LA’s Blue Bellybutton

Flirty little lake, too many trees. Take a guess. Maine? New Hampshire?

Let me tell you….

If you were to somersault forward – not backward – off the famed Hollywood Sign, you would roll and roll down a steep hill, through the coastal sage and the roasted buckwheat, till you finished face down – as you are sometimes wont to do — in Lake Hollywood, LA’s Walden Pond, its biggest martini.

Better bring a comb or a brush.

If you wanted to hide from someone, you could hardly pick a better place than Lake Hollywood.

And what a past. Madonna used to live up the hill. In the old days, a rich lothario used to sneak lovers into his estate through an underground cave. In “Chinatown,” it’s where they stashed Hollis Mulwray’s body.

Ida Sessions: Are you alone?

J.J. Gittes: Isn’t everybody?

These days, Lake Hollywood is a walker’s paradise — lovely and rustic and timeless, LA’s alluring blue bellybutton.

It’s not Heaven, but you can smell it from here.

No, wait, that’s Hollywood Boulevard.

In fact, Lake Hollywood is perched behind a massive concrete dam directly over Hollywood itself. If that baby ever blew – crack, woooosh — this lake would wash the wax museums, the trinket shops, a naughty debutante or two, all the way to the ocean.

You’d hear it for sure.

Known as Lake Hollywood, this might be my favorite spot in all of Los Angeles. It wears the same cologne as the Eastern Sierra.

Shame they have to wrap it in chain link, though you can understand why. The masses would use it as their Roman baths, toss their disposable diapers in it, go spear-fishing for carp.

As it is, Lake Hollywood is an uncut gem.

This is where the Happy Hour Hiking Club met Saturday, some 60 souls awaiting salvation and a Messiah in stone-washed jeans. Bittner, obviously. He showed up with my other pal Jeff, the former anchor stud.

Ladies, please keep your wits.

What’s the Happy Hour Hiking Club?

One pal once described it as, “A drinking club with a hiking problem.”

Our motto: “Love doesn’t come along every day. Sometimes you have to wait a week.”

But seriously. The hiking club was formed 7 years ago to sample the rich network of trails and saloons around Los Angeles. It is a throwback to a world before dating apps, before Instagram, before phones.

Happy Hour Hiking Club at Lake Hollywood.

Look at these folks, so humble and pure. Like guests at an Amish wedding. Well, except for Bittner and Jeff.

With Smartacus gone, I’m a little malnourished. I get hungry for the human voice. Or, in his case, his gassy grunts and random belches.

Without him, I get confused by the basics of modern life. I couldn’t download my UCLA tickets the other day, for example. Then I somehow torched the internet connection on the TV.

Hello Spectrum? Help me through this media hell of mine.

One morning, it took me 15 minutes to open the heavy plastic packaging that contained a new razor. No lie, 15 minutes. Ended up using the chain saw.

On Monday, after doing wash, I realized all my socks are single.

That’s right: All my friends are married and all my socks are single.

There they were, spread out on the bed, 25 athletic socks, without a mate, without any prospects. Not one of them matched up. I ended up cramming them all back in a drawer.

You know, it’s rare that you find some as emotionally generous as me, yet kind of locked out of everyday life.

Hello, Hiking Club?

Took about 90 minutes for us to loop the lake, then we headed over to The Fed, Henry Eshelman’s North Hollywood joint…an old bank and now one of the finest bars around.

This might be my favorite thing about LA: How well random people seem to get along – teachers, dentists, sound engineers, attorneys.

The Happy Hour Hiking Club always jump starts the spirit, reaffirms my belief in the kindness of strangers in a notoriously frantic city.

As C.S. Lewis once said “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

Under a patio tent, we talk about the Dodgers a while, then I aggravate my tablemates with my outsized distain for the second season of “Ted Lasso.”

Look, I was raised on great sit-coms – it’s what my family did instead of church. So I know a good show when I see one.

I won’t bore you with the details, but Ted Lasso has lost its way.

Hey, who hasn’t once in a while? Sometimes, the lights go out and you can’t find the bed.

By the way, mighta left my shoes at The Fed.

Hey, Henry, if you see a pair of Thom McAn loafers, size 7s, with bright new pennies in them…

Such a fragrant season (and I’m not just talking about my missing shoes).

I’m talking about the toasted buckwheat on the hiking trails, the resin in the chaparral, the tater tots Jeff ordered for the table at The Fed.

I’m talking about Eddie Jefferson’s version of “Mood for Love,” where he sings both parts.

You mighta never heard of Eddie. Voice like pancakes, extra syrup. Loose too. Like you after 2 shots of tequila.

Eddie Jefferson was pure magic. He combined happy and wistful like no one but Sinatra.

I’m like the Moses of obscure stuff, aren’t I? You’re welcome. Or maybe I should apologize?

Heard “Mood for Love” in the car the other day, after visiting my grandbaby.

By the way, is it any wonder that Catty Cakes won’t accept that I’m her grandpops. I suppose I seem too young and vibrant.

Look at that photo below, in which she says: “Hey Bonzo, you can’t be my grandpops. You’re too young to be my grandpops?”

At best, she thinks I’m a kinda crazy rich uncle, who can’t even open a new pack of razors, or work a TV, or match a sock.

In short, she’s already light years ahead of me on basic life skills.

“You’re not my grandpops!” she wails.

The other day, I learned that at the moment she was born, the maternity room playlist was blasting Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”

“She missed Al Green by, like, 2 minutes,” her father (Finn) said.

Then I learned that Catty Cakes has discovered her own smile.

My niece Melissa was visiting, the one who reminds me so much of my very own mum, leggy redhead with Chicago roots, smart as a whip.

She and Catty Cakes sat on the floor and had a smile fest.

It’s a nice smile too — very tiny, quite nearly a smirk. Catty Cakes plays it like a saxophone.

When she smiles, people inevitably smile back at her. She is amazed by this little covenant and how well it works.

Hmmmm, I smile; they smile…

Soon, everyone’s smiling.

“I’ve mastered my masters,” she thinks. “I really own these people.

“But that dude over there…he can’t be my grandpops.”

To join the Happy Hour Hiking Club, go to my website, ChrisErskinela.com/, then go to the blue tinted box to sign up. To support this whole haunted enterprise, please buy gin glasses or hiking gear at the book shop. Thank you for your love and support. Next hike in a month. Details to come. Cheers!

7 thoughts on “LA’s Blue Bellybutton

  1. Chain saw? Holy. Call me next time you think about reaching for a chain saw, Chris. I’ve got this razor blade package opening science mastered without heavy machinery. LOVE Catty Cakes!!!

  2. I’m with you about Ted Lasso. It’s a mess now. I’m hooked on Loudermilk on Prime video. You’d love it if you haven’t already discovered it.

  3. I’ve got The Hiking Club Blues, from not being a member. The mob picture displays a fetchingly variable demographic, with the Don Of Domestica appropriately ensconced up front. I wonder how much of an exchange of blood or other fluids is required in the initiation ritual? Perhaps that was determined afterward during the meeting at The Fed. I’ve just got to make one of these multi-part seances, to press the flesh of The Godfather and share in the booty (an unfortunate choice of words), but you have to be quick to accept the invitation you cannot refuse, to be in on the deal, and Fall makes me feel so lazy, so easy peasy, just drifting like a leaf in this stream of golden light, absorbing the warmth of the moments—such languor not a recipe for quick success in such a competitive milieu. As it is on an Autumn football field: that quick count, then Hike!—and the (after)play unfolds. Except that, in this case, there is no question as to who has the ball.

  4. So Chris…
    Over the years you have put forth an energetic and compelling public persona, one intensely human and humane, rich in the sensate proclivities of our time; someone redolent with decency, fermentive and restlessly playful, full of fun and sorrow, at times—it seems—in equal measure; a presence of rare articulate masculine sensitivity and compulsive generosity in the sharing of the intimate intricacies of male thought and purpose; a cultural adept who registers so genuine and real on the page that anyone and most everyone would want to know you in the flesh, thus to share, however vicariously, in the warm, aromatic stew of your life.

    This is a remarkable literary achievement, I think. You are The Don Of Domestica, the king of dirty sox and russet female locks, the chief of common food and uncommon mood, the shah of turns of phrase and witty cultural malaise, emperor of day-to-day existence and a writer of casual substance who can rotate a sentence in the mind like a key turning in an oiled lock, with a shiny inventive smoothness that surprises and delights. You should make the stream of everyday consciousness glitter and seem almost musical, sometimes slightly dissonant yet always with a faint elegiac tone , in a modern domestic symphony of plainsong written in sharp lines of accessible prose. In a continuing display of literary territorial dominance, you are “The Master Of The House.

    But we know the public persona of anyone is like an iceberg: most of it is under the dark water of imperception—out of view no matter how one is presented, in person or on the printed page. Thus, to offer a prescription for the future with so much unseen is like a blind person’s attempt to describe an elephant—mere narrative, based on sensory evidence both indirect and circumstantial.. I may end up circumscribing a fire truck. Yet I must try, and soon, simply because love is the great Everest;
    so expect it.

    As you drift out into the sea lane of romance, may your sudden impacts prove melting and meaningful, dissolving and co-mingling in ways that make floating in the vast ocean of the endless days seem like a love affair that never ends. Up ahead I see the outlines of a queen of the sea emerging from the mists of Fall. Collision is inevitable. What’s below the surface will determine the extent of the lovely damage. Hon voyage.

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