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The many shades of summer

There's nothing like a little black magic and pillow talk

July 04, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

There is something to be said for sitting shoeless in a lawn chair, at an outdoor concert as evening falls, the grass getting cooler and thicker by the minute. It's almost foreplay.

Beside me, the woman I've been seeing. Next to her, our son. Next to him, his sister. On and on it goes, this chain letter of life. I look around and think: "Hey, I'm related to almost everybody here."

There's Glynn, the guy I used to coach softball with. Youth coaches get to be like brothers, and then off you go on separate ways. But there are always the memories, of bad calls and psycho parents -- stuff that binds you for life.

There are other fathers too. Some of us were in Indian Princesses together, a father-daughter scouting activity that featured Native American talking sticks and vests. Once, on a camp out, we went to Catalina. Some of the dads are still there, living among the buffalo.

Up on stage tonight, a boomer band, playing hits from the '60s and '70s. Our little town offers these free Sunday night concerts, so we pack up a cooler, grab a couple of chairs, find a parking spot 100 yards away. The Hollywood Bowl should be so easy.

"Mustang Sally . . . " the band sings.

It is a glorious end to a splendid day. Posh, sensing a window of opportunity between baseball and soccer, nearly murdered me with chores. First on the list: a little painting in 90-degree heat.

So I went to the hardware store for white paint. There was no white paint. Oh sure, there was something called Victorian Mourning and Jane Austen Lilies. There was Pillow Talk and Frostbite in the Western Pyrenees. But there was no white.

"Just give me a plain white," I tell the clerk.

"Um, I don't think we have that."

I blame Baskin-Robbins, really. Back in the '60s, the ice cream chain turned a black and white world into 31 flavors of confusing. With Baskin-Robbins, you couldn't go and just have vanilla or chocolate. You had to stand behind a dozen people picking out some rubbery concoction that tasted like Raid.

Sometimes, it would take the people in front of you hours to make up their minds on which rubbery concoction to buy. They would sample this, taste that.

"How 'bout that . . . that one over there," they'd say, pointing through the glass.

"That?" the clerk would ask.

"No, that one," the customer would say, "the one with gummy worms and aphids."

Marketing men latched onto this phenomenon, and soon GM was making 31 flavors of cars and TV was making 31 flavors of shows.

Soon, there were 31 chemically scented shampoos, and a million ways to order coffee. I went to have a cup of tea this morning and ran across something called "Passion -- herbal infusion, a magical blend of hibiscus, lemon grass, rose hips, mango and passion fruit flavors."

"Don't we," I asked Posh, "just have plain tea?"

"Were you going to paint the porch?" she asked, in some sort of chores-for-tea extortion.

Dying is easy. Marriage is hard.

Soon, I was in the hardware store picking out paint, pretending to do chores. Now I am in this lawn chair on a Sunday night, butt a little sore from dipping/painting/dipping. At 50, my bones seem made of wicker. There are traces of Pillow Talk in my cuticles.

"I feel good. . . . I knew that I would now," the band sings.

I love a good boomer band -- the shades, the sandals, the Lipitor. Every boomer band is about the same, with a drummer who looks like he has a Harley in the garage that he never rides anymore. If you carbon-dated all the boomer band drummers in the U.S., they'd average about 250 years old.

"Here she comes now, say, Mony, Mony . . ."

I was once a horn player in a raggedy rock band, back in the days when bands had horn players. It was the '70s, so we played "Colour My World" and "Black Magic Woman" over and over, like a broken jukebox. To hear a suburban kid sing "Black Magic Woman" is to understand the vagaries of life and love like never before.

Made a fortune, this band. Basically, we'd hold our audiences hostage, refusing to let them flee until they paid us. One time, while rehearsing in my parents' basement, the guitarist played a chord so bad it vaporized the furnace.

"Born to be wiiiiiiii . . . iiiiiiiii . . . llll . . . d," the band plays.

That's me, all right. Barefoot in the park, born to be wild . . . smelling of mineral spirits and beer.


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