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CHRIS ERSKINE

Raining and Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

March 08, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

It's raining, so they decide to practice their putting strokes--in the boy's room, on indoor-outdoor carpeting that breaks slightly to the right.

"See, Dad, it breaks right," the boy says, as if I could fix it, maybe crawl under the house and jack up the low spots. Truth is a bedroom floor is better when it breaks a little one way or the other.

"I'll bet Tiger Woods' bedroom broke to the right," I tell him.

"You think so?"

"I'm pretty sure," I say.

Golf. It satisfies the twin male desires of bonding and beating someone's brains in. Poker. Football. Corporate mergers. They all center around these twin desires. Bonding and war.

"Your turn," I say, handing him the putter.

"You're going down," the boy says, declaring full-scale war.

"Not today," I say.

*

It's raining, so they decide to pile pillows and blankets on the couch and watch Joe Don Baker movies on TV.

For some reason, there are never any great movies on TV when it rains, just every bad flick Burt Reynolds or Brooke Shields ever made, running end to end in a bad movie marathon.

"This is boring," says the little girl.

"That's Joe Don Baker," I say, "One of the best bad actors ever."

"I'm still bored," says the little girl.

She's too young to appreciate it, but there's something strangely appealing about a cheesy movie on a rainy day.

Maybe it's the dopey dialogue. Maybe it's Burt Reynolds' acting. Blend it all together, you get a little cheese.

"This is a pretty good movie," says the boy.

*

It's raining, so they clean their room and vacuum under the bed, where they discover stale pieces of Halloween candy from 1997 and enough dust bunnies to insulate the attic.

Every five seconds, the little girl vacuums up a coin.

"Hey, that's my money," says her brother.

"Not anymore," the little girl says.

"That's my money!" the boy insists.

"Not anymore," the little girl says.

For two hours they will argue over 35 cents, most of it in pennies. They argue like people with gin on their breath, in the kind of screeching that often ends with a gunshot. Rainy-day voices, high and brittle. The sound of a house full of kids.

"They've been arguing for an hour," my wife says.

"I didn't notice," I say.

"Aren't you going to do something?"

"Yeah."

"What?"

"I'm going to read the paper," I say.

Like most dads, I'm nearly deaf on a rainy day. The only things I can hear clearly are Chick Hearn's voice and my wife when she stands up on a chair and shouts at me from three inches away. Not that she does this often. Usually just once in the morning and again before bed.

"Dad?"

"Huh?"

"Aren't you going to do something?" my lovely and patient older daughter asks, as her two siblings squabble over pennies and stale candy corn.

"Yeah."

"What?"

"I'm going to read the paper," I say.

*

Rainy weekends. In Southern California, they're almost a novelty. After eight months of sunshine, the rain is sort of soothing. It rinses the trees, bathes the foothills, scrubs the sky.

When it rains long enough, it brings out the green in the hillsides and cleanses the streets, luring the crazy drivers out to test the slick pavement.

You see them at almost every intersection, young starlets in their black SUVs, careening sideways through red lights, waving to their friends as they skid by.

"Hi, Nancy!" they yell as they slide uncontrollably toward the Arco pumps. "Hi, Jennifer! Hi, Bill!"

The kids think it's fun to wait at intersections and watch the starlets go sliding through, spinning the steering wheel as if driving bumper cars, waving to all their friends.

But it's nerve-racking and dangerous just the same. Finally, it forces us back to the house where the only threat is to our sanity.

*

It's raining, so they play outside in the downpour for a while, then come back inside and empty their piggy banks on their beds and dream about what they will buy. Cars and snowboards. Maybe a bride.

"Who wants to marry a millionaire?!!" screams the boy, holding up his money.

"I do!" says the little girl.

Which shows good instincts on her part. One day, she could be rich.

"Sorry," says the boy. "You're too short."

Outside, there is no sign that the rain will let up. Another weekend lost. But not completely.

I throw a log on the fire and make wonton soup, the doughy wontons breaking apart even before I put them in.

While it simmers, I go to the boy's room and practice 10-foot putts.

I sink three putts in a row, guiding the ball cleanly into the yellow plastic cup he took from the kitchen.

As I stand over each putt, he jumps up and down and hollers for me to mess up. It's "Caddyshack" golf, played with a young Bill Murray.

"Nice putt," he says after I finally miss.

"Thanks," I say.

"Breaks right," the boy says.

"I know," I tell him. "I've played this course before."

*

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

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