Have Some Cake

If you want love to last, have kids. If you want King Cake to last, well…

I don’t understand why poets don’t use more punctuation. Or why, when a Trader Joe’s meal claims to serve 3, it really serves only me, and poor Smartacus is left to sit there watching.

“Sorry,” I say.

“For what?” he asks.

“Bad packaging, greed, hunger, all those things.”

“That’s OK, Dad. There’s always pizza.”

Other mysteries: I’m super not sure how the moon reflects the sun in the middle of the night.

Does sunlight bend? Is the moon made of radium, like the hands of old watches? To me, that seems the only reasonable explanation, for why the moon holds the light of the unseen sun.

You’d think a basic liberal arts education would’ve covered some of this. I mean, the whole point of college is to gain some insight and inside information. To learn to learn.

Or, to learn to chat up people at parties – there’s a life skill that you use almost forever.

Didn’t grasp that either. Best I ever pulled off was, “Hello gorgeous, could you step over here, you’re standing on my roommate … where ya from anyway? I’m guessing Rockford. No wait, Moline? Wanna buy me a drink?”

It’s a charm fest really, any time you talk to me at a party or a tavern. I’ve got approximately the same personality as the guy assigned to Aisle 9 at the hardware store.

The French call it je ne sais quoi. Roughly translated, it means, “I don’t know why I like the guy, sure hope he’s rich.”

I am, fortunately. Very rich.

Speaking of charm, have you seen the new Ted Danson show? It’s called “Mr. Mayor,” and NBC airs it (as they used to say) at 8 pm Thursdays, about the same time we used to watch Danson on “Cheers,” which was the “Friends” of the ’80s, and a far superior show, by the way.

Anyway, Danson is to comedy what wine is to romance, which is to say magnificent. He plays a rich, befuddled Los Angeles mayor, so I think it might actually be a documentary, yet a funny one nonetheless. He’s supported not at all by that McNugget, Holly Hunter, who is to comedy what rust is to tugboats.

When Danson isn’t in the scene, it’s like a pagan ritual involving some sort of bloody comedy sacrifice. Hunter is particularly “cringy,” as the kids like to put it. I’d rather put my tongue on a horse than listen to her for 10 seconds, and 10 seconds is the least amount of time her character prattles on senselessly, in that cartoonish way modern sitcom characters often do.

Network note to Miss Hunter: Pause, tilt your head, give the line a moment to breathe (though to be fair, your lines aren’t exactly off the pen of Carl Reiner or Larry Gelbart).

Anyway, “Mr Mayor” is worth watching for Ted Danson alone. You can learn from the guy, the way he carries himself, the patience. If you ever wanted to host a sit-com – and that’s always been one of those elusive American Dreams – just watch Danson try to wiggle out of a difficult situation, the way he waltzes sideways, or puts a hand to his mouth in contemplation. He’s Lucy and Chaplin combined, perhaps better.

Thursdays, 8 pm. If you don’t laugh out loud at least twice, I’ll come to your house and tickle you crying.

Last week, the lovely and patient pregnant daughter, without much to do but rub the undercarriage of her beautiful butterball belly, mail-ordered Smartacus and me a King Cake.

Me, I wish I had taken a college course in how to wiggle out of difficult situations. My life seems a series of them, and I flit from social encounter to social encounter, from Zoom call to Zoom call, without a trace of Dansonian grace or charm. In all honesty, I have no je ne sais quoi. I don’t even have the quoi.

Whatever.

More and more, I seem content to stay home, even though there is now the occasional reason to go out. The couch is easier, a bad rut to find yourself in, by the way. Resist the rut, resist the couch, resist the recliner, lest it be your starter coffin. Move a little. Waltz sideways.

Fortunately, Smartacus is around, and he makes me laugh. He is the punchline of my life – and I am his set-up man.

When we get bored, we simply tackle each other and put an elbow across the opposing wrestler’s neck, a move we learned from watching Hulk Hogan. It breaks the ice, that’s for sure.

Me and Smartacus … I swear.

My late wife, Posh, missed nothing with her Marlo Thomas eyes. What I think confused her the most was how Smartacus and I, who are nothing alike, got along so famously, when she and I, who were nothing alike, struggled so. I give Smartacus all the credit on that one.

Love is complicated, life is short. How do you make love last? I really recommend having kids, if you have the money and the patience for it. T’aint cheap.

Last week, the lovely and patient pregnant daughter, without much to do but rub the undercarriage of her beautiful butterball belly, mail-ordered Smartacus and me a King Cake from New Orleans.

If you’re unfamiliar, a King Cake is a wreath-sized celebration of Mardi Gras. They date to the pagan rituals of the Roman Empire, and now these colorful coffee cakes have become a Carnival tradition down in New Orleans, our most pagan place…a joyous city that really knows that tragedy and wonder often walk hand in hand. Like lovers.

Anyway, it was a lot of cake for two people, so it took us a day or so to consume it. At breakfast, at lunch, at dinner we ate King Cake, until only a single piece was left in the box on the kitchen counter.

I took half of the last piece, so Smartacus could have the final bite. Meanwhile, Smartacus was also taking half of the last piece as well, so that I could have the last bite.

Little by little, the last tiny sliver of this King Cake got smaller, until finally, it became a parable.

For what? For his vanishing boyhood? For the pace at which life and fate eat us alive?

“I left you the last piece, Dad,” he says.

“I left you the last piece,” I tell him.

And so it goes, his fleeting youth.

Crumbs.


Let’s raise a toast to the Gin & Tonic Society of Los Angeles right around St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll have it in some park, and keep our distances. Eat lots of onions beforehand, that helps. Please hold off on RSVPs till we set a date and time. We’ll have to limit the guest list. Priority will be given to those who have purchased items off my website, which offers beautiful sets of G&T Society glasses for only $25 (plus shipping). Info: click here. Thanks! Meanwhile, props to all those who made our Happy Hour Hike around the Rose Bowl last week, especially old pals Jeff, Bittner and Billionaire Charlie, the club’s founding fathers. And to Lynnmaria Bazan for the delicious chocolate-covered strawberries.

15 thoughts on “Have Some Cake

  1. I have had a number of King Cakes from Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney at Mardi Gras time. They look amazing, taste fine if you love sugar. But mostly they remind me of what a uniquely magical place New Orleans is. Beautiful column. Thanks!!

  2. “Resist the rut, resist the couch, resist the recliner, lest it be your starter coffin. Move a little. Waltz sideways.” – Best advice that I have received all year.

  3. Classic Erskine. Skipping like an artfully tossed flat stone across a smooth pond of funny and then (watch me change metaphors) sticking the landing like a very pale and, let’s face it, slightly doughy Simone Biles. Laughs and, at the end an audible “Awww” from me and the Duffer.

  4. A little help. When you look at the moon, especially when it’s the first crescent, you see not only the bright sunlit part but also what appears to be the outline of the rest of the ’round’ moon faintly lit. You are able to see the ‘dark’ part courtesy of sunlight reflected from the Earth’s surface back into space. On the subject of the moon, I’ve driven my kids and grandkids nuts over the years asking them to explain the phases of the moon. As in, ‘why is the first crescent always low in the sky following the sunset and why does the full moon always rise at sunset?’ So simple yet so misunderstood, especially considering how ‘popular’ the moon is in so many ways. If we ever get together I’ll sketch it for you. Remarkably simple and inspiring at the same time!

  5. I teach my 8th grade students about the phases of the moons and seasons. Maybe you can sit in when we are back in school in person, or you are welcome to join our zoom sessions. 😂

  6. Okay Erskine, first things first (and I speak as one of your newest but dearest friends). My partner and I tried watching the first episode of Mr. Mayor and it was so dreadfully unfunny, we couldn’t get through it. Second, Holly Hunter??!! Have you never seen The Piano? she could act rings around Ted Danson (who I also happen to like) in any comedy or drama. Furthermore! Friends, in terms of acting, writing, story-lines, directing, ensemble performances, is far superior to Cheers in every way especially after Kirstie Alley replaced Shelley Long! And I actually sat on Norm’s bar stool in Boston 2 years ago (I do prefer beer to coffee) so I feel I have some credibility on the subject. Strike three and you’re out.

  7. I cried a puddle of tears with your last word, ‘Crumbs’ ! It does say it all when it comes to the kids growing up. A kindred spirit! Your opinion about Holly Hunter;I thought I was the only one who was not fooled by the “Emperor’s New Clothes”! The Moon, with us every night, yet so little known. The waxing and the waning of the Gibbous Moon, always surprises me people don’t know what that refers to, even though we experience it every Moon cycle.New Orleans, the best, King Cakes and Beignets! You make me cry and hungry at the same time ! What a wonderful word weaver!

  8. Ever notice how the lyricism licks at the edges of the thing, limning a fascination, defining the territory ? Then come the quick hits, to to nail it to the wall of consciousness, and recognition. If it’s more than passing fancy, there follows a quick little stream of alternating curves–riffs, if you will. Then, if it’s more than even that, there is a wrap, often featuring a coda, a reprise. They call this literary style, and stylish it is, defitely a kind of sonorous music. You think the subject is cake, but the real subject is you, imagining eating this cake, how you felt eating it, how you can feel reading about it, if you are of a mind and time to do so. To make a cake literary dessert is no mean feat, but seems so easy, here. It sort of melts in your mind, the grainy sugar marking the inward passage of the dough with its little spritzes, quick flashes of sweetness. And the last bite? Hell! I picked up the plate and ran my tongue over its surface, eyes closed, slowly rasping the last crumbs from its surface. Now THAT is is a literary last bite for you (!) And yet, you vaguely sense the real subject is always people: the whats how’s, and whys of our predilections–the human condition, eating cake, with all that it entails, or ever could. Sublime, raucous, celebratory, sweet and yeasty and musical–like New Orleans, which of course–in Eskinelogic–had to be in the cake mix.

    And yes, Marguerite, Chris is right about you: there is a resonance of wise reflection and articulate affection in your words. You know how to put the shoes of the words one in front of the other, walking the talk as well as talking the walk. Lovely, that, and nice counterpoint to our host’s vigorous canine jogs and vivid pungent runs up and down the tonal scales of the language.

  9. Forget the science, just remember the song, “when the moon’s in the sky, like a big pizza pie, that’s amore”. What more do you need, pizza & love, & a beautiful bright, full moon?

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