Encore! Encore!

Wrap me in cheesecloth and soak me in brandy. Christmas is on.

Me, I can’t get enough of the holidays – the music, the grub, the goofy folkloric traditions – they light my noirish soul.

Of course, I’m careful not to show too much overt joy. This is LA after all.

Before we get too far along, props to all the cooks who just delivered another resonant Thanksgiving feast. A real workout, isn’t it? Two-three days of chopping, ladling, boiling, trussing and hog-tying that poor bird. All that mashing!

Then the cleanup, fu-arrrraghck. The kitchen will never be quite the same. Little flecks from that grand meal in the grout, like souvenirs.

To my mind, no one who cooks a Thanksgiving feast should also have to clean it up, yet we live in an imperfect world where some folks do too much and other folks do nearly nothing.

At the very least, try to show some appreciation. Or fake some appreciation. As I said, we’re in LA, where cloying niceties are almost an art form.

Isn’t it rich? Aren’t we a pair…

I was singing Sondheim to White Fang the other morning, as a tribute to the late songwriter, as a reminder of how real art finds the most-remote little coves of our psyches, tickles them with a feather, makes us feel less alone.

Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air…

As you know, I’m kind of a bad off-Broadway show. Me and Smartacus and White Fang, dashing in and out of underlit scenes – plus Rapunzel and her rocket scientist BF. Plus the older daughter and the high-spirited Finn.

Critics would rave: “They all have such great hair!”

Then, in the third act, in crawls Catty Cakes to look at me in astonishment, to steal the show.

Making my entrance again with the usual flair…

Man, I’m so lucky. A semi-idiot for sure. Yet very lucky.

I’m also genuine as they come, but even I’ll fake it now and then. Sometimes I smile when I don’t feel like smiling, or pick people up at the airport when I really don’t want to.

Best example? Smartacus.

“I’m on the left! ON THE LEFT!” he tells me by phone as I pull to the curb at Burbank-Bob Hope.

“Where?”

“On the left,” he insists, but he’s talking about his left, not mine.

We sort it out, and he dives into the back of the car.

“Go! Go! Go!” he yells, as if running from his professors.

FYI, we do too much for our kids and they do too little for us, yet we treat them like returning war heroes at the holidays – it’ll never be different.

One evening, while bouncing good steaks off a hot grill, Smartacus asked me what I’d been eating while he was away at college, and I told him “peanut butter, soggy crackers…that kind of stuff.”

Know what he said? Nothing. He didn’t even acknowledge the crackers and peanut butter, didn’t say “Really? You need to take better care of yourself, Dad.”

Not sure he even heard my answer, because some underdressed TikTokker popped up on his phone, and who needs a dad when you have an underdressed TikTokker.

Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns…

Yet, I totally enjoyed having him home. He slurped up the cheesy omelets I made, like oysters off the shell. Then on Sunday, I smoked the extra turkey that the lovely and patient older daughter hadn’t needed for Thanksgiving.

By family tradition, we often do an “encore turkey,” to ensure that we have leftovers all the way through July – sandwiches, gumbo, tacos, soups. A Hobbit’s second breakfast.

So I smoked this turkey, basted it in bourbon and butter, shoved some pinecones in with the oak logs and the cedar chips. It reminded me of what a ton of work a turkey is (see above). All that naked flesh, cold and handcuffed. Like a honeymoon in Milwaukee.

“Ouch” is the word that first comes to mind.

Turkeys take forever, and this encore turkey was no exception. First, I defrosted it in the fridge, which takes 2-3 weeks, minimum. Then I made the bourbon-maple syrup brine, and flipped it so it soaked on its keister, the butt end, where all the feathers used to flourish.

That made me sad. I guess eating is a sign of conquest. And so is Thanksgiving.

Among the judgy younger types, Thanksgiving has become sort of unfashionable. They see it as a grotesque sign of colonization, though they’re quick to take the long weekend off and do next to nothing on the couch.

I see Thanksgiving as a melding of cultures.

To me, Thanksgiving should be part of our national crest…there should be a little patch attached to our flag, in honor of our compassion and open arms. And of the cooks. And the providers. And the uncles who bring the bourbon and just sit around watching football.

Just remember one thing: No one is indigenous to America. The very first arrivals came across the land bridge from Asia. Only the wild turkeys and the deer “were here first.”

We all came from someplace else. So much for conquest.

And these first arrivals built a great country, suspicious of newcomers till they realized how hard the newcomers worked and that they would help build a democracy like no other, and pound together the railroads and dig the great canals and scoop out the subway tunnels. America has always been built on the backs of newcomers.

Usually, all they ask is a shovel and half a chance.

Sure, someone needs to work the door. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that.

But there is a certain glory in this pipeline of dreams and hopes and hard work.

You know, basic decency used to be an American trademark. And giant hearts. And compassion. And teamwork. Unbridled innovation. Persistence. Courage. Work ethic. Craftsmanship.

We’ll find it again. Sooner or later, we’ll find our mojo, our itinerant soul.

Like a Hobbit’s second breakfast. Like gravy.

Cheers to those who walked off their feast with me at the Happy Hour Hiking Club’s Harvest Hike, a magnificent stroll from El Segundo to the beach and back. Our thanks to Amy at “The Purple Orchid” for the frantic post-hike hydration. Never were so many Mai Tais or Funky Monkeys consumed with such gusto. You people inspire me. Stay tuned for details on the holiday gin & tonic party, still just a gleam in my eye. Venue nominations are welcome. Want to host? Know a worthy tavern? E-mail me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Meanwhile, a funny book and a bottle of something is always a thoughtful holiday gift. Please support this makeshift, low-brow operation with a purchase at ChrisErskineLA.com. Thanks!   

The Happy Hour Hiking Club storms the beach during Harvest Hike last Friday.

7 thoughts on “Encore! Encore!

  1. I suspect the next time I see a turkey ready for the oven, I will think of you and the words “Like a honeymoon in Milwaukee.” I don’t know where your genius with words comes from, but please keep feeding it plenty of gin, turkey and whatever else lights that fire! And thanks for reminding us that this IS still a great country, filled with great people….including you, Chris. Happy Holidays.

  2. A bad off-Broadway show? No way! Maybe a funny sitcom? But always warm, thought- provoking, and funny. That’s why we tune in. Laughed out loud when Smartacus didn’t reply to your answer about what you eat…I sometimes give wacky replies to my 18 year old to see if she’s listening. She’ll be home from her1st semester abroad in Italy in 2 weeks where we’ll do the same “where are you” dance at O’Hare except with her big sister and senior dog in the car…it’s chaos that I seriously cannot wait for!

  3. I know some honeymooners who used to live in Milwaukee. Visiting them in the Summer when the lakefront festival was going full throttle (pre-Covid) I could see why they were there. And then there was the brew that made the place “famous”, cold, hoppy and plentiful. Growing up in the middle west soaks you like a turkey in brine with the possibilities in a place like this, and you can almost taste the grilled ‘brat smoke in the air your memory cooks up. Growing up in the middle west teaches you to look horizon-to-horizon, balancing things, making the holidays weigh in and out more evenly. For instance, I see Christmas on the horizon now, a devotional ballast against the black holiday’s wretched acquisitional excess and whatever gluttony is left over from its consumptive pre-cursor.. Yes, Christmas has its vivid material aspects, but we need the spiritual largess to power us out of the dungeon of the Winter solstice and into the light of the new year, and Christmas and Hannukah and more recently Kwanza do just that. So, like a kid sitting at the children’s table at the recent feast, I look down the row of shiny animated faces leading to the end and think: what a beautiful time this is to have a place at the table full of lights of such a family. Annnnnd here comes Santa !

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