Teaching My Dog to Drive

Already workers are stringing holiday lights along the boulevard. You can read the thought-bubbles of the passing drivers:

Already? Already? Already? Already?

Always on the run, America has lost its ability to savor the moment.

I was having a leftover cannoli for breakfast the other day, which left me thinking: “How bad can life be? I’m having cannoli for breakfast?”

I would’ve chased the cannoli with a glass of Italian wine a friend brought by, but we drank it all the night before. They can be rather bland, these Italian wines, but this one tasted like sunlight through aspen…like a young Cybill Shepherd would taste, were she a $15 bottle of Italian wine.

Seriously. Don’t you kinda wish?

Anyway, Dogpark Gary– always a sage, often an inspiration – explains that we have entered the Age of Frustration. All around us, there are advancements that don’t feel like advancements. They only make life more frustrating.

The Age of Frustration began when TVs started having 3 remotes. It began to blossom when your driver’s window automatically went all the way up, or all the way down, whether you wanted it to or not.

Know what I mean?

Dogpark Gary was telling how he recently bought a tool in heavy plastic packaging, then cut himself trying to open it, the sharp heavy plastic lancing him like a bowie knife.

“Have you tried opening a bottle of Bayer lately?” he asks.

So, that’s what we face, and we face it with humor and resilience.

Dogpark Gary and I laugh over this idiot stuff every morning at the park, as some turd in a muscle car roars onto the freeway, poisoning the quiet. We wince. We laugh.

We savor the moment.

And what a moment it is, late October, the TV aflame with football, another grand Rose Bowl tailgate on the horizon. Someone please push the pause button.

Look, it’s not just me. White Fang loves October too much too – the texture of the pumpkins, the joy of a freshly harvested martini at a buzzy bar with the Packers on TV.

White Fang wants to copyright this month. Own it. Make it 200 days long.

You know, in my free time, I’ve been teaching her how to drive.

You’re probably thinking: “Wow, a wolf at the wheel? Is that wise?” But if you’ve seen LA freeways lately, you know she can only do better.

Admittedly, White Fang has trouble parallel parking, and is a little aggressive on the freeway ramps. For a female, she has a ton of testosterone – too much maybe. Runs in the family, this testosterone thing. As you might’ve sensed, it affects the women far more than the men. And the men actually seem attracted by it.

White Fang is in good hands though. As it happens, I am possibly the world’s best parallel parker. Were there some sort of global award, I would win in annually. I could back a school bus into a cup of tea.

Parallel parking was once a requirement for getting your driver’s license. Then some bureaucrat canceled that. Traffic has been a disaster ever since.

As I was telling Dogpark Gary, the best way to relieve congestion on California freeways would be to double-down on the difficulty of the driving test. Make it like the bar exam.

As it is now, they may as well distribute driver’s licenses in vending machines (obviously, that’s what Glendale does).

A tougher driving test might be discriminatory? Exactly.

It would discriminate against the dopes who shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place – rich and poor, young and old, dumb and dumber. Especially those who cannot read. If you can’t read, you should not be driving.

You’re welcome. Stop by next week when I finally solve the lingering port crisis.

Anyway, to prepare White Fang for driving in LA –– I’ve been taking her through busy intersections at 90 mph. You’d think the cops would stop us – a wolf at the wheel, a burger in her fist, driving 90. But the police always seem to have better things to do.

The last time anyone was stopped for speeding in our community was nine years ago. The Chardonnay Moms are on to that. Now, it’s like driving in Rome – no stop signs, no lights, no limits – luxe SUVs zigging this way and that, pedestrians diving for their lives.

Such a world we’re in. I really like it! Super entertaining.

For there is, in the pre-winter breezes, in the leaves underfoot, a growing sense that White Fang will really nail her driving test.

You know, we’re quite the couple. White Fang smells like fresh snow; I smell like lunch meat. It is one of those one-sided parasocial relationships, where one party is really into it and the other not so much. Big deal.

Saved her from a pack of coyotes the other night, so she’s been extra snuggly.

White Fang had been outside barking, under that monster moon. I raced out to find a small pack of coyotes. For the coyotes, it was fall rush or something, and they’d stopped by to haze her. Big bullies. I’ve got a baseball bat and a wolf/husky with anger issues. Bring it on, fellas!

Meanwhile, up in Oregon, Smartacus is battling a bad throat. He called me the other morning and rasped, “Daaaaaaad, what’s wrong with me?”

I said, “How much time you got?”

Smartacus had a fever, now he has this sore throat. For two weeks, his foot has been killing him – he bumped it on the bunk bed. A wheelchair is not out of the question. Or at least someone to donkey him around.

For the first time in my son’s life, I am unable to help him — to feel his forehead, to check for swollen glands behind his ears.

“He needs to call us himself,” the nice lady at the health center says when I phone for an appointment.

That’s fair. He is on his own now; navigating our impossible healthcare system is part of growing up.

Big news: In a week, White Fang and I will be off to see him, on the road trip of all road trips. It will be Parents’ Weekend up there at the University of Trees, and we are the only parents the kid has: A dog who drives; a dad who wears old whaling sweaters (like a one-eyed lighthouse keeper in a Hallmark movie).

Yikes, he’s so screwed.

Seriously, all Smartacus has right now are two overly sentimental goofs who really, really love him. Isn’t that enough?

No, but we’re coming anyway, OK?

Through the scarlet orchards of the Pacific Northwest, through the blasting rains of late October, munching on dried mango and roasted peanuts straight from the jar, singing along to Harry Chapin, listening for the latest farm reports….

Hold the fort, kid.

Your folks are on the way.

Wow, that was long. Pass the eyedrops, right? Take a nap. You earned it. And when you awaken, please consider purchasing “Daditude,” the prequel to all of this — early columns about the early days. BG, I call it (before gin). Before life did a number on me. Good stuff, some of it. Go to ChrisErskineLA.com for info on books, commemorative t-shirts and gin glasses. There are past columns available there too, and sign-ups for future hikes and gin tastings. Cheers and thanks.

15 thoughts on “Teaching My Dog to Drive

  1. Well, that separation didn’t take long! Your tears are barely dried from dropping Smartacus off at college and it’s road trip time for you and White Fang! I am happy for all three of you and hope his bug goes away soon. Can’t wait for the road trip posts.

  2. OMG, this one was soooo good. You’re in top season form, Chief. And the Cybill Shepherd comment was just The Best. Still waiting for a long overdue Sela Ward reference. Have a blast on your trek up the coast! Best, Jeff from La Mirada

  3. The age of frustration indeed~ I recently tried opening a small plastic soda bottle of ginger ale ~ the plastic top had been permanently secured shut by Nasa so that pummeling it with a hammer and practically twisting my arm off in the process led me to the electric drill. Yes, you can drill holes in the plastic tops which of course caused a great geyser of ginger ale all over the kitchen, leaving my hair sticky ~ but I finally had that sucker open !

  4. Yes, yes, yes on every one of those frustrations and only about a thousand more.

    A great learning lesson for both you and Smartacus that he needed to make his own appointment. Been there, done that.

    Most importantly, was that a freshly made cannoli and not a pre-packaged one? If so, you must advise us of its origin. Ever since visiting Mike’s in Boston, life has never been the same on the cannoli front.

  5. I like how nicely White Fang sits in the back seat. My dog, Mr. Baxter likes to sit in my lap and then grab the wheel like Toonces from SNL. I used to gently push him over but since he’s 13 now he does whatever he wants. Does that make me an LA driver? Can’t wait to hear all about Parents Weekend. And don’t forget to blast some Gordon Lightfoot while you drive. “Carefree highway let me slip away, slip away on you.”

  6. Parents Weekend? Already? Already? Has anyone even returned the not-so mini-fridge yet? What do I know. I was ready to move out at 14. Spent the summer on Staten Island. Just don’t do his laundry. Leave him some dignity.

  7. Safe travels to you and Whie Fang. Hope Smartacus made his appointment. I once got a standing ovation from a guy watching me parallel park on a Pasadena street. My moment of glory. Have fun at Parents Weekend.

  8. Have you noticed that the fourth question on a juror summons is “Can you read English?” It’s scary whose out there either driving or for that matter deciding your fate in a court of law. Have a great road trip.

  9. I thought it was just me and packaging!!! Glad to hear it is not! I swear sometimes I just want to throw the item away, rather than work on it for 20 minutes to get it open! I’m sure your road trip will be memorable and your reunion with your son along with White Fang will bring tears to our eyes!

  10. Your evocation of the young Cybill Shepherd, that sharp leggy wonder who used to stride through a comparatively dull world lighting things up, tells me you are in tune with Fall’s resident golden aura. But the vision that stirs me is the mature Cybill, deepened and broadened by the subsequent decades, great beauty of the Autumnal kind in the lines, folds, and darkened penumbral edges of her luminance, still topped by that radiant blond blaze of a smile. It is in this admittedly hyperbolic vein that I offer in the next roundabout a meditation, coda, thoughts, and then—mercifully for some—no more. Methinks you hover a bit over Smarticus, even at a distance, and both could profoundly benefit from a glorious distraction that could last to the end of time. And so…

  11. A Meditation

    Must be confident, have a strong sense of self
    A honied pixie, an elegant elf
    Appear tall (not too), in a sense
    Yet make distance non-existent
    Put the past in the present tense
    Value history that informs the present
    Be wise and tolerant of nonsense
    For laughter is the lubricant of intent
    Without it, how could love be fully resident ?
    Be a communicative adept
    Warm and lively in most intercepts
    Creative—can give as good as she gets
    Lady Gaga for babies and those L.A, sunsets
    Comfortable with the messy loose flow
    Of the everyday she’d come to know
    Yet possessing an ordered perception
    Of the necessary practical underpinnings
    That lend fleet meaning and direction
    To the random toss of each day’s beginnings;

    Love celebration, yet melt in the pathos
    Of others, have compassion for all that goes
    Wrong, able to let go with a song
    Stand up to headwinds with the long
    View of ups, downs; be a partner
    Co-conspirator, friend, and lover
    How high and how far—the answered question
    With passion’s heat in time’s suggestions
    As in love’s silence two minds chime
    When up the winds the smoke clouds climb
    Thus feel the body’s rhythms rhyme
    With Autum’s ancient paradigms
    While leaves release their wry enzyme
    And all falls down, yet one more time;
    In the wild melee that will ensue
    Let no one.breezily misconstrue
    What it means loving me, loving you
    For she’s looking for much the same things, too
    And nothing else will do.

    And the coda…

  12. Coda For Autumn

    Something borrowed, somewhat blue
    Perhaps old school—you once knew
    Faces modern as tomorrow
    Smiles honoring past sorrow
    Bodies fulsome bend within
    Then slowly let the dance begin
    Autumn swirling at their feet
    Trailing lace of love undone
    The air like honey, rusty wheat
    A dove cloud whirls into the sun
    It’s wraith of white remembered heat
    While in the vows they now complete
    Lie Fall’s coals of cinnamon
    Their spice of heaven dots the lawn
    Burning in each moment’s fleet
    Remembrance, like sky light at dawn
    Or in the morning’s bed of sweet
    Epiphanies, fire in each one
    Smoke in the breeze, until it’s done…

  13. Or…you could wing it, as most do
    Easy as the dropping of a shoe
    Or meeting, as mentioned, in a bar
    So many ways to meet, there are
    For an Irish fox, a red-tailed blast
    But before errant dice are cast
    Naught but love hard and fast
    What are the chances it will last ?
    Like love supreme that’s was the past
    So many years before the mast
    Without a dream the sea is vast…

    Finis.

  14. Oh, I do remember parents weekends at MIZZOU! Being from St Louis, it was a short trip to Columbia for my Mom & Dad, they should have had a dog who could drive so they could take a well-earned 2 hr nap. I hope you & Smarticus have a great time, he’s probably so excited ypu’re going up for it. Maybe your trip is already over, I’m late to this post. Enjoy that you & your dear Posh raised such good kids, making their way in the world.

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