Diaper Dexterity

Damon Runyon

The diaper derby of the Chicago flat janitors is now history. However, that does not deter me from expressing myself on a few observations on this matter.

I am greatly astounded that so simple a task as changing a diaper should be considered by anyone as possessing the elements of competitive effort and of public interest, unless of course the babies are of more advanced age than the title usually indicates. I mean to say it has never before occurred to me that there is anything to the enterprise of changing a diaper that would make one diaper changer of sufficient difference from another to warrant a contest.

What is there to changing a diaper?

You grab hold of a baby, hurl it on his or her back, whip off the used tire and clap on the spare—but wait a minute. I seem to be getting the babies mixed up with automobiles. Let us retrace our steps.

In cold weather, I advise warming the new diaper before applying, and would also recommend care in adjusting the safety pins, because I know thousands of sour citizens whose lives were first embittered by being inadvertently tacked into their saddle blankets early in life. (Oh, yes—a little talcum. Don’t forget the talcum.)

You then dismiss the proceeding with a loving little pat which will often serve to dispel any tears that the subject may have developed during the changing of the diaper as a result of your belting him or her for not holding still.

All right. What is there to that? What is there to it to work up a championship contest? Where is the excitement the thrills? There may be some fellows who can hold a trifle more neatly than others and who can put a little more flourish to their touches, but when it comes to the fundamentals there is nothing to changing a diaper worthy a crowd.

I admit there may have been improvements in the process since my time. I believe I recall seeing a lady slip a pair of paper pants on a young ’un and maybe she was passing that off as diapering, but it is my impression that the Chicago contest involved the old-fashioned racket and I say it has no varying shades of adroitness, at least not enough to make a battle royal.

I once knew a chap who had a system of just hanging the baby on the clothes line to dry and he was greatly admired by all his fellow citizens for having discovered a wonderful innovation on changing a diaper, but the baby was one of those precocious kids that learned to talk quite early and eventually he tipped his mamma off to what was going on and there was the dadgumbdest row in that household you ever heard of.

I judge from the paragraph about the Chicago tussle that time was deemed important and that it also figured in the New York contest, news of which had escaped me up to this moment, and I want to say that the seven seconds flat mentioned is not the world record by three seconds. The record is held by my maternal grandmother and was established in western Kansas years ago.

She had picked up her baby in the yard and gone into the house to change a diaper when she observed the approach of a band of old Dull Knife’s Injun braves in war paint and she changed that diaper in four seconds and was a hundred yards up the road in another ten. The Injuns said afterwards that most women generally dispensed with changing any diapers under such circumstances and expressed great admiration for grandmamma’s sense of orderliness.

I think I forgot to state that my own best time for changing a diaper is about eight seconds and I simultaneously smoked a cigarette. I would have done better had not some of the hot ashes dropped in the new diaper, leading to a fierce hand to hand struggle with the baby.

I never knew until recently that some laundries had special diaper-renting services. I always thought that the laundering of diapers was strictly a household function, with some ladies showing a marked preference for the family bath tub for their operations, often about the time the old man wants to take a bath.

But now literally tons of diapers are handled by city laundries, which I must say I consider further evidence of deterioration of the womanly arts in the home. However, I am consoled to some extent by the thought that probably in small towns the good old-fashioned system of rinsing the diaper still prevails.

During the war, through the loss of hands to the armed forces and defense work, laundries were crippled in all departments, and in none more than the diaper-dusting division, and I understand that the beef from fond mothers who had been relying on the diaper service of the laundries was terrific. You see, a gentleman can wear the same shirt, the same socks or the same shorts for days without inconvenience or discomfort, but to ask an infant to wear the same diaper for more than twenty-four hours would in the opinion of experts annoy the kid no little.

The way I came to learn about the bogging down of the special diaper-laundering service in one city was through a gentleman friend of mine who has a new baby in his home, which is a modest little apartment. The gentleman and his baby, and also his wife, just moved to the city I am talking about from another city where the lady had become accustomed to a fairly efficient diaper service.

But it seems that they were strangers to the new city and had no political connections and when they applied to the local diaper services for a franchise, they got the old equine guffaw. The folks running the services asked my friends who they thought they were, anyhow. One guy told my friends he had a notion to report them to the FBI for just thinking they could get a diaper dusted without at least a letter of introduction from the White House.

Well, it seems my friends’ baby is a great one for diapers and presently the ones that needed laundering came at the wife so fast and furious that she could not cope with the situation, though it is to the gentleman’s credit that he pitched in and helped her as much as he could, which was not much, as he is just a fair hand at dousing diapers.

They were in the depths of despair when one night they were invited out to dinner and in the course of the ensuing chit-chat one of the guests said he had a brother-in-law who ran a diaper-laundering service. My friend unbosomed himself on his problem and the guest said:

“Well, you look like a nice fellow. I’ll call up my brother-in-law and put in a good word for you. I may be able to get you straightened out with him. You call him tomorrow at 4 o’clock and by that time I will have talked to him.”

So the next day my gentleman friend called the diaper launderer and the launderer said:

“Yes, my brother-in-law put in a nice plug for you with me and I have decided to allot you my service if besides paying my usual rates you will call at five different addresses in your immediate neighborhood three times a week and pick up bundles there and bring them in with your own. You will also have to deliver them.”

I saw my friend yesterday bustling down the street laden with distressed diapers and he was very, very happy. He said his wife is happy and that the baby is happier than both of them put together because they had about decided to let the child go without diapers, and it seems the little one has a strong sense of propriety.