Pumpkin Pie Sunsets

Carpinteria is quaint and roomy in the britches. Another reason to love fall in California.

You know how when someone loves you to the point where they kind of lose their identity? That’s me and White Fang. I have totally lost my identity. In a way she has absorbed me and my heart and subverted all my lofty ideals (such as they were).

Yesterday, we almost lost her to coyotes. That’d been tragic. She was out in the yard doing her morning chores, when I heard barking. White Fang never barks, so I raced outside in the dark to find it was the coyotes that were barking.

Thank you, coyotes, for alerting me to an impending attack. Not 100% certain the aggressor, but I just assume it was the notorious White Fang, who doesn’t tolerate other animals so well.

What probably happened is the coyotes were minding their own business, trotting down the road, maybe doing some holiday shopping, when they came upon a wolf with the eyes of a Bond girl – Russian and without mirth. She might be related to Melania, for all I know.

Anyway, I raced to her rescue, not realizing it was the coyotes I was rescuing. They were really scared, and continued to yip-yip – you know that startled little-girl sound coyotes make. I wanted to hold the scrawny little deadbeats but didn’t.

“Leave the coyotes alone,” I scolded White Fang. “You were raised better than that.”

Honestly, she wasn’t. I just like the way that sounds in public when she misbehaves.

So onward we go, dealing with ambushes, pandemics, and now these holidays (such as they are)

Notice my use of the Oxford comma in the last sentence. I shunned the OC for years. After all, an Oxford comma is just a period with a milk mustache … a coward’s smirk. Many commas are horribly abused, placed in places where the writer’s brain paused for a moment, and he or she, not knowing what to do next, thinks, “I’ll throw in a comma, that’s what I’ll do.” Then does.

Keep in mind, this is coming from a person who just wrote the phrase “placed in places,” trying to make a flourish where none existed before. Don’t judge me too harshly. William Faulkner made a life of extraneous words in long rambling sentences that were, to my mind anyway, a sign of laziness and a general lack of discipline, indulgent even, much like this sentence right here.

No one should have to read Faulkner, except as a form of punishment. Like, if you set the kitchen ablaze when you are making toast. “Go read 100 pages of ‘Absalom, Absalom,’” a mom would say. “No Ma, anything but that. Puleeeease.”

Like the South, Faulkner makes me itchy. I use him mostly for firewood.

As always, I stand firmly behind all my half-baked notions of what’s good and evil. There’s no right or wrong on personal preferences.

In fact, I was just telling friends how “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t only the best holiday movie, it might be the very best movie of any kind. Some agreed, other gagged. My writer friend Flanagan, to whom I’m engaged to be engaged, suggested “The Bishop’s Wife” was far superior.

“Loretta Young? C’mon,” Flanagan scoffed, suggesting I couldn’t even spot the obvious.

By the way, that’s kind of how we ended up engaged to be engaged. Whenever someone talks to me dismissively, I propose. It’s the impulse behind a lot of bad choices in my life.

Anyway, the other day I got fed up and went on a hike with my new buds, Reesa and Diane. It was Monday, purportedly the hottest Nov. 16 on record, and that sapped any kernel of holiday spirit that had been threatening to build.

Nothing dispirits me more than a 90-degree day in November. For the most part, though, November has been glorious, with a long run of cool weather, and mornings frosty enough to chill my beer.

Enlivened by the crisp air, took a ride to Carpinteria the other day with my sidekick Smartacus, and that coyote-hunter White Fang, up to God’s Country (technically, anything north of Oxnard).

Carpinteria is just another scruffy little beach town on the way to nowhere, with the bronze plate so common to California beach towns. Nothing special.

Along the main drag were the requisite surf shop and a busy burger joint. The corner liquor had a grill in the back where they made excellent burritos and tortas. Very Central Coast. Quaint and roomy in the britches. People paint small rocks and leave them along the edge of the store fronts. Dorky things like that.

So, in fact, Carp is very special.

You know you’re living well when, in mid-November, you say to your travel partner: “Hey, Smartacus, grab the sunscreen out of the car, will ya?”

We had a bike ride and burgers with Bittner and Billable Bob, my attorney, who has a beach place up here, where we toasted our good fortune – or at least what’s left of it – got in the car and drove the 90 minutes home.

The sunset, like all sunsets, reminded me of pumpkin pie.

I told Smartacus that we really ought to do this once a month: pile in the car and go someplace we’ve never been.

In fact, I think we will. To places on the smirky lip of LA, Filmore or Apple Valley, where the air is full with fall and nut stands line the country lanes: persimmons, pomegranates, almonds. Places where the sunlight dances through the trees, providing the first yule glow of this difficult year.

I’m crushing on old California right now, can you tell? She has absorbed me and my heart and subverted all my lofty ideals.

Such as they were.

Wanna hike with me, Smartacus and White Fang? We’re planning a Thanksgiving weekend lap around the Rose Bowl, with social-distance safeguards in place. Stay tuned for details. Meanwhile, please check out my new book “Lavender in Your Lemonade.”

38 thoughts on “Pumpkin Pie Sunsets

  1. I have to agree with you about It’s A Wonderful Life not only being the best Christmas movie but maybe the best movie period. And this has nothing to do with my lifelong crush on Donna Reed.

  2. Yes! You nailed it and that comes from someone who has a huge Holiday movie collection. And clearly, YOU know and appreciate that living in California IS a wonderful life. I wish you, White Fang and the rest of your loved ones a very gratitude filled Thanksgiving.

  3. I’ve always liked “The Shop Around the Corner,” also with Jimmy Stewart as well as Margaret Sullavan. It has a great Christmas Eve ending and also has an undercurrent of melancholy though not as much as “Wonderful Life,” which I just can’t watch – I find it too painful.

    And commas! I read somewhere that James Thurber would go back after he wrote something and pick out as many commas as he could; I’ve done that ever since. I do love my semicolons though.

    1. Alice, I like that movie too. I think that is an inspired choice, and wouldn’t necessarily have thought of it for a christmas list. As for Thurber, he sure knew what he was doing.

  4. I’m going with Elf as the best Christmas movie. Never appreciated it, until, I was strapped in the dentist chair, forced to watch, during a root canal. No turning back now.
    May I suggest a turnoff for lunch at Los Alamos or going thru Guadalupe on your way to Pismo. Even if it’s not your destination, a place never visited will remain on your hard drive far longer than the asphalt getting there.

    1. Elf is a masterpiece. Probably seems a silly cartoonish movie to those who haven’t seen it. But it has so much childish joy. I think it is the best work of both Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau.

  5. Carpinteria! Our favorite place for a quick escape. The beach , the burgers, the tacos from the liquor store, wolfed down while sitting out at Islands Brewery, and the incredible sunsets, all call to us when the craziness of the world becomes too much! Thanks for reminding us that it is time for a drive!

  6. Reminded me of the “trips to nowhere” my dad used to surprise my brother and me with – rare quality time with him because the restaurant demanded so many hours. Those usually ended up at a go cart track or miniature golf course. If he were around now it would be a sweet treat to return the favor with a drive to one of those burger joint/watering holes you mentioned. And even though I sometimes take you to task for judgmental pronouncements, and love me my multi-comma’d digressive paragraph length sentences, I kind of have to go along with the Faulkner decision. I’m all for writing redolent of place but five pages into anything of his and I feel like a sapling being slowly crushed under the weight of too much Spanish moss. As for the Donna Reed/Loretta Young sweepstakes, I also cast my vote for Donna. Please tell me you know the Loretta/Robert Mitchum story. If not I’ll be sphappy to share it privately.

  7. Yes. More spontaneous road trips please. With pictures. Always appreciate the west coast stories (plus the view) as we ride out this pandemic holed up in our bunkers here in IL.

  8. Was the hamburger joint in Carpenteria called The Spot? With you on It’s A Wonderful Life. That movie and Caddyshack are tied for best movies ever made in the history of mankind. Incidentally, I’ve always thought it would be funny if there was A Carpeteria in Carpenteria. If you worked there, you’d have to answer the phone “Carpenteria Carpeteria”.

  9. Why are you so weird? There are no good Christmas movies, you know that, right? Nobody should be watching Christmas movies on Christmas anyway.

    Did you know Carpinteria is the grow country of the state? Most times you can smell the weed from inside your car driving north to cushy Montecito which I do regularly. Sometimes I take the 126 and drive through Fillmore which clearly you didn’t do as you put only one l in that town’s kinda silly name. Best known for its drive-in Starbucks which is one of the reasons I go that way.

    Next time you’ll know.

  10. Bravo, another excellent rumination on life in Southern California. BTW I also agree on Faulkner, never been able to get through anything by him or Thomas Mann, for that matter, tried “The Magic Mountain” three times (I have 2 copies) never got past page 45… and I was a philosophy major, getting through Kant and Hegel cured me on German deep thinking writers I guess… Have a glorious day

  11. Dear Chris Erskine,
    Please, please, please apply and take this side job! For all of us. We NEED this right now!

    “Listen up, future Chief Holiday Cheermeister! Do you love all things holiday-related, like peppermint mochas, fully decorated homes, and cuddling on the couch under a snowflake blanket while watching a holiday movie?

    Good, because that means you’re the right person to help us find the best holiday movie of all time.

    How are you going to do this, you ask? You’ll get to watch 25 holiday movies of your choice in 25 days. (It’s a dream come true, we know!)

    Not only do you get to watch lots of movies while working from home (we won’t tell your boss) or with the kids during dinnertime, you’re going to get paid for it!

    Want to get paid $2,500 and get a year’s worth of streaming to seven different streaming services? Yeah, we thought so (*wink*).

    So … are you willing to complete the challenge?”


  12. Don’t forget Seal Beach! You can take the bike trail, (or a nice drive) from the mountains to the sea. Its a great little throwback town filled with charm, food, surf shops and more.
    A Thanksgiving weekend hike around the bowl sounds awesome.

  13. I must demur on the comma segment. Punctuation, and especially the comma, is not decorative. Its function is to clarify the written word, to remove ambiguity etc. If it does not fulfill that function it is superfluous. My credentials. Teacher of English for thirty-nine years. I’m happy to see that you are enjoying retirement.

  14. In the 1950s my parents took us kids to camp at Carpenteria State Beach. We camped in tents on the sand and in the morning stood at the side of the tracks while the Morning Daylight and then the Lark would speed by literally just a few feet away [because we were just dumb kids who wanted to see how close we could get to the trains without getting hit]. By the time the Afternoon Daylight made the return, our parents were up and made sure we were no where near the tracks. I’ve loved Carpenteria ever since and get a little nostalgic every time we drive north on 101.

    How come no one’s mentioned Santa Clause Lane??

  15. Padaro Beach Grill in Carpenteria is yummy.
    Sigh, the beautiful, hard working Russian is still hard at work protecting her loved ones. Stay safe tenacious and loyal girl!

  16. I don’t know where to start! Your musings of yesterday took us on a roller coaster of emotions; did White Fang get hurt, commas,Christmas movies, (“Going My Way” Father Fitzgibbons seeing his Mother for the first time in 45 years!) Quaint, sleepy seaside towns, pumpkin pie sunset! Then the crash. You don’t like Faulkner??? You probably don’t like James Joyce either. Who else would have given us ‘quark’ ? You should appreciate,”dead Finnegan rises from his coffin bawling for whiskey”. I digress; difference makes the the world go round.

  17. Well, I did teach classes in Joyce and Faulkner,(fluent in both!) It’s all about perspective, just like viewing Picasso. Still haven’t figured him out!!!

  18. P.S. Your welcome! Waiting with bated breath for the next rumination with whiskey reference. Do I get a co-reference credit?

  19. Carpenteria has that cafe that is a love pat for the tummy, two–three blocks up from the beach on the North side of the main drag. It was always jammed from early light on with a roaring mix of locals and pass-throughs, pre-Covid, but is probably less now; breakfasts to die for–period, and coffee only the great ones have: rusty burnt mocha with nothing but Columbia smoke between you and a great day.
    But my favorite is Summerland, a couple miles up, off the ramp of the same name. It’s got that funky lunch place Jonathan Winters used to hang in (he lived nearby), with fresh solid greens-crowd fare and a swift-skipping wait staff sprucing the tables inside a high old house, or out on its breezy deck looking out to the sea. To the south a few doors is the local joint, with a bar stretching like a long run, front to back, peopled by locals of uproarious demeanor, leavened by a sprinkling of tourists and low liners down from Montecito or “The Barbara”. You wouldn’t know it was a cowboy hoorah, the food being Down American, Italian, and everything in between, and voluminously served in wide array of tables and wall booths, overlooked by that altitudinous bar. You can hear the place up the street from the late afternoon on, and after dinner, the little village is a sweet two block walk in the tomato sauce twilight of a so-cal autumn evening. Add a tight little ocean-view bluff park west under the highway overpass at the northern end of town (picnic intimacy in a private venue), and you have the place
    Love it !!

  20. Santa is alive and well in Oxnard facing the 101 N. And he is made of plaster not plastic.
    The Gold Coast is where it’s at! So come see us. BTW just received your new book; will start it after the turkey and such on Thursday!

  21. Oh Chris you are trying to regenerate with all those CA towns that sadly lost their identity.
    We natives like the orange groves are disappearing , so only past California can be
    found in photos and scenes in old movies.

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