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FIRST PERSON

Fall Can Really Soc It to Ya

September 24, 1997|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We're driving along the freeway headed for the soccer field. In half an hour, the opening-day parade of teams will begin. And nobody ever wants to miss a parade. Particularly the people who are supposed to be in it. In front of us is a pedestrian driving a car. I know she is a pedestrian because she is driving at the speed people walk.

"Come on, lady," says the little red-haired girl.

I would pass the pedestrian driving the car, except that every few seconds the big dog sitting next to her leans over and kisses her on the neck, which causes the pedestrian driving the car to kiss the dog back, then swerve across two other lanes.

"Isn't that sweet?" says my lovely and patient oldest daughter, never one to let a romantic moment pass unnoticed.

The dog nuzzles the driver again, then reaches over with his nose and adjusts the rearview mirror. The dog is clearly wasting his time. For this type of driver never looks behind her.

"Punch it, Dad!" my son says.

"Just be careful," my wife says.

"We're going to be late," says the little red-haired girl. "I just know we're going to be late."

And so begins the crazy season, another September Saturday filled with soccer and more soccer, followed in the afternoon by soccer. A great sport, this soccer. And in September, America is full of it.

"Hurry, Dad," says my son.

It's hard to remember what Americans did on autumn Saturdays before youth soccer came along. Slept in. Watched college football. Maybe mowed the lawn.

Now we go to soccer games, a wonderful activity once you make it there. If you make it there.

"Come on, lady," says the little red-haired girl. "Doesn't she know we're late?"

Someone recently described New Yorkers as the type of people who stand in front of microwave ovens and yell, "Hurry!"

That's how my kids are today--like little New Yorkers--frantic to get on to the next thing, even when they're not sure what the next thing is. Even when the next thing isn't all that urgent.

"Where are we going again?" I ask.

"I don't know," says the little red-haired girl. "Just hurry."

*

What a difference September makes. Just two weeks earlier--in August--we were flopped on the sand on a perfect Southern California beach, unaware of soccer or new school schedules or anything else.

Instead of Gatorade, my wife cradled a thermos of margaritas. She had mixed them up in the kitchen like a mad scientist, bending down close to the counter, adding just the right amount of tequila and just the right amount of ice.

Every once in a while, totally by accident, a little margarita mix would fall into the pitcher.

"Oops," she'd say.

"What happened?" I'd ask.

"Some margarita mix spilled into the margaritas."

It would all be part of a perfect California day. Southern California beach days are almost always perfect. Other beaches in other parts of the country may be nice. But they'll let you down in a pinch, surprising you with rain or cold. But not Southern California beaches.

As other families arrived, my wife would pour the arriving wife a little margarita.

"That's enough," the arriving wife would say. And my wife would pour a little more anyway, the way good friends do.

The mothers coated the kids in sunscreen, applying it in several layers, until the kids looked like tiny wedding cakes in bathing suits, all jumpy and wiggly and ready for the water.

"That's enough, Mom," the kids would say. And the mother would apply a little more anyway, the way good moms do.

Then the kids and dads grabbed their bodyboards and their beach toys and headed for the surf, sprinting as if running from a chore, slamming belly first into the waves till their bellies turned pink.

As they played, the mothers sat in their beach chairs and sipped their cool drinks, digging their toes deep into the sand, down to where it is cool and moist, and talked about how quickly the summer passed and how they deserved a little cool drink like this now and then, no matter how much their husbands teased them.

"Another margarita, anyone?" my wife would ask.

It seemed at that moment as though an August day like this couldn't hardly get any better. And, sure enough, right there on that California beach, it didn't.

"Wanna see my new impression?" the little boy asked.

"Of what?" the margarita mothers answered.

"Of my dad's belly button," the little boy said.

And they nodded, the way margarita mothers do, because margarita mothers are generally pretty agreeable.

So he did the impression, approaching it seriously, which is the only way to do a belly button impression, sticking out his tongue and scrunching up his face, then puffing out his cheeks, for no reason really except that puffing out your cheeks always gets a big laugh, especially when you're 11 and you can cross your eyes till you look like Barbra Streisand, or, actually, like Barbra Streisand imitating a belly button.

"Another margarita, anyone?" my wife asked.

*

That was two weeks ago. Now it's September, the summer days at the beach a distant memory, the margarita cups and beach toys packed away for the winter.

We're still driving behind the pedestrian driving a car, her dog now in her lap helping her steer and possibly working the accelerator. It's hard to tell, because they may be out of gas and coasting for all we know.

"I think it's really sweet the way she lets the dog drive," my lovely and patient oldest daughter says.

For the next two months, we will spend all our Saturdays like this, darting from one end of town to the other, slurping bottled water and burning huge amounts of gasoline. Because as every parent knows, gas prices don't go up for Labor Day. They go up for soccer season.

"Hurry, Dad," says the little red-haired girl. "We're going to be late."

"Where are we going again?"

"I don't know," she says. "Just hurry."

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