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STYLE & CULTURE | THE GUY CHRONICLES / CHRIS ERSKINE

If all else fails, give her your inner poet

February 12, 2003|CHRIS ERSKINE

"HEY, Pops, got any money in that wallet?"

He's a teenager now, alternately charming and insane. When he wants money, he's charming. When I won't let him do something, he's insane. Don't worry, they grow out of it."Yep, I bet there's money in there," the boy says with a wink.

Now, the boy has done nothing to deserve money, other than to sleep till noon and eat half the refrigerator. Not just the food. The refrigerator too.

The sandwich I saved from last night? Gone. Half a gallon of ice cream? Melts in his mouth.

"Come on, Dad, I need money for Valentine's," he moans.

"Who for?"

"Who do you think?"

"Her?"

"Yeah, her," he says.

I discover later that there are a lot of "hers" in the world. I assumed "her" was still his mother. Turns out, "her" is someone else. Of all the advice I will ever give you, remember this one: Beware of pronouns.

"He bought that for you?" I ask later about a gift on the dining table.

"You kidding?" his mom says. "It was for her."

*

I smell of two things, baby spit and yard work. Just in time for Valentine's.

"Could you maybe change your T-shirt?" my wife asks.

The musk of a parent's life isn't just in the clothes. It's in the furniture. In the walls. In the skin. You young kids remember that in the backseat on Friday nights. Parenthood has a scent that doesn't wash out.

"It's not the shirt," I tell my wife.

On TV, the news anchor is wearing a pink dress, another sign of Valentine's Day. During commercial breaks, a store advertises diamond necklaces at low monthly payments.

If I felt better about our relationship, I might invest in the necklace. But four hungry kids. A needy dog. A cat that is either asleep or dead. That's no future. That's a Johnny Cash song.

With my luck, I'll be left with two years of $14.99 payments and nothing.

"Hey, hand me that burp rag," my wife coos.

The baby is now her obsession. Frankly, I don't understand it. Sure, his skin is like linen. His eyes bright as a winter sunrise. But his butt is all diaper. He constantly spits up. He has no visible means of support. All in all, he's me 20 years ago, fresh from college.

"Dad, are you jealous of the baby?" the little girl asks.

"No way."

"You're jealous of the baby," the little girl announces.

A little jealousy never hurt a relationship. In fact, it can invigorate it.

So I will try to win back her affection. My first instinct? Get her drunk.

"Glass of wine?" I ask.

"I'm nursing," she says.

"So am I!"

"Go change your shirt," she says.

*

Off we go, the baby and I, shopping for Valentine's Day. "It's the thought that counts," I advise him. "But it'd better be an expensive thought."

He looks at me like I'm crazy. Romance today, it's beyond belief.

"Women are very aware of price," I tell him. "They'll know exactly what you paid."

"Just by looking at it?" he wonders.

"These women, they're like calculators," I say.

We browse the bath soaps. We consider concert tickets. Jewelry. Clothes. Cars. Plane tickets. Electronics. Stocks. Bonds. Pork bellies.

"What do you get the woman who has us?" I ask.

He cries at the thought.

"Imagine how she feels," I tell him.

Lingerie. Ice skates. Puppies. Gold fish. Encyclopedias.

"She has all these things," I finally tell him.

"She has everything," the baby says.

"And us," I say.

So the baby and I sit at a Starbucks, the way Robert Frost once did, and put down this poem:

Roses are red, Dodgers are blue,

We went out gift shopping,

And found nothing, boo-hoo,

But we wrote down these words,

They're especially for you,

Our gift is our song, like Elton John used to.

So look in the driveway,

Glance under the bed,

You'll find only us,

Two guys with thick heads.

"That's beautiful," the little girl says later.

"Thanks," I say.

Happy Valentine's.

*

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

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