Chris Erskine: A daughter picks up the check, but can she ever afford a house?

By Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

My lovely and patient older daughter picked up the dinner check the other night, a giant cause of alarm for her mother and me. We immediately called a doctor, insisted on taking her temperature, checking her pulse. She stuck out her tongue. It was quite a tongue, all right, but healthy and pink as bubble gum.

Yep, by all measures, our first-born seemed just fine as she deftly snatched the faux-leather check holder from the waiter’s hand. She didn’t even take a quick peek first to be sure it was under 50 bucks, the way I’d tried to teach her. Just snapped it up as if it were the easiest thing ever.

“I got this, Dad,” she said.


All I can think: Late onset adulthood.

This week she turned 32, really the perfect age — not too young, not too old and about the same age I was when we moved to Los Angeles 25 years ago, two kids in tow. We were lured here by the great schools, easy parking and the generosity of spirit. From all accounts, L.A. offered the kind of warm, small-town vibe young parents are always seeking.

To this day, L.A. has never let us down, though I will confess to having been caught in traffic the last 12 years, so I might’ve missed a lot back at the house. For all I know, Posh and the kids could’ve met a neighbor by now.

What do you look for in a city? What do you look for in a kid?

Same thing, really. Beauty and a certain intellectual rigor. To be sure, instilling curiosity about life itself has always been paramount for us. I figured that if we raised the first one right — with a keen mind and a strong work ethic — she could pretty much raise all the rest.

I even remember when the older daughter was really little, and she’d occasionally complain about the strange noises coming from her parents’ bedroom the night before.

“Mommy, was Daddy jumping on the bed again?”

Something like that.

Soon we had another kid, then another kid. L.A. made it easy to raise four children on a modest salary. To be honest, we never much noticed the high cost of living, until we tried to buy food, milk and underwear.

Twenty-five years later, our house — no one’s idea of a mansion — is reportedly worth well over $1 million, and yet we still have no money. It’s like Rapunzel having all that hair and nothing to comb it with. It’d be like ultra-smiley Anna Kendrick not having any teeth.

So now my daughter is 32, successful, hard working … a “bulldog in the office,” according to her younger sister, who says it with a sense of admiration, not like someone fearing fleas.

And you know what I fear the most? Well, network news anchors are what I fear the most; they just creep me out for some reason. But next to that ….

On her 32nd birthday, I worry that my lovely and patient older daughter may never be able to afford a house of her very own, unless she marries some big shot in the entertainment industry (and isn’t that always a high price to pay?).

Here’s the troubling equation: As my house soars in market value, my daughter gets incrementally poorer and priced out of the town she grew up in.

No different really in Chicago or New York … or even podunk places like Denver and Atlanta. It’s difficult to imagine how the smartest generation our nation may have ever produced will be able to afford the standard American Dream.

For the record, I plan to live to be 130, if only to get even with my children — to live in their converted attics, to plant geraniums in the rain gutters and tomatoes in the chimney, an asset in every way.

Sure, one day when it’s over, I may leave them a few bucks. Plus a baseball that Cleon Jones fouled off at Wrigley when I was 5, when the nice man behind me let me have it after I bit his hand. That’s my prize possession, my first and only foul ball.

And her, of course — my other first foul ball. In a sense, her birthday was also my birthday.

Thanks for the dinner, kid. Thanks for the life.

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

By Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times

Email Chris Erskine at, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.

Email Chris Erskine at, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.

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