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THE GUY CHRONICLES

Here's to Puppy Breath and Parades

January 03, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

She stands over me with a riding crop and a cup of coffee, our usual morning routine--the carrot and the stick--our way of waking up and greeting these too-early American mornings. You have your ways. We have ours.

"Happy New Year," whispers my wife, her voice raspy-soft, like the sound of toast being buttered.

"You have puppy breath," I tell her.

"That's the puppy," she says as the dog licks my ear.

I like puppy breath. If they ever make a cologne of puppy breath, I'm buying it, then splashing it on liberally for big occasions. Before I'm done, the world will smell of St. Bernards.

"Here they come," my wife says.

"Who?"

"The kids," she says.

"What kids?" I ask.

In a minute, a bunch of kids pile on the bed and we have this rugby scrum going, this big pileup of pillows and kids and dogs and me, with my tender right elbow, sore from raking the yard.

Instinctively, I start grabbing for the loose football, assuming there was some sort of fumble.

"My leg!" I scream.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm cramping!" I say, grabbing at my knotted calf.

"Watch out," says my wife, who puts down her riding crop and the cup of coffee long enough to rub the muscle cramp from my leg. In 30 seconds, I am asleep again.

And so goes the first morning of the new year, not that different from other mornings of the year, except that we all fall asleep all over again, and our friends Gary and Rhonda are supposed to pick us up at 6:30 to go to the Rose Parade.

So suddenly it's 6:30 and the horn is honking and I'm muttering, "No, Sela, no," in my sleep and my wife screams, "Yikes, it's 6:30!" like that, and the rugby players kick off the covers and grab the nearest clothes and bolt out the door, wearing God-knows-what for shoes.

*

Now, as you may know by now, I don't have all that much going for me. I have this minivan with a crack in the windshield that I can't afford to fix.

I have this little house by the freeway, tiny as a bird cage.

Professionally, I am almost unemployable, the Norma Desmond of columnists, my glory years well behind me.

But I am wealthy with friends. Obscenely rich, really. They invite us bowling and for pizza. Once in a while, skiing. And this New Year's Day, we have The Parade.

"You guys have plans for the parade?" Gary asks the day before.

"Well, sure," I say.

Actually, we have no real plans for the parade. Other folks have purchased tickets to the bleachers weeks in advance. They have made arrangements. They have a parade plan.

Us? We will just sort of wing it. We will get to the parade at starting time, with a bag of doughnut holes and no chairs. No napkins. Nothing to wet our dry winter lips.

It is the paradegoer's equivalent of eloping. We just do it on a whim, with only the clothes on our backs. The results are mixed.

"We have friends on the parade route," says Gary this year.

"You do?"

"You want to tag along?" he asks.

Of course we do. We are the world champions of tagging along. My ancestors may have invented tagging along.

"Where're you going?" one of our ancestors once asked.

"To America," someone answered.

"Mind if we tag along?" our ancestors said.

For centuries, we've been rich with friends.

All of which brings us to a little spot on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena at 7 in the morning on a clear Monday, three kids in tow, all with puppy breath, a sort of SuperBowl buzz in the air.

Friends of friends have provided the parking spot and a place along the curb. We settle in shoulder to shoulder, as if for a Packers game.

The floats, as always, are spectacular. The crowds, even better. Because, as most every Southern Californian knows, the parade you see on TV looks like a stuffy royal wedding. In person, at street level, it's far more fun--safe but with a whiff of wolf lust in the breeze.

Then there are the bands. I get an adrenal squeeze every time one of the big college bands thunders past. My heart races. My ears tingle. My legs twitch.

"Cramp!" I scream, but nobody hears.

From a pitcher, meanwhile, my friend Gary has poured us each a Bloody Mary, which he explains is a tomato-based drink with just a faint hint of vodka.

Gary says he mixed the Bloody Marys in the dark, just before sunrise. Amazingly, there was no explosion.

"Here's to Mary," he says, lifting his cup.

"And her sister Sue," I say, whatever that means.

"Happy New Year, everyone," he says, toasting a high school band that has come all the way from New Hampshire, tubas and all.

Happy New Year.

*

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

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