Order the Pastrami!

According to Dr. Steve, I am in robust health. I have from three weeks to 30 years left. So let’s live a little.

In LA, you learn never to use a turn signal on the freeway. All it does is alert other drivers to creep up so that you can’t get in, a quick lesson in the spotty ethics of the local populace.

I say that in admiration. Preventing other drivers from changing lanes isn’t rude, it’s merely hard-won wisdom. It says: “I’ve got my lane, you’ve got yours. Quit being greedy.”

It is the same survival tool you see in bar-room bullies and grizzly bears. Once you’ve realized that no one will let you in, you just decide to time your lane change in a way where everyone doesn’t die.

Other than that, I find Angelenos to be lovely people. Lots like to garden, and LA always leads the lists of book sales per capita.

LA residents seem somewhat more refined than people from other places, though that may be wishful thinking. Once we’ve settled into a place, we set up these mental forts: “My hometown is better than yours.”

No need for that. Every place has its pluses and minuses. The only Utopia I ever found was a college campus, though Italy’s Piedmont region is quite pleasant too.

Life out here is a little different. I remember when we moved to California 30 years ago. Posh and I crossed the state line, where a giant sign greeted us: “WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA!”

Directly below: “Clothing Optional.” Right then, my wife and I knew we’d picked an excellent place to raise a family.

Yep, LA is a little different. We have a friend who, back in her 20s, dated the Hillside Strangler. He was actually very nice, she told us. Dating in LA is famously difficult —  you meet all kinds.

By comparison, the Hillside Strangler was better than many of the men our friend dated at the time — had a job, showed up sober. I sensed she was a little wistful about him: The one who got away.

As I’ve noted, I specialize in difficult women. Know any? Know any who aren’t?

In the fall, I hope to find some sort of fun female travel companion – a serial killer, an exterminator, an actress (all lethal in their own way).

The two of us will head off on an extended tour of Europe, to take my mind off my empty-nestedness, which is milder than the flu though slightly longer lasting.

We’ll dance between the usual hotspots: Warsaw, Velingrad, Paris Disney. I will file these twice-weekly posts from the road.

So, if I’m watching the first winter storm roll into Amsterdam, it will be as if you are right there beside me. When I break my leg skiing in St. Moritz, it will be like you’re in the hospital bed with me, feeding me ice chips.

“Shall we order the soup?” I’ll say. “They serve an excellent bisque.”

At dinner, we’ll have mostly seafood, maybe some mutton.

All stops will include live music of some sort. In Switzerland, we’ll go to the local church and hear the alpenhorns rehearse for Christmas.

I really should have a travel show. Or a cooking series. I have been cooking seriously for 6 weeks now, and though it’s obviously a cry for help, I have had some early successes.

Over those 6 weeks, I seem to have gained a small following of lazy cooks. My secret? Most of my recipes take only 20 minutes. Like many Boomers, I was raised on sitcoms and lose interest in anything longer than a half-hour show.

In fact, I have this equation: If it takes you 20 minutes to cook, it takes you 20 minutes to clean up. If it takes you an hour to cook, it takes you an hour to clean up.

Honestly, I don’t want to spend two hours in the kitchen, unless it’s with Giada De Laurentiis. I hear she can be a little difficult, which just adds to the allure. She’d probably sneer at all the Trader Joe’s recipes I’ve accumulated.


“Yes?” she’ll say.

“Just shut up and cut the carrots,” I’ll tell her. Difficult women respect that kind of directness.

The other night, I had drinks with Dr. Steve. You may remember Dr. Steve as the medical genius who, due to some race track deficits, operated out of the trunk of an aging red Cadillac Eldorado. He’d cruise around in his convertible, waving to people and offering prostate exams in exchange for gas money. As you might guess, many of his best patients were studio execs.

Anyway, the prostate deal proved to be very popular, and the cops and district attorney mostly looked the other way. Long story short: Dr. Steve now has a thriving practice in a non-descript medical building in the east Valley.

I think he pines for the days when he was out among us, wind in his hair, taking medicine to the people, so to speak.

As we were having drinks, I said, “Dr. Steve, how long do you think I have, realistically, and not taking into account I just ate, like, 20 deep-fried mushrooms …seriously, how much longer do I have to live?”

And Dr. Steve said: “Three weeks to 30 years.”

I appreciated his candor.

Unclear what might eventually do me in. The curly, undercooked end of a slice of bacon? My needy daughters? Posh’s ghost?

So, I will live each day. Fortunately, Dr. Steve is not one of those scoldy doctors. At lunch, he orders the pastrami, and when we’re drinking, he stays right with me, which not many family doctors can.

In fact, I might take Dr. Steve and his wife (Mrs. Dr. Steve) to Europe with me. We’ll hit the music clubs, as promised, and that little martini bar in the Hotel des Iles Borromees, in Stresa, where Hemingway sipped straight vermouth after he got shot up in World War I.

Such a musty old soul, he was. Reminds me of me.

Poor, poor dear Cat. And this was the price you paid for sleeping together. This was the end of the trap. This was what people got for loving each other.

Whew, don’t I know it. 

Maybe I will meet an Italian nurse over there – a little older, maybe 75, someone with tenure. I hear dating in Italy is difficult — you meet all kinds.

“Want to live the American dream?” I’ll ask her.

“How long you got?” she’ll ask.

“Three weeks to 30 years.”

“Not the way you eat,” she’ll say. “Let me grab my stuff.”

Thanks for all the terrific Trader Joe’s tips. I am now assured of gaining 400 pounds over the next several weeks. Here are probably the first items I’ll buy: potato gnocchi, chicken tikka masala, lemon ricotta ravioli, the Indian frozen entrees, party meatballs, frozen fish nuggets (for tacos), fried cheese bread balls (who even knew they had testicles?), chocolate lava cakes, blintzes, scallops with peas in cream sauce, pork tenderloin topped with corn salsa and black beans and avocado. But I will try all your tips, and continue writing about the ones that really thrill us, at least until I marry an old Italian nurse who can bathe and cook for me (see above). Life is finally looking up, and we need to celebrate. Meanwhile, RSVPs will be going out soon for the St. Paddy’s Day gin & tonic bash, on Saturday March 13. Stay tuned, and thanks for being a pal. For books, gin glasses and hiking gear, please visit: Chris.ErskineLA.com

14 thoughts on “Order the Pastrami!

  1. Such vindication. I can’t wait to send this to my sisters. They felt I’d become rude, not signaling. I assured them I was keeping 11 people alive. The 8 positions surrounding the car and we three. They have no idea what it means to control the cars around you. Neophytes.

  2. Don’t count Angie out as a traveling companion. I bet she’s a lot of fun! Thanks for explaining why I regularly get blown off the road when I put on my turn signal. I will stop that immediately.

  3. Empty nest syndrome is just words , turn around and one or both my sons will be drinking my beer home from another break at college

  4. Love sharing your dreams….my favorite cookbook “Five ingredients or less” by home economics teachers…its great! My rule, if recipe has items I dont recognize or instructions have more than 5 steps…I dont make it…

  5. Man drivers. When my son was 6 & saw that the car next to us was signaling to change lanes, he shouted ‘Shut the door on ‘em.’ You know that he didn’t learn that from his mom.

  6. The photo of the Swiss Alphorns (Ricola! ) made me think of an excellent way to “social distance” ~ ! !
    (And I am going to send you another photo of the perfect social distance device on your email ~ since I do not see a way to add a photo here ~ ~ )

  7. Chris, I seem to remember you were often a travel host to Europe with the L.A. Times. I always wanted to join one of your tours. Maybe it’s not too late?
    Boomer U’s gotta have a distilling course!

  8. A day late;yesterday was nurses, physical therapy,et al for my Mom. A European vaca would be a good distraction for empty nest. When my first left for college, not too bad, I had the younger kids still at home. When my daughter left, I cried for two weeks every time I passed her empty bedroom. When my youngest son left, crying again because he was the last and I was really an empty nester as my husband had passed away years before.I did not have the luxury to go to Europe, but if you can , go!!!As for Angie, I saw her in a movie the other night called “The Killers” with Lee Marvin and Ronald Reagan!!! A must see for you! I’ve also seen her in a couple of old’ Perry Mason’ episodes. I think she’s about 89 now, but I bet she’d be game for Europe!!!

  9. Ooooh don’t we love to get inside somebody, look out at their dreams, feel the thrill at the imagined moves to realization. That Fall trip to Europe sounds swell. What a breakout from Covid’s comparative sit-down. I’m coming along. I love Amsterdam, dodging the whistling bikes 24/7 one of the biggest continuous highs I know. Did you know there are more than 800,000 bikes there, more than there are dodging denizens ? And the thought of the casually mentioned Paris gives me chills–the right kind, not the Covid variety. Oh ! To be holed up in The Fifth so I could walk to the corner cafe downstairs for a wafer-thin omelet that simply dissolves on the tongue, then hike along the Seine and over the bridge to the Ille de la Cite, to the Louvre, to the Musee d’ Orsay, over to the Fashionable First, on a brilliant Fall day. You walk everywhere, for movement is Paris, and Paris is life.
    And who would leave out London, holed up in a lovely flat in Nottingham hill, walking the streets that Hugh Grant did, watching the shiny black cars come through the Kensington Palace gate from the confines of Cafe Diana ? Etc., etc., and ever etc.
    Spring is already leaking out around the edges of the hours (three weeks early) and about to burst the strained seams of March, spilling its green flood onto the fabric of the day’s. We’ve got to get out, if only to exult in the juicy sense of fashion about to overflow once again. Boolya !

  10. I cannot wait for the European posts. You’ll be like a funny Rick Steves! This is the Europe we want to see 😉

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