Here’s what happens: I smoke some chicken (getting it into the rolling paper is the hardest part). A few days later, I chop some leftovers to toss into White Fang’s food. When I leave the room, she scarfs the entire chicken breast off the counter — 3 days’ worth of nibbles in one frantic bite.
White Fang had the guiltiest look, yet little remorse. Evidently, wolves don’t really do remorse. She licked her lips, enjoying the residue of her stolen meal, the tender breast meat, the oak smoke on her teeth and gums.
Like the rest of us, wolves are slow to learn from their various mistakes. Given the chance, White Fang would steal that chicken all over again. Honestly, I think she enjoyed the look of surprise and disappointment that swept my face.
Which is what makes her, unofficially, The Worst Roommate Ever.
I’d spent almost the entire day teaching her about Dizzy Gillespie, how there are better horn players – Freddie Hubbard, for one – but that there is something in the milkshake of notes that Dizzy plays, the jumpy wild abandon, that sets him above the others.
She found that trait a little wolfish.
“I like Dizzy Gillespie,” she thought to herself.
Then I told her all about the wedding last weekend. I explained that my older daughter’s wedding seemed to gain a bit from being so close to Thanksgiving. A turbo-burst of resonance.
Certainly, it was a dogpile of friends and family…a group hug, followed by a fine feast.
“Then we danced like Druids,” I told White Fang. “This one dude, he danced all crazy, like Elaine from ‘Seinfeld.’”
I borrowed that line from my buddy Siskin, by the way.
As Siskin and I talked later, we found it funny how we watch insane dancers with a mix of bemusement and envy. I think we’re jealous of their sense of abandon, they’re ability to let go in public.
Find me a good dancer and I’ll show you a fun person. Eugene, for example.
Speaking of fire: Light a candle, lock up the liquor, the college kids are coming home, our mischievous little elves.
In these days before Thanksgiving, we sit by the fire and listen for “returning feet and voices at the door,” as per Tolkien.
Smartacus — my insouciant son, my everything — arrives on the 10 am flight out of Eugene on Wednesday, assuming he doesn’t accidently board a plane heading for Syracuse, or someplace exotic like that, and I spend the long weekend tracking him down – a drumstick in one hand, a gravy boat in the other.
“Smaratcus!” I’d yell in various airports from here to Paris.
And some wise guy would yell: “I am Smartacus!” as per the movie. Then some other wise guy would yell, “I am Smartacus!” And everyone would get a chuckle from that, even though it’s such an obvious joke.
Tired, and a little defeated, I’d stop at the airport bar for a $16 Bloody Mary in a plastic cup with too much ice. Sounds like a Tom Hanks movie, doesn’t it, a tragic figure in an uncaring world?
“Hey Pilgrim, have you seen Smartacus?” I’d ask the goof at the next bar stool.
“I am Smartacus,” he’d sneer into his half-dead martini.
And I’d be on my way. Enough.
Life is so weird lately. The Angels signed Syndergaard, a pitcher made of pudding, and AEG is renaming Staples Center, another corporate theft of history, romance and our shared experiences.
LA’s fiercest gladiators (the Rams) have turned into a bunch of cupcakes; on Sunday, they couldn’t have tackled Santa Claus, or Mrs. Claus. Lately, the Rams play on their heels, as if overmatched, which maybe they are. Cupcakes. Ramchops.
Then I heard that Britney is going on TV with Oprah.
“Finally!” I thought to myself, for I rejoice when a person known by a single name appears with another person known by a single name. Like when Zeus met Cronus.
Meanwhile, I can no longer afford gas, and inflation is through the roof. Lord knows what we’ll pay for a Christmas fir (I may have to go down to the tree lot and just watch).
They say Covid is flaring in the cold, though they’re always saying that…you get a little numb. Cautious but numb, which is a lousy way to go through life, isn’t it?
Too soon to draw conclusions, but so far this 21st century totally blows.
Everything I love seems at serious risk: jazz clubs, newspapers, ma-’n-pa diners…even Cameron Diaz movies. I have no passion for a world of “influencers,” QR-codes and mobile tickets.
For all our technical prowess, the simplest things seem a hassle. The digital photo book I bought for my grandkid Catty Cakes doesn’t work (call customer service). My year-old “smart” TV won’t pick up streaming feeds, and the audio cuts out for no reason (call customer service).
My to-do list is a bunch of tech stuff I only half understand. And kinda hate.
Yet, we also live in a world of uncommon grace and beauty. Ever hear Streisand sing a Christmas carol? Pure cotton.
Ever hear Roberta Flack sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Like a French impressionist. You can almost hear her lips brush the canvas.
Read some Thomas McGuane and tell me there are no artful moments in your life, because he will find you some.
Coltrane at midnight…the pumpkin sky at dawn…a five-point buck turning profile in the last light of an autumn afternoon.
The other night, White Fang and I returned from a lovers’ stroll to hear the hoot of an owl in front of the house. Mocking us, I’m pretty sure, because that’s what I’d do if I were an owl.
Look, you don’t really need me to remind you that everything will be all right, do you?
At some point, we’ll sit down for a feast, amid a starburst of candles and shiny spoons. The room will be a little too warm, and the food a little too hot. Most of us will be overdressed (at some point, I usually remove my shirt).
The sight of all that food will make the glassy-eyed older men a little high. They will lick their wolfish lips. Their eyeglasses will start to steam.
Thanksgiving is very special to me, for I am now an older man. And I am one of those people who can’t wait for the food to cool, who eats even when the sweet potatoes are still way too hot, breathing/chomping/breathing/chomping, struggling for air and flavor and sustenance all at the same time.
And finding it — air and flavor and sustenance. On this simple day of happy hearts.
Light a candle.
Please join our harvest hike, the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 26 at 3 pm), in El Segundo. We will walk from the historic Main Street to the sea, a mile there and a mile back, and maybe along the coast for a bit. We’ll limit it to the first 60 to respond by email to Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers and thanks.
11 thoughts on “Worst. Roommate. Ever.”
You captured it beautifully, as usual: the suckiness AND the glory of where we all are right now. I despair for us as a nation sometimes, but you always remind me that at the neighborhood level, the family level, we are still blessed. Catty Cakes alone is reason enough to give thanks. Keep em coming.
But you’ve gotta admit, ‘The Crypt’ is way cooler than a paper fastening device.
Have a joyous thanksgiving.
Sweet Chris. Enjoy your family, the dog, the food, and hopefully a hot toddy afterward.
For your Smart TV (been there), try this:
Settings, System, Power, System Restart.
Cheers! and Happy Thanksgiving to you, yours and fellow fans. 🙂
Perhaps your quite fetching housemate would like different music. A little Billy Idol, Elvis Costello or the Untouchables. Just like Ritalin for adults. You can’t blame a girl for trying-that chicken was like nectar.
White Fang’s “culinary escapade” reminded me of an incident with our cocker spaniel Prince. At the time we were living in the hills at the top of Chevy Chase Drive and I had picked up a large pizza on my way home from my teaching duties at Eagle Rock High. I placed the pizza on the kitchen counter and then drove a short distance to pick up my son at basketball practice. When we returned we found the box on the floor and the entire pizza gone! The amazing thing is Prince never showed any adverse affects from his “meal.”
Dear Chris, every column is a gift…thank you! Happy Thanksgiving to the whole Erskine/Finn family.
Nostalgia. The way things were and are, its reflective prose like the hollow light of the holiday looming ahead; Coltrane at midnight—what about Chet Baker? Streisand cutting her crystalline way around and through some snowy carol; McGuane coming directly at you with his blue Jean phrasing proving how deep and powerful simplicity can be in a complicated world—(ie)—the sludgy resistance to ease of the latest whizzy tech dingbat; the fire of intensely reckless dancing (how subtle that transition was). All this in the virtual vacuum the son occasions. There is one thing missing. When will the ankle twist, the elegant stylish shoe.drop?
Light a candle.
Love it. However, anyone who can use “they’re ability” and “my insouciant son” in the same essay has my complete absolution. It was astonishing to read.
So many visceral memories. One of our dogs hopped onto the counter, took one turkey thigh and buried in between the chair and cushions, hid another one under the couch, and ate the remaining one. Same dog ate an entire artichoke off of a plate without disturbing the utensils and plate. You go White Fang!