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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Fall? It's a question of time

The hectic season is here, but the team's out of practice.

September 18, 2003|Chris Erskine

And screaming into autumn we go, with a full calendar and a passel of questions. What time are tennis lessons? Does the baby need a better sun hat? Can this marriage be saved? Yes, I answer. But then I've always been a dewy-eyed optimist, which is rare for a married man.

"The soccer uniforms, they're running," my wife says.

"Seriously?"

"Look, her underwear is purple," she says, holding up the little girl's clothes.

Add that to the list of significant fall concerns. Why are the uniforms running but the midfielders aren't? Couldn't there be some sort of compromise? Maybe we should just throw the team's jerseys out there on the field and leave the kids at home, where they'd be perfectly happy instant-messaging each other till midnight.

"Dad, we're going to be late," the little girl says.

"What's so bad about being late?" I say.

"Let's go," she says.

Yes, it's fall and the days begin like a bad prank, with the kids rubbing their eyes and lingering around the breakfast table. On school days, which begin just after 6, they are characters from a Wes Craven horror flick, overtired and a little jumpy. I'm pretty sure they've reached the age where their blood is now made up entirely of soft drinks.

"Dad?"

"Huh?"

"I'm going to go get a little more ready," the little girl says on the second day of school, stumbling back to her bedroom for pants.

"Great," I say. "Go get pants."

We still get up with them, my wife and I, convinced that if left to their own devices, they would make breakfast of microwave popcorn and Cheetos, followed by a nice cigar. Like many kids, they seem to know instinctively what's bad for them.

Amid all this, the phone is constantly ringing.

"Hello? Hi, Tina. Soccer's at 6."

"Hello? Hi, Will. Let me ask."

My wife puts her hand over the mouthpiece.

"Her tennis coach says there's a tournament this weekend," my wife says.

"Where?"

"San Marino."

"We have soccer photos," I remind her.

The phone rings again. And again. For an hour straight, it rings. The average bordello doesn't get this many calls. The LAPD doesn't hear this many rings.

"Hello?"

Pause.

"It's Coach Bill," the little girl says and hands her mother the phone.

In my pocket, meanwhile, I've discovered a grocery list from our summer vacation, wadded up like a gum wrapper, right next to my last dime.

Bread.

Butter.

Beer.

Booze.

Obviously, we were on a strict diet during our summer trip. We ate only things that began with B and made you high. I look at this list like a love note from the ninth grade. Such idle, innocent moments seem gone forever.

"What's wrong?" my wife asks.

"Nothing."

"Something's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong," I insist.

"You know, we need to spend more time together," she urges.

"Of course," I say.

More time together? Now? In the hurly-burly of the new school year, when we are booked every day till Christmas? My wife seems sincere, though I have my doubts. If she really cared for me, she never would've thrown away her Catholic schoolgirl uniform, then acted like it was no big deal.

"That was 25 years ago," she says.

"Wool lasts forever," I say.

"No, it doesn't."

"Ever seen a bald sheep?"

"No," she says.

"Ever seen a bald eagle?"

"No."

"Ever seen a soccer uniform run?" I ask.

Which plays right into my new plan. If we're going to spend more time together, my wife will have to join the little girl's soccer team. As a veteran coach, I see her playing midfield, except in the fourth quarter, when I might switch her to goalkeeper. The kids, they hate playing keeper.

"Dad, she's sorta short," notes the boy.

"She'll never miss the low ones," I say.

"And she can't kick with her left foot," the little girl notes.

"She can learn."

Of course, there are some details to be worked out. Who'll hold that new baby during games? Does my wife still need to bring postgame treats? And there's the thorny little issue of eligibility.

"Isn't Mommy too old for soccer?" the little girl asks.

"You going to tell her that?"

She giggles.

"No."

"Me neither," I say.

*

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

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