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FIRST PERSON

One Dad's Story, Blow by Blow

March 02, 1997|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's 4 a.m., the Santa Anas are blowing and my wife is gone. Again.

"Honey?"

No answer.

I lie back in bed and listen to the Santa Anas howling with laughter. Why the Santa Anas are in such a good mood, I'll never know. It's 4 in the morning and my wife is gone, which is really nothing to laugh at. I guess a Santa Ana will laugh at anything.

"Cathy?"

"I'm in here," she finally says.

Fortunately, my wife never goes far when she leaves, just down the hall to check on the kids. Sure enough, that's where I find her, staring at the magnolia tree blowing inches from our daughters' bedroom window.

"I think the kids should come to our room," she says.

"That's a good idea," I say. "Then no one will get any sleep."

Santa Anas like this have been keeping us awake a lot this winter. They bang on the roof, twist apart the trees and howl down the kitchen vent. They always come in the middle of the night. They always come uninvited.

"Are we having an earthquake?" the little red-haired girl asks.

"No, everything's OK," I say.

The little girl sort of believes me. She's not old enough to know that dads are always telling everybody that things will be OK, even when everything is not.

"It's just the wind," I say.

A huge gust slams a gate closed in the backyard. It sounds like a gunshot.

"Wooooo," the little red-haired girl says.

"Wooooo," I say as I lift her out of bed.

By now, you've heard the explanation for Santa Anas many times. They roar in off the desert, bounce off Pamela Anderson Lee's chest, ricochet off Oliver Stone's ego and spread out across the Southland like teenagers looking for trouble. Before the winds are gone, they will have trimmed your trees, stolen your power and thrown your lawn furniture around as if it were lawn furniture.

On this night, they are particularly bad, 60 or 70 mph at least, about the speed of a good curveball. And they are especially spooky, even for Santa Anas.

I remember the famous Raymond Chandler line, about how the winds make "wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

I can never recall exactly why they are studying their husbands' necks. In Chandler's time, a Santa Ana could blow a husband right out of bed and straight into the arms of a passing starlet.

So I wander off to check the house for starlets. Fortunately, there are none around tonight. This is good, because the last thing I need right now is for my wife to look out the window and see me in the arms of some starlet, even as I try with all my strength to free myself.

"Dad?"

"Huh?"

I jump a little but pretend not to. The little boy is standing in his bedroom door, hugging his baseball glove. He has sneaked up on me, the way people will in a Santa Ana.

"Dad, I'm having hormones," he says in a tight Kerri Strug voice. "I'm having hormones and I can't sleep."

The little boy has been "having hormones" ever since he saw a sex ed film in his fifth-grade class last month. He doesn't know exactly what hormones are; he just knows they are capable of wreaking great havoc on a kid. Now he blames them for every bad emotion he has.

"You're not having hormones," I say. "It's just the wind."

"Santa Anas?"

"Yep."

A nasty gust rattles the gutters. A tree branch thumps the roof. The little boy shivers. It is the first time I have ever seen him show fear.

"Everything is going to be OK," I tell him.

But he has heard this before. He has heard it enough times to know that dads always say everything is going to be OK, even when everything is not. He squeezes his baseball glove a little tighter.

"Look," I say, pointing out the front window. "Does it really look so bad out there?"

In the full moon, he sees the trees bending sideways and power lines twirling like jump ropes.

"Yes, it looks pretty bad," he says.

"No," I say. "I mean that."

I point out the oranges and grapefruit that have been knocked from the trees and are rolling along the curb. Dozens of them, perfectly ripe, dancing down the street in the wind. It is an awesome sight, a reminder of how bountiful and wonderful California can be.

"There is citrus in the street," I say. "It's not a windstorm, it's a harvest."

He shrugs.

"You know what grapefruit is going for in Chicago and Detroit right now? A buck apiece, maybe more. This isn't the end of the world. It's paradise."

"Sure, Dad."

He puts his baseball glove on his head and staggers back toward bed.

"Dad," he mumbles, shaking his head. "I think you're having hormones."

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