Smartcus Comes Home

Threw open the windows, ran the vacuum. Smartacus is coming home for spring break.

It’s been three months.

I pull his sheets out of the dryer. They’re warm…toasty. Wish I had waited, so he’d have the double  luxury of his own room and these toasty sheets. Guess that’s the mother in me. Or, in my case, a single parent playing mom and dad.

Yeah, three months since he’s been home. Too long. Forever. For 18 years, I saw him every morning, every night. The house wasn’t a home without him. He took his first steps in this place, said his first words, spilled his first juice box all over my shirt.

His first Christmas was spent here, then all the Christmases since. All those birthdays, all those movie nights. Tons of popcorn.

To this day, his handprints still line some of the closets where he played hide and seek — small down low, then bigger as he grew … higher, higher, highest.

Now he’s taller than me. He will come back for spring break thinking he’s smarter too. Freshmen always do.

I mean, just because you can reset the car clock in 3 seconds doesn’t make you smarter. Or, these days,  maybe it does.

Who cares. No matter. I’ll hug him just a tad too long anyway. Right now, he’s that great book you just finished and can’t bring yourself to put down.

She kisses him a carwash. I like listening to them laugh.

Up in Oregon, he’s joined a frat. Not crazy about that. I prefer a freer, laissez-faire flow of friends, rather than an exclusive private club. Too each his own.

He sends a photo of his pledge class. OK, I get it. I see the smiles, the camaraderie, the youthy glow. All those teeth. They are proud of this tribe they’ve joined. Looking at this photo, I get it in every way.

He’s moved on.  It’s been three months. He’s a little tougher now, I think. Not so long ago – one year, maybe two — he was like those little lambs in a Sunday school book. Fuzzy. Vaporous. Ethereal. Now he’s elbows and sly smiles. He clomps into the room. He talks a lot about beer.

Which is the point, isn’t it, to move on? To become independent in thought, behavior, political preference, to put a little distance between you and your old man?

Independent guys are the best guys. Gary Cooper. Clint Eastwood. Billy Jack. Hence, my thoughts on frats. But I’ll let that go. Harry Truman. Dick Butkus. Bittner. Billable Bob.

Congrats, you frat boys. Honestly, I’m a little envious.

By LA standards, his pledge mates look a little pale — they almost blend into the beige wall behind them. It’s a reminder that Eugene is relentlessly rainy, just as LA is relentlessly sunny. I’ll take the sun, but envy the rain. See a theme here? I like what I like, but I’m not convinced I’m so right about it.

First task: Take him to that burger place he loves. Then to the park for some sun. Dry him out. Flip him over a few times till the sunlight dries out the mildew. Sunshine is gold. It’s why no one can afford a home here anymore.

I might take him out to Verge’s little beach shack, so we can dunk him in the sea. Brine him. Maybe then he’ll shut up already.

Task 3: Scratch his back. Typically, he’s got more itches than a coon dog. There’s that one spot under his shoulder blade: ”Yeah Dad, right there…little higher…little higher.”

I pick him up at Burbank, which used to seem so open and easy and now is congested every time I go. Really fun. The traffic gestapos wave their flashlights at you, as desperate parents juke and jive to the curb and back. Someone gave whistles to the gestapos. Good idea. Keep moving!!! Let’s go!!! Keep moving!!!

Gotcha, pal. You know, I didn’t come here to look at planes. I just want my kid. Keep moving, he says.

Suddenly, there’s my son with his too high hair – 6 feet? 8 feet? Smartacus looks great, other than the hair, which might be eel grass. He jumps in the car.

“Hi Dad.”

“How was your flight?”

 “I sat next to two Karens,” he says.

Back to the house we go, the one with the handprints. Smartacus says he never realized how soft or big the couch was. Better than the library, evidently. More cushy than the dorm lounge. Says he can’t believe there’s all this food.

After the dorm, his bedroom feels like the Four Seasons. His toes sink in the carpet, and those sheets! They’re not warm, but they smell of spring.

On the bed, White Fang awaits. Smartacus is royalty to her, the victorious prince. She kisses him a carwash. Lifeguard!!! I like listening to them laugh.

After all, it’s been three months.

Save the date: Come spend an evening in Capri with me when I host a gala honoring cancer support services on April 23 in Glendale. Cancer Support Community of Pasadena offers vital services to LA area cancer patients and their families. No one should face cancer alone, and these folks see to that. So, come hang out with me, enjoy some good Italian food, some drinks and some collegiate-caliber camaraderie in support of a very important cause. Info:

12 thoughts on “Smartcus Comes Home

  1. Just when I was beginning to wonder what had become of Smartacus, you deliver this beaut. Your love for each other is so tangible and touching. Watching him grow from an infant to a frat man through your eyes and perfect words has been a joy for many years. Now, we await more updates on Miss Catty Cakes and her busy life as a fashion icon, please!

  2. I was a bit leery about my sons being in Frats until I saw the loyalty and closeness they share !
    Pals for life ! You will totally enjoy the dads weekend with his Frat !

  3. What a valentine. He’ll be embarrassed if he reads it now, but love it years from now. Sometimes I find myself awake at two in the morning thinking of the embarrassing things I’ve done to Will over the years that will bring a tear to his eye when I’m dead. Then I drift off to sleep with a smile on my face.

  4. Glad he’s back in the fold. He really is a prince just look at that dog. Now you can cook for him in the mornings.

  5. Thought of him as I arrived in eugene this week. You make us feel like we’re part of your family. I almost called you to get his number so I could take him to dinner but he’s not here….enjoy spring break.

  6. Bringing back so many memories to all of us in your special way – back from when we were the college freshen, then when it was our kids. Lovely column.

  7. Yes, spring break here too. The junior drove home Friday and the freshman flew in from Florida on the 10th (has 12 days) so 13 year-old Mr. Baxter (beloved dog) and I love the noise and commotion in the house! Three months is a long time. Enjoy every moment 😊

  8. Frats!
    More than 6 decades ago I joined a fraternity at UCLA. I was away in Westwood far removed from my home in Burbank nesting with a bunch of strangers at a mega university. The first of my family to attend college.
    Ten of us “Brothers” became best friends. Four (including me) shared our lives together; marriage children weddings grandchildren many good times and a few bad times. We still do, despite the passing of one of us last year. My fraternity experience is a blessing and brought joy to me, my family and my other friends I’ve been fortunate to gather over my 84 years.

  9. I am so happy for you that he chose home sweet home over Tulum! Family is everything and the closeness you feel to your loving, lovely son always brings a smile to my face and informs me on what is really important in life. Party on Erskine.
    PS Thanks for the shout out on Carolyn See’s new novel. One of my favorite, (and most popular) Los Angeles based writers.

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