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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Suburban Crisis in His Hour of Flour

June 10, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

It's five minutes till school and the boy is standing in the bathroom, putting all-purpose flour in his hair for some sixth-grade dress-up day in which he's supposed to be Fred Mertz, Lucy and Ricky's TV neighbor.

"How do I look?" he asks, sprinkling more flour in his hair, trying to turn his hair gray.

"Like a powdered doughnut," I say.

So the boy adds a little more flour, just to be sure he looks like Fred Mertz and not some pastry.

It's good flour. Gold Medal flour. By the time the boy is done, he's got a full serving of it on his head, containing 7% of the total carbohydrates recommended for a daily diet. If he sweats, he will create his own gravy.

"Try not to sweat," I tell him.

"Why?"

"You'll look like a pork roast," I say.

"Cool," he says.

Strange days are these. It is like the holidays, only crazier, with school winding down and baseball ending. There are no spare minutes. Too many projects. Too many parties. Too much food to wear.

"There, now I'm Fred Mertz," the boy says proudly, stuffing a pillow under his shirt and putting on an old sports coat.

"And I'm Fred Astaire," I say.

"Who?" the boy asks.

"Just get in the car," I say.

And we drive off toward school on this strange day, closing in on the end of the year with a million other families, all on the road at once, all trying to reach the finish line of another school year.

"Watch out, Dad," the boy says as a giant black Suburban rounds the corner, nearly clipping us.

"Yeah, watch out," says the little red-haired girl.

Adding to the end-of-the-year frenzy is the usual squadron of moms in gigantic sport utility vehicles, the most formidable road machines since the Germans quit driving tanks.

They seem to come at us from all directions, these Suburbans, many of them on two wheels as they round a corner or jump a curb. Because that's what sport utilities are mostly used for in Los Angeles. Jumping curbs.

We zig, we zag. We zag, we zig. One after another, the mothers swerve around the corners like drunken Zamboni drivers, desperate to get to school on time, which isn't easy these days, even when you've driving three tons of Detroit's finest metal.

"There's another one!" the boy shouts as a big Suburban sweeps around the corner, the driver's eyes big as hubcaps.

"Thanks, Fred," I say.

I have watched their ranks grow for years now, these mothers in Suburbans. They are like a fifth branch of the military, deployed across America in their green or black tanks, in nine-child carpools, the biggest carpools on Earth, the envy of every nation.

"That was close," says the little red-haired girl as another one glides by.

"Real close," says her brother.

I assure the children that though they appear dangerous at first, these mothers in Suburbans are actually a good thing. For example, if we ever get into a war with a country within easy driving distance--say, Canada--we could deploy this fifth branch of the military instantly to settle the dispute. They wouldn't even have to be armed. The mothers would just drive around and around, until the poor Canadians surrendered.

"I wish we had a Suburban," says the little red-haired girl.

"Me too," says the boy.

I explain that every family in America will eventually have a Suburban. And all across the land, highway engineers will have to widen the roads and restripe the parking lots to accommodate them.

Then an even bigger car will come along. It will probably be called the Titanic, mostly for its cornering ability but also for its great girth. It will cost $100,000 and take two people to steer and a third to work the gas. As with Suburbans, brakes will be optional.

In no time, mothers and fathers will discover that the Titanic is great for driving children to school, accommodating up to 48 kids and all their backpacks. Or shopping for groceries, which is what giant sport utility vehicles are mostly used for. When they're not jumping curbs.

Sure, it will cost a fortune to fill the gas tank. But, in a short time, every mother in America will want the Titanic, tapping into trusts and college funds to make it happen. Because everybody will be driving a Titanic.

"Let's get a Titanic too," the little red-haired girl says, as we finally arrive at school.

"Let's get two," the boy says. "One for you and one for Mom."

"Then we could attack Canada together," I say.

"Cool," the boy says.

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

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