Candygrams from God

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.”

Amen, brother.

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/

13 thoughts on “Candygrams from God

  1. “Red Ball Jets”. Wild. Exotic. Fastest shoes in the world. Man I wanted a pair as a kid. Did my parents buy them for me? Nope. It was utilitarian Stride-Rights for me.

    There is defiantly a book in your run to the sea.

  2. I would definitely read a book about the people who do the real work in LA, even if I may never see them, as I live in OC. (I feel the same way about the LA Times 101 Restaurant list every year) Hopefully these shopkeepers will have time to stop and talk with you, before shouting, “NEXT!”.
    Glenn

  3. Chris, should I recognize the art work that opened today’s story or did you take it near home with your cellphone? It is a beauty, as was this latest missive.

  4. One of the best lines ever came from a waitress at Canter’s, “Verne”. As she clunked down a cheese bagel and and icy cold Heineken she said “This beer is colder than my liver!” Maybe you had to be there, but it was a hoot.

  5. What a powerful epistle to all that is “LA.” A book about Mothers and Fathers without making them out to be buffoons or crazy drug addicts, what a concept! Put my order in ! Tributes to all the people and things in life that matter. That picture alone, geese in perfect V formation! You make me laugh and cry all in the same few paragraphs. Especially after a day of taking care of my dear Mother who is fading fast due to dementia. I am the converse to her obverse, it’s my turn to keep her safe now. Yes, a book about silent , steady Mothers and Fathers who were there for us. PS. Tom Bergen’s , gone now, but my late husband had a Shamrock there, a wooden one , for years, then when my two sons were eligible, they had theirs there too. Only paper.

  6. I love the HMS Bounty! I recently had lunch there with a recently retired Hollywood hair stylist who started her career doing Elvis’ hair in the sixties, moved on to Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and finished with Kristen Stewart a few years ago. Great gossip over great steaks! And of course, Sirhan Sirhan allegedly had his last meal there as a free man before crossing the street to do his evil to Bobby Kennedy. .

  7. Not to belabor the point, but I think you have a great idea after the Mom and Dad book; your odyssey through L.A. to the beach! Have you ever read John Muir’s “A Thousand Mile Walk to Florida and the Gulf”? He did it in 1867 and even slept in the Bonaventure Cemetery in Georgia to save money! You wouldn’t need to do that, but you would have so much to write about all the haunts from Downtown to the Beach!

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