HomeCommunity NewsChris Erskine: Shop-Vacs and Fairy Princesses

Chris Erskine: Shop-Vacs and Fairy Princesses

Confession: My most-prized possession is a giant Shop-Vac designed by NASA to suck aliens, star dust and lost dreams from the deepest recesses of outer space. I use this remarkable machine mostly to snort up Smartacus’ socks, which decorate our house like an elegant December snow.

Suzanne is dating me mostly because of this Shop-Vac. Hey, I get it. It could slurp a bowling ball through a garden hose, and when you use it on the carpets of your car, the carpets are even cleaner than when they were first made.

Who doesn’t crave that?

The other day, Suzanne asked if she could use the Shop-Vac on her car, and I volunteered to vacuum it for her. But she’s not that kind of girl. So we compromised, meaning I mostly let her have her way.

The deal: I would pull the big vacuum out and set it up for her, then she would come vacuum out the car herself.

After I set it up, I decided I’d just go ahead and — SURPRISE! — vacuum her car myself.

Now, if you’re in any sort of relationship, you know this kind of kindness creates a different set of tensions. Because it’s not a pre-approved kindness.

But when I tried to open the car door, it was locked. Only her stupid phone could open it. So the surprise was on me. Suzanne won the moment.

Don’t they always?

This is remarkably off point, but stay with me: The other day, Suzanne and I watched the pilot of “That Girl,” which is way more horrible than you probably remember.

Actually, most anything with a laugh track is pretty horrible. I mean, what were they thinking back then. Laugh tracks! Plastics! Tang! Polyester! The ’60s and ’70s were very inauthentic times. And we liked it that way!

Except, Marlo Thomas. She was so real. Not level-headed exactly, but with lovely intentions. And she wore really cute jumpers and capes, kind of mod, super colorful, like airport tapestries.

And the luster of her hair. As I told Suzanne, “What’d they do, hot wax her hair?” Shiny as a Camaro, this hair. Probably Nylon.

We were headed for a gala that night, so neither of us was in very good spirits, though the banquet, in support of the gorgeous Pasadena Playhouse, turned out to be really enjoyable. No emcee. Just an offstage announcer who introduced the various speakers, then a bunch of Sondheim songs, including “Send in the Clowns,” which, for a ballad about clowns, is very sad indeed.

My takeaway: Clowns are the saddest things we know.

… Send in the clowns,

Don’t bother, they’re here …

Clowns get no respect. When Suzanne and I have deep, late-night chats, I clown around a bit, try to say something profound, followed by a punchline, a comedy recipe that goes all the way back to the late-1400s.

In my defense, I tell her that if we start self-editing, then these late-night chats won’t have the lovely glint of honesty and pathos, which is all you can hope for in a relationship these days. If you start pulling punches, editing yourself, holding back, the conversation loses something. Truthiness? Trust? Verve?

I explained that I don’t really say everything that comes into my head, it just seems that way. I have this place in my brain, it’s like a pantry, where I store the things that are better left unsaid.

There are now three things in that pantry. 1) Something I started to say about Suzanne’s remarkable sister; 2) Something snarky about Stanford; 3) Something about being ski-poled to death by Gwyneth Paltrow.

Out of respect, I’ve censored myself on those three topics. Does it feel good? No. Is it the right thing? Of course not.

As I later told my 2-year-old granddaughter, who functions as both my fairy princess and my conscience: “You really can’t be yourself in this world anymore. You need to have a pantry in your head. And the right pronouns.”

“OK, Papa,” Cakes said, then started smacking me with her magic wand.

I also told Cakes I’m dedicating my next bestseller to her: “The Things We Don’t Tell Our Loved Ones — Maybe Out of Self-Preservation.”

I see it replacing TikTok, and perhaps Google, as a handy manual for navigating modern life, which is more puzzling by the minute.

I also see it as a pretty good send-up of old sitcoms, where a quarreling contemporary family sits down to watch an old ’70s sitcom, then morphs into that ’70s sitcom.

High concept, as the development people say. No laugh track. Lots of shiny Nylon hair.

So much love.

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.


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