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THE GUY CHRONICLES

Bonding With Their Princesses

May 24, 2000|CHRIS ERSKINE

When we left off last week, raccoons were chattering at us from the cabin kitchen--in that fractured syntax raccoons fall into when they're excited--and another dad, Tom, was ready to whack them with a copy of Essence magazine, the June issue with Tyra Banks on the cover. "Tyra Sizzles in St. Lucia," teased the cover blurb.

"The raccoons," Tom says, "I think they're behind the refrigerator."

"Where'd that magazine come from?" I ask.

"I think Eugene brought it," he says.

"Can I see it a second?"

"Sure," he says.

The Indian Princesses watch us from a distance. They sit at the top of the stairs, shivering in their pajamas and wondering how their mothers, who had always given every indication of loving them, would turn them over to a bunch of fathers who have never been any place more hostile than a putting green.

"Open the front door," Tom says.

"Why?"

"So the raccoons can run out," he says.

"What if more run in?" I say.

"Better leave the door closed," he says.

We tiptoe into the kitchen, partly to try to sneak up on these raccoons, partly because the linoleum floor is a little chilly. It is the same sort of tiptoe technique used by Indian braves hundreds of years ago when they walked on cold linoleum floors.

"Man, this floor is cold," I say.

"That's my dad," the little girl proudly tells her friends.

We are standing over the raccoons now. They are under the floor, right beneath the refrigerator, not behind it, as we had started to suspect. Right beneath us. From what we can tell, the only thing separating us from them is an eighth-inch of commercial-grade linoleum. Goes about $1.99 a square foot, if you look a little.

"Jump up and down," I tell Tom.

"Why don't you jump up and down?" he says.

So we both jump up and down, trying to drive the raccoons out from under the cabin. This delights the raccoons as well as the Indian Princesses, who have never seen two dads jump up and down in a cabin kitchen at midnight, Tyra Banks flapping up and down along with them. When we stop, the raccoons are making more noise than ever.

"Good job, Daddy," says the little girl.

"Thanks," I say.

And that's the kind of weekend we have up here at the lake. By day, we water-ski and lounge along the beach. At night, we bravely fight off the common raccoon, that gremlin of the great outdoors.

Why do we risk our lives like this? Because we're Indian Princess dads, that's why--drawn to the outdoors and all it offers in the same way we are drawn to salty snacks and Lee Marvin movies.

Each morning, the lake seems to soothe us, to speak to us. It is sweet water. Former snow. We drink it with our eyes and ears. Slurp. Good stuff. Slurp.

"Great water," a father says the next morning as he bobs in the water with a water-ski.

"Can I drink some?" an Indian Princess says.

"No," the father says.

Between ski runs, the dads talk. About a lot of things. Laser eye surgery and Kobe's crossover dribble. The Nasdaq. Cable versus DSL. Internet deals.

"That portal will never survive with three partners," Mark says.

"Especially if they all want to be involved," Gary adds.

By the second day, we are talking less about the Internet and more about boats. About the lake. About how sore we are.

"Jeez, my back," Matt says.

Because water-skiing, like a good honeymoon, involves all the main muscle groups.

"I think I pulled a hamstring," one dad says after skiing.

"I think I pulled my butt," says another.

It's hard to tell exactly what the little girls get out of a weekend trip like this with the dads, aside from splinters in their soft toes and nightmares about raccoons.

Except that after a few hours with the dads, the little girls start to act like the dads, slapping each other on their sunburned backs and romping along the shoreline.

Like their dads, they're eager to do things that scare them and exhilarate them at the same time, to ride on inner tubes behind a speedboat or test their courage on water-skis.

Maybe it is just what little girls need to learn in these frenetic times: a father's sense of play. A fun ethic. A jokey, swaggering, Rat Pack approach to weekends.

"I want to drive the boat," the little girl says.

"That'd be interesting," I say.

"I want to drive fast," she says.

"Doesn't everyone," I say.

And we ski all day, then spend happy hour in the Narrows, a skinny stretch of reservoir where the water turns black and smooth, the kind of water that inspired Mark Twain and Henry Mancini. No sign of civilization in this ribbon of water. Well, almost no sign.

"Luck be a lady tonight," Sinatra roars from the stereo.

Sinatra's magic voice bounces back and forth across the canyon walls that border the Narrows. It is a wondrous spot to listen to music. Even Sinatra never heard himself sound this good.

"Here's to Frank," someone says, hoisting an icy beverage.

Meanwhile, the little girls put on their dads' sweatshirts and hug their cans of 7-Up. High up, the moon starts to appear. Over the bluff, two hawks circle, flying to Sinatra, just like the rest of us.

"In the cool, cool, cool of the evening . . . ," he sings.

"Turn it up," someone says.

"Yeah, turn it way up."

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. He's at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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