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Quick With Power Tools and a Quote

October 09, 2002|Chris Erskine

E-mail from college, Oct. 6, 2002:

Dear Mom,

Did you know Dad was, like, coming to visit me here at college? Well, cancel the Amber Alert, he's here with his blue toolbox and a six-pack.

"Helps me work with my hands," he says as he puts the six-pack in the fridge.

Mom, what's going on? I ask him what he's doing here, and he says some men were just born to travel and explore, and he is one of them, though there isn't anything left to explore really, except our overstuffed garage, and he's kind of afraid to go in there.

He says you told him to come down here to install my bookshelves or something. Right now, he's pounding on the wall with his fist, sort of like he used to when he did our taxes.

"Hey, Dad, what are you doing?" I ask him.

"Looking for studs," he explains.

"Me too, Daddy!" I tell him.

"Don't joke," he says and starts digging in his tool kit like some country doctor.

Can you believe this? He says that when he left home, you were lying on the couch complaining about your back and the dog was curled up next to you.

Dad said he hasn't been able to hug you in, like, two months. It's awkward to hug a pregnant woman, he says.

"You know, she quit drinking," he says.

"Dad, pregnant women usually do," I say.

"I wish someone would've warned me," he says.

Then he hands me all these letters from Columbia House that have been stacking up back home. He says he tried to warn me about Columbia House.

"It's a life sentence," he says.

"No Daddy, it's just a record club," I tell him.

When I say this, he exhales really deep, you know, like he does instead of cursing. Big heavy sigh. The way he did when I got that second speeding ticket.

If you ask me, I think it's freaking him out, this pregnancy. I mean, totally freaking him out.

Mom, I just can't picture Dad putting snap-crotch pajamas on some baby. Can you? Or getting up at 2 a.m. to help with the bottle. I just can't.

Have you ever seen him try to wrap a Christmas present? Or button a dress shirt? I'm not sure he even has opposable thumbs.

"Babies are easy," he says when I bring it up.

"Um, Dad?" I say.

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Babies aren't easy," I say.

"Oh, OK," he says.

Dad says he really likes it here at college. He says the college years were the best times of his life, "if you don't count right now, of course."

"Back then, pitchers of beer were a buck," he says. "And you could get a taco for a quarter."

"Wow Dad, you have some great memories."

"We used to have these things called toga parties," he says.

"You and Caesar?" I say.

"He was a year ahead of me," he says. "But the guy could really party."

Then he finds the wall stud and gets out his electric drill. It takes him, like, half an hour to find the drill bit thingy he needs to poke a hole in the wall.

"You know, I probably could've done this professionally," he says.


"Hang bookshelves," he says. "I'm pretty good at it."

"I can tell," I say.

As he hangs the bookshelves, he tells me all this personal stuff, like how his AYSO soccer team lost two games in a row, and he thinks he's lost his coaching mojo.

"I've tried everything," he says. "I've switched kids around, I've added extra practices. I think I've lost my mojo."

"Maybe you should just, like, relax a little," I tell him.

"At soccer?" he says.

"It's just a game, Daddy."

"Honey, the NFL is just a game," he says. "AYSO is bigger than that."

He says the reason he's really down here is because he just needed a little break from his demanding suburban lifestyle, that's all. He might stay awhile, he's not sure. He might just hang out for a few months putting up bookshelves and teaching college kids how to shoot pool.

"By then, I'd be really good at bookshelves," he says.

Great, huh? I work all my life to get away to college, and here comes Dad with his toolbox and dopey quotations from dead people.

"Truth is just common sense clarified," he tells me at one point.

We weren't even talking about truth. He just blurts it out, all this stuff about truth.

"That's nice, Daddy," I tell him.

"Huxley said that," he says. "Thomas Huxley."

Dad says a college campus is a good place for a "binge thinker" like him, that maybe he could teach a class on soccer and hanging bookshelves and all the other things you need to know about in the real world.

"I could teach Real World 101," he says. "Believe me, I've been around."

Mom, what's he really know about the real world? He's lived in the suburbs his whole life. He coaches soccer. When I mention this, he gets all defensive.

"Honey, believe me, there's nothing more real than a suburb," he tells me.


He says he knows a lot of quotations I could maybe use in my term papers. Great people from throughout history. Ernie Banks. Groucho Marx.

"If you can't find a door, build one," he says.

"Um, Voltaire?"

"No, Milton Berle," he says, then starts putting his tools away.

"That's great, Daddy," I say. "Now, can you maybe fix the toilet?"

"I could probably fix toilets for a living," he says proudly.

"Good for you, Daddy," I say.

While he fixes the toilet, he starts singing. That's right, singing. Some song from Simon & Schuster. Garfunkel. Whatever.

"And here's to you, Smokey Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you could know ... woah, woah, woah."

He says singing helps him work like this. There's not enough singing in the world, he says. Singing makes people happy.

"In college, there should be more singing," he says, then starts singing drinking songs from the 14th century.

If you ask me, I think he'll be home pretty soon.

Chris Erskine's column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at

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