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THE GUY CHRONICLES / CHRIS ERSKINE

Waiting, mind straying, deep into the night

October 23, 2002|CHRIS ERSKINE

It's 10 o'clock on a Saturday night, and we're sitting on the couch, waiting for the kids to come home.

"So where were they going after that?" I ask.

"To a party," my wife explains.

"Which party?" I ask.

We go over what the plans were after the school dance. Who was driving. Who else was in the group. It's comforting just to talk like this, to know the usual suburban surveillance system is in place, spotty as it is.

"Isn't anything else on?" I say, already struggling to stay awake.

" 'Sleepless in Seattle,' " my wife says.

"No ballgames?" I say.

"It's 10 o'clock," she reminds me.

It's been a day blessed with terrific sporting events. College football. The World Series. AYSO soccer. Is October our greatest gift or what?

Now it's 10 at night, and we're waiting for the two older kids to come home. The boy is out at a dance. The college girl is back in town and out somewhere visiting friends. On TV, Tom Hanks is reaching for Meg Ryan's hand.

"If you'd like, I could go put on my ref's uniform," I tell my wife.

"Forget it," she says.

"Too sexy?" I ask.

"Exactly," she says.

Earlier in the day, she saw me for the first time in my AYSO referee's uniform. Yellow shirt. Stretchy black shorts. Black knee socks. I looked like a human school bus. I looked like a prank.

"I'm guessing you find me kind of hot," I told her then.

"Yeah, that's it," said my wife.

It was like a male negligee, this referee's uniform. I slipped it on and suddenly she couldn't keep her eyes off me, even as she stifled a laugh. Strange what turns a pregnant woman on.

"I can't believe it," she said.

"Believe what?"

"You look like a bumble bee," she said.

"Better believe it, baby," I told her.

Tick, tick, tick

It's 11 o'clock on a Saturday night and we're sitting on the couch, waiting for the kids to come home.

"Hey, Dad," the little girl asks. "Want to hear a song that's stuck in my head?"

"No."

"Three little pumpkins sittin' on a fence, a witch comes flying, flying by," she sings.

Even before this moment, it had been a long day. Three hours on a sunny soccer field. Like many dads, my forehead is my solar panel. It tends to hold the heat. So late on a Saturday night, I can close my eyes and feel the autumn sun in my corneas.

"Three little pumpkins sitting on a fence," the little girl sings.

"Why isn't she in bed?" I ask.

"Want some ice cream?" my wife asks.

Every time I ask a question of substance, I get answered with another question. I ask her why our youngest child isn't in bed yet. She asks me about food. Works every time.

"Want some ice cream?" my wife says again.

"Of course," I say.

As the clock ticks, I entertain my wife with gossip from the high school football game the night before. How I learned that Craig threw out his back. How Brian sold his house. How another couple had first gotten pregnant 16 years ago. You can learn a lot at a high school game, especially when the home team is behind.

"Pregnant on their wedding night?" my wife asks.

"That's what he said."

"That wasn't very good planning," she says.

My wife sits on the couch rubbing her pregnant tummy. She's eight months along and round as a Christmas ornament. Nineteen years after our first child, we're having another. How's that for planning?

"What are you going to be for Halloween?" I ask her.

"A big balloon?" asks the little girl.

"Tony Siragusa?" I say.

Neither of these ideas appeals to the pregnant wife. Women, when they blimp up like this, can be a little sensitive.

"A beach ball?" asks the little girl.

"Anna Nicole Smith?" I say.

The little girl and I finally decide that her mother should go as a shoplifter. Because she is not big and puffy the way some pregnant women get. She is big only in the tummy, as if hiding something under her shirt.

So what we're recommending is that she paint the very bottom of her tummy like a basketball, an orange crescent peeking out from beneath her maternity shirt. Like a basketball shoplifter.

"We could handcuff you too," I say.

"To whom?"

"To me," I say.

"That would be redundant," she says.

It's midnight and we're sitting on the couch, waiting for the kids to come home.

"I'm going to bed," my wife says.

"Already?" I ask.

" 'Night," she says and disappears into the shadows.

The dog, the one with the vasectomy, is sleeping next to me on the couch, snoring softly and using my bare knee as a napkin.

Slowly, my eyes begin to close. I don't know that I can hold out till the kids come home. Chances are I'll be sleeping a father's sleep -- one moment snoring heavily, the next thrashing about as if making snow angels. That's how I sleep, alternately resting and exercising.

"Hi, Daddy," says the older daughter, leaning over the couch.

At first, I think it is an apparition. My lovely and patient older daughter home again. It's like a Bergman film. A moment earlier, I was worrying-dreaming about her. The next moment she is helloing me awake.

"What time is it?" I ask.

"Want some ice cream?" she asks, heading into the kitchen.

Why does the oldest kid come home first? What is the younger one up to? Can Cal beat Oregon State?

These are the questions that occupy fathers late in the night, as we sit on the couch, nursing our weekend wounds.

Has the stock market finally rebounded? Can I ever retire? Where'd my wife put that leftover chicken?

On TV, Sam Malone is reaching for the barmaid's hand. Good luck, pal. She's playing you like a guitar. It's happened to men before.

And on the couch, the dog snores softly, just him and me, waiting for a kid to come home.

*

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

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