Pumpkins Are Forever

People often ask me: “Carl, what’s the secret to your writing? It’s so consistently disappointing.”

And I reply clean living and snarky women, needy children and dark, dark chocolate. The darkest you can find. Darker than a dive bar on the dark side of the moon. Darker than a hangman’s heart.

Buckets of coffee help a writer too. And a certain restless spirit. A fear of office work, or servitude in general.

What else ya need? Well, an ear for dialogue helps. An appreciation for the music words can make …the hum of the language…the bossa nova drumbeat…the little silences between your sentences.

Room to breathe and think and ponder.

The goal is to write something that makes a reader sit back in his creaky chair, say, “Yum, I like that. I want to read that again.”

To write halfway well, you also need to read a lot, though I listen to music as often as I read.

“You are what you read,” I always say.

You are what you listen to as well.

So, there you have it: the secret to a mediocre career in “the arts.” Good luck paying the gas bill and the car insurance. Good luck sending them through college.

A writing career is almost anti-family. It’s the surest way to irritate a prospective spouse.

So, what’d I do? I wrote about family even as I knew that such a career would barely provide for mine.

Does money really matter? Damn straight it does.

But there are some professions – teaching is another – where the compensation doesn’t show all up on your tax returns. As a writer/editor, I was a better daddy than I would’ve been had I spent my prime peddling real estate or removing polyps.

I’m grateful and glad there are men and women who do that work, accumulate a certain level of wealth and security, take long ridiculous vacations in France and Switzerland. I’m glad for them. Nice to see hard work pay off.

Pains me that I couldn’t treat the kids to more travel.

Instead, I wrote about them. What good sports they have always been.

You know, parenthood is a ticking clock. The best years, from 2 to 12, fly by in nanoseconds. The second-best years – 13-18 – pass faster than a sneeze.

This time of year, I miss picking out pumpkins with the kids. I miss getting down on the garage floor and carving them. I miss searching all over the place for where we hid the tiny plastic pumpkin knives, usually the junk drawer but sometimes a shelf in the garage or a bin in the basement.

Never the same place twice.

Hey, Posh, where’s that giant soup pot, the blue one … I think your mom bought it for us?

That’s how we lived our lives – two working parents too busy to develop the sorts of patterns and routines that allowed you to know where things would always be…two parents flying by the seats of our pants.

We’d go too long between haircuts. We’d forget to change the oil.

That was the struggle and beauty of our lives. That’s where the resonance was. In the heavy sighs. In the pauses between the sentences.

For us, Fridays felt like tiny miracles. We made it! We made it through!

You know, God gifts us autumns like these. This is one of the best I can remember, consistently cool and crisp, with Smartacus off to the University of Trees, a dashing young man, a collegiate Willy Wonka waddling around campus, nodding to classmates. He texts three times a day to tell me how happy he is.

I sometimes sense homesickness. But that might be wishful thinking. Mostly I sense pride…pride that he’s been able to break away on his own.

Hey Dad, wouldn’t Mom be proud?

And you should see his niece Catty Cakes. She glows like an apple, her cheeks full of these chill October mornings. If only Norman Rockwell were still painting.

Maybe she glows because the people around her are so cheerful. I think babies pick up on that. The irony is that she is the reason everyone’s so happy. It’s like a closed loop of good cheer.

Now there’s a nanny, the fabulous Blanca, who watches the baby while her mother goes back to work. She dresses Catty Cakes in these funky hippie layers that blow everyone’s mind.

Such an LA babe, a jiggy tribute to the city where she was born.

Life’s a loop, all right, not linear at all. Life’s a third-base coach waving the runner home.

Life is fragments of days, some we keep, some we toss…little data packs we tuck safely away.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Posh, gliding across a Florida newsroom, back when women wore heels to work. I’ll never forget seeing her first daughter take her very first breath.

And I’ll never forget Catty Cakes as she is this October day, in her oversized bows and hipster slippers. Already, she returns your gaze, never looking away. Like her mama. Like her grandma.

Yep, a tribute to LA.

Speaking of loops and baseball and life — I looped in to the Dodgers home game Tuesday night. It’s a slow game, baseball, almost stuck in time. So you have to find other little pursuits while you watch a game, or you’ll just go peanuts.

One of my side games is watching the fans in the expensive seats behind home plate – the winners, the lucky ones, the triumphant, the beautiful, the sun damaged, the flawed.

Turns out they’re just like us, the rich.

Of course, a couple of the old coots look seriously worn, like fried-out Uncle Festers. And there’s the one former TV host who looks like a frazzled Murphy Brown, her cotton-candy hair jutting this way and that. She seldom stands when everyone else does. The message: I don’t stand for no one, thank you very much.

My favorite though? The famous producer in what appears to be Sears jeans. This guy studies his phone more than the game. Good for him. Whatever makes him happy…shouldn’t rich people be happy? Constantly, his sycophants spot him on TV and ping him about how great he is.

As they say: Money talks. And now it texts you too!

I suppose the best thing about being super rich is the way people kiss your fanny all the time (but I’m just guessing).

Probably the worst thing? Guys like me who always mock you.

Aren’t you glad, though? Someone needs to razz the sultans once in a while.

Writers do that. Comics do that. The working guys in the cheap seats do that.

As if by tradition, laughter rains down from the cheap seats, where life is – if nothing else – a tad more openly joyous.

Laughter is the best revenge, really. Might even be better than money (again, I’m just guessing).

End of the week, all we working stiffs have is our tiny miracles — the pumpkins, the Hamburger Helper, the soup pots, the bills.

Are we envious? Or are we somewhat relieved?

Who cares. Another grand series awaits.

Play ball.

A few spots have opened up for today’s 2 pm hike around Lake Hollywood, with drinks later in North Hollywood. It’s a big group, full of idiots. But really nice idiots. Funny too. And extremely good looking. If you can swing it, you should come. The Happy Hour Hiking Club founders will be there: Bittner, Jeff and Billionaire Charlie. Interested? E-mail me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. In any case, enjoy the weekend. Go Dodgers. Go Rams. Go Chargers. Go Bruins.

16 thoughts on “Pumpkins Are Forever

  1. Chris, you remind me that the time between my kids births and their late teens was the best, but probably when I aged the most. Keep looking at those photos, they bring you joy. Glad you’re getting to enjoy the granddaughter. Mine are still avoiding marriage and procreation.

  2. Love these self reflective yet funny, clever observation posts. Resonates with so many of us. Wish I could make one of the hikes but that would be planes, trains and automobiles. Catty Cakes is precious! Those cheeks. Scrumpdillyicious. Oh you forgot Go Bears. Playing the Packers at Soldier Field today. 😉

  3. Oops. Today is Saturday 🙃Tomorrow is Go Bears. Today is college football at Augie where I’ll watch my college junior dance at the halftime show! Go Vikings!

  4. Indeed, Halloween was my favorite holiday as well. My highly dysfunctional parents made it absolutely the best – my dad setup a speaker system for my mother with her most terrifying witch’s cackle, and my father with his booming, haunting, soil-your-pants, scare you to the bone voice. Kids never made it to the front door. Many tried, but no one ever succeeded.
    When my kids were young, they ALWAYS picked the Great Pumpkin from the local farm. Took tremendous delight in carving on the patio floor, roasting those seeds. Had to use a trouble light to illuminate. Our house was famous for that Great Pumpkin. Then we moved to a gated street of only 25 houses…neighbor kids could no longer trick-or-treat, nor delight in our Great Pumpkin. End of an era…

  5. I’m glad to see someone else refers to you as “Carl”. Me too. Probably confused by the former Dodger?, Giant?
    ball player Carl Erskine.
    Ditto your football “go’s”, especially the Bruins!

  6. Seems we’re always as poor as our poorest days. I’ve been thinking alot lately about poverty of spirit and Jesus being born in a cattle stall and starting his ministry as an itinerant preacher. “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Gulp. The humility is almost unfathomable. Thanks for everything, Lord. Thanks for the thoughtful piece, Clark.

  7. Ah, Autumn. Kiss those dark chocolate lips (80 percent cacao) and the resultant smoke may blind you forever. Fall is such a rusty mix of nostalgia and elan, a sweet winey blend, golden cider with a bright edge glowing in the cup of the mind.. This is indeed one of the best ever, in this existence. How autumnal the vision of Posh gliding through the hazy late afternoon light of a Florida newsroom in the heels women used to wear to elevate the discourse; or was it the other way around ? The gauzy light of Fall light blurs all things distinctive and makes me uncertain. “You are busy reading what you are, if you are a writer”, I always say, (to paraphrase the bard). So play ball…and let the great game of Fall begin…

  8. So, about $$$$ !. A great old comedian, Milton Berle, once joked, ” Money is the root of all evil and I’m rooting for it! 🙂

  9. One of my favorites. Funny and lovely and shaded with just the right amount of sweet melancholy – like Sinatra singing “It Was A Very Good Year,” or a guy who’d just gotten a bad diagnosis, although in your case I’m sure it’s just too much late night cold pizza. Lots of memorable lines, including the image of life as a third base coach waving us home. Would have been nice if the Dodgers had a second base coach tonight.

  10. Hello again Old Friend. I’m just back from Europe and still hopelessly jet-lagged (made it this morning until 6 AM and I am NOT a morning person) but I’m almost caught up on all your wonderful columns. We visited friends in England and then went on to “my island” Hydra … many Leonard Cohen moments were recalled. They have a book store there now that specializes in all English and French language books set on Hydra but they can’t get my book (though hordes of residents want it – mostly due to the beautiful photo of the island on the cover, I think) because of Greek import duties (too high). The fate of a first time published writer, I’m afraid. I hope you found the time to read it and enjoyed it (?) But don’t worry, I still love reading your so profound and otherwise delightfully silly columns, they glow on my screen and in my heart with so much laughter, light and love … keep ’em coming Erskine.
    -J.
    PS Now I think I’m in love with Forrest Gale…

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