College Prep

On the wall, his college acceptance letters. Turns out they really want him.

My late wife resented me for a lot of reasons – my generally sophomoric demeanor, the way I’d curse out opposing drivers in German or Cantonese, or order cheeseburger Happy Meals in fancy restaurants.

“Tell me, how is that prepared here?” I’d ask with a straight face as Posh slinked down behind her menu.

Amusing the first time. Maybe.

Most of all, she would resent that I would outlive her, me existing burger to burger, beer to beer, and Posh ordering the kale salad with the low-cal vinaigrette, when what she really craved was a saddle-sized sirloin served by a beefy waiter in a tear-away tux.

We were an odd couple, to be sure. I was all impulse; she was all class. Outwardly, we fit together like a couple of spoons. Internally, she was a cat, I was a coyote. I can still recall the way she purred.

Honestly, I was lucky to get a second date.

Yet, looking back now, Posh could never ding me for how I helped in the kitchen. I never understood how men could stand by doing nothing, even though doing nothing is pretty much my only life skill.

So I’d jump in to help, and now that’s paying dividends, for I can make Smartacus a gooey, world-class grilled cheese sandwich, mayo on the outside to promote an oily crunch, while letting it heat till it’s welded together like a battleship.

That’s what I’m doing now, as we speak, welding his 1 millionth grilled cheese sandwich as he monitors his phone, gazing at the damn thing as if the wisdom of the gods were trapped inside, or perhaps the girl of his dreams, which is entirely possible. His phone seems filled with possibilities — a magic carpet, a genie’s bottle. I can’t compete with that.

I ask: “Hey, the Lakers win?” three times before he hears me, and then he mutters. “Ooomfff,” which translates roughly into, “Would you just leave me alone already?”

Evidently, he’s outgrown me, the way he’s outgrown Barney and Winnie the Pooh.

On the wall, his college acceptance letters. As it turns out, they really want him, in places like Eugene and Fort Collins, Denver and Iowa City, some of the loveliest cities in all the land.

Each week, he adds another acceptance letter – his future plain to see.

These acceptance letters are his ticket out of the ghetto. He is aglow with these tokens of his success, beaming like “a jewel hung in a ghastly night,” to quote Wee Willie Shakespeare (who really had something to say once you got past all the clutter).

Warms my heart to see the turbo-boost these letters give my son. He holds his head a little higher now, his shoulders are looser, his smile a little quicker on the draw.

“Whew, I’m going somewhere,” he thinks… Eugene and Fort Collins, Denver and Iowa City.

I look at these letters. I look at him. I’m standing at the stove gluing together his latest sandwich. You could track his boyhood by the number of grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve melted for him over the years.

Suddenly, he’s an 18-year-old boy, a shape-shifting warlock, bigger this morning than he was last night, growing smarter and more mature as I spin around trying to find where I left my coffee mug…where, where, where?

“Try the microwave?” he suggests.

“Sure enough!” I say.

Now you see why colleges want him so bad?

Got a nice note myself the other day:

Hello!! I know my contact with you brings you inspiration and joy to your life! As you can see, I am a spiritualist and a healer. I have herbal cure for CANCER, Diabetes, Herpes and more. I also cast spell such as  *love spell  *money spell *good fortunes *weight loss/gain spell  *Lottery spell  *Job promotion spell   *Pregnancy spell  *court cases  Just name it and see everything you ever wanted and wish for come to pass.

Syntax aside, a beautiful offer. If I ever need a weight-gain spell, I will be sure to reach out. What about a “college tuition spell?” What about a spell to find the Chicago Bears a real quarterback? What about a spell to keep me from eating too many Thin Mints?

Thing is, there are no shortcuts…no spiritual money spells, or herpes cures. But, seriously, thanks for the offer on that. Always open to suggestions.

No, there are no shortcuts, though I was teaching a writing class the other day, by way of Pages book store, down in Manhattan Beach (just like Manhattan, but with a beach!), at the request of the owner, whom I’ll identify only as Melvin, to protect her privacy.

Melvin looks like a young Meg Ryan and is trying to save this little curio of a bookstore — this South Bay treasure — at a time when COVID is destroying everything in its path.

To help a little, I offered to teach this class, with some of the proceeds going to Melvin’s book shop.

We held the class on Wednesdays, at 6 pm on Zoom, at the hour when I usually pour a first drink. I’m such a cliché sometimes.

Honestly, this Zoom class is really just a blatant attempt to have people to drink with on a regular basis. In that sense, I think it was quite the success.

It was 100 bucks for the four-week course. Obviously, we overpriced it. I think most of the men and many of the women joined just to hang out with Melvin.

Anyway, the last class featured my Top 10 Writing Tips, and tip No. 7 was: “Dark chocolate. Maybe almonds. Definitely coffee or tea.”

Let me warn you: That’s the caliber of tips you get in a $100 Zoom writing class … four sessions spread inelegantly across the dead zone of mid-January to mid-February. Still, people signed up. Why? We told them it would be taught by Ryan Seacrest. We’re not idiots.

Is it fair to say we all feel like boats stuck at our moorings right now? Yet, this Zoom class gave us an outlet, a sly and chatty hangout. This bookstore, like most bookstores, melted us together.

I like Californians to begin with, and then if you sift for the book lovers, I like them even more.

My writing tips were predictable: Verbs, verbs, verbs, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite…all the usual stuff.

But No. 7, I thought, was inspired: “Dark chocolate.” Life’s only shortcut, in a world that better rewards grinding it out, getting up the next day, and grinding it out all over again.

And No. 10, I liked too: “Loosen the shoulders, fly.”

What’s that even mean? It means, when you write, when you jog, when you dance the boogie-woogie, that there are just times when you need to loosen those shoulders, point your chin into the wind and cast off your earthly bonds.

Like Smartacus soon will. In places like Eugene and Fort Collins, Denver and Iowa City.

Loveliest cities in the land.


Today’s Valentine’s hike is a sellout – thanks! If you were among the first 50 responders, you should have received details. If you missed it, we’ll have another one soon. It’s a fine time for hiking, the recent rains greening up the trails. It’s also a fine time for dark chocolate, or to go to the website to support these twice weekly posts. Or to just catch up on past columns. As always, thank you for your friendship and support. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com

18 thoughts on “College Prep

  1. Smartacus is a lucky warlock. He has Posh and you and your years of love and grilled cheese sandwiches to thank for making him the young man with a wall of acceptances to choose from. Well done.

  2. Hooray for Smartacus and all those acceptances!
    How blessed he is to have grown up as your’s and Posh’s son !
    Valentine Hugs to you dear Chris!

  3. Congratulations to Smartacus on his acceptances to these colleges. How exciting for him. Always, thank you for your columns, Chris!! Happy Valentine’s Day. ❤️

  4. I remember my son’s first college acceptance; I could exhale—he was going to college. Then the rest of the letters came pouring in. It’s a wonderful feeling to see your child’s hard work and dedication (okay, albeit with a bit of nagging by yours truly) pay off. Congrats to you both!

  5. Our daughter went to college in Denver, Colorado, where she continues to live today. Our son went to school in South Bend, Indiana. When he moved back to Los Angeles after graduation, his advice to parents: “If you want your kids to come home after college, send them to school in the midwest.”

    1. We midwestern natives had a day or two of fun r when students arriving from warmer places had their Welcome to Wisconsin snowfall They never had proper winter jackets, hats, mittens, etc. so we’d trundle them down to the Army-Navy Surplus store and get them in those olive green parkas with fur trimmed hoods, tall warm boots, and toasty mittens and caps. Then we’d go to the Union, have a few beers and then slide down the big hill on campus, sitting on cafeteria trays. Ah, the good old days!

  6. I cried taking my daughter to college and I cried reading your musings. You’re doing (current tense) such a wonderful job as father abd friend!

  7. Congratulations to your wonderful son & very proud dad. Where ever he decides to go he will be happy.

  8. Do you ever do hikes in the OC? And, if you come all the way down here, be sure to check out my cousin’s bookstore: The Bookman.

  9. Yay for Smartacus being so wanted by colleges! I hope his decision will be easy, maybe the college with the dorm cafeteria that makes the best grilled cheese sandwich! And as far as you wanting a college tuition spell, I’ve gotten emails from a real Nigerian prince who wants to give me money! I’m too shy to respond to him; the limelight & all, you know how it is. But maybe I can forward it to you, you’re used to being in the public eye! For some reason AT&T thinks his messages are spam, but I’m sure he’s handsome, loaded & rich. And very sincere, of course.

  10. Our youngest graduated from University of Denver last year with her Masters and she loved the city. She loved the earthiness of the people, the entire outdoors at her fingertips (not having to fight traffic), how bicycle-friendly the city is.

    Found it hard to leave for Chicago where she’s working on her PhD.

  11. Congratulations to your whole family in raising such a wonderful son! We are the sum of all that nurtured and cherished us;in Jack are you , your beloved Posh, his Big Brother and his Sisters ! All should be so proud!

  12. Congratulations to Smartacus! Wherever he goes, he will have a wonderful college experience.

  13. Lovely column, as usual. But once I came to the word Syntax my mind wandered a bit, as usual. Just love that word.

  14. Go Smartacus! Of course they want him! My senior is still deciding and I’m walking around with a dollar sign in each eyeball. Sigh.

  15. Please keep writing these blogs. I love reading about your life and family and always just get lost in time. So enjoyable.

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