It’s sportswriter night at the steakhouse. And the stories are medium-rare.
So here we are at a sidewalk table, five guys who flew too close to the sun, a little bleached out, a little worse for wear, all thirsty for adult sportswriter conversation.
If you haven’t had drinks with a bunch of sportswriters, sit down. You’re really missing out. The last thing they want to talk about is sports, because that’s all they do day and night is talk about hanging curves and salary caps, nickel defenses and trap plays.
But like water under a door, sports always seeps into the conversation, and soon our toes are wet with talk of the Lakers and the Rams.
Weird year for sports, weird year for everything. LA is poised to win two championships, in basketball and baseball, yet there would likely be no championship parades. Potentially, my hometown of Chicago could see a Cubs-Sox World Series, without a single game played in Chicago.
Tell me you ever saw that coming.
We also talk about the mood of the newsroom (yammy, per usual), and the value of a good Rolodex (enormous). These days, a source’s cell number is everything.
Journalism is all about access, and it’s a little cloak-and-dagger the way you earn a source’s trust, a sort of espionage. Rarely does a reporter call someone out of the blue and get a great quote or a priceless piece of information. It’s more of a courtship. As with dating, the source wants an element of trust, some flicker of intelligence.
Then maybe you get a great quote. Maybe not.
But enough about the media. You didn’t sign up for journalism school. All you come here for is recipes and relationship tips. Maybe a joke or two. Or a few tears.
I’ve found that people like to cry over the right things. Lately, we’ve been crying over the wrong things. Everything seems so gross right now.
So we make these small but important repairs to our lives. We get out a little more now. We reach out to old friends just because. We order the rib-eye medium rare.
“Baked potato or fries?” the server asks.
Do you know how good that sounded? Simple question: Baked potato or fries? Music. I mean, the things we used to take for granted.
Here tonight, out front of this busy steak joint, the city buses are blasting by, and a muscle car makes a flagrant foul … an awful flutter-burp.
The grub is good though, thanks for asking. The kitchen is out of the stroganoff, a big disappointment. But there are other good meaty entrees: chicken, London broil, vodka.
Men are funny about friendship. Generally, we don’t like to reach out – it’s just not a guy thing. But when we do…
Look, we didn’t have a very good night. We had a great night. Only one guy fell out of his chair and nearly into passing traffic. For once, it wasn’t me. (I know, you just assume, right?)
The food comes. Then another round of drinks. The waitress peppers a salad. A state senator pokes his head out the door to say hello.
He’s an aspiring novelist, this senator, and I grumble about how his new novel is surprisingly good, all things considered – like that he’s a state senator and stuff.
The pals I’m with — we report, write and edit because that’s pretty much all we know. For someone in another field to be able to write well seems a mockery.
Because writing is easy. Writing well is hard.
I started out as a sportswriter, journalism’s highest calling, quit with the help of a licensed exorcist, then relapsed later in my career, with a sports column in the LA Times that looked at the lighter side of things.
Turns out there was no lighter side of things. So that didn’t last too long.
But I’ve spent a lot of time in press boxes over the years, amid the chipped Formica and the pine tar coffee. And I still think the prettiest sight in the world is a stadium aglow, just as the sun goes down and the lights come up.
Sportswriter archtypes? Permit me a few wild swings here, some sweeping generalizations:
Sportswriters admire longshots, good breaking balls and the smell of real grass. A sportswriter prefers Ray Charles to Chopin. He or she orders the well whiskey, and tips the barkeep with a quip.
“You heard the one about the parakeet and the priest?”
Like private eyes, sportswriters have poor taste in shoes and hang on to them a little too long. They have at least one shirt in which the pen has exploded (they wear it anyway).
If you spot running shoes at a fancy wedding, the guy probably covers baseball. Might even be the groom.
Sportswriters never cry, except over the movie “Brian’s Song,” and at that point they just blubber.
Obviously, they cry over the right things.
Sportswriters can actually read a racing form – unlike most folks who just fake it. They’re fuzzy on their presidents, but they can name the first player to score in a Super Bowl (easy, Max McGee). The really good ones can name the halftime entertainment (Al Hirt and the Grambling marching band).
They know that pitching is all about location, not speed, and how to grip a cutter, though not necessarily how to throw one for a strike.
They know at least one good Brett Favre drinking story no one has ever heard.
Sportswriters get no respect, especially from each other. They don’t trust nobody. But they sell a batch of newspapers. They are often a paper’s biggest stars.
And I’ll match the best of what they got against the best of anybody else.
Like Coltrane, they start in the middle of sentences and move both directions at once.
“Mickey Mantle was built like something that should have horns,” wrote Jim Murray. “He had to be careful on hunts. Even the moose thought he was one of them.”
“Football is violence and cold weather and sex and college rye,” wrote Roger Kahn.
It’s sportswriter night at the steakhouse #chriserskineLA.com @latimesfarmer @billplaschke @latimesTweet
So good writing is hard. Like anything else done well, I suppose. Cooking. Carpentry. Ceramics.
See, most anyone can pull together a decent meal, but to make a memorable feast requires passion, technique, talent and flair.
And, as with good journalism, maybe a secret sauce that no one else knows.
Honestly, my only secret sauce is friendship. I stick with it, and I stir it and punch it up a little longer than maybe other cooks might.
Then whataya got to show for it?
Five goofs who flew a little too close to the sun, at a noisy table near the curb, as city buses blast by.
Please join our Zoom party, Thursday, Oct. 1. Come share a cocktail, in the name of helping small local businesses survive. We’ll talk about the hiking club, the Gin & Tonic Society, the new book and much more. Heck, we’ll talk about anything you want. Open to all. Ticket info, click here. Cheers.
17 thoughts on “Finally, a Feast”
That’s a ton of talent at Taylor’s. Be safe.
One of your best, Erskine.
Roger Kahn was the G.O.A.T.
Love the quote, “ Everything seems so gross now!” Sad but so true!! Words are everything!! Thanks!!
Now I want to be a sportswriter and eat at Taylors.
Hope you stiffed Plaske with the bill!
Sports stuff. Guy stuff. Hmmmm…The Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Richard Ford wrote a book titled “The Sports Writer” in the ’70’s, the first in one of the greatest trilogies in American literature. It is an intimate and oblique take on one accidental member of the canon. Great reading, even for sports writers. And you guys are in such great company: Your LA Times compatriot, the great Jim Murray, and the immortal Roger Angel of the New Yorker, who is now over a century old, and still throwing the occasional wicked slider. Maybe, per your last posting, your next sports reporting will be about marriage, one of the grandest games of all. I cannot wait for all the stats–whiffs, fouls, strikeouts, and occasional home runs–all duly recorded; the words and numbers you cannot find on cards but nevertheless chronica the game. Batter up.
Not a virtual attendee!
Like Chris Erskine, I’m not a Zoom guy!
I’ll hold out for a real meeting!
Is that Bill Plaschke? He recently wrote a column about going out to dinner two nights in a row and coming down with Covid-19. Is this one of the dinners? Or has he recovered and is out to dinner again?
That’s him and he’s recovered.
From your inclusion of “Brian’s Song”, do I infer correctly that you read the great tribute by Mary McNamara in the Calendar section this week?
This reminded me of how much I miss Bob Verdi’s column “In the Wake of the News” in the Chicago Tribune (and listening to his “Athlete’s Feats” spots on WXRT.) Not the same without him.
He was so good. He once responded to a fan letter I sent him. Classy.
“Baked Potato AND Fries” – words and music by Chris Erskine.
No Jim Plunkett drinking stories?!
will someone please fill chris’s drink