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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

A fresh coat, box seats and suddenly it's balmy

August 28, 2003|Chris Erskine

Off we go on our Saturday night date, smelling of baby powder and house paint. Her, the baby powder. Me, exterior oil base. Been painting the eaves all day in the gluey August heat.

"It's a faintly minty smell, don't you think?" I say of the paint and turpentine.

"You smell like the garage," my wife says.

"It's a fairly minty garage," I remind her.

We are off to the Hollywood Bowl, the intimate little place on Highland that holds occasional musical events and fireworks shows. The Bowl boasts 18,000 seats and one parking space. So it pays to get there early.

"It's 6:30," our friend Rick says as we pull out of his driveway, me at the wheel.

"Gives us two hours," I say.

Which for any other venue would seem plenty of time. But the Hollywood Bowl is the LAX of concert venues. You estimate how long it should take, then add an hour.

"You see the latest test scores?" someone asks during the drive.

"We still haven't gone through the vacation mail," says Lorraine, Rick's date.

On the way, we talk about standardized tests and the latest Dodger road trip. Band camp and water polo. Our trip to Tahoe. Their journey back East. A great summer while it lasted.

"We have a parking lot we like a lot," Rick says as we near the Bowl.

"Seriously?" I say. "A lot you actually like?"

"A lot," says Lorraine.

"Turn here," Rick says.

For a dozen years, we've searched for parking secrets to the Hollywood Bowl. For hidden entrances. For safe-house doors.

And for a dozen years, it's been the code we couldn't crack. Dodger Stadium? Staples Center? The Coliseum? No problem. Yet the Bowl's parking, it seemed, was hopeless. One concert, it took 90 minutes just to get out of our parking space. No lie. Ninety.

"How'd you find this place?" I ask as we slip into a little lot across Highland.

"We followed the buses," our friend Lorraine explains.

Me, I'd always avoided the buses. But that's Rick and Lorraine for you. He's a big-time fertility doctor. She's a successful assistant softball coach. The two of them go right at life -- and charter buses -- undaunted. You should see her coach first base.

"This lot is amazing," says my wife, as if we'd discovered the road to El Dorado.

"Here, I'll carry the cooler," I say.

Inside, it's the biggest wine tasting in town. On a warm night, younger wives roam the aisles showing off their picnic baskets and their older husbands. "This way, dear, watch your step," they say. "Oh, look, there's Heather." First marriage for her. Third for him. For some men, success is measured in age differentials.

"This is us," Lorraine says when we reach a corner box.

"You sure?"

"Watch your step," says my wife.

We all squeeze into our four-person box. Bumping. Grinding. Sweating. Elbow-butt. Elbow-butt. Ribs. Elbow. Butt. Climbing into a Bowl box is a contact sport, an act of passion, a daring minuet. And about as close to sex as some married people get.

"Cherry or vanilla?" I ask when we finally sit down.

"Let's start with vanilla," Rick says.

I uncork the Chardonnay and pour it into four plastic goblets. Someone unwraps some sushi. Someone else undresses some bread. On the tiny table, a couple of candles glow.

"So I painted today," I say.

"How exciting," someone lies.

"What'd you paint?"

"The house. The garden. Me."

"That's why he smells like turpentine," my wife explains.

"Kinda minty, don't you think?"

They say it's important for married couples to get out like this. Where hugs aren't interrupted by children's screams from the next room. Where no one's mugging us for money. Where the meals don't automatically come with fries.

"Feed the baby twice," we told the older daughter as she waved goodbye from the porch.

"Feed him?" she asked, holding up the tiny boy.

"Two jars on the counter," her mother yelled.

"I didn't know I had to feed him!" she howled like an ambulance.

At the Bowl, we finish dinner, then elbow-butt our chairs into place for the evening's show.

Oh, the show? It was pretty good, an entire program devoted to the story of Romeo and Juliet, whoever they were. The point, I think, was that young love is doomed by the forces of hatred, personal animosity and credit card debt.

Bit of a reach, if you ask me. Young love. Old love. Short love. Tall love. Always had OK luck myself.

After the overture, the person behind me gave an impromptu neck rub. Or maybe she was just breaking her fall in our cozy Hollywood Bowl box.

"Watch your step," I whispered.

Her hands, they smelled like baby powder.


Chris Erskine can be reached at

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