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CHRIS ERSKINE / The Guy Chronicles

Lazy Days Clouded by Home Projects

September 16, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

So we're lying in the front yard, awaiting the first cold snap of fall, which will turn the grass cool and make the leaves on the trees shimmer and come to life. And us as well.

"Maybe we should plant a tree," I say, nodding to a bare spot near the driveway.

"Nah," says the boy, lying back with a football under his head, the way men do when they think great thoughts. "Let's just sit here."

It's still 90 degrees here on this September afternoon, the cool breezes of autumn a good six weeks away. Or at least as much autumn as L.A. ever gets.

"If we plant a tree, we'll have fall color," I tell the boy.

"If we plant a tree, we'll have to rake the leaves," the boy says.

"Good point," I say, putting my hands behind my head and staring up at the clouds.

For an hour now, we have been finding faces in the heavy clouds coming in over the foothills. First ballplayers. Now other famous folks. After an hour, we're running a little low on famous folks.

"Look, there's Lee Majors," I say, pointing at a cloud.

"Who?" the boy says.

"Over there," I say. "Yep, that's Lee Majors, all right."

Inside the house, they are watching us. My wife, his sisters, all watching us. I can feel their eyes on the back of my neck, their stares almost giving me a sunburn, as we lie here on the lawn, thinking great thoughts and finding famous actors in the clouds.

"Taking a break?" a woman's voice rings out from the kitchen window, followed by a round of giggles--girlie giggles--which fire at us like BBs.

This is the kind of stress we're under, constant supervision from the women we live with, women with the keen eyes of snipers and the savage wit of nightclub comics, barreling into us at every chance, even when we're lying on the lawn like this, dreaming of a better world.

"Yeah, we're taking a break!" I yell back to the window.

"Long break!" yells the little red-haired girl, followed by another barrage of laughter.

"Jeesh, Dad," mumbles the boy. "I wish they'd leave us alone."

"Look, I think I see Henry Cabot Lodge," I say, pointing at a cloud.

The boy and I are under even more stress these days because, suddenly, there are a lot of home projects being done by other fathers who usually prefer a golf course or a comfortable couch, guys remodeling bathrooms or building swing sets, like they're trying to sweat their way into heaven one weekend at a time.

One guy is digging a trench. He digs often and happily, as if mining for gold.

"I had a vision," my friend explains.

"And now you have a ditch," I tell him.

"It's a trench," he explains.

Another guy is building a skateboard ramp for his son, a bowl-shaped creation that looks like Noah's ark, only bigger and requiring much more wood.

"Nice ark," I say.

"It's a skateboard ramp," my friend says.

"No, technically it's an ark," I say.

I don't know why the sudden surge in projects. Maybe it's the Clinton thing, some sort of collective male guilt.

More likely, it's just the need to get out of the house for a little while, a need men don't get often, only four or five times a day; an urge that if left alone can manifest itself into some huge project that eats up an entire month.

"So what's your project?" my wife asks one day, taking note that I'm the only husband who has no apparent project.

"You're my project," I say.

"Besides me, I mean."

"I think we're going to plant a tree," I say, grasping for something simple.

"A tree would be nice," she says.

So now we're on the lawn, the boy and I, close to the spot where we're going to plant the tree, but without an actual tree or even a shovel with which to plant it. Just the football, which isn't much of a gardening tool really.

"I think we should get a maple," I tell the boy. "Or maybe a birch."

"You mean we're really planting a tree?" the boy asks.

I tell him that planting a tree will be worthwhile, because a tree is something that will last a long time, a century, maybe more. And it won't require painting or regrouting or much maintenance at all.

I tell him that guys don't want much out of life. We'd just like to live forever. That's all.

"And this tree could live forever," I tell him. "Our little legacy."

"What's a legacy?" he asks.

"Something you leave behind," I say.

Long after we are gone, I tell him, the tree will still be here, providing shade for guys like us, guys who lie back on the lawn and wait for fall.

"I'll get a shovel," the boy says.

"Wait."

"What?"

"Look, I think I see Ernie Banks," I say, pointing at a cloud. "Yep, that's Ernie."

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

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