The Opulent Son

Ah, October.

“Smeared with the gold of an opulent sun,” as Wallace Stevens put it, though I think he was discussing volcanoes, or some mansion.

As with most poems, it went right by me. At one point Stevens describes “a dirty house in a gutted world.”

I mean, has he seen my den?

Actually, the house looks pretty great since Smartacus fled for college, in such a hurry he barely buckled his shoes.

The old place stays remarkably orderly. I no longer have to garden rake his abandoned shoes and socks each morning, no longer have to bag all his empty Coke cans.

Since he left, I don’t find ice cream bowls in the sink; spare change no longer marks that dimpled spot on the couch where he spent long afternoons watching bad TV.

Empty-nesting is great – that’s what I’m saying.

Well, maybe not great, but not as bad as we first feared.

I sure don’t mind the cleanliness, not a bit. White Fang still spills her minky coat all over the place, so every day I am sweeping. Other than that, it is a simpler life now, here in this former home of the golden, opulent son.

Since Smartacus left, I’ve been living mostly on microwave popcorn and cheese curds. I call it “the Packers Diet.” Soon I’ll add beer nuts and taffy apples.

Basically, it’s a Paleo diet mixed with a few items that actually taste good.

Still, White Fang hates this new menu.

“Where are all the sweaty meats you used to like?” she grumbles.

I could tell White Fang was really glum because she was listening to lots of Miles Davis.

So on Sunday, I took her to Starbucks and ordered her the “pup-uccino,” the novelty drink Starbucks makes free for dogs.

Like her, it seems to be crafted entirely of whipped cream.

White Fang liked the pup-uccino well enough. Licked her lips for, like, an hour. I mean, she licked her lips. Not me. (Gross you’d even think that, though she is a very good kisser.)

She also liked the little inspirational Post-It notes customers put up at the Starbucks.

Stuff like: “You can do this!” and “You are loved!”

We certainly sensed that. It was just good to see on paper.

Anyway, I’m kind of on a crusade to make people and pups happy, which is the way I’ve always rolled. I’m merely doubling down on that particular life approach.

For example, the other day, I reset Rapunzel’s car radio to Christian music stations, every button. Christian stations seem rampant these days — probably significant, a sign of something.

As I lay in bed the next night, listening to the thunder, enjoying the lightning, I thought that God might be responding to me.

“Thank you for spreading the gospel, one radio station at a time,” is how I interpreted it.

Will it help Rapunzel? Well, it certainly can’t hurt. She lives in Santa Monica, a mostly godless place except in certain pockets – the pier, the parishes and one little stretch of Montana.

So I’m happy to turn her car into a roving church. Maybe she’ll join a gospel choir? Maybe she’ll be swept up by the lord?

I may have mentioned how Rapunzel was in high school chorus for a couple of years, performing in holiday concerts, all the usual stuff, when she confessed to us that she merely lip-synced most of the lyrics.

 “You were magnificent just the same,” I told her.

“We loved every non-word,” her mother said.

“Thanks everybody,” she said, but she lip-synced it to us, miming it, not saying it aloud. Which was pretty funny at the time.

All my kids are pretty funny, a shortcoming I worked very hard to suppress when they were toddlers, as you would angry outbursts or public displays of nudity.

From what I can tell from Facebook, today’s parents snuff out humor at every opportunity.

But as with religion, the more you push, the less you accomplish. Our kids all ended up a little funny just the same.

Smartacus might be the funniest of all; among the shanty Irish, it’s a daily competition.

Since we traded him to the University of Trees last month, the world feels a less remarkable place, at least here in LA. In Oregon, meanwhile, they feel as if they’ve upgraded.

“Who is this clown?” they ask. “Should we keep him?”

At least till I get his bathroom clean, OK?

Speaking of Smartcus, I finally returned the too-big mini-fridge the other day, the one I lugged to his dorm room, then lugged back to the car, then back to Pasadena where we bought it.

I felt a little sad, to be honest. I’d had that mini-fridge in the car for 15 days at that point, and I’d become accustomed to the company.

Finally, I bear-hugged it back into Best Buy where it was born. I left it at the end of the customer service counter, on a dolly. I wished it luck.

Nothing we can’t get over. Too much to celebrate. The McRib is back. Jon Stewart is back. Inflation is through the roof. What are we to make of it all, other than life is one big pagan rodeo.

Yee haaaaaaaw.

Fortunately, October is here, and that softens everything. That rain the other night? A steamy, succulent broth.

Fall is that season where we take all the softness of summer and turn it into something delicious. Like wine, or pumpkin soup. Taffy apples. Or candy corn, which as you know is a specialty corn they grow in the Upper Midwest.

If you’ve ever seen a candy corn farm, you know just what I’m talking about. Little orange farmers, working long hours in the frosted fields, harvesting the candy corn for all of us to enjoy.

Another of those little rituals that make America special. Like Christmas cards, or the Kentucky Derby.

October feels fresh…new … a re-start. The Peanuts comic strip debuted in October, did you know that? So did my own father. His is the only October birthday I know of. December is full of birthdays, but October was reserved for my old man.

I like that about October.

Meanwhile, I saw a beautiful woman in a heavy sweater the other day – and could barely breathe from the beauty of it all.

What is it about sweaters? What is it about fall?

Autumn is also about darkness and a bit of mirth. I find all that Edgar Allan Poe stuff kind of humorous. And then there’s that mistress of dark poetry, Sylvia Plath. This seems her season as well.

In fact, I’ve been pitching a new TV show around town. It’s called “The Sylvia Plath Comedy Hour.” That should probably debut in fall as well.

You know Plath, right? Funny lady. A blast at parties. Sure, she could be a bit bleak at times. If barbed wire were a font, that’s what she would’ve written her poems in.

 “Out of the ash

 I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.”

How do you like your men cooked, Miss Plath? Sunny side up?

So, yeah, “The Sylvia Plath Comedy Hour” is sure to be a different sort of show, probably on ABC.  It’ll be full of dog acts and funny feminists doing impressions.

“This show,” I assured the TV people, “has all the makings of a crassly commercial hit.”

They nodded. They got it!

The main takeaway is that there is humor everywhere — if you’re sly enough, and subversive enough and unwilling to ever give up, even as summer burns into fall.

And I think you are.

The Happy Hour Hiking Club is pleased to announce a full house for the Oct. 16 hike at the Hollywood Reservoir. But we can probably squeeze in a few more. Email letters@ChrisErskineLA.com to participate. Slots are limited. If you don’t hear back, that means we ran out of room. But we’ll accommodate you next time. Hiking season has just begun. Cheers!

8 thoughts on “The Opulent Son

  1. Your columns are like those encouraging Post Its at Starbucks…Many ideas all jumbled together, yet still making us feel good! Another great one. I will watch for the Sylvia Plath Comedy Hour. It’s sure to be a hit.

  2. I sense a healing working its way through your body and brain. I won’t worry anymore. You are scratched from my litany. Val B

  3. …Your breathe vanishing upon seeing a lovely woman in a heavy sweater…lying in bed listening to the thunder and awed by the horizon to horizon flashes of the first tentative, swift moving little rainstorms of the season…silly, artful quick-hit comedy riffs to relieve the tension of the awe at the glorious blazing carnival of the season rising like the dawn, before us. Erskine in Fall, spritzing and tunneling like a Catskills autumn breeze, after the summer comedians have gone, and the empty resort dining rooms have no more shiny faces to polish with laughter. Oh, what is ahead, what is ahead.

  4. favorite line from Robert Frost’s “October” : “Retard the sun with gentle mist; enchant the land with amethyst ” ~ ~ ~

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