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 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…”
“Listen to those chord progressions,” I say.
“Have I mentioned that before?”
“Only a million times.”
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.
“It’ll come to me,” I say as I scratch my head.
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 #emptynestTweet
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.