In debriefing Smartacus about his fall term, I learn how one day recently he was Facetiming his friend Adora back at the restaurant where he worked last summer, “when I fell out of my chair and my phone went flying…”
Naturally, he screamed a little, and his college friends now mimic that scream when they see him around campus.
This isn’t a family, it’s a comedy troupe.
Sure, it’s good to have Smartacus home, though there were instantly piles of socks and shoes in every corner of the house, and I still can’t find my charging cords, even the extra ones I hid.
The car is missing. My wallet. My watch. Almost all my Olympic medals.
To his credit, Smartacus nailed the stuffed mushrooms on Thanksgiving, no small feat.
Meanwhile, I spent the Thanksgiving feast holding my grandbaby Catty Cakes. I insisted on holding her while her mother ate first, after she and Finn had spent 24 hours prepping for this massive meal.
To be honest, it was a dream come true for me, holding and entertaining Catty Cakes at the children’s end of the table, near my new friend Enrique, the 14-month-old in a high chair who is my new bestie. Smartacus was down there too.
So, there I was, essentially, at the children’s table, which is a very underrated place. More fun, more giggles, take place at the children’s table than almost any place on the planet. You can kick your shoes off and play with your food. It’s almost expected that someone will stick green beans up their nose.
Eventually, one of the adults will yell over: “You doing OK over there?” at which point someone will moan nooooooooo, and the kids will chuckle, and the adults will turn back to their conversations about gas prices and Wes Anderson movies.
Now you see why I like the children’s table? Never seen a Wes Anderson movie that I even half understood.
Honestly, it was a great meal. Catty Cakes was so good, and Enrique was teaching me Portuguese. He’s bilingual, this toddler. Mom is Portuguese and dad’s Australian, so basically I couldn’t understand a single thing.
We just sat there doing kids’ table schtick — overstuffing dinner rolls into our faces — till the lovely and patient older daughter could finish her Thanksgiving meal, the one she had taken so long to prepare.
Months passed. I kept looking down at my older daughter, waiting for her to rise from the table to retrieve her beautiful daughter, who was standing on my lap with those princess shoes she wears, surprisingly sharp in the heels.
You have any idea know how hard it is to hold off on a Thanksgiving meal, after smelling the turkey for two hours, and the sage in the stuffing, and the super-cheesy green bean casserole and the roast carrots…like a prayer, topped with crumbed rosemary and other herbs?
I could see the butter glistening atop the mashed potatoes, back lit by the many candles. The cranberries had that crimson glow that only cranberries have … little red pearls.
More wine was poured, and someone asked for seconds on stuffing. I watched as the other guests – Kate and Nathan, Alex and Em — pushed the white meat into the stuffing, then into the gravy, then painted it a little with the satin cranberries, which had a hint of citrus, from a family recipe Kate brought all the way from Pennsylvania.
Look, I’m not a strong man to begin with – we all know that. My lower lip started to quiver and my hand shook as I sipped some canned Rose.
Pretty much nothing good was happening, till Enrique’s mom taught me to say hello in Portuguese (Olá), which sounds a lot like hello in Spanish (Hola). So by the end of the meal, I felt nearly trilingual.
Portuguese, as you know, is a very tough language, and my first attempt came out oy-vey, as if I were kevetching; subconsciously I probably was.
Because by now, everyone else’s plates are almost empty, absolutely polished clean, so good was this meal.
No one said “I’ll take her now,” or “pass me that beautiful baby.” No one.
At one point, I clinked a fork against a wine glass, as you would to give a toast. When everyone grew silent, and started futzing with their napkins, dreading what corny stuff I might have to say about life and family, tragedy and joy, I blurted: “Could someone please pass the gravy boat? Just sail it down here in this direction where I can drink from it?”
It was my little way of reminding the lovely and patient older daughter that I was still unfed and holding her gorgeous daughter, who by this point, was so bored that she was pulling my mustache apart.
No worries. Eventually I ate, then finished what Smartacus had on his plate, a tradition that now goes back 18 years and explains the 10 pounds I can never lose.
Then we had 14 kinds of pie –apple, pecan, milkweed — and Rapunzel stood to pose a serious question:
“WHO WANTS AN ESPRESSO MARTINI?” she asked the group, and I said, “Sure, I’ll try one.”
When she handed out the four espresso martinis, there was none for me.
This is what happens when you get old — you become invisible.
You know, I’m not one to complain (I’ll leave that to the millennials). But two things to note as these overheated holidays barrel down on us:
- I really appreciate a good fruit cake, despite all the jokes about fruit cake, which I think have become grossly overblown. Give me a slice of fruit cake, with those colorful jujube candies in it, and maybe a shooter of rum or eggnog, and I’m a happy Santa, almost ebullient.
- This year, Santa (me) is giving everyone crypto currency, even though I’m not sure what it is, and no one can adequately explain it.
Apparently, that’s the world we live in now – no one can adequately explain anything – my TV, the “cloud,” how to get a good table at La Scala, which I really think leaves us ripe for treachery and deceit. No wonder gypsies and con artists seem to be thriving all over LA. Health care companies too. And all the other corrupt corporations with their mind-blowing subscriber surcharges and franchise fees.
More and more, it’s like I washed up on the beach without an identity. I crawl ashore and ask the first stranger: ‘Olá, can you please point me toward the last remaining race track?’”
Instead, I wind up at Brennan’s, that old dump on Lincoln, where big crowds turn out for turtle races every Thursday night.
Close enough. Thank you.
By the way, all bars should be Irish bars like Brennan’s. And if they can’t be Irish bars like Brennan’s, they should be down-on-their-luck tiki joints.
My ideal, of course, would be an Irish-Portuguese tiki bar, a triumph of cultures and ideals rarely seen in America anymore, which used to be a melting pot and now is just – what? — a vat, a cauldron, a pie pan, a very leaky commode?
Yes, an Irish-Portuguese tiki bar, a sanctuary for misfits like me.
Trust me, it’d do very well.
For the holidays, please consider my book “Daditude,” full of holiday stories, including the December morn when Smartacus was born. Also, we have just re-stocked the supply of Gin & Tonic Society glasses, a beautiful weight for any holiday drink. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com, where you can also sign up for newsletters and hiking alerts. Cheers and thanks.