The Hand of God

LAS VEGAS – There’s that moment just before landing – a pause, a sigh, a lusty gasp – where the plane seems to hang in the air a moment, as if deciding whether to return to Earth.

What’s that about? A mechanical stutter step? A fold in the space-time continuum? God’s steady hand?

“Relax, brother,” he says. “I got this.”

In any case, that’s the floaty sensation I have just before landing in Vegas, amid 30,000 Mormons in town to see a major football game.

You wonder sometimes: How did I get here? Who took my shoes? Where do I find a cab? Then my buddy Miller takes charge and leads us to the limo line.

I joke that this is the first time my bougie buddy has ever flown commercial, but he’s like that Clooney character in “Up in the Air,” who seems to know when to zig and zag in airports, and marches confidently up to the VIP desk at the hotel.

“Two rooms,” he says, “Good ones.”

We’re in Vegas for fun, for the Pac-12 Championship Game, for the heck of it … for that moment at the blackjack table when you split the 8 and ace, or double down on 11.

Let me just say this before we get too far along: There is nothing better than airline travel right now, as far as restoring your faith in human behavior. Just be sure to leave early. Take a Valium. Say a prayer. The traffic at the curb is brutal; the TSA lines are Disneyesque.

Note to self: “Dear Self, get pre-check as soon as possible, or that new security thing where they scan your retina and steal all your dirty thoughts. Then have a stiff Bloody Mary before boarding. You’ll be fine. I swear.”

I do that all the time, send little notes to myself to help me get through life. You can see how well it’s working, right?

Listen, if I’m going to open my heart like this, you can’t judge.

First, a few personal things about me:

I don’t like shower curtains or domed stadiums. Or artificial turf. Or software upgrades of any kind.

I hate rewards clubs and pass codes…digital tickets…sweet potato fries.

Please, for the love of all things holy, could someone for once just give me a paper ticket!!!

But I pretty much adore everything else these days. Especially the Mormon people.

I’m serious. They may be punchlines for playwrights and late-night hosts, yet I’ve never met a Mormon I didn’t like.

They are enormously devoted to their families, and many have that frosty-pewter hair no one can explain. They are exceedingly polite and decent. Like the Irish, a model minority.

Some sneak a bit of beer now and then, sure. Like me, Mormons are almost perfect, yet they can have their moments too.

This night the Utah football fans outnumber the Oregon fans 3-1. They cheer and cheer as if Santa just fell from the ceiling scattering wads of crypto and free ski gear.

Presumably, they’ve seen football games before, though you wouldn’t really know it. If they’ve ever been out of Salt Lake, or Provo, or Ogden, it doesn’t really show.

One old dude wore denim shorts.

Now, look out, these maniacs are coming to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl Jan. 1.

That’s a good thing actually. I might invite some to come stay with me. We’ll play board games – Clue, Qwirkle – then drink hot cocoa and watch old Osmonds holiday specials.

“I mean, you’re still crushing on Marie, right?” I’ll say by way of conversation. “I sure am.”

I’ll show them around LA, take them to Universal, then Griffith Observatory to gaze at the lights and the stars (the best place in LA to spend a winter night).

I want the Utah fans to have a good time here, to make a few memories. Like Miller and I did in Vegas, with my sister Holly and brother-in-law, John Madden.

OK, it’s not the John Madden, the famed coach. This is an even better John Madden. The finest father. A first ballot pick in the In-Law Hall of Fame. He beats me at everything – beats everyone at everything, especially golf. And I still like him. Plus, this John Madden drinks beer like a Celtic mob boss.

We all danced the night away with their pals, Kathy and Greg, and some execs from the Rose Bowl – Dedan, Brian, Kelli, Dan, Meaghan.

Personally, I find Vegas a little snoozy, especially compared to real party spots like Pasadena or Glendale. Yet, even Vegas can get away from you a little if you’re not super careful.

This time, it didn’t. This time, we didn’t give up any big plays, or bags of cash, or what’s left of our dignity to some keno girl from St. George with freckles across the bridge of her nose.

Go figure, huh? Who am I anymore?

Note to self: “Dearest Self, maybe you’re a Mormon now? Or a wanna-be Mormon? If this continues, please see a doctor.”

By the way, I’m told that the floaty sensation passengers get just before landing is actually a thing. It’s called “ground effect,” and happens when the ground distorts the air flow under the wing, pausing the plane. The result: a softer and more graceful landing.

OK well. I’m no engineer, just a preacher with a tip jar. So you can trust me on this: I still detect the gentle hand of God in life’s floaty moments.

Relax, brother.

Click here for Rose Bowl tickets. Or call (626) 585-6800 for premium seating.

Meanwhile, been thinking hard about this gin & tonic holiday party, and I suspect the best time to hold it would be between Christmas and New Year’s, at some ski lodge in Vermont during a light dusting of snow. We’ll skip the Vermont part. But that incredible old lodge at Mt. Baldy is a possibility, though that’s still probably too far. There’s a couple of places in the party vortex of Pasadena-Glendale, so I’m zeroing in on those. Roswell suggests MUDDLE AND TWIST or THE FAT DOG. We’ll see how things play out. RSVP info coming soon. Meanwhile, there is still time to order gear and swag from the ultra-chic online gift shop. Books too. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers!

4 thoughts on “The Hand of God

  1. Partying with the Mormons in Sin City….Only you, Chris. I agree that I have never met a Mormon I didn’t like. Glad you had a great time in Vegas and didn’t lose your shirt. Yes, God’s definitely got this. Hope the rest of your Holidays are just as fun.

  2. Here’s what I’m thinking. How about a lively game of Drag Queen Bingo? Featuring “Bella da Ball”, she’s 6’5” with five o’clock shadow! Cocktails are always served. Try something new! (This is actually a real thing, by the way).

  3. Ditto the sentiment about Mormons. Impeccable manners and a quiet almost bemused gravitas is the rule rather than the exception. Also, conspicuous niceness seems to be something the angel Moroni insists on, at least among my friends of this cohort. Sure there are Jack Mormons, who follow their own curation, great fun being one criteria I have observed in action. But even most of them seem constrained to be decent and attentive, especially at parties of uncertain substance. How refreshing in this world of blatant self aggrandizement and ritual selfishness .. I wish them well at the bowl on New Year’s day, and think they will leave LA better than they found it; and that’s saying something worth pondering, as we enter the period of holiday revels that may lack the cautious care partying in the time of Covid variants demands. Looking foreword to the ‘tween holidays G&T, and might attend if I would not be ostracized for wearing a mask even though triple vaxxed. There are many such people still around, you know, just as there are in Venice (though maybe not in Vegas) during the annual carnival, the mystery of the self more revealed by the wearing of a mask than the reverse. Santa’s beard, certainly fashionable these days, is a kind of mask, in a way of seeing, which may say something about the current male fashion, and hiding out in plain sight. Perhaps we should all consider taking select opportunities to come out of hiding after nearly two years of sequestered seclusion, Christmas is nothing if not the sin qua non of familial joy and revealing emotion.

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