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Truly, it's a funny, knock-knock world

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NEXT time you have a moment, ask yourself this: How much honesty does my life have? Is my work mostly truthful and rewarding? In my personal life, can I level with my friends? Do my kids think I'm a fraud?

The "Honesty Index," which I invented while watching some phony-baloney TV pundit, is a novel way to assess your life. What you do is ask yourself easy questions about the level of sincerity in your surroundings. If you find a lot of fairness and honesty, you win. If you don't, well, you'll probably lie about it anyway.

Me, I scored a 1.5 on the Honesty Index. That's on a scale of 0 to 1.5, which I weighted slightly in my favor, giving myself extra credit for not fibbing too much on my taxes and admitting recently to my buddy Irv that I now weigh 170, not 150 like my driver's license says. Apparently, I have so much honesty in my life it's ridiculous.

"I cannot tell a lie," I tell the kids.

"Everybody tells a lie," says the boy.

"Not me," I said.

"That's tight, Dad," said the little girl, fittingly impressed. Of all the kids, she goes to church the most. So far, it hasn't ruined her.

Anyway, I like this Honesty Index, for it is a way to measure your quality of life in ways that don't show up on a paycheck.

The census, for example, asks us how many homes, cars and kids we have. Is that any way to measure a life? For the record, I have one home, two mortgages and four kids, one of whom may be a grandchild, I'm not sure. He's almost 20 years younger than our eldest child. We nearly named him "Oops."

"We're having our own grandchildren," I told my wife one evening.

"Tonight?" she asked.

"No, him," I said of Oops. "He's like a grandkid."

He's turned out to be quite a little boy, this golden bonus baby, 30 pounds of dirt and smiles in one convenient package. He looks better in a Chicago Cubs cap than anyone since Sweetbreads Bailey, his ears sticking out at odd and lovely angles.

But there's more to this kid than great fashion sense. He's quick with a joke and a smile. He cracks himself up, smacking his leg as he bends slightly at the waist. He's particularly fond of knock-knock jokes.

"Knock, knock," he says.

"Come in," I say.

This makes him giggle. Everything makes him giggle. He is, suddenly, at age 4, the laugh track to our lives, the knock-knock joke that won't go to bed on time no matter how much I run him around the park all day. He is exhausting, exhilarating, maddening. But he tells a great knock-knock joke.

"Knock, knock," he says.

"Who's there?"

"Cows go," he says.

"Cows go who?"

"No, Dad," he says. "Cows go MOO!"

Feel free to use this excellent knock-knock joke at your next conference, cocktail party or bar mitzvah. Seriously, I don't think he made it up himself anyway. I think he stole it. Apparently, he's not as fanatical about all that honesty stuff as his old man.

Yet, little by little, day by day, I am instilling in him a sophisticated sense of humor, which is one way of looking for life's truths. I spend hours a week teaching him about timing, surprise, mimicry, all the tools in comedy's toolbox.

"Great comics," I tell him, "are a mix of confidence and insecurity."

"OK, Daddy."

"Don't oversell your punch line," I say.

"OK," he says.

When we are done with a lesson, I turn him loose on his mother — a beautiful, engaging, semi-menopausal woman with credit-card debt out the wazoo and little hope for the future. (She's also got these really tiny feet, even smaller and more delicate than mine. I think she might be a princess.)

"Knock, knock," the little guy tells her.

"I'm not home," she says.

"Knock, knock," he insists.

"Oh, it's you again," she says.

This little dance goes on for about five minutes, this thing they do with knock-knock jokes. Then his older sister enters — have I told you about her? She's the one who moves out of the house, moves back in, moves out, moves back in. A serial mover. Help, police!

Lately, our little house (formerly a Taco Bell) has become like a bad sitcom starring Kelly Ripa. Just when things settle down a little, in bursts this older daughter and her beagle, Mayhem, who races around the house as if chasing invisible jackrabbits.

"Don't you ever knock-knock?" I ask her.

"Who's there?" asks the little boy.

"Oh, my God," gasps my wife, her head in her hands.

"Daddy, will you help me move?" asks the older daughter.

"Again?"

"Who's there?!!!" yells the little boy.

Sigh.

*


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

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