How I lost my slippers but found the deal of the century
I like the shorter days. We get so much sun out here in L.A., a scorching embarrassment of beveled gold beams.
By September, I’ve had as much ultraviolet light as my rhubarb complexion can take. We Vikings of the north country are tough as ship rope. But we tend to have delicate, candle-wax skin that melts in the sun. I guess everyone has something.
Another thing about September: In California, it’s when the state catches fire and stays that way till Christmas, when the summer rains finally arrive.
Dear gawd, this place.
As a friend noted the other day, “Just remember, 93% of California is not on fire right now.”
So I try to stay positive.
History is full of stories of meek minister’s wives who one day sit down and grind out a great novel…a novel out of nowhere. They just suddenly have the urge to rid themselves of every naughty thought and past dysfunction and some forbidden romance that caught them by surprise, out of nowhere, just like the novel itself.
I will do that one day, and it’ll probably happen in September or October, when the days are shorter and you rake the cupboards for a throw-blanket, and ask, “Oh, where did I lose my slippers? Hey Smartacus, have you seen my slippers?”
“Well, they were right here five months ago.”
In the cooler mornings, the coffee tastes better, the mug feels good cradled against the hand. It is weather well-suited to writing.
By the way, I just discovered that coffee mugs are great for ice water. They keep it chilled, and don’t sweat like a typical water glass.
So I pass that tip along, now that summer is ending. I’ve always been the sort of lame goof who figures things out a tad too late…who gets the crossword answers while nodding off at midnight, or starts novels at age 63.
Do you ever wonder how you would’ve lived your life, if you knew then what you know now?
Would you marry and start having babies in the seventh grade, as Posh and I did?
Would you move to Los Angeles with two kids in a small Honda with the mistaken notion you could actually afford a decent house here?
Would you have four kids, when you could barely afford a cat?
Would you toil for more than 40 years in a dying industry – publishing – despite any indication you were ever much good at it?
Never a raise, never a bonus, never a kind or encouraging word.
Would you spend countless hours coaching other people’s children, lugging mesh bags of wet soccer balls and buckets of scuffed baseballs, while other parents showed up when practice was over, in their BMWs and expensive Italian shoes, which you can afford when you don’t duck out of work at 4 p.m. to go coach other people’s kids?
The other day, I was lamenting that I am the poorest dad I know. The exterminator was here, and announced that it would cost 6 grand to rid my prairie home – my humble three-bedroom ranch – of critters in the attic. That’s right, 6 grand.
Apparently, our attic contains wombats, foxes, snakes, jackals, bobcats, mink, kangaroo rats, bears, baboons, the Easter Bunny and a couple of dudes named Floyd.
Basically, every kind of creature lives in our attic. Hence, the $6,000 bid.
“It’s not good,” the inspector said when he came down out of the attic. “Not good.”
He’s lucky, I suppose, just to have survived up there.
Look, I am happy to have a home at all (see above) and owning one requires spending gobs of money on invisibles such as mold removal or re-piping, or other things that just don’t show.
You spend 6 grand on a stove, and you have something to look at – “Hey, check out my new digital vintage stove. How much? Only 6 grand.”
But you spend 6 grand on invisibles, and all you have is peace of mind, which is highly overrated and (I’m finding) kind of expensive too.
My advice: Give up on peace of mind entirely. It’s so overpriced, and ultimately unattainable.
Then I dashed out for groceries, while I still had a few bucks left.
As you know, groceries are way more expensive now than before COVID, and I can assure you prices won’t come down, since prices never come down.
I swear, I could be the next Keynes or Friedman just by stating (pompously, while wearing a bow tie) what everybody already knows: Prices never drop.
Yet, in the butcher case yesterday, near the brats and the Italian sausage, I found little slabs of fresh salmon, packed that same morning, for 5 cents.
I mean, not all of them were a nickel. Some of the packages were 7 cents, which is a 40% markup, so I stayed clear of those.
“Look at this,” I showed a nearby shopper. “Five cents!” because I couldn’t believe my eyes.
She took one package, I took two, because it seemed greedy to take all six or seven packages that were on display.
Thirty years ago, would I have moved to L.A. had I known that one ashy September morning – the sky the color of old milk — I would find packages of salmon in the supermarket butcher case for 5 cents?
You bet I would.
In good conscience, I started to ask the butcher what the deal was, and might he lose his job, but he was busy with another customer, and quite frankly I don’t find the butcher staff at this particular store very responsive anyway.
So, I said, “What the puck” and tossed the two packages in my grocery buggy, with the carrots and the beer and the too many bags of Cape Cod potato chips (my favorite vegetable).
If we have choices, we have a life. So much comes down to appreciating our choices.
Besides, I figured there was a good chance the cashier would question why they were giving away fish that day, when they were charging so much for everything else. It wouldn’t seem consistent to her, given the supermarket’s general principle that prices never come down again.
“Hey boss, look at this,” she’d say, waving the 5-cent packages. “We’re giving away fresh Atlantic salmon today?”
To balance things out, I added an overpriced pumpkin to my buggy—I didn’t want to seem a thief.
A day later, I have a pumpkin on the porch and two packages of salmon in the fridge, a 10-cent investment of which I remain proud. I mean, I’m afraid to eat it, yet proud just the same.
On the way to the car, another shopper questioned the pumpkin purchase:
“A pumpkin already?” the stranger asked, and she said it with judgment, pronouncing it “all-read-EEEEEE,” like she was playing the xylophone or something, pinging the high notes a little extra hard.
This shopper had purple hair, so it’s not like I’m the only weird one in the conversation. If you have purple hair, should you really go around questioning other people’s choices?
Evidently, the answer is yes.
To tell the truth, purple is now my favorite hair color. I see it more and more, and the people with the purple hair – seldom men – always seem a little more engaged and curious about the world.
Good news! Apparently, our attic contains wombats, foxes, snakes, jackals, bobcats, mink, kangaroo rats, bears, baboons, the Easter Bunny and a couple of dudes named Floyd #ChrisErskineLATweet
I like them very much.
Not sure the purple’s purpose. I just assume they must be avid Vikings fans, who like me, are glad that the sun is easing up a bit and that the days are getting shorter.
Like me, they probably fondly recall Fran Tarkenton and listen to too much Garrison Keillor while enjoying a nice mid-priced Syrah.
And they probably have a pumpkin on their porch.
My new book is now available. It’s called “Lavender in Your Lemonade,” and you can get it here. The print copy is $11 and the ebook is $7, not the same as 5-cent salmon but hopefully not too bad. This is one of the ways you can support this crazy operation, and I thank you in advance. Best, Chris