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Chris Erskine / THE GUY CHRONICLES

Suburbia by the Light of the Moon

October 02, 2002|CHRIS ERSKINE

In this week's diary of a mad suburb, we find that autumn has arrived, the children have gone back to school and a pregnant woman is chasing ants around her new kitchen, the one with the brushed stainless-steel appliances and the new chrome toaster, all sullied by these ants. Ants. Ants. Everywhere ants.

"It's like I have to get up 10 minutes early just to start killing them," my wife notes.

"And we appreciate that," I say.

In the last few weeks, she's become like a character out of "The Sopranos," pregnant and homicidal at the same time, killing things just as she is giving life to others. It's one of those contradictions you find a lot in an American suburb.

"I think," she tells me, "you're going to have to crawl under the house and spray."

Sure, I could do that. But this is her war. Fights it like this every fall. And if she's not slaying ants, who knows where her attention may turn.

"Don't bring me into this," I say.

"Look, look!" she says.

"Huh?"

"They're coming from under the stove," she says.

As Cheever and Updike found, a suburb is no place for a grown man. A suburb is a great place for a kid or a mom or a nice tomato garden. But not necessarily for a man.

Men need more activities. They need a trout pond in the mountains, or a ballpark on a city street. A suburb has neither of these. All a suburb has is, well....

"Ants," I say to my friend Bill. "You guys have ants?"

"Sure," he says, "everyone has ants this time of year."

"So what do you do about them?"

"We just learn to love 'em," he says.

Fat chance. Not in the suburbs. Generally, a suburb is not a place renowned for its tolerance.

I suspect Bill is climbing under the house right now with a flashlight and a can of Raid and wondering if he's being watched by creatures that can see in the dark. Skunks. Black widows. The widows' attorneys. Sweating a little, all of them.

That's what Bill is doing. Firing his big blue can of unscented Raid in the dark at ant trails, real and imagined, then high-tailing it back to the warm glow of a football game on TV. I know Bill too well. I know his wife, too.

*

Back at our house, meanwhile, the Sopranos are taking a stab at tolerance.

"You know what Bill says?" I ask my wife.

"I can't wait," she says.

"Bill says they like their ants," I tell her. "Can't get enough."

"Really?"

"That's what he said."

"Then you can take him our ants," she says.

"Who?" I say.

"Bill," she says.

"What about him?" I ask.

To this day, I have poor communication skills, a shortcoming I blame on a childhood of listening to Chicago politicians mangle the language, then get reelected anyway, time and again. One hand on the microphone, another doing deals behind your back.

Daley. Roman Pucinski. Even Abe Gibron. What kind of role models were these for Chicago's school kids? You'd sit in class learning about syntax, then go home and listen to a bunch of marble-mouthed public figures substituting "da" for "the" and "dere-fore" for "therefore" on the evening news.

After a childhood of that, it's no wonder my marriage has moments of absolute unclarity. It's amazing I can speak at all.

"Oooooo," my wife says.

"What now?"

"The baby just kicked," she says.

My wife stands there rubbing her tummy, big as a bowling ball and active, too. She is now seven months along with this miracle pregnancy, proof that no matter how busy God gets, he still appreciates a good chuckle at the end of the day.

Sometimes, the baby even wakes my wife in the night, a moment she just has to share with me and the dog, happily spooning right next to her, dreaming our male dreams, throwing touchdowns and destroying our enemies in our sleep.

"Whaaaah?" I mumble. "What's wrong?"

"He's kicking again," she says.

"Go back to sleep," I say.

"Oh, look at that," she says.

"Ants?"

"The full moon," she says peering out the window. "It's going over the mountain."

So at 3 in the morning, my wife, the dog and I sit at the window watching the harvest moon go over the spine of a nearby mountain.

"Oh, look, look," she says as if spotting angels in the moonlight.

"OK already, I'm looking," I say.

The dog licks my ear. The baby kicks my wife's bladder. Who says a long marriage lacks intimacy? We sit there watching the moon, while being caressed and pummeled. She rubs her belly. I palm my tired eyes.

"My tummy, it's hard as a drum," she says, to which I respond, "He's all muscle, like his father," to which she responds, "But I think he's smart, too," to which I respond, "Whadaya mean by that, exactly?"

Imagine 20 years of marriage filled with conversations like this. Each day, dialogue right out of Proust.

*

So, this is how our nights often go lately. The days aren't quite as memorable, though last weekend we had a thrilling soccer game, in which we allowed three quick goals--Bam! Bam! Bam!-- and I finally threw my pen to the ground in disgust, which was kind of embarrassing in retrospect a few days later.

I haven't thrown anything at a soccer game in three years, not since I slammed my clipboard to the ground and caught my ankle bone instead. Ouch. Still have the scar.

It's something you never forget, throwing something at a soccer game, in front of friends and foes, neither of which will ever let you live it down. In a suburb, they save such moments like baby teeth.

"I think I'm leaving," I say to my wife, after explaining the soccer fiasco.

"Finally," my wife asks. "Where to?"

"Back to college," I say.

Yep, back to college. A new career. A fresh start. Back to a place where eager young minds like mine are appreciated and nurtured.

"Well, your daughter needs some bookshelves put up," my wife says. "Maybe you could visit her."

"I'm on my way," I say.

And with visions of fresh starts and frat parties, I head off again for college. A place of genuine tolerance. Cradle of the American dream.

*

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

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