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Chris Erskine: Reading with the little guy before bed

Sometimes, he’s asleep when I get home, and I go in to kiss the little guy good night. A sleeping boy’s head is like a conch shell. If you get real close, you can hear the ocean.

Other times, I put him to bed myself, ignoring the dirty feet — graced with the coal dust of summer streets — in the interest of extra time to read.

He is the fourth of four kids, and we have read to each of our children almost every night from the time they were 2 till they were almost 12.

You’d think this might produce a generation spellbound by books. But the last time I spotted a twentysomething pick up a book, Clinton was president; the budget was balanced; occasionally, there’d still be a good song on the radio.

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That’s how long it’s been since I’ve seen a young person — the book-before-bed generation — pick up a paperback.

Still we read, the little guy and I. When you think about the other things kids could be doing — going through your pockets, blowing up space invaders — reading shoulder to shoulder in bed seems a great way to end the day.

Speaking of space invaders, do those billboards for this new movie “Cowboys and Aliens” suck the nectar right out of your mortal soul? Not that your soul needs a lot of nectar, but you’ve got to keep your fluids up.

Sure, I realize that sci-fi has always had a toehold in Hollywood, but now it seems to have completely taken over. Lately, all our movies seem aimed at nerdy misfits.

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“Holy laser bombs, Batman, the nerdy misfits have become the mainstream!”

No, I don’t blame the misfits, for I am one. I blame studios for their lack of scope. “Cowboys and Aliens”?

Rule of thumb: No one should ever make a cowboy movie that John Wayne would refuse to appear in.

Maybe that’s why I find reading to my kids so soothing. Nothing pings, nothing crashes. When I’m done, I still have all my limbs.

Speaking of amputations, we attended one of those whirly Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties the other day — Spencer was finally turning 6 — and the sound of bells, whistles and general electronic hum for which there is no name hung in my head for a couple of days after, to the point where I kept answering my cellphone, thinking it was ringing.

Hello? Hello?

Turns out it was just my thalamus ringing. You’ve heard of heat stroke? I had kids’ birthday party stroke.

Hellooooooooooo?

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“We might have to amputate,” the doctor said two days later.

“Amputate what?” my wife, Posh, asked.

“His head,” the doctor said.

“Whew,” said Posh, “at least it’s nothing he ever uses.”

“Yeah, like a gallbladder,” the doctor noted.

Speaking of Posh, I was home-schooling her the other day — filling in the gaps of her Florida education — when we got to the topic of kinesiology, something I know nothing about but insist on teaching her anyway.

“This,” I said, “is your elbow.”

“That is not my elbow,” she said.

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“It’s not?”

“That’s my breast.”

Hmmmm, I guess she learned more in that little Catholic school than you might expect.

“You’re really smart,” I finally told her.

Then I shook her hand in gratitude. At least I think it was her hand.

Point is, we need to be more respectful of the human body. And the things we fill our heads with.

“Hey, Dad?”

“Hey, what?”

OK, we’re back to reading before bed. Late summer does that to me, bakes my brain, scrambles my radar.

“Dad, I don’t know what to dream about,” the little guy complains with a yawn.

Oh, I’ve got a few things for you, pal. You can dream about political leaders with uncommon powers of common sense.

You can dream of playing seasons that stay in season. No baseball in November. No basketball in July.

Or, maybe, you can dream of movies where nothing explodes, because real life has enough of that.

“Know what you can dream of?” I finally tell him.

“Huh?”

“Dream of the beach,” I say, “a nice sunny beach.”

“Night, Dad,” he says and leans in for a hug.

I think I heard the ocean.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes


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