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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Boogie till it breaks the bank, and Dad

One daughter, 50 friends and thousands of cupcakes

May 01, 2003|Chris Erskine

KID PRO QUO. You invite my kid, I'll invite yours. Sounds ridiculous, but that's the way most of today's suburbs work.

"How many kids are coming?" I ask.

"About 50," my wife says.

"Fif-ty?"

Ever notice how you sound out unbelievable news, syllable by syllable, just to make sure you heard correctly?

"Fif-ty?" I gasp as if shot.

"Fifty's not that many, Dad," the little girl explains.

Fifty kids are invited to this birthday party, and if you've ever wondered why societies collapse, or why marriages implode under the weight of social obligation, look no further. Because 50 kids apparently are coming to one child's birthday party.

"At our house?" I ask.

"Are you crazy?" my wife asks. "We rented a place."

Oh, that makes me feel better. In addition to providing cake and pizza to 50 well-fed 12-year-olds, we now have to pay rent on some community hall. A deposit too, I'm sure.

It goes without saying that vital budget decisions are being made at our house over which I have absolutely no knowledge.

"Hi, this is Marty," a voice on the phone says.

"So?"

"I'm the disc jockey," he says.

"The huh?"

"The DJ," he says. "For your daughter's party."

Suddenly, I feel like Steve Martin in those "Father of the Bride" movies. I keep waiting for Martin Short to prance through the door, telling us he's just ordered two dozen swans.

"I'm going to drop a list of songs off in advance," Marty the DJ says.

"That'd be great," I say.

In the suburbs, motion equals progress. Inertia is its own reward. So I go for a drive.

When I return, there's a box on the porch labeled "INFLATABLE PALM TREES." I go for another drive. When I return, the box is still there.

"What about an inflatable beach?" I ask my wife.

"Don't get carried away," she warns.

Here's how divorces begin: Two months ago, I bought the little girl a softball bat. Paid a little too much maybe, but who doesn't anymore? House. Car. A nice ribeye. They're all too much.

"I'm sorry my new bat cost so much," the little girl said on the way home, caressing it like her baby brother's cheek.

"Don't worry about the bat," I said.

"I won't," she promised.

Then her mother spotted the receipt. Let me just say a mother lacks a coach's vision. She doesn't foresee the sense of confidence this bat will give her child. Or the clutch hits, bases loaded.

All a mother knows is that the earthquake insurance is due, and I've spent $130 on a bat. Believe me, you can spend a lot more.

"You spent how much?" she asked.

"Some of these bats, they're 300 bucks," I said.

"You spent one hun-dred and thir-ty doll-ars?"

The way she says it -- sounding out every syllable like a Tommy gun -- makes it seem like much more.

"I think we showed good restraint," I assured her.

Now, there's this party for 50 kids, and my $130 purchase is haunting me in ways I'd never imagined. It opened the spending floodgates. It primed this party's pump.

"It's a dance party," the little girl explains.

"No, it isn't," I say.

"Yes, it is," she says.

Evidently, it's a dance party. On the list of songs the disc jockey offers to play is "Love Don't Cost a Thing," which we all know isn't true.

There is also "Get Ur Freak On," by an artist listed as Missy Misdemeanor. You're probably humming Missy's songs to yourself right now. A lot of people compare her to Lennon.

"Is Missy's mother Mrs. Misdemeanor?" I ask.

"Not funny, Dad."

"I wasn't trying to be," I lie.

Sure enough, almost 50 kids show up for the party, which is held on a Sunday, once considered the Sabbath.

The party features flashing disco lights, a song called "Bootylicious" and other American standards.

"Something smells like cabbage," my wife complains.

"Several of the kids took their shoes off," I explain.

"Yep, cabbage," says somebody else.

Nonetheless, I think everyone had a pretty good time. No one went away hungry, that's for sure. I distinctly remember my wife handing out thousands of cupcakes. As some of the families left, she gifted them with entire pizzas, in boxes never opened.

"Quite a party," said one of the dads as we watched the kids mill around the dance floor.

"If my daughter finds a husband, it's all worth it," I said.

"It is?"

"Well, not really."

Happy birthday, kid.

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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