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MAN OF THE HOUSE

College girl returns to her room with a eew

October 24, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

The little girl popped in the other morning, just showed up for pancakes as if nothing much had changed, as if she hadn't gone off to college 2,000 miles away two months before. She'd even made her own airline reservations. This is no simple task anymore, the airlines discouraging human contact at every opportunity.

So, anyway, I discover her standing in the kitchen on a Friday morning, having pulled off the greatest surprise since Normandy.

"Hi, Pops," the little girl says.

"You know, this isn't some bargain B&B."

"It's not?" she asks.

"You can't just drop in here without reservations," I explain.

"Can I get a reservation?"

"When will you be here?" I ask.

"Right now."

"Yes, we might have something open."

"Is it a nice room?" she asks.

Is it a nice room? It's almost exactly as she left it back in August -- messy and smelling of Velveeta cheese. There are photos of her wiseguy friends -- Abby, Amanda, Marisa -- splattered all over everywhere. In one of them, they are all dressed like Indians. Probably prom.

I mean, who would want to go in there? Oh, that's right, her big sister is living at home again. But the bedroom is still messy and smelling of processed cheese. I think it's the cumulative effect of thousands of pairs of shoes.

"It's the best room we have," I say.

"I brought my laundry!" she says brightly, as if announcing gifts.

I'm not much for surprises. Anticipation is more my thing. Anticipation lets you stretch things, build them up, shower properly in advance. Anticipation is a turkey in the oven, long pregnancies, the 12 days of Christmas, spring training. A surprise is one juicy bite; anticipation is a long, splendid feast.

"Hey, Mom, can I borrow the car?" the little girl asks.

Of course she can borrow the car. It will be somehow reassuring to see the little girl speeding down the cul-de-sac again in the white minivan. It plays into that little lie we've been telling ourselves since she left -- that her heart still lives here, that she'll be back eventually.

In fact, the little girl says that driving a car was one of the things she missed most about home. That and snuggling on the couch with her gooney little brother. She missed having a dog around and the smells of Sunday dinner. She missed the burgers from In-N-Out. She missed her older bro. She missed pumpkins.

Yet, in no time, she's borrowed her mother's recently repaired minivan to go see Taylor at USC, then Emily in Santa Barbara, returning in time to catch Sunday services. Evidently, vampires sleep more than college freshmen. They eat better too.

They seem to live in triple time, these kids. Granted, when I was in college, there were still two Germanys. Things were slower. I had one pair of jeans and 200 albums. When I walked to class, I didn't stare at some cellphone the whole way. I looked around. I oogled instead of Googled. I breathed.

And I remember enjoying every blastin' minute of it, knowing full well how special it all was, praying it would never end. In seven years it was over, but only because I really pushed myself.

Yep, college ends too soon, just like all the other good stuff in life. So it's probably best to live it in triple time. Jeez, these kids are smarter than me already.

In a few days, she leaves again, on the 6:30 flight through Phoenix. Her mother rises at 4, me at 4:15 to make the little girl scrambled eggs, then the two of them zoom off to LAX, which is what we have here in Los Angeles until we get a real airport.

Then the barrage of text messages from back East begins again, randomly and coming at all hours.

* Doing laundry. Hope I don't shrink myself.

* 4th quarter. Rainy and really cold but sooooooo fun.

* Need a new carpet. This one is really stiffish and cold feeling.

* Hate college. It's so hard.

* Oh my god, oh my god, I just came so close to stepping on a dead bird.

* It's 59 here. And people are still eating ice cream!!!

* Me, highest grade in medieval history. Woo-hoo.

* Say a cup has mold in it, is it safe to wash and use?

Then, one weekday, her mother gets a call that it has begun to rain yet again. From all reports, the prairie is chilly and -- for lack of a better word -- perfect. The little girl and her funny new friend Liz are sitting on a bench under an umbrella in the late afternoon, eating pumpkin bread and watching their classmates scurry by.

I am so envious I could eat my own fist.

Carpe college, kid. See you in late November.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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