Tails up. Penalty kicks. Wine.

To me, a summer garden party is like a snarky sonnet. Much of the stuff that usually stays safely in our heads is suddenly blurted aloud. You can tell a good patio party just from the casual way folks hold their wine glasses.

Or look through them to spy the rising moon.

Had a few people over the other night, as we continued to celebrate Smartacus’ graduation, as well as the recent pivot-points: this grandbaby, the new backyard, the rejuvenation of an American summer.

Hadn’t seen our friend Susy in forever, and a few of Rapunzel’s friends stopped in too. It was a festivus of friends, a buzzy evening, complete with boiled crawfish.

What my daughters tend to do is invite people over on the sly, telling them to stop by without telling me. Tends to work out OK. After 30 years, I’ve gotten kind of used to it.

Needless to say, there were “Who’s your craw daddy?” jokes amid the boiled crawfish, and much reminiscing about New Orleans, as a town and as a state of mind — a naughty princess of a place that you can’t ever get out of your head (assuming, like mine, that your head is sort of a jail cell).

As it got late, and the patio was trashed, the party talk turned to my bum knee — the shredded schnitzel, easily the strongest muscle in the human body, running tongue to toe like a good piece of veal.

The bum knee is only a tragedy, in that I’ll probably have to give up on my NFL dreams. The Chicago Bears still hold my draft rights, though it’s a loose agreement. They saw me as a solution to their chronic quarterback woes; I’m really better suited to what they call Willy linebacker — strong but nimble, more like a stud safety.

Bottom line: My dad bod is going to pieces. Wish Mom had saved my stem cells! Bet they’re in a closet somewhere, back in Illinois.

In lieu of that, Miss Debbie, a longtime family friend, suggested scooching my butt up against the headboard of the bed and thrusting my legs straight up toward the ceiling.

Of all the signs of normalcy, this medical insight from Miss Debbie might be the very best yet.

“Right up in the headboard,” she said of my butt.

“But there are slats there, I could get stuck,” I said.

“Even better,” Miss Debbie insisted.

You may remember our longtime friend Miss Debbie. We once poured her into the car after a James Taylor concert at the Hollywood Bowl, her Mary Janes kicking at the night air, as she tumble-rolled into some soccer gear in the back of the mini-van.

Scooooooooosh….weeeeeeeeeeeee!

I like this thread of a long friendship. Tails up. Penalty kicks. Wine.

Anyway, Miss Debbie swore by her headboard remedy, saying it helped her swollen ankles when she was pregnant.

“But I’m not pregnant,” I explained.

“Were you chasing something?” she asked of my injury.

“I was running away,” I explained. “As usual.”

Rapunzel’s friend Amanda, who was also at the party, noted she’d seen me jogging up and down the boulevard for decades now, with some sort of dog in tow, sometimes a foamy wolf, and noted that all that running from things had probably finally caught up with me.

Now I can’t run from anything, not even my reputation as the schmuck best known for running up and down the boulevard, which I’ve started calling  “Bourbon Street” in hopes of instilling a bit more spunk.

As it is currently, there isn’t much bourbon on this new Bourbon Street, and there’s a total lack of anything to do, other than to buy tube socks at Target. Or maybe a cork board at Home Goods.

Once you’ve done that, you’ve pretty much exhausted all the fun activities available here on Bourbon Street West. Obviously, I’ve got some work ahead of me.

Hoping soon, though, that you’ll be able to buy a hurricane, the giant icy drink made of equal parts rum and formaldehyde – a New Orleans tradition. First time to New Orleans, everyone tries one, then never drinks one again. Poor liver. Poor pancreas.

Yet, you’re making a memory, right?

I remember being broke in Paris once, down to the very last dime, wondering how I’ll pay the cabbie and thinking: “Well, at least I’m making a memory.”

Great places provide great memories. New Orleans continues to be a spicy reference point for our family, after living there 10 years, 3 of which we remember.

It really is the best food city in America, don’t even bore me with your defense of other outposts. One person insisted on Albuquerque. Seriously, Albuquerque. Then I read San Juan Capistrano.

Really.

Listen, if the sewers don’t stink after a busy Saturday night, it’s just not a real food city. It’s only a great food city if, on a busy weekend, garlic husks and shrimp shells overwhelm the sanitation system.

Hence, the tumescent musk of a world-class food city.

We’re very lucky, I suppose, that there are so many good food cities in America right now, with creative chefs using oddball ingredients, in ways that oddball ingredients have never been used before.

We’re seeing – and I’m certainly not the first to spot this – a true renaissance of American cooking.

Yet, I will turn to the late, great Anthony Bourdain for an explanation of what makes New Orleans the best city for dining:

“There might be better gastronomic destinations than New Orleans, but there is no place more uniquely wonderful. So I would say New Orleans. With the best restaurants in New York, you’ll find something similar to it in Paris or Copenhagen or Chicago. But there is no place like New Orleans. So it’s a must-see city because there’s no explaining it. You can’t compare it to anything else. So, far and away, New Orleans.”

Yep, far and away New Orleans…the voodoo, the vodka. New Orleans was inventive before inventive became such a thing.

Good food isn’t sculpture, it’s not performance art, it’s not a chef trying to make a name for himself. Good food causes a riot of the soul. It makes you happy to be alive – simple as that.

Good food requires no apologies. Good food is second base.

LA also has more of that than most cities — the passion for a simple, well-prepared meal — not fussy nor precious … a fish taco here, a ramen burger there.

More than ever, we need music, banter, food, fellowship. And French bread (used like napkins).

I will note that I sleep better with a belly full of crawfish. I also sleep better knowing the solstice is near, waking up refreshed while humming Norwegian folk tunes I picked up in my dreams. Sometimes, I think I’m turning into a garden gnome.

I’ve always been an idealist.

There’s only a smidgen of difference between grandpas and garden gnomes. Ideally, I’m turning into is one of those ruddy cheeked old men who wears suspenders and ties his own fishing flies while sipping single-malt scotch.

Here’s an observation (sorry, I can’t help myself):

I like a party, or a tavern, with a bunch of different age groups represented. I love the dynamic of uncles dealing with nephews or sixtysomethings joking with thirtysomethings, joking with punks like Smartacus, who then jokes with his newborn niece.

I don’t know why that resonates so much, and certainly it’s more meaningful to the oldsters.

Of course, this night’s highlight came when Miss Debbie, one of Posh’s dearest friends, held our grandbaby Catherine Margaret for the very first time, cradling her like crown jewels while the baby made little Mona Lisa smiles.

For an instant, it was as if Posh were right there.

If you can’t have a grandma at 5 weeks old, the next best thing is your grandma’s best friend. Plus this legion of honorary aunts and wry drunky uncles, in a backyard full of crawfish shells, on the cusp of what is shaping up to be a very memorable solstice.

A summer solstice of fun, fellowship and Mona Lisa smiles.

Pater, cura te ipsum.

Daddy-O, heal thyself.

If you like gin, mark July 10 on your calendar. My pal Michelle has offered to host a backyard gin bash late that afternoon. Please hold off on your RSVPs for now, as we iron out the details. Meanwhile, have a great weekend. Bartending tip: Skip the shot glass. Just pour till it feels right. Cheers! For info on books and back columns, please click here.

7 thoughts on “Tails up. Penalty kicks. Wine.

  1. Good grief, I keep waking up earlier and earlier. I don’t want to be the first to comment. That pole position belongs to Caroll Schwartz, such a loyal fan, yes I’ve noticed, Caroll. So ironic that the people that jogged, as we were all told to do so, are now the battered and bruised. There’s a topic. “The Lies ‘They’ Told Us.” Grampy will soon morph to Gimpy, no doubt. “Good grub, Gimpy! Thanks.”

  2. Thanks for the shout out, Maureen! This is one of your best old school type columns, Chris. Stream of consciousness, but somehow flowing seamlessly from topic to topic, every one of them making me smile. Posh is right there smiling too, I am sure of it. Keep the summer highlights and family pics coming. We are ready for normal!!

  3. With a main home in New Orleans and a condo in Ventura County, I agree with you on this city different, New Orleans. Although, after 17 years here, I have never had a crawfish boil with artichokes, per your photo. In an old city with old trends, this might be the new thing. By the way, USC orthopedic department might be a good source of help or info or treatment for your knee. It was for mine. I do the food thing here and the medical thing there.

  4. Sounds like a fun backyard bash! Like Seals and Crofts sang in Summer Breeze “sweet days of summer the jasmine’s in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune.” Loved this column. The way you zig zagged all over. Sorry can’t make it on the 10th. I’m hosting my own backyard party to celebrate the grad…also featuring a wide range of ages from my 89 year old mom (90 in September!) to a friend’s 5 year-old and everything in between! Should be a hootenanny!
    Also agree with Maureen…once when I didn’t see Carroll’s name for a couple weeks I was like…I hope she’s ok lol. I like the camaraderie here! 😊

    1. Ok, Bonnie. You all are making me blush! (And I can only remember not commenting on ONE column!) Well, I guess I AM an Erskine Groupie. No apologies.

  5. When is the cookbook coming out ? It would have been neat to have it in hand this breakout summer, but I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the bridled joy of pent-up release, as the fog of Covid still drifts over backyard parties and beach fetes. Aaaaaaaaah Summah !!

  6. Naw’lins;don’t forget the cemeteries and the Santaria!As per your usual outpouring of wry wit and sagacious ruminations, we stand in awe. You run the gamut of all emotions. Misty eyed about your beloved Posh being there in spirit with her surrogate holding your precious baby granddaughter! Just keep surrounding yourself with all your family’s Love! P.S.Yes , Caroll, you are the early bird! Always the first! I guess I’m the late bird, always last! But we all get our appreciation notes to him!

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