Tacos and Truth Bombs

Just bonkers, the stuff you see on the roads these days. Though LA has always required steel nerves and Top-Gun reflexes, I sometimes drive across town and come away thinking: “How much longer can I take this? How much longer will my heart hold out?”

A reminder than my heart is small, cold and made of recycled tin. I’m a recovering journalist. That kind of work destroys you from the inside out. Like coal mining or investment banking.

I’m at the point now where my heart is really more of a coin or a bus token. You could slip it into a machine to buy a Coke. You could play poker with it.

Reminder II: I’m just a guy with a head like a canoe, incapable of a cogent thought.

The other night at dinner, a couple of us were trying to come up with a year, subtract 13 from 41, and no one could quite do it. The gin had eroded our ability to do basic math. But, boy, could we weigh in on political rhetoric, party disenchantment and all that other heavy stuff.

We had truth bombs and tacos, and several species of gin.

Peterman told the story of auditioning once with Dustin Hoffman. Jeff talked about hanging out with Jim Lampley. Fish told insider stories about Mike Wallace.

I talked about a date with a bold woman with bony shoulders. That’s all I had. And how we’d had a threesome the other night: the two of us and her dog, which licked my ankle as we all snuggled on her couch.

“The dog was French,” I explained. “You know how licky than can get.”

“Very licky,” confirmed Peterman.

If you come to my patio, be prepared for conversations like that. Really excellent, mixed with the really repellent…plus long pauses as we search our brains for names (at one point I couldn’t think of the director Ron Underwood).

You get older, you have lapses. I want to stay young and playful, but I don’t have the energy. Sometimes, I’m grateful for a night alone on the couch.

But active I stay. Smartacus is leaving soon, so I’m forming various comedy troupes of edgy friends, guys grateful for a cool toot and an old story. Emotional gypsies. Armies of desperate insurgents low on ammo.

Trust me. After 30 years in the ’burbs, a lot of guys end up like that.

I’m lucky — all the local daddies have stories. The beauty of growing old is that you have better stories. And you share these little graces, these alms.

So you hold the moonlight in your wine glass, you splash it back and forth, and in this fellowship, in this spotty validation — where a slight slip of the tongue brings a tidal wave of wisecracks — you think: “Ain’t LA glorious? Isn’t this maddening town full of the most interesting dinner guests?”

Yes and no.

Yet, I reach out, amid the triumphs and near-misses.

Soon, I’ll be forming an Empty Nest Club for all the parents sending their last children off to college.

Warning: Empty nesting is a form of influenza. You feel lousy for about a week – like you might even die. Dads blubber like babies. And the moms? Some can’t get out of bed. They have nothing to check on the high school websites, no administrators to hassle, no SAT dates to figure out. Worst of all, the kid’s bedroom is suddenly super quiet.

We don’t talk about it much, but empty-nesting wallops us, leaving a profound heartbreak.

As I said, I don’t have much of a heart, so I’ll probably be OK. And what I lack in basic compassion, I more than make up for with a very rich sense of denial. And chilly gin.

White Fang? She already misses Smartacus. I’m told that’s a very Celtic trait, to miss a loved one even before they leave.

When you love a woman the way I love White Fang, you pick up on those little cues.

“If there’s a crowd, one person is certain to be concealing a sadness,
another will have abandoned a dream,” noted the late poet Stephen Dunn.

Look, it’s common knowledge: I’m married to my dog.

The other morning, I asked White Fang how she’d slept, then she took the last piece of bacon without asking – all the behaviors of a long-married couple.

If you want love to last, you’d better learn to forgive small, selfish acts.

I realized how deeply Smartacus’ departure might affect White Fang the other morning, after my son went off to spend a couple of days with his sisters in Santa Monica.

White Fang seemed tired and listless. She missed her boy, her sidekick.

I realized right then that, come September, I will need to spend a little extra time with her, maybe plan some adventures for us. No situation ever got better by simply fretting over it.

In the fall, we will visit my daughters in Santa Monica more often, stroll the strand, avail ourselves of the healing powers of the soupy sea.

As you know, I don’t see Santa Monica as merely a town. To me, it is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

It has everything I look for in a great city. Butterflies. Skinny women on bikes. Vibrant and overpriced restaurants.

The other morning, in fact, we wandered Santa Monica, through America’s most- eclectic neighborhoods — cozy bungalows beside the ugliest apartments you’ve probably ever seen.

LA architecture often looks like the broken omelets I make…like some version of anti-matter. Like someone threw a bunch of windows and doors in a bag and just shook it.

That sums up LA, I guess: An eyesore over here, a masterpiece over there.

Know what else I enjoy about Santa Monica? The traffic!

Apparently the poor cops have given up entirely. Drivers merely pause for stop signs, never stop, and they blast through red lights as if they’re only decorative.

I’ll confess, it gives the place great energy, though you should watch your step, especially when pushing a baby stroller.

In other cities, drivers might give pedestrians struggling with a baby stroller and a dog a little time to cross the street. Not so much in Santa Monica.

I admire that — everyone racing at breakneck speed because they’re late to yoga or a big audition. If you want basic decency, this place is probably not for you.

“Why do I come here?” I often ask myself.

Well, there’s that ocean — stunning. And a couple of nice saloons. And my bestest buddy Verge…he’s stunning too.

At lunch, I looked over at my masterpieces — Catty Cakes, my lovely daughter, my strapping son — as we picnicked in the park. They seemed so content, with their paninis and their side salads, in sea breezes that draped us like linen.

I know I’d jump the moon to see them, I’d hop a train, steal a plane, swim the silly sea.

Just for an hour with them. In this perfect park, amid the linen and the sea.

Need a few laughs while dealing with the empty-nest flu? Please check out my website for books and past columns. Also, keep an eye on ChrisErskineLA.com for details on the upcoming Lake Hollywood hike. We’re still making arrangements with The Federal for our post-game treats. Great times ahead. Cheers!

10 thoughts on “Tacos and Truth Bombs

  1. I’m thinking of hanging up my driving gloves when cars start driving themselves. I probably won’t, but I think I will. When, “Watch where you’re going, buddy,” loses all meaning, the dehumanization is underway. Or, more so underway. It’s already underway. In happier news, if you belong to Audible, the Secrets of Mental Math is on sale for $2.76. I don’t think there’s a chapter on working through the drunk and still achieving peak performance, but, haven’t listened yet. Could be.

  2. Empty nest is a misnomer , your kitchen will be dirty and all your beer is gone !
    It’s November and first visit from school

  3. Chris—-A suggestion for the next time you’re at a red light. As soon as it turns green, count slowly to three before taking off. I always do this and there have been a number of times when I hit two that a car flashed through in front of me. You might get a few honks from behind but that’s better than being T-boned.

  4. Aaaaaaah, the truth, the long luminous, ever warmer days of August stretching time, anticipating the corners to be turned ahead. The bony shouldered woman…of course she would need to be enwrapped—it’s cold, even in summer, in there. A woman with edges feels things more acutely than others, so I’ve found, thus seems to be up against you both to increase the sensate pleasure of the moments and to avoid the shock of the new; and maybe just to get a little warmer. Bonyness implies a certain distillate asparity. On a lush Summer evening, a lovely contrast, thrilling, even. Like that little stingy bite of lime on the rim of a G&T glass, its perfect ice melting the instant, letting the love out, like that hint of frost in a languid August evening breeze coming off the sea in Santa Monica does. The young man launching, the gathering of one’s warmth’s, albeit some canine, in anticipation of Autumn’s golden winey twists and whiffs of Winter ahead; and those Bony shoulders glowing in the grainy darkness of a Summer night: Now we are definitely getting somewhere.

  5. Chris,
    I am one who used to be part of “the Santa Monica girls.” Back then SM had the
    reputation that the sidewalks were rolled up at 10 pm – true because a big night
    was to go to the restaurant in Malibu that had sea lions outside in a pool. All the kids
    from Samohi worked on 3rd street, since that was the extent of retail. No kidding,
    SM could have been in Kansas except for the weather and the beach. What happened
    to that Bay Cities town? It grew up , and sadly it is a remnant of what it was. Of
    course, that is LA all over, middle aged and dowdy.

  6. I just have to say that “I Love you” Chris!!! Every story I read, I love you more…..you make me laugh and you make me cry, sometimes at the same time…..I wish I lived closer so I could be at one of your “meet ups”…..I love your friends and your family too, and Catty Cakes is going to have you wrapped around her little finger, wait a minute she already has….too bad life isn’t fair and 2 of your favorite people could walk back through your door……that would be my wish for you. Thank you for always putting a smile on my face

  7. Great column today, with lots to think about and learn. Thanks for teaching us and entertaining us and always for the inspiring picture of your sweet baby granddaughter.

  8. Wait, wait…”L.A. middle aged and dowdy”?…a remnant of what was” ? Isn’t almost everything like that ? Except all of us, of course; and the children. We begin and end everything immutably clear eyed, and blind, else how could we endure, with truth bombs going off everywhere all the time ?

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