Think Christmas

As the hillsides burn, as the kids head off to college…

I wake him with bacon.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty,” I say. “Time to get up.”

My teen son never groans. He’s never angry. Maybe it’s the bacon.

“OK,” Smartacus says, and out of bed he bounces.

His late mother used to make him breakfast. Now I do. I’ve come to enjoy the routine, the challenge of coming up with new stuff, while knowing full well he’d be happy eating bacon and scrambled eggs every single morning.

I can’t believe that, in a year, this will all be done, that he’ll be off to college.

Then who will make him breakfast? Will they know he likes his scrambled eggs a little moist? Will they open the morning paper to the box scores?

Maybe I’ll drop them a little note.

Me? I’ll be fine. I’ve been through college drop-offs before, though this will likely be the last, unless Angie Dickinson and I decide to have children.

I’m really such a child to begin with that it’s redundant to have kids. Yet my late wife and I did, and it’s worked out all right.

The other day, my pal Liz admitted that she can’t stand “syrupy, never-complain cheerful fascists.”

I get it. That’s not real. Better to “grumble with charm,” as we noted recently. As Smartacus usually does.

Well, it’s mostly charming anyway.

“You’re wearing blue…all blue,” he says the other day.

“So?”

“So don’t fall in the ocean,” he says. “They’ll never find you.”

Look, it can’t be easy living with a dad who constantly hums “Wichita Lineman,” who pauses at the kitchen sink to blurt out, “I am a lineman for the coun-teeeee…and I drive the main road…”

“Dad?”

“Listen to those chord progressions,” I say.

“Like butter?”

“Have I mentioned that before?”

“Only a million times.”

I spent an hour last Saturday jotting down the chord progressions for “Wichita Lineman,” one of my favorite poems.

It’s going to be weird replacing him. I mean, who wants to live with a guy like me, who opens the fridge and just stands there, as if waiting for the milk to speak.

“Dad?”

“Huh”

“Whatcha doin’?”

“It’ll come to me,” I say as I scratch my head.

“You sure?”

“No.”

Weird the way the human mind works these days, the way thoughts dart around.

I spent an hour last Saturday jotting down the chord progressions for “Wichita Lineman,” one of my favorite poems – wistful, relatable, straight from the heart.

The key change: F major to D major, is like a hanging curve.

“And I need you more than want you,

And I want you for all time…”

Don’t tell him, but that’s how I feel about Smartacus.

Of course, Wichita triggered thoughts of horses, and I lamented not having smelled a horse in a long time – life’s greatest scent, a cologne of hay, leather, sweat and horse.

Oh, wait, it gets worse.

Horses made me think of racetracks. Which made me think of Gulfstream Park in Miami. Which made me think of the time I hit the trifecta and was able to take Posh for steamed clams and beer.

Obviously, this pandemic is wearing on me, wearing on my son, wearing on all of us.

Then consider this, which I read the other morning:

“Many of our relationships begin with that moment our eyes meet,” writes Christian Jarrett, in Research Digest, a psychology weekly.

“Pause for a second and consider the intensity of the situation, the near-magical state of two brains simultaneously processing one another, each aware of being, at that very instant, the center of the other’s mental world.”

So, that’s missing from our lives. Obviously.

We’re not out and about so much these days. Being separated from the herd is fine in the short term; devastating in the long.

And teen-agers need to distance from their parents, not their teachers. On the first day of school – just after dawn — my son and his classmates rallied at a nearby park.

They wore masks. They kept their distances. They made eye contact. They went for breakfast.

Good for them.

Four days later, they’re in a funk because teachers won’t let them do Zoom calls from their beds.

I confess to occasional funks these days. Exercise always helps. Nothing like a five-mile run in 100-degree heat, as wildfires close in on SoCal subdivisions.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose….”

Think cool thoughts. Think Christmas. Flip the pillow to the cool side and think of sleds.

In the evenings, we have Miller’s backyard, with a pool and lounge chairs, and best of all, Miller’s wife “Stretch,” who used to swim for USC, or something like that. She swam a lot, that’s all I know for sure. And it still shows. She’s very clean.

The other day, Stretch grilled swordfish by the pool, and another night, Miller ordered out tacos.

These are small gatherings, and no one cared much about the food, only the nutrient of other people. There was eye contact, and there was laughter.

We live in difficult times, though they are not impossible. This is rough, but not exactly the same as the Luftwaffe dropping oil bombs on English orphanages.

Chances are very good that we’ll get through this.

But the kids need to be in school, that’s all I’m saying. They know it, the parents know it.

Life is loaded with calculated risks. Once in a while, you take one.

A big shout out to the folks dropping their children off to college. I know the agony of that. I get the grief. #ChrisErskineLA #emptynest

Why do you think Angie Dickinson proposed?

Finally, a big shout out to the folks dropping their children off to college. I know the agony of that. I get the grief.

Worst moment: Saying good-bye in the freshman dorm with the Target throw rugs and the bed Mom just made.

We try not to swipe at our tears in front of the kid, yet good luck with that.

Better yet, let it rain a little.

We need the rain.

And remember the day your kid was born, and your eyes first locked?

Right now, try to remember that feeling — that near-magical state, as you process this amazing milestone … this unresolved key change.

Isn’t that our goal in life: a full and working heart?

Sure is, Daddy-O. Sure is.

Here’s a link to Glen Campbell performing “Wichita Lineman” with Keith Urban. Campbell, once one of L.A. top session players, just nails the guitar solo.

21 thoughts on “Think Christmas

  1. OMG!!! You made my day. Seeing Glen Campbell and Keith Urban; It just doesn’t get any better than that!! Thank you so much for bringing joy in the middle of the darkness. So grateful for you.

  2. Awesome as always !
    But I dropped two sons at. Illegals and it seems like they are always home and all my beer is gone !
    Enjoy

  3. So bittersweet. He handled his battle with Alzheimer’s with grace and dignity. Thank you for sharing one of my all time favorites.

  4. Thanks for the Glen Campbell link…beautiful. Got a chance to meet Jimmy Webb at Book Soup just before Glen died. What a thrill. What a partnership, the two of them. Made for each other. My son is also headed off for greener pastures with his wife and kids soon, to Boise. I picture saying goodbye to them before they drive off, trying to keep a brave face and hold back the tears. Don’t think I’ll succeed.

  5. My heart. That first meeting of eyeballs. Dropping him off at Cal when the “naked guy” still roamed the quad. You bring it all home!

  6. One of the great evenings in my life was when my then girlfriend (now my wife of 50 years) and I attended a concert at the Disneyland Hotel that featured Glen Campbell and Sergio Mendes of Brasíl ‘66. Campbell was not only a terrific singer but also a fabulous guitarist.

  7. As I read your writing today, some questions come to mind:
    Have you accepted Angie’s proposal?
    What if Smarticus doesn’t like G & T?
    Is your pillow made by The Pillow Man?
    Why didn’t you give Fang even a tiny mention? Doesn’t he also like bacon?

  8. We too drift in around the pool on these warm expansive summer evenings. G&T, of course, but also Tequila Sunrise, which all the dissmissive drink hauteuristas tell me repeatedly is barely a drink. But how else can you experience the fiery (literally) rage of the days conflagrations going down at the same
    Time light comes up in your eyes as it enters you–a counter-illumination most profound, indeed. It was a drink of the 60’s–70’s, a Glen Campbell time, and it has never left the Southern California canon, as neither have The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Brazil 66, The Pointers, Bread… let me count the ways. Thanks, Cris, for continuing to let us know what really matters
    –Forrest Gale

  9. This pandemic is wearing on all of us. And then I read your column and I smile (or cry or both) so thanks for sharing your stories with us. And that Glen Campbell link. Perfect. My 17 year-old daughter is also Zooming but she doesn’t get out of bed. And my sophomore heads back to Augustana this week. Pass the Kleenex.

  10. 12 years ago, mom and dad made it through the dorm and the trip💰💰to Target, but standing near the Sears pancake house on Powell next to Union Square realizing I was leaving my 18 year old daughter in San Francisco, I lost it. I was a stay at home dad and the tears….Thanks for the memory refresh. Love Glen, if you haven’t listened to Bruce Springsteen and his Western Stars album, it has an homage to the great big western songs of the 70’s. Cheers

    1. The dads often cry more than the moms. We’re more in touch with our feelings, that’s why. And we’re big babies. And our hearts are bigger than people like to think.

  11. Another great column Chris, thank you! Can’t believe Smarticus will go to college next year…I remember when he was born.

  12. Thank you for this. Just returned home from dropping the daughter off at college. Only a few tears, not too many – we’re generally not the overly sentimental types

  13. It was 1979 and I was a volunteer with the Glen Campbell LA Open at the Riviera Country Club. That night Glen Campbell and Roy Clark were the opening entertainers during the black tie dinner. The venue was filled with golf playing celebrities. Glen and Roy played and sang, Wichita Lineman, Southern Nights, on and on; they were having a great time entertaining us. Their fingers were working magic on their guitars; playing one song after another. The crowd would not let them get off the stage. They sat down on the edge of the stage and continued playing and singing. I was having such a great time watching and thrilling to their playing that I did not realize until late in the evening that President Ford and his wife Betty, were seated at the next table with Bob and Dolores Hope. Finally, the waiters’ union began making noises because Glen and Roy were still playing after midnight. We would not let the evening end. Ultimately, Bob Hope walked on the stage; he was supposed to be the main entertainment for the evening. Instead, he shook their hands. It was a magical night with Glen and Roy that I have never forgotten.

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