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Man of the House: Dealing with seedlings and saplings

On a warm July day ...

We plant flowers. You’d have a better chance of growing begonias in your bellybutton than in this particular flower bed out back. I call it Four-Mile Island because it’s a disaster zone like Three-Mile Island, except 33% worse.

Over the years, I have spent hundreds of dollars in soil enhancers, faith healers and exorcisms, with very mixed results. The only thing that grows on Four-Mile Island is despair.

“We can help your marriage,” an exorcist once told me, “but we can’t help that awful piece of soil.”

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“When can you start?” I answered.

Still, in our backyard, where olive trees throw a dark cape over almost everything, this little flower bed receives the only sliver of sunlight available. Occasionally, when God gets off his easy chair, we enjoy some reckless and unstoppable pumpkin vines before they eventually whither into rusty barbed wire.

This year, the little guy is planting seeds from tiny packets his grandma sent him. I rake in some fresh soil, add some fertilizer, water it well, then turn the little guy loose with the seeds.

Seriously, if this doesn’t work, I’m planting cotton and tobacco, two crops that can grow almost everywhere. At harvest time, I will make my own underwear. Once I’ve established my own line of skivvies, I will roll my own cigars.

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I will eventually weave seersucker suits and get very, very fat on bourbon-based cocktails. Everybody needs a goal, and that is now mine.

So yeah, it’s pretty much a can’t-miss summer here at Four-Mile Island.

On a warm July day ...

I spot the college girl eating a cinnamon roll the size of her head. That is not so odd in itself, for kids her age are connoisseurs of the worst crud in truly disgusting proportions. What is amazing is that I spotted her at all.

To actually see a college kid home for the summer is like spotting Garbo in Manhattan. My initial reaction on seeing my daughter: Is that really her? Do I approach her? Would she be appalled if I asked for an autograph? Or, do I just respect her privacy and treasure this little sighting like some sort of keepsake?

That’s the way seeing the college girl leaves me. She’s a busy kid, working two jobs and handling two sets of friends — the old ones (high school) and the new ones (college). So I can understand why she doesn’t have time for someone like me (who barely drinks at all).

Then suddenly: “Dad, want to go to Neptune’s Net?”

Neptune’s Net is the near-legendary eatery, of course. It is without peer among Los Angeles restaurants, offering abundant portions of fresh seafood in a rustic, almost prison-camp setting.

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“Yesssssssss!” I yell, not wanting to appear too eager.

An hour later, we are in the car on the way to Malibu, a place so evocative they named a Chevy after it.

“Is that the ocean I smell?” the little guy asks as we pull out of the driveway. “Or is that just me?”

“That’s just you,” I say.

On a warm July day ...

I watch the little guy practice his tennis serve.

“Ready, Dad?”

“Ready.”

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“Here goes!”

To watch a 7-year-old serve a tennis ball is to renew your faith in the almost limitless potential of the human body. The toss itself could wind up almost anywhere — in his ear, over the fence, in a trailer park six miles down the road. There is nothing routine about the way a 7-year-old serves, which is what makes it so remarkable and entertaining.

I’m not even sure quite how he accomplishes it, this serve, for the motion resembles a very complicated pretzel made by a very drunk baker on what would be his last day of employment. In super slow motion, you could probably map it, but in real time it is almost a mystery to the human eye.

This much we know: When the racquet head finally comes crashing down, a thunderous act of violence that opens fissures in the Earth’s atmosphere, the racquet glances off the top of the boy’s head, his elbow, a passing pigeon, and once in a blue moon, the tennis ball itself, which by now is several inches behind him and just below the nape of his neck.

If I tried to hit a ball like this, which as I noted, is behind him and out of sight, I would wind up in traction for three months, then they’d throw a sheet over me and sell me for spare parts.

But the little guy somehow manages to connect.

“Ace!” he yells when it ricochets off a Buick.

I don’t know, looked a little wide to me.

chris.erskine@latimes.com


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