Flying elephants are always useful

A recent parents’ advice column in the newspaper recommended using visions of flying elephants to distract crying children and thereby turn tantrums into moments of gleeful wonderment.

Susan F. from San Francisco wrote that when her child gets grumpy or begins crying, she starts “moving my eyes around the room as if I’m watching something fly around. I duck out of the way of imaginary flying elephants. The more animation, the better…”


I used to be pretty good at this myself, but it usually had something to do with giant mescal worms eating the furniture to the tune of “I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Not that I’m knocking this technique. No, indeed.

I’m sure these maneuvers work admirably when it comes to distracting small children during tears, tantrums or teething.

The problem is that Susan’s helpful suggestions simply don’t go far enough.

Let’s face it, anything that works this well at home can usually be transplanted to one’s office or job site. Grumpy bosses or irate customers can just as easily be distracted out of their temporary tizzy if you use Susan’s solution with just a little more finesse.

Sure, flying elephants are kind of silly when you’re dealing with adults, but that doesn’t mean that the senior vice president in charge of marketing can be distracted by a giant vampire bat sighting or a “Well, will you look at that. I think a guanaco just walked into the deli across the street!”

(And, like Susan says, “the more animation, the better.”)

By the time the boss figures out what a guanaco is – he’ll never admit that he doesn’t know – he’ll have forgotten all about that little mishap you had with the fax machine.

Of course, he may someday catch on that this is just a clever ploy to distract him from your quite understandable faux pas, so you might want to hedge your bet and make sure that the guy who runs the deli (mortuary, service station, shoe store, etc.) across the street always has a moth-eaten guanaco ready to trot out during an emergency.

Sure, it’s a pricey distraction, but well worth it when your job’s on the line.

Crotchety customers can be handled in much the same way (and, yes, if they’re under 7 years old, the flying elephant gambit may still be quite viable).

Otherwise, throwing handfuls of black dress socks into the air and frantically shouting “Look out! Bats! Bats!” is always a good move.

Even if the dissatisfied customer doesn’t fall for the old sock-as-a-bat routine, you can bet he’ll still back off because he’ll be certain that he’s dealing with a sock-wielding maniac.

Not only will this guy quit griping, but chances are you’ll never see him again.

And if he still has the temerity to write a letter of complaint, mailing him one or two menacing black socks with absolutely no explanation should shut him up for good.


Works like a charm, amigos.

Originally published February 16, 2003.