start crying hysterically, while the rest of the tour group glared at both of us. A free package of jelly beans soothed him considerably.
Overall, I would describe our relationship as falling somewhere between loving and enabling. He refers to me as “Uncle Stevie collo lungo” (literally: “Uncle Steve Long Neck”) which suggests a certain alcoholic proclivity on my part, but is, in fact, an assessment of my physiology. We are also in weekly contact by telephone, though our conversations often consist of his shouting “You’re stone cold crazy, uncle Steve!” into the receiver, an accusation I do not dispute.
The child Daniel Augustino has not, as yet, developed a coherent weltanschauung. On the contrary, he is riding out his pre-latency years in a state of excitable harmony, breaking a few hearts without meaning to, largely ignoring his political base, and remaining an extremely attractive, if volatile, candidate for stardom.