Smile! It’s the New Normal

When I woke up the other morning, all the kitchen lights were still blazing from the night before, the way they did when Smartacus was home.

I used to scold the little monkey for leaving all the lights on in the kitchen, and now here I was doing the exact same thing.

In my defense, I’d stayed up late watching a Dodger comeback that didn’t surprise me one bit — I just knew they would win that Padres game.

And I drank a little too much wine, the remnants of which were still on the counter, a couple of half-bottles Bittner gave me after the last tailgate.

Life goes on…

This house was once crawling with kids, and that used to bug me … not having enough space. Now it’s not crawling with anything, except half-empty wine bottles. I’d say that bugs me too, yet it doesn’t. Not severely. Not yet anyway.

I find it strangely satisfying, as if racing home down the I-5 I crossed some metaphorical finish line for parenting. You’re never not a parent, but you know what I mean. The constant care … the goo.

The other morning, I’d been handling the changes fairly well, dusting and putting stuff in its place, when I found a wad of Smartacus’ dirty socks under the couch. Not many, 60-70 at most. That turned me into a wistful mom all over again.

As you may know, I was both dad and mom to Smartacus, and sometimes I’m wry and philosophical, the way aging dads are, and sometimes I’m sentimental like a Chardonnay Mom.

Life goes on…

One friend predicted my nest would not stay empty for long.

“I’m having more kids?” I wrote back. “Yikes. Where’d I put the chew toys?”

She was speaking romantically, I suppose, or predicting that my buddies Miller and Jeff might move in, which would be another kind of yikes.

I mean, I love my friends like children. And they make good money. But they’d drink all the good beer, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna fetch them toilet paper, like I did for Smaratcus.



“Would you bring me toilet paper?”

So done with that.

“Clint Eastwood and Mick Jagger had kids in their 70s,” another friend wrote. “I put you in the same category as those guys.”

Sure. Who wouldn’t?

To be fair, I am past the age where one falls hopelessly in love. Mild disinterest is probably the most I can muster, but that seems to work better anyway.

I mean, I’ve seen a few Reese Witherspoon movies. According to that body of literature, mild disinterest is some sort of love potion — especially here in LA, where dating is like the Battle of Antietam.

Anyways, I don’t want romance. I want a sassy stranger to slide onto the bar stool next to me – Garbo maybe, or the magnificent Caitlin Flanagan – and order a gimlet.

What’s Garbo’s famous line? “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.”

That person.

Meanwhile, this new normal is exciting for me and White Fang. Sure, we barely run the dish washer anymore. And grocery shopping is different, the cart half full minus the string cheese, deli pickles and lunch meat Smartacus loved.

Since retirement a year ago, my hobby has pretty much been all him.

There was so much to do, as this hybrid dad-mom. I don’t envy the parents of the current crop of high school seniors, juggling the endless college prep duties.

I’m thinking of re-taking the college entrance exams myself this year, but I’ll have to brush up on my Greek history. Was Pythagoras an intellectual, or a mythical mutt/unicorn thingy? Did he write a theorem or a hymn? Been a while.

Oddly, I know so much more now than I did when I first took the SATs.

I know that you never crawl under my house without a flashlight and an ax handle. I know you never go to Trader Joe’s between 5 and 7 pm on a Friday evening.

Unlike when I was 17, I now understand desire – we want what we cannot have, an unquenchable thirst.

I can also rattle off all the referee signs you see at football games, very useful in the noisy sports bars I prefer.

By the way, big mistake giving those NFL refs microphones. Changed everything.

At first, they seemed to have stage fright, uncomfortable with the public speaking. Then they warmed to the microphones, and soon they were throwing flags willy-nilly just to clock more air time.

That’s right: NFL refs went Hollywood.

Suddenly, they started working out, and as you can tell, they got their shirts tailored and tucked to show off the new pecs. They preened like starlets.

At that moment, the quality of their work started to suffer. Now, most games, I wish the refs would just go away. They officiated the Packers game the other night as if they had the mortgage riding on the Niners.

I also wish — as I was telling my new drinking coach Risa — that the NFL would institute a system where the yellow first-down lines were visible from the field and in the stands, as they are on TV.

For what they pay, the spectators should have the yellow lines too —  by laser projection, by LEDs embedded in the turf — whatever it takes.

The NFL worships new and shiny toys. Which is why its two best venues — Lambeau and Soldier Field —  have never hosted a Super Bowl (don’t get me started).

In my forever life, there have been only two worthwhile developments: ATM machines and yellow first-down stripes. The rest you can keep: streaming channels that are so tricky to find, all the digital stuff that doesn’t work

Waterless urinals? Dry shampoo? Dear God: The world has gone mad.

FYI, we drove Rapunzel’s car to Oregon – it’s newer, more comfortable, and she was a sport about offering it to us. And in 2,000 road miles, I could never figure out the cruise control system.

I punched some buttons, got close, but never managed to activate the cruise control, which should be so intuitive that a grieving dad-mom like me can figure it out through filmy eyes at 85 miles per hour.

Know what I did like? Rapunzel’s SUV had a traditional button to zero out the trip mileage. It wasn’t buried in some digital woodpile of commands. It was right there on the dash, a little black button with 0.0 on it, clearly the way to zero out the mileage before a long trip.

Guess that’s what I’m doing now, in a way — zeroing out my own personal odometer.

Life goes on….

What now? Well, I’ve always wanted to write. Tough business, writing. Fitzgerald died broke and broken, Hollywood doing its usual number on him. Obviously, he cared too much. Should’ve stuck with mild disinterest – remained the detached Princeton chap who penned Gatsby.

Her voice is full of money…

From what I can tell, writing is no easier now. Newspapers and magazines are mostly gone. Love songs and movies are next. Nobody pays for anything anymore, except for cellphones and streaming TV.

So, if the writing doesn’t work out, I’ll probably start my own streaming service. Or get into the cell phone biz. Young people gaze at their cell phones as if they’re full of prayers. I’ll peddle phones on street corners (hollow, with candy in them. The kids won’t care).

Any idiot can sell a cell phone. And as you know, I’m not just any idiot. I’m a very advanced level of idiot. I mean the mustache tells you that.

Hey, what are you gonna be for Halloween? I’m thinking: Ted Lasso.

But first-season Ted Lasso, when the show was charming and fun and had a rhythm, not second-season Ted Lasso, where they overthunk the whole thing and seemed to, in the course of the off-season, lose their magic, their mojo.

Nothing ruins you like a little success. Just ask Gatsby.

So for Halloween, I will be first-season Ted Lasso, with his trademark windbreaker, coaching whistle and aviator glasses. I’ll have to grow the sideburns out a bit, that’s all. Maybe tint the ’stache.

I’ve already mastered the dad jokes he tells.

In fact, I invented the dad joke. It was 1983, and Posh had just birthed the Lovely and Patient Older Daughter. I held this tiny baby and said: “Hey, what’s your name again? Where’d you get a nose like that? The nose store? The Just-OK-Mart? What’s your favorite team, and please don’t say the Mets.”

That’s when dad jokes were born, in 1983, as I stood there doing schtick for the nurses and my precious baby daughter, who is now having precious baby daughters of her own.

Goes sort of fast, doesn’t it?

Mark your calendars for a spin around one of LA’s most-scenic spots, Lake Hollywood, on Oct. 16. We’ll start the hike around 2 pm on that Saturday. Post-hike beverages still being worked out. Spots are limited. Please RSVP by email to Cheers!

12 thoughts on “Smile! It’s the New Normal

  1. It DOES go fast! But by pausing to muse about the sweet and funny and sometimes annoying little parts of life, you slow it down just a bit so we can savor it more. I think that’s harder than writing Gatsby…..Week in, week out. Please never stop.

  2. Yep I’m right there with ya (minus the kitchen lights and wine bottles 😉) just got a bit of a head start as mine left 9-1 and yes the first week is weird…but I think you’ll be just fine. Speaking of Soldier Field, the Bears just bought Arlington Park for 197M…”Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”
    And the beat goes on…

  3. To my friend I haven’t met yet ~ when you tell as many drinking jokes as Dean Martin, it might be time to turn off the cruise control, pause, and recalibrate. Start new adventures! Sent with a hug.

  4. Dad jokes are EVERYTHING! Here’s a recent favorite of mine:

    I took a job as the head of Old MacDonald’s Farm.
    I’m the CIEIO.

  5. I like reading newspapers & magazines, the word on print is hands-down so much better than onscreen! And as for Soldier Field, as has been said, the Bears are looking to move to the now-extinct Arlington Park. So if you want a Super Bowl there, you’d better talk to the NFL heads soon.

  6. Zeroing out my own personal odometer. I’m going to ponder on that for a few thousand more miles.

  7. Some among us will recognize this as an offer they cannot refuse. Oh, sure, maybe a writer might; but who wants to wake up with a horse head in their bed? The more literary among us will recognize the signs, the page turned, a new chapter in what most surely is a book; and sign the contract. And some will just feel it in the air, the seasonal twist, the wistful luminous shift in light, the tinge of cool, flash of ice, in the sunset breeze, the first, the few—-yellow leaves that surprise underfoot with their whispered crunch. An autumnal song…

    A Nocturne

    The Don Of Domestica has decreed
    By virtue of certain pungent screed
    A plangent bliss, an Autumn mood
    It seems he’s up to something good
    It is a time for taking stock
    The heart to ponder, and unlock
    To roam the fields, the open door
    That’s always there, to open more
    A time to watch the leaves come down
    And roam the bustling lovely town
    Feel the heat, and fading light
    Ebb away, each lonely night
    Sink warm hands into the fur
    Of the companion provocateur
    Take the morning start—stop walks
    With a soul that almost talks
    An animate and earthy prose
    Of the moments—one of those
    Sees everything with her nose
    Has secrets she cannot disclose
    And at the end, when Winter’s air
    With looming chill, says it is there
    Find someone piquant, rouge, and fair
    And run one’s fingers through her hair
    And write of it, thus so unwound
    And fall like the leaves around
    With those leaves the only sound
    One hears except the mating pound:
    The heart of the lover found;
    A writer with Fall love to burn
    In the smoke of its nocturne
    And all the spice there is to learn
    An offer someone will not spurn
    Before the season’s mating turn
    For, amid Autumn’s carnival
    What else can we do but fall
    Like the leaves, to have it all?

  8. I keep telling anyone who will listen: There is no autumn. It’s 92 degrees. Who knows if it’s safe to trick or treat this year.
    Plus, my LATimes subscription went up to $93 for 8 weeks!!! That’s a lot for a crossword puzzle and the occasional op ed. I might have to get my Erskine on Facebook from now on, or is it email?

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