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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Happy birthday, Dad, now can I leave?

Home for a weekend of old people, baby drool and, oh boy, a family outing.

November 20, 2003|Chris Erskine

So HERE I AM BACK FROM college for one lousy weekend and my dad, he makes me write his column for him again, on account of it's his birthday and he has a cold sore, right there on his drinking lip.

"My biggest muscle," he says.

"A lip's not a muscle," my brother says.

"Mine is," Dad says.

Oh my God, did you hear that there's a baby living here now? That's right, through some freak accident of biology, my parents are still breeding. I don't get it. In this state, you have to be 21 to drink, but apparently you can keep having babies 'til you're, like, 110 or something. That's California: the Viagra State.

"Dad, you're having your own grandchildren," I tell him.

"That way, they'll be raised right," he says.

This baby, you should see him. Oh my God. He smells like raisin bread and squawks like a parrot. All day long, he sits in his high chair squawking and dropping little pieces of food down his shirt. Apparently, he eats with his bellybutton.

"He thinks the microwave is a TV," my mom explains, as the baby watches the oatmeal cook.

"Isn't that cute?" asks my little sister.

"No," I say.

"I think maybe I should have another baby," my mom says.

"Huh?" my dad says.

At which point he passes out and the dog starts licking the food from his face -- cracker crumbs and sweet-and-sour sauce and all those other things that stay in his mustache for, like, a month -- then my mom says, "Hey, get up, we're going to that new farmers market."

"Food?" my dad says.

"You should see all the breads they have," Mom says, and off in the car we go.

Now, I don't know if I ever told you, but being in a minivan with my family is sort of like being stranded in a submarine under the Bering Sea or someplace. First, my dad uses up all the good oxygen, then my mom turns on one of those radio stations that plays only dead people and my little sister starts messing with my hair and tying it in knots with her sticky little fingers, who knows where they've been. And that's a good trip. That's when we're all getting along.

Then my dad says, "These suburban drivers, they have the reflexes of milk cows."

Then my mom says, "Don't get mad, dear, it's only traffic."

"You kidding?" my dad says. "I get mad the moment I turn the ignition."

"Dad, you need to be more Zen about things," I say.

"Yeah, that would probably help," he grunts.

So we all finally get out of the car, which takes, like, 30 minutes, with the stroller and all the baby junk and my dad closing the trunk three times to make sure it's closed right. And off to this new farmers market we go.

"Which way's the liquor department?" my dad asks.

"It's a farmers market," says my mom. "They don't have liquor."

"No organic Scotch?" my dad says.

"Dad, it's not a bar," I say.

"Then why am I here?" asks my dad.

"Because you're a good husband?" my mom suggests.

"That can't be it," Dad says, then sits down at the curb and starts thumbing through his wallet.

My mom, she wanders around the farmers market, looking at every single apple and every single grape. It's like shopping for wedding rings, except that it's vegetables and fruits she's looking at.

"Done yet?" my dad keeps asking.

"I just have to look at these olive oils," she says.

"Try the 10W-30," my dad says.

Oh my God, what am I doing here?! Back at college, you never think about food during the day like this. You think about food at night, real late, right before you go to bed. Like 7 a.m. or so.

You sure don't stand around some chilly farmers market with a bunch of pudgy people in sweaters, squeezing babies and melons.

Hey, is that a tamale stand? I think I see a tamale stand. Do farmers actually grow tamales? Oh my God, I love tamales.

"Hey, Dad, can I have a little cash?"

"No."

"But it's for tamales," I explain.

"How's that column coming?"

"Best ever," I say.

"Really?"

"You might win a prize," I say.

"Here," he says, handing me five bucks.

"Wow," I say.

"What?"

"Dad, you're really gonna spoil me."

"It's just my nature," he says.

Oh. My. God.

*

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

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