She will dream of him, probably – she already does.
White Fang’s whole world revolves around this 18-year-old goof with the frosty face – cookie crumbs, ice cream – that she likes to kiss clean every morning and night.
If not for her, entire food groups would reside in the corners of Smartacus’ smile.
White Fang knows something bad is happening. Dogs always know when you’re prepping to go away, even before you pull the suitcases down. Too much laundry is being done. Why are they over-watering the plants? Why aren’t they sitting around like slugs, watching TV?
Dogs don’t trust change, or any variation in the social order.
What they want is you. Only you. Forever.
Parents want that too – you, and only you. Maybe not forever, but for a year or two longer…certainly not as quickly as it all flew by.
Remember pre-school? Remember Cub Scouts and accompanying them on Halloween? Wasn’t that 3 minutes ago?
For gawd’s sakes, remember when your son couldn’t even put on his own socks? Remember when you helped your kids brush their teeth?
I still do.
For the record, Smartacus still can’t put on his own socks. He steals mine. He runs out of clean socks and sneaks into my room to “borrow” a pair I’ll never see again.
I’m really going to miss that.
The other day at Target, he forgot his debit card and had to pay for $80 worth of socks and t-shirts with singles, like a stripper or a toll collector. It was the tip money he earned as a bus boy this summer, which he fed into the self-help kiosk one limp bill at a time.
…17, 18, 19, 20, 21…
If you were the person behind him, I apologize.
This college dropoff seems a slot machine wager, doesn’t it? Will he do his homework? Will he change his sheets? What time will he head home on those raucous Thursday nights?
Evidently, all the empty-nest parents are in tears. As my pal Crystal explained it, they are wondering whether the $70k a year is worth it, or they’ll ever be able to retire. What a goat rodeo.
Meanwhile, Smartacus has been warned by friends and family:
–No means no.
–Yes means no (though it can mean maybe)
–Don’t drink anything mixed in a garbage can.
–Go to class.
–Don’t fall behind.
–Take advantage of your professor’s office hours.
–Always split your 8’s and aces.
It’s almost too much to remember. Like a speech, you just hope he hits the main points and finishes strong.
He’s a notoriously slow starter, like his dad. In second grade, I was incapable of pulling galoshes over my penny loafers. In seventh grade, I couldn’t work the combo lock.
Fortunately, Smartacus seems more adept at life than I ever was. There’s hardly a thing he can’t accomplish with his cell phone. The other night, he removed my appendix.
Yet, there’s this Santa’s list of items he needs for college: Kleenex. Band-Aids. A nice pair of slacks.
So his sisters took him shopping.
A college sendoff is a bit of a coronation, the elevation of a young prince; at least that was their mindset as they rushed into Bed, Bath & Beyond, filling every available cart with heathered cotton.
If you spot an inexplicable jump in consumer spending this month … well, that was just his duvet cover.
Just as they were running out of money, off they went to Best Buy.
“Good sir, could you please give us…” Rapunzel cooed.
“…The biggest damn mini-fridge in the world!!!” the lovely and patient older daughter yodeled.
This mini-fridge is now stored in the garage till we leave in a few days. It’s roughly the size of a speed boat. They may have to hoist it through his dorm window, like New Yorkers move pianos.
Soon, Smartacus will fill it with energy drinks (beer, White Claw — who we kidding?) and his beloved string cheese. In four years, it may never see a single vegetable.
The fridge has a freezer; it’s not frost free.
Look, I’m an optimist by nature, but I cannot envision a day where Smartacus defrosts the freezer. His only hope is a prolonged power outage. Even then, it will soak the rug and all the socks scattered everywhere. In an hour, his dorm room will look like the Everglades.
I warned them a frosty freezer was a bad idea.
Who listens? I’m like the treasurer of the chess club. Nobody knows my name till they need a buck.
My role is minor now, of course. I just pay the tuition that took me 40 years to accumulate, while grinding out a life for me and five others, one keystroke at a time. For four decades, I arose at 6 am, rooted around in the dark for my boxers, headed off to work half awake.
Click. Submit. Gone.
And starting Monday, we will fill his late mother’s Honda with all his stuff – gobs of stuff, too much probably.
What’s this? A cotton candy maker? OK, this? A rowing machine?
As we pack the car, White Fang will wait at the kitchen door, expecting us to call her into the backseat, so she can come along for the ride.
“He wouldn’t go to college without me,” she thinks. “What kind of life would that be?”
When Smartacus finally hugs her goodbye, she won’t understand. Not even a little.
“All I wanted is you,” she’ll think.
Only you. Forever.
Next: Bon voyage! The roadtrip to freshman year.
Columns appear Wednesdays and Saturdays. Find past posts and Newsletter sign-ups at ChrisErskineLA.com