Life in Web of Summer

By Chris Erskine
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES ~ I’ve been giving it serious thought, and I’m pretty convinced spiders are taking over the world. Not that they wouldn’t do a better job.

In the kitchen, there’s a web running from the skylight to the stove. It glistens in the morning light, which leads me to think it’s fresh. Fresher than most things in our kitchen.

In the yard, there are webs everywhere, mostly stemming from the giant magnolia tree. Trust me, there is no unemployment in the spider world.

“Spiders lay eggs on people and dogs,” explains the 6-year-old, as we walk the 300-pound beagle through a web, hoping the spiders will take him. “The eggs hatch into black widows. You have to get them off.”

There’s no knowing what the little guy prays for each day in summer bible school, but it probably involves spiders. Like me, he knows they are taking over the world.

And what a world they’ve inherited. Morally corrupt. Confrontational. Smart-alecky. Earlier today, the little guy takes a tube of sunscreen from his mother and tells her, “Thank you, my darling,” then laughs like a little Jerry Lewis. Good luck, spiders. You’ll need it.

Lately, our life seems a series of unfinished wars. On Tuesday, something snatched a tomato off the patio and we found it in the elbow of an olive tree, 15 feet up. We know it was some kind of critter, probably a teenager. A thorough investigation is under way. They also stole some grapefruit.

“I’m furious,” Posh says.

“I’m furious too,” I say.

“Bite me,” she says.

“Where?” I ask, and one of the kids walks in, spoiling the moment.

Anyway, it’s been a summer of small pleasures – root beer floats, a new garage door opener – and small, psychological skirmishes.

We’re at this 4-year-old’s birthday party the other day, a splendid affair – potato chips, hot dogs, the whole nine yards. I had been looking forward to it all week. It’s rare that I get to be around children.

I find the dad, Will, out back, trying to light the grill. Will launches into this explanation of how he replaced the tank, and the new one didn’t work, so he took it back to the store, where they gave him another tank, which still doesn’t work.

“I know it’s a new tank because I watched him switch it out,” Will says.

We attach the new tank and it fires up immediately, making me look like a hero, when all I did was screw the tank on firmly, with forearms made strong from a lifetime of writing soft-core grocery lists for Posh. Plus, I do a lot of typing.

“How’d you do it?” asks Will’s wife.

“Superior intellect,” I say.

“Who’d-a suspected that?” says Posh, and everybody laughs.

So now we’re at this party, the summer winds a-blowing hot and hard. It is the heat you feel when you open a car hood after a long drive. July heat. Like a furnace blanket around my brain.

“Something to drink?” Will asks.

Hmmmm, maybe. Sure, maybe I’ll have something to drink. I could have something to drink, or I could pass out right here in a big heap of suburban blubber. Let’s see … I think I’ll have something to drink.

I fish a beverage out of the big tub full of ice and drinks. I like to dig deep in such tubs. I like to stand in them … soak.

As expected, it’s a very good party. The chicken is grilled to perfection, and the hot dogs too. I urge Will not to char the dogs, for kids don’t like charred dogs the way adults do. It’s one of the many little life tips I’ve tried to pass along to my buddy, who’s half my age but twice as tan.

Inside, I meet a nice woman (Denise) from CNN who works with the lovely and patient older daughter. I apologize, and explain that our daughter sometimes gets worked up and uses language she doesn’t mean, though I’m sure it’s effective in the pressure cooker world of TV news.

“She’s actually very nice,” the woman says.

“Has CNN ever done a story on spiders?” I ask, and off she goes to talk to someone else.

At one point, they herd us to the front yard for a game involving water balloons. Now, I don’t know about you, but if a party doesn’t have water balloons, I’m usually a no-show. Whatever the occasion, water balloons can make or break an evening.

“First, you catch the balloon, then you take a step back,” says the hostess, a schoolteacher named Linda, using her (sexy) schoolteacher voice.

Catch, step back. Catch, step back. Those are the rules. We make it to the semifinals, the little guy and I, before he throws a water balloon that explodes all over my crotch. I’ve been married 27 years, so it doesn’t really hurt like you’d imagine.

“Can we do that again?” I ask.

And then we had some nice cake.

Erskine can be reached at chris.Erskine@latimes.com.

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