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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Daddy's Little Girl, the Head of the Bored

April 29, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

So here we are on our way to work, admiring the burning brake lights and checking out the other drivers, who have the dour expressions of people heading off to give blood.

"I see somebody dressed just like you, Daddy," the little girl says.

Sure enough, in the car next to us, there's a guy with a shirt and tie. And in the car in front of us, too. And in the car behind us.

All around us, there are middle-aged men and women in business attire, a million Dilberts on their way to work, none of them smiling.

"They seem so sad," says the little red-haired girl.

"On the way home, they'll be smiling," I explain. "That's how work is. It cheers you up."

It's the little girl's first Take Our Daughters to Work Day. For years, she has watched her older sister go off to Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

Now it is her turn. And she is determined to enjoy every moment. I try to tell her that Take Our Daughters to Work Day isn't what it once was. After six years, the energy has gone out of it.

She doesn't care. To her, it is a new and wonderful way to spend a day with Dad, crawling along the freeway and looking at the traffic. Occasionally, she even offers driving tips.

"What's wrong with that lane, Dad?" she asks, pointing to an exit ramp.

"It goes someplace else," I explain.

"You should try it sometime," she says.

When the conversation lags, she sits back in her seat and sings to the radio.

"Near, far, wherever you are. . . .

"I believe that the heart does go on. . . ."

Over the course of the day, she will sing this song from "Titanic" maybe 200 times. It becomes the soundtrack to our day, each rendition a little different, maybe in another key or another language she has just invented.

"Dad, did you cry when you saw 'Titanic'?" she asks.

"Of course."

"I thought so," she says, before launching into another version of the song, singing it as if her own heart has been broken, just like those divas on the radio.

"We're there," I finally say.

"Where?"

"Work," I say. "This is where I work."

"OK," she says. "Let's go in."

The little girl is 7 now, and it's becoming more and more clear that she's not so much my daughter as she is my Jewish mother. I've never had a Jewish mother before. But now I do. So if they ever have Take Our Jewish Mothers to Work Day, I'll be all set.

"Don't forget your jacket," she says as we climb out of the car.

"OK, Mom," I say.

The office is pretty much like most other offices. There are a hundred little cubicles. And worn commercial carpeting.

"Nice," she says as we stroll toward my department, obviously impressed.

But her excitement doesn't last. I think she was expecting maybe a little something more. She hears all about work at the dinner table. And she hears her dad talk about the exciting changes taking place.

So this isn't what she was expecting. She was expecting sort of a Disneyland of humming computers and rolling newspaper presses, lights flashing and sirens going off. But there are no sirens. There are no lights. At least not today.

In fact, she's not exactly sure why everybody is here. She thinks it has something to do with paychecks and money, but she never actually sees money exchange hands. There is no cash in sight. It seems to be a strange way to run a business, without money. People seem to be doing everything for free.

"And, Dad," she says at one point, "the toilets flush funny."

"Sorry," I say.

"That's OK," she says.

By 10:30, she has seen enough. She misses her teacher and her friends and drinking fountains that are built at reasonable heights.

"Can we go now?" she asks.

"Not yet," I say.

And that's pretty much how the day goes, her asking if we can go and me saying not yet. But in between there are a few highlights.

11:15: She gets the hiccups.

11:30: I get the hiccups.

11:45: She sharpens a pencil.

Noon: We go to lunch.

1:00: We tour the newsroom.

1:05: She sings the theme from "Titanic" to the Sparkletts water guy.

1:30: She falls asleep on the floor of my office.

4:00: Her mother picks her up.

4:05: Her mother gets the hiccups.

I'm told that on the way home, she gave her mother driving tips and discussed everything she saw.

"So what do they do there, anyway?" her mother asked.

"Not that much," the little girl said. "And the toilets flush funny."

And on the way home, she smiled.

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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