Our bedroom door opened at exactly 12:30 a.m. I was in a deep sleep.
"Dad," my son said, shaking me, "her water broke."
I said, "What?"
"Her water broke."
I tend to repeat when confused.
"She's got to go to the hospital."
"What's wrong with her?"
" She's going to have a baby! "
I am not one of those who snaps awake in the middle of the night. I was therefore still staring and trying to figure out if I should call a plumber or a hydrologist when my wife, who wakes up running, crawled over me.
"Out of the way, Elmer," she said, "great events are occurring."
And then I remembered. We were having a baby.
My son and his wife have been staying with us for the birth. They had come down from the wild coast country of Northern California to be with experienced people. My wife handled it nicely. I stepped on the dog.
Hoover is about as dumb an animal as God ever created. He instantly plunged headlong into the closet door and bounced away barking at the ceiling.
"All right," I hollered, "everybody calm!"
"Everybody is calm," my wife said, "except you and the dog."
"You get the car warmed up," I said, "I'll call the Coast Guard."
"Maybe you'd better rest," my son said.
I've never been good at this sort of thing, but it was worst this time. I'm out of practice.
"When talent fails," an old city editor once told me, "rely on instinct. When instinct fails, a dry martini helps."
I headed for my mobile martini cart.
"What are you doing?" my wife asked.
"Getting ready for the baby," I said. "Where's the vermouth?"
She froze me with a look that can wither daisies.
"On second thought," I said, "I'll wait until later to celebrate."
"You're a wise man, Elmer."
I turned to stride away and stepped on Hoover again. He ran into the living room and began barking at the couch.
"Damn, dog," I hollered after him, "stay out from under my feet."
"Thank God it wasn't the baby," my wife said.
I pulled the car out front and waited. Five minutes passed. Ten. Fifteen. I could see myself presiding over the birth in the back seat of my company Pontiac. I'm not sure that's allowable.
"Let's go!" I shouted toward the front door.
I went inside the house. My son was calmly packing a bag. My wife was looking for the latest New Yorker magazine.
"Why the hell isn't everyone ready?" I demanded. "Where's Lisa?"
"Brushing her teeth," my son said.
"Are we going to go through that again?" he asked.
"Brushing her teeth, why?"
"Why not?" my wife said.
"I mean, the woman is going to have a baby and she is up there brushing her teeth? A sudden surge of hormones is clouding her ability to reason. We'd better carry her out."
"Easy, pops," my son said.
Lisa came down the stairs, smiling and relaxed. "I'm ready," she said.
She glowed with a special radiance. Her teeth were blinding.
We made it to the hospital without problems. One o'clock in the morning isn't exactly the commute hour. Even in L.A. Traffic was light.
"I'll handle this," I said, as I pulled up to emergency.
A nurse came bustling out the door.
"Al Martinez," I said impressively, "L.A. Times."
I lowered my voice for impact.
"Fine, Elmer," she said, "you the mother?"
"Well . . . no."
"Where's the mother?"
My son helped Lisa from the car. "I'm the mother," Lisa said.
"Let's go, mama," the nurse said.
They put her in a wheelchair and hustled her away.
"Try to relax," my son called back.
"Come on, Elmer," my wife said. "We'll wait for the baby and later you can go home and play with your electric martini mixer."
"Man, I'm getting tired of everyone calling me Elmer."
Labor was fast. I barely had time to finish watching a Dean Martin movie, circa 1950, when Nicole was born.
What a wonder. A small, perfect life, kicking and wiggling. Hair the color of an amber sunset. Eyes that send you crashing through the ceiling.
What shall I tell you, my pretty? It's a world of grief and a world of pleasure, of high comedy and low motives, of a gold sheen on the ocean and armed jets in the sky. The wonders that await, Nicole. See them, dark eyes. Reach out for them, small hand.
"Well," my wife said, turning from the viewing window, "what do you think?"
"She's a beauty."
"Is that an objective journalistic assessment?"
It was 3 o'clock in the morning.
"Come on, Elmer," she said. "I'll buy you a cup of coffee. Then we can go home and jump up and down on the dog."
I left with a backward glance.
Ah, Nicole. Ah, my lovely. . . .