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STYLE & CULTURE | THE GUY CHRONICLES

Nesting for comfort in wartime

March 26, 2003|Chris Erskine

Back on the home front, the mother-in-law is coming and I can't get an answer on how long she's staying. All they'll tell me is that some bedroom needs painting. Beige, sort of white. The color of sheets left on too long.

"The new carpet's coming Friday," my wife warns. "Then Mom."

"How will we tell the difference?" I ask.

"Don't start," she says.

In the background, CNN is on. It's always on. CNN plays in the background like Wagnerian opera. Heavy. Percussive. Used to be you'd play Mozart for your newborns. Now you play CNN.

"It's spring," I tell the baby boy, his very first. "They're not all like this."

Down in San Diego, the college girl is worried. My wife tells me that our older daughter wants a prearranged meeting place for us all in case something awful happens.

"Like your mother coming?" I ask.

"Seriously," my wife says.

"Where does she want to meet?"

"The last exit on the 210," my wife says.

Sounds like a Mamet play to me. The last exit on the 210. I can see us now, headed for that last freeway exit, then looking at a map and asking, "Does she mean this exit? No, I think she means this exit," then missing each other entirely.

"I think we should meet right here," I say.

"You're kidding," she says.

"It's hell, but it's home," I say. "Plus, your mom will be here. No terrorist would come close."

"Don't start," she says.

In her bedroom, the little girl sends e-mails to friends and CC's her father, who's sort of her friend, sort of not. Sort of a parent, sort of not. I'm more like a maitre d', really. Standing near the door, smiling forced smiles.

"To make sure we have God on our side and we don't all die, send this e-mail to 10 people so the soldiers have our blessing on the battlefields of war," the little girl writes. "So tell the PPL U love that you love them, if U get this message."

And if U don't? She doesn't say.

Strange days are these. God must be looking down from his skybox and gasping, "By God, they're having a peace rally at South Coast Plaza," that monument to money and designer shoes.

That's assuming, of course, that God refers to himself in the third person, the way home-run hitters and boxers do. These days, even God forgets himself, probably.

"You mean they dropped their only MOAB?" he probably sputters next. "On Florida?"

Yes, it turns out the military had only one of those gigantic "mother of all bombs" that it recently demonstrated to the world. And they used it to attack Florida.

"No wonder your mother is coming," I tell my wife.

"Why?"

"They're bombing her condo," I say.

Like weddings and retirement parties, this war has a fair share of forced humor.

In an e-mail, a friend announces that she's playing it safe. She had her duck taped, and includes a photo of a duct-taped bird.

"I remember when being embedded with the troops carried a certain stigma," says another friend. "Now everyone's sleeping with a soldier."

"Embedded" is the new "hanging chad." You can't go five minutes without some reference from disc jockeys and other half-wits. Funny how our favorite buzzwords often have a sexual component. Speaking of which....

"Honestly, don't you think Austin Powers should be prime minister of Britain?" my buddy Irv asks.

Honestly? Honestly, I don't want to hear one more embedded joke. Honestly, I don't think duct tape should be wasted on ducks.

It should be used on talk-show hosts and mothers-in-law and, even then, only as a deterrent. I'm big on deterrents. Walk softly and carry a big roll of tape, that's my motto.

So as CNN blares from the other room, I'll stir my wall paint and think of better springs to come. I'll burp the baby and fly the flag. Notice how few flags grace our porches? So I'll fly the flag.

Any doubts I have over this war are about this war, not our soldiers. They need our blessings, just like the little girl said. They have moms and dads, wives and kids, all of whom need them back, the sooner the better.

Hurry home, guys. Some of you have bedrooms to paint. Beige, sort of white.

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

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