My hometown

Travels with Smartacus. Part 4.

Imagine the burden I am as a house guest, me with my ebullient weather-guy personality, too “on” for any moment, out of pitch and a little chatty.

You don’t just get me, you get my son Smartacus, who is actually far more useful. Need some limes squeezed? Smartacus is your boy-man. Need someone to lie by the pool like a lump of towels?

Well, that’d be me I guess. Should’ve been a lifeguard. Give me a whistle and I’ll be your sunburned savior.

They could use a lifeguard around my sister’s pool, big body of water, lots of lawn, the usual north-suburban Chicago thing. Cicadas buzzing in the trees. Fireflies. Sidewalk sales. Dairy Queens. Norman Rockwell.

We’re back in my hometown of Barrington to celebrate a lot of things. That summer goes on. That my sister and her husband John have been married 37 years (as of Thursday). That “Caddyshack” — golf’s old, weird testament — just celebrated its 40th birthday.

“It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!”

My sister came home from golf in a Bill Murray mood the other night. Talk about ebullient. She was hugging everyone and dropping f-bombs, and not in that lilting British way – “oh, fooook!” — but in the hard-clipped patois of the upper Midwest, which I find even more charming.

Never undervalue the high-pitched squeals of a very happy mother.

Much to be excited about. She’d won her tourney, and it was her wedding anniversary, and there were flowers and congratulatory signs. One of her six kids had bought a pie.

Can you imagine six kids? She raised them all here, and the big house is still standing only because it’s made of brick and reinforced concrete (the kind they use in stadiums and seawalls).

The kids are all home now, and she’s got a house full of millennials, and her brother (me) and my sidekick Smartacus.

Can you imagine? I’d drink too!

Well, I do anyway, but this is a family celebration at the compound here in the ’burbs, which feels like summer camp. Tomorrow, we’re all making beaded necklaces. And Alka-Seltzer rockets.

In appreciation, I buy a lot of groceries and a bunch of booze. I bought a bottle of Maker’s Mark at the Jewel that you could sail to Greece.  

I also suggest off-the-wall celebrations: odes to bratwurst, “Caddyshack” memorials, Kick the Can tournaments for adults.

During my week-long visit here, I have decided that my second career will be traveling from town to town staging Kick the Can tournaments across an America weary of social distancing and complicated remote-controls.

At each stop, I’ll hire support crew in “Kick Your Can!” promotional t-shirts. I’ll start with my son, Smartacus, who the other day told me he detects a bicep in his pitching arm that he’d never spied before.

Yay. Finally.

Speaking of muscles, I pulled one the other morning while water skiing with my former buddy Doug. Unlike Smartacus, I don’t have big muscles, but I do boast long, loopy ones.

The muscle I pulled, the schnitzel, is the longest muscle in the human body. It runs from the back of my tongue, down around my heart – twice, in a bandolier pattern — then down through the tuckus and eventually to my ankle.

Like the Mississippi, the schnitzel meanders a bit.

I pulled it while doing a deep-water slalom start, a stunt I’ve done many times without much consequence. But on the third try, I veered right, as aging parents tend to do, and fought it as you would a grizzly entering your bedroom. Eventually, something had to snap.

I blame the boat driving of my former buddy Doug.

Lame excuse. Really was totally on me. “Epic fail,” as the kids tend to call it.

Worst of all, I can barely sit on a bar stool, so pained is the glute. Now how will I make new friends? How will I win over the famed Susie Kelly, a local princess, almost a legend.

Some good writers come out of these parts, by the way. They grow them like soybeans here, two-fisted types who can flip a phrase: Hemingway, Chandler, Sandburg, Bellow, Royko.

Ever read two writers as lean and muscular as Hemingway and Chandler?

Sadly, the libraries are all closed here, and now some of the taverns are shuttering, including the famed Guthrie’s, a long fly ball from Wrigley. Two days running, The Trib has run stories on the beloved Guthrie’s, and hints that the closing is a sign of more losses to come.

That is, Chicago as a convivial place graced by colorful neighborhood taverns full of loud mouths.

I can barely sit on a bar stool, so pained is the glute. Now how will I make new friends? #ChrisErskineLA #Chicago #Roadtrips

Meanwhile, the boy and I stopped at the Field of Dreams on the way out, the venue where they shot one of the best movies of all time, based on the absolute best book of all time. Forget “Moby-Dick,” or even “Daditude,” “Shoeless Joe” (the source of “Field of Dreams”) is simply the best book I’ve ever read.

I recommend it to anyone who likes baseball, or juicy writing, or cheeky and ridiculous road trips. If you like any of those things, even a little, you should check it out.

At the Field of Dreams complex, in Dyersville, Iowa, Smartacus and I argue as we park the car, about the sort of nonsense fathers and sons argue about – I truly can’t remember what.

Yet, soon, we are throwing the ball back and forth, in the shag carpeting of a Midwestern outfield, in front of the simple wooden bleachers where Gabby fell and choked on a hot dog, and Moonlight Graham grabbed his doctor bag and saved her — and himself and Costner.

“Have a catch?” Costner’s character says to the handsome young ballplayer playing his dad.

Sure, son.

Smaaaaack, the sound of a soft glove swallowing a hard ball.

Smaaaaaak, the sound of a father and son having a catch.

Ride along on our road trip. We’ve got a week left and 2,000 miles to cover. Next post: Wednesday. Next topic: Who knows?

25 thoughts on “My hometown

  1. I’ll be sure to check out “Shoeless Joe.” Congratulations to your sister, sounds like you have a great family.

  2. I’m so happy that you guys are out on the road, and getting to see family. Sounds like a blast.

  3. Barrington! My family is in Wauconda — I know that Jewel. Don’t clean out their liquor aisles, we’re heading back there eventually. Love this roadtrip, Chris.

  4. Well, you had me at fireflies, Dairy Queen and sidewalk sales, but dropping “have a catch” to an old fart who grew up in Cleveland before moving to Chicago for a decade or so before ending up here in LaLa Land was not fair to the tear ducts. Thx Chris and I’ll vicariously follow your vacation follies with hopes of reading at least one mention of Italian beef

    locked down in la – ken

  5. Now I am going to have to watch Field of Dreams again and definitely will check out Shoeless Joe. Thanks for this especially sweet column! (Except now I am suddenly worried about grizzlies in my bedroom…) Hope your schnitzel is better soon, Chris. Safe travels.

  6. Love reading about your road trip and your sister and Field of Dreams and “have a catch” as my Brooklyn born husband would say to our kids. Miss reading you in the newspaper on Saturdays, but love reading about what you are doing on line. I will look for Shoeless Joe and loved the Field of Dreams movie. Enjoy every moment.

  7. For many years I used to gather my boys right before opening day and watch Field of Dreams. Time went on and we weren’t able to watch it together most years. This year, I guess I’m a couple of days late. Thanks for reminding me.

  8. Such memories of my youth in Chicago (my home town) and so many cousins, I forget how many. I miss the fireflies and potlucks and friendly faces and our trips to Wisconsin and Rockford to visit our various family. Thank you for bringing it back for me. I will recommend ‘Shoeless Joe’ to my grandkids….

  9. Is there a Lou Malnati’s in Barrington? Will there be a mention of Chicago Pizza in this travelogue?

  10. Loved this story today. I’m going to read that book after Daditude, of course! Continue to enjoy your travels. Your family sounds like a hoot! Blessings, Nancy

  11. Loved reading about your latest travel adventures. It’s somewhat of a substitute for my CE fix missing in my Sat. LA Times. I finally got around to reading “Daditude” a couple of weeks ago, and then sent a copy thru Amazon to my niece in Boston who has twins, boys & girl, about the same age of Smarticus. She loved it! Stay well.

  12. The one thing I love about the Great Midwest is that all of the taverns in the “fly over” country are family friendly, filled with engaging loud mouths & each one has the BEST BURGER you’ll ever eat! They’re much more likely to be named for the founders (“Pat & Frankie’s”) than something like the “Embers Room”. Signing provided by Pabst, Heilman’s, Schlitz, etc.
    Their closure is a cultural catastrophe!
    But chin up you’ve got your sis’s place!

  13. Chris, after growing up and going to college at the U.of I., I learned that Fall weather and football are the (only) best parts of Illinois. July should be avoided. As you get to the Mississippi, you may run afoul of East Moline, where I grew up and left immediately after college graduation to head for Manhattan Beach. Best decision ever. Hurry back here Chris, the temp at the beach is 73 degrees, the high for the day, and my lime tree is beginning to produce your favorite fruit that we find so very useful in avoiding scurvy.

  14. Retired teacher here. We decided to call an end to all the fun at the same time. This is the first time I’ve had to read about your adventures. Once this pandemic is over I’m going to have some, too!

  15. Chris – Hope you enjoy your stay here and welcome home. Maybe the Cubs can cooperate while tire home and win a few games.

    Downers Grove Joe

  16. Sounds like you’re having a great time (no surprise with your fun sister and family and ideal setting of Midwest in summer!) Have you made it back to Phil’s Beach? Had Portillos? Or Johnnies Beef? Did you see the comet NEOWISE from Barrington? Hope you and Smartacus enjoy the rest of your stay. Summer is fabulous here. Who needs a lime tree when Jewel is around the corner? Unless that tree also grows Tito’s vodka, of course.

  17. As lean as Papa Hemingway and Chandler? I’d nominate Cormac McCarthy (I will never forgive him for “The Road”) and Chuck Pahalniuk. Humble book reccomendation, FWIW, is The Art of Fielding. Great novel about baseball.

  18. No Field of Dreams for the Sox/Cardinals game in Dyersville on August 13 as MLB just cancelled it with COVID careening out of control. Scene 1 Take 2 now re-scheduled for 2021. And the beat goes on…

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