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LAUGH LINES

A Line That Could Get Him Hung Out to Dry

February 26, 1996|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

So I'm in the kitchen at 7 a.m., working on another insanely great breakfast, when the little boy in his underwear enters.

This, believe it or not, is what the little boy in his underwear says:

"Doesn't anybody ever do laundry in this house?"

There's an immediate hush. You could almost hear a Froot Loop drop.

I try to give the little boy in his underwear a second chance.

"What'd you say?"

He doesn't hesitate: "Doesn't anybody ever do laundry in this house?"

Now this is a very brave statement to make, in your underwear, at 7 in the morning.

But he's a bold guy. Even in his underwear.

Fortunately, his mother has already left. Unfortunately, his sisters haven't. They come racing out of their rooms like monkeys on mopeds.

"Did he just say what I think he said?" his older sister asks.

The little boy in his underwear just sneers.

"He did, he did, he did, he did," his two sisters say, dancing with joy.

They quickly begin placing bets on just how far Mom is going to dropkick his little butt when she finds out what he said.

Here's the morning line:

7-2 odds: Around the block.

3-1 odds: To the moon.

2-1 odds: From here to eternity.

"You're toast, Christopher," his older sister says. "Don't put away the jelly yet, Dad, because when Mom gets home, Christopher is toast."

"I like toast," his younger sister says.

The little boy stomps off to his room.

Dysfunctional family? What family isn't at 7 in the morning. At 7 in the morning, glasses of milk topple like bowling pins. Shoes shimmy under beds. Homework sneaks behind the dresser.

William J. Bennett, our nation's self-appointed moral conscience, recently noted that civilizations don't collapse all at once, but rather one little incident at a time.

So it is with families at 7 in the morning. On this day, the incident involves the boy's favorite T-shirt, which hasn't been washed even though he was wearing it a full eight hours earlier.

"Doesn't anybody ever do laundry in this house?" Fact is, we do laundry all the time. Except for occasional power outages, our washing machine has been running nonstop since 1982. When it retires, it's going to the Smithsonian.

Meanwhile, back in the little boy's room, something amazing is happening. His guilt gland has started to function. Like most males, feeling guilty makes him mad and confused. I see him staring at the mirror. He's got the cross-eyed look of a deli guy weighing meat.

The little boy has concluded that his sister is right. He'll be toast if his mother finds out what he said about the laundry.

"Dad, can you divorce your sister?" he asks.

"Yes, but it's very complicated," I explain. "The legal bills alone would kill you."

So instead he decides to work out a plea bargain. Here are the terms: In return for his sisters' silence, he agrees to never again do his "Forrest Gump" impression.

It doesn't sound like much. But to a fourth-grader, giving up your "Forrest Gump" impression is like giving up your soul.

Fourth-graders do "Forrest Gump" dialogue by the hour: "Shrimp salad, shrimp Creole, shrimp cocktail, shrimp scampi. . . ."

Get three fourth-grade boys together, and they sound like the Louisiana Legislature ordering lunch.

So with the deal reached, the morning routine returns to near normalcy--whatever that is. Shoes show up. Homework reappears. Lunch boxes line up at the door.

I go to the closet to grab a sweatshirt.

"Anyone seen my sweatshirt?" I holler.

"In the hamper," the older daughter says.

There's a sudden hush. The little boy pulls me aside.

"Don't say it, Dad," he whispers. "If you know what's good for you, don't even think it."

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