In the invisible hard work of forgotten dads and moms, we see “the most real things in the world.“
Our sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular of late, Candygrams from God, in cherry and other assorted flavors.
Honestly, if they were any sweeter, they’d get caught in your teeth.
Some day soon, I will rise before sunup, lace up my Red Ball Jets and run all the way to the sea, some 30 miles of stoplights and noodle joints, massage parlors and bakeries, past all those jammed-tight little shops that make you wonder: “How do they ever survive?” with their new-to-this-world immigrant owners scratching out their American Dreams, working ungodly hours, raising families, sending kids to college, beating all the odds.
Since I can no longer run 30 miles non-stop — or prefer not to — I will stop along the way to hear their stories – coffee on Sunset, noodles on Fairfax, pupusas on Wilshire. This run to the sea might take me weeks, and in the end, I might have a book, I might not. No promises there.
The important thing is that I’d have stronger tendons and a fuller heart, and my doctor might want to run some blood tests after all the baked goods I’d scarf. It would be a marathon like no other. The real L.A. marathon.
“The Book of Life.”
God seems more human lately, doesn’t he? But perhaps he’s made all of us more human, and we will be more interesting, more humble because of what we’re collectively going through right now.
At what price, huh?
Those are some of the issues we’ll discuss on my running journey across Los Angeles. It wouldn’t be a straight shot, that’s for sure…I’d zig, I’d zag — do I ever go directly anywhere?
There’s this terrific Hollywood bar, Boardner’s, where I might stop for a prayer and a Bloody Mary. I might also hit Bukowski’s old watering hole in Koreatown, or the HMS Bounty, joining the usual know-it-alls at the bar, like the reference section of a very snide university library.
I’d dawdle on Fairfax, stop in at Canter’s, that centrifuge of Matzo ball soup, amid cranky waitresses who are generally too smart for what they do. Yet (like lots of folks) do it anyway.
I’d definitely stop at Marty’s for lunch, a cash-only hamburger stand on Pico that’s old and yummy as I am. If you’re going to run 30 miles, one meal at a time, belly-whopping across the vast LA basin, you need to be selective.
What a lovely city LA is, if you’re willing to look past all the pretty people and the Bentleys.
Much of my adventure would salute the folks who fix our food, who survived the COVID shutdowns, and still manage to toss our salads and fry our fries, again working ungodly hours, raising families, sending kids to college, beating the odds.
I think the point is to honor the working people of Los Angeles. The folks who catch the early bus. The ones who grind it out, without pensions, 401ks or much of a safety net at all.
Work is its own equity, and there is dignity to it, and it delivers a sense of self-worth. It makes you feel necessary, in a world that refuses to look you in the eye.
I mean, me personally, I shun work at every opportunity, make it a point to dart away from too much lifting, sorting, chopping or shoveling. I’ve never met a sales quota in my life, and I’m not about to start now.
Yet, I’ve always been happiest when I have lots to do. I suppose that relates to my Midwestern work ethic, though no one should lay exclusive claim to hard work. I see it everywhere. It’s what drives America and is what’s absent in our frequent societal failures.
No one salutes work ethic anymore, or toasts its grand rewards.
So, one day, I will lace up my Red Ball Jets, and I will run, with a backpack full of Tums and extra socks and a reporter’s notebook, and I will fill it with these LA stories.
And once in a while, I will post them here, stories on these lives that are treated like society’s dirty little secrets, theses Steinbeckian tales of toil and dignity and grace.
In a similar vein, and another sign of how rich and surprising a long life can be, I was just thinking of my two brothers-in-law, one in Chicago, the other in Fort Myers and how they both raised amazing kids without drama, while keeping their spouses safe, happy and warm for almost 40 years.
No small achievement, that. Relatively common, thank God. Reliable parents are the pilings of a functional culture. Yet they are rarely heralded in any meaningful way. Sit-coms mock them; in movies they are cartoons. “You don’t know HTML from HDMI? Hahahahahahahaha… OK, Boomer.”
So I was thinking I might do “The Book of Dads” one day as well, a sequel to “The Book of Life.”
In it, I will talk about what propels quiet humble men, and how they hit the ground running every morning, and sustain it for 40 years amid the buyouts, crap bosses and lousy breaks, and let them discuss – as dads rarely discuss — the sustenance that family life brings them.
I think that would be a worthy book too. Both books acknowledge the positive invisible forces in our lives, the importance of heart and purpose.
To complete the trilogy, I’d write “The Book of Moms,” probably the best, most-powerful forces of all.
Finally, I am always taken, this time of year, with the famed essay by Frank Church of the “New York Sun,” written some 125 years ago, in response to a little girl’s plea for proof that there is a Santa, who in essence, is the spirit of Christmas itself.
In the line of lines, in words that top anything by Kant, Milton or Shakespeare, Frank Church wrote:
“The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.”
Thank you to everyone who joined our inaugural Gingle Bell Balls, a three-day festival of holiday cheer. Apologies for technical snafus, particularly Thursday night’s “Heidi” moment (Boomers will understand the reference). Onward and upward, with plans to perhaps do a weekly Happy Hour till things open up again soon. Details on that to come. Meanwhile, there’s still time to get books and gear by Christmas, the purchases of which will keep these cocktail parties coming. Be safe. Keep in touch. And thank you. Info: https://chriserskinela.com/shop/