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!