We walk the line

CLEANING UP a 5-year-old is a cinch. First scrape him with a dull blade to remove the layers of gum, asphalt, wet paint, shellac, bunny poo, perspiration, dog hair, pond scum, aphids and frog spit from his skin. Next, sponge him with lemon juice and club soda. Blot up excess moisture. Repeat. After two or three rounds of this, you should begin to see his skin again.

We’re at Grandma’s house for a few days, and the little guy is like a totem of summer substances. One evening, I found a Canada goose in his ear.

His mother and siblings are not along, so it is left to me to wash him each night, though I confess there are some evenings when I just dunk him in my sister’s pool for an hour or two. The pool pump and filter immediately begin to smoke, but I cover that up by lighting a big smelly cigar. Desperate dads call for desperate measures.

Not certain why Posh didn’t want to come, thanks for asking. She mumbled something about mental anguish and post-traumatic vacation disorder.


“But we haven’t even left yet,” I argued.

“From last year,” Posh explained.

I understand. These days, vacations are not for wimps. The little guy and I walk into LAX, needing to check something at the American Airlines ticket counter before proceeding -- it’s a long story about a ticket voucher that I still don’t quite understand.

Now, I’m too young to have experienced Ellis Island, but I have little doubt that American Airlines has created a faithful replica at LAX. When I ask a guy in a blazer, he says that the line to the ticket counter is way over there somewhere with “about 500 people in it so be careful not to miss your flight.”


“Thanks,” I say.

So we make our way to the ticket counter. In spots, LAX is like an overcrowded prison. Lines crisscross, lines tangle into tight little fists. There have been several unintended pregnancies in lines at LAX. I’m pretty sure that’s where two of our four kids were conceived.

When we get to what looks like the ticket counter line, there are only about 50 other customers in front of us. Whew. Of course, we soon discover that the line is not moving. I fear, for a moment, that the ticket agents are wax museum figures, for this is how badly the line is not moving. To reduce the tension, the little guy begins to sing.

“Bells on Bobtail ring, making spirits bright . . . “


At this point, I am silently cursing Posh for leaving me alone with a madman, at the Ellis Island of airports, for a trip alone to the steamy Middle West -- not in the good sense steamy but in the muggy, you-can-barely-breathe steamy. There, assuming we ever arrive, Grandma awaits with a long list of chores for us. Nothing serious: rebuild the grill, cut back the humongous rosebush, stuff like that. The reason I work 50 weeks a year? For respites such as this.

“Will the last 10 people in line please follow me,” says a woman in a blazer, who spins on a heel and heads back through the human ball of yarn to the other side of the terminal.

“What the heck, let’s go,” I tell the little guy.

At this point in my life, I don’t really trust people in blazers. I find them a little officious. Too many of them are on power trips.


“This way,” the woman in the blazer barks, not looking back.

She takes us to a counter -- a wonderful secret counter -- where only two people are in line. I think it’s the first-class counter, but since first-class customers are in such short supply on a Saturday, or refuse to fly with people like me and the little guy, these ticket agents have time on their hands.

“Wow, the VIP line,” I tell another father behind us.

“I was starting to worry we’d miss our flight,” the stranger says.


“O come, all ye faith- ful . . .” bellows the 5-year-old.

Turns out, we were in the hands of an angel in a red blazer. Were it not for her, we might never have boarded the oldest MD-80 in the entire American fleet and been whisked off to the heartland, where we waited an hour at the curb for Aunt Holly to pick us up, beer on her breath in that great way Midwesterners all seem to have beer on their breath.

And we wouldn’t be here at Grandma’s for a week of bratwurst therapy. When it storms here, which is pretty much all the time, the raindrops fall big, fat and ferociously nutritious -- like little cans of V8 juice thumping against the roof.

This Middle West is surely the richest of lands. I think we may have landed in Oz.



Next week: The time machine that is Grandma’s house.


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