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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

Party for 80? C'mon over

With a teen birthday bash out back, what's a dad to do but go on patrol.

May 01, 2008|Chris Erskine

At 17, SHE glides along as if life is one big expense account. Not that we haven't tried to teach her the value of a buck -- approximately 7 cents versus a year ago.

Anyway, there are more dollars than oak leaves in our moneyed little suburb, so that doesn't help. And what they pay baby-sitters here? Sometimes $60 or $80 for a few hours' work. In our town, it's as if the baby-sitters are all on retainer. If you're willing to pay top dollar, your sitter is almost always available.

So there's that. The little girl, an L.A. kid in ways I never would've imagined, always has a $20 bill in her purse and better shoes than I do. Now she wants to have a party.

"A party?" I ask. "Here?"

"Saturday," says the little girl.

"For how many?" asks my wife Posh.

"Seventy-five," she says.

That's not too bad. Seventy-five teenagers. How much harm can they do? We'll kennel the dog and send the little guy off to preschool in Europe. I'll razor-wire the backyard so they can't sneak in any illegal substances. We'll cordon off the flower beds to prevent trampling. I'll encase the new patio in concrete and hire a 300-pound gorilla to watch the door. The party will work out just fine, I'm sure.

"Dad, please don't freak," says my daughter.

Me?

Ialways figured that if I couldn't make the mortgage, and heartless bankers came to foreclose, I'd leave them with nothing but rubble. I'd take a 10-pound sledgehammer and a Sawzall to the entire place. Want my house back? Sure, here's the key. The front door used to be right over there.

And if I were really in a hurry to tear it down, I'd have a party for 75 teenagers.

"Um, it's now up to 80," Posh says as the day draws near.

It's a joint birthday party between my daughter and her friend. They were supposed to have it at the friend's house, which has one of those backyards that goes on and on and on. Dad's an anchorman, so you know we're talking serious coin. TV money.

But then construction at the friend's house bumped the party over to our little villa, a more-modest structure that used to be a Wienerschnitzel. Still has the drive-thru window along the side. In wet weather, it smells faintly of sauerkraut.

"We'll put the pinata over here," I tell the little girl.

"Dad, we're not having a pinata," my daughter says.

What kind of birthday party doesn't have a pinata? In fact, I think all social events should have pinatas: weddings, anniversaries, funerals. At my funeral, I want them to hoist a giant pinata from the nearest magnolia branch and let my buddies pound it with 9-irons till cigars come spilling out. I think it would be cathartic, knowing how torn with grief they'll be. They'd take off their jackets and swing for the fences.

"No pinatas?" I ask again. "What are your little friends going to do for fun?"

Drink, mostly.

Ilike teenagers, don't get me wrong. I love their spirit, their idealism, the way they look sleepy till 5 in the afternoon.

At the mercy of forces greater than themselves -- mothers, hormones, Facebook -- teenagers are doing the best they can in an increasingly difficult world.

Yet, I think of them as little bunnies, always on the lookout for places to bunny-up. They are learning one of life's cruelest lessons: that the urge to breed is grossly mistimed. If only they had such passion for algebra.

To make matters worse, many teenagers enjoy a little sip of the hooch on weekends. So I spend the entire party on hooch and bunny patrol. What's in that bottle? No, you can't go to your car. Why? Because that's where the rum is, dude.

As my friend Paul says: I was born. But it wasn't yesterday.

All in all, the party goes pretty well. My wife and I -- and our friend Joanne, who co-hosts -- are grossly outnumbered. We have nothing going for us other than our deeply held belief that, in the end, the things we worry about usually turn out OK.

Of course, no party is perfect. Despite my best efforts I spot a beer can or two in the bushes. The music is a grotesque thumping known as rap. I thought we'd moved past that. Not for a dance party. Apparently, teenagers still need something to reinforce the excessive pounding of their own unrelenting hearts.

Meanwhile, the birthday girls have put out a donation box. The party has an Earth Day theme. Instead of gifts, guests are asked to donate to an organization that helps the environment. By the time the night is over, the birthday girls have collected $500.

Seriously, how great is that? Five hundred bucks? Lord, I love teenagers.

They've trampled my backyard and saved the Earth.

--

Next week: Hosting an adult party.

--

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes .com. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.

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