Baby, It’s Cold Outside

I like my holidays a little tactile, a little chill…cold rain down my neck so I know I’m alive.

Seems crazy to complain about LA’s chronic sunshine and warmth, but by December it begins to bore me.

There, I said it: Bland weather bores me. Like gated housing. Like opera.

So, I’m enjoying these spurts of weepy weather – the gurgling cisterns and the “noise of the wind under the tiles,” to borrow from C.S. Lewis.

“Whew, winter, brrrrrrrrrrr, ” I tell White Fang as we walk in a cold light rain.

“This ain’t winter,” she says. “This one time in Thunder Bay…blah-blah-blah-blah…”

You know wolves. Blah-blah-blah. Very limited story tellers, wolves.

Don’t care what she says. I’m wearing my dad’s old whaling sweater, as I stroll down the boulevard at nightfall, White Fang stepping on my feet.

Perfection.

Trust me on this: There is an extraordinary beauty to the boulevard right now. I mean, it’s not exactly Michigan Avenue, or the Champs de Elysees, but the trees are this mustard gold — the aspen, the liquid amber. Love the leaves. Like ancient Roman coins.

Rain smears the holiday lights. Storefronts are all done up. Peggy’s treasured gift shop actually glows.

More perfection.

The other night I was watching the Bears-Packers game — what passes for church for lapsed Lutherans like me — and chatting with Rapunzel’s boyfriend about the appeal of a north woods bar on a winter’s day, how you stomp into a steamy tavern with your super snowy boots.

Even more perfection.

At this tavern, the winter’s chill has summoned within you a clarity of purpose. An Irish coffee sounds good; so too does a shot of Jameson’s. Maybe a quick game of pool.

Dave Loggins is on a jukebox that never changes. You can hit B-17 and actually travel back in time.

The fry cook also works occasionally as the town drunk, and cheeseburgers fly out of the kitchen with their buttered buns toasted yet askew. The burgers are coated in cheddar and thin discs of raw red onion. The steak fries are soft inside, like sour dough bread.

You drink a beer, it drinks you back.

Everything you could ever need in life is right here in this north woods saloon, near places like Oshkosh, or Bend, or Worchester: Grub, love, temporary companionship, tribal customs, culture, a pickled egg, an extra mitten…it’s all right here.

Patrons pull up in SUVs and snowmobiles, rub the hurt from their hands and pour inside.

For 20 bucks, you can still buy a burger and a buzz.

There’s a game or two on TV, probably the Packers, but could be the Bears, Bills, Broncos or Patriots – the best cold-weather teams we have.

“Brady!” someone shouts. “Is that idiot even mortal?”

As we all know, football should be played outdoors, on grass, mud and amid heavy ice floes.

Conditions should be miserable and worsening by the minute. By halftime, the National Weather Service has probably given up and gone home. Yet, 5 goofs in the end zone are shirtless and laughing, painted in the team colors.

One looks pregnant.

I was in Vegas last week, at that new domed stadium, which somehow and amazingly contains everything I despise about the modern game.

Apparently, it was built by corrupt Romanian dictators, or the folks who design really lousy airports. Not a shred of visual appeal, not a creature comfort, nor a smile.

The food was miserable and the bathrooms a little cramped. To get from one level to the next, fans used ladders.

OK, no ladders — it was worse than that. No one who worked there could tell us where our seats were. They stood around, as if waiting for bribes.

So, to be honest, not a huge fan of that expensive new stadium in Vegas. But I salute them for trying.

The next week, I visited SoFi in Los Angeles.

Now, as you know, LA does so many things wrong, but when it does something right – Disney Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, that sticky hole-in-the-wall in Playa – the results are like nothing else on the planet.

I’d put SoFi in that same category.

The place is drop-dead dynamic — Death Star meets Frank Gehry … a silver sailing ship splashing across the prairie flatlands of beautiful downtown Inglewood.

Like the Rose Bowl, or Dodger Stadium, or Kate Beckinsale, SoFi is perfectly proportioned and one-of-a-kind. Regal yet accessible.

I mean, I’m not the first to gush about the place, nor the last, and you can certainly read more learned and sophisticated reviews.

To me, SoFi is jewelry. Yet, in a certain light, it makes me think of a giant $6-billion piece of yellow tail sashimi.

Yum.

In any case, SoFi speaks to the wonder of fantastic public spaces. Like snowy taverns in the north woods, or that one run-down joint in Mt. Baldy, near Claremont, which I now must visit soon.

Or LA’s Central Library on a rainy day. Or the Fairfax Farmer’s Market on the butt end of autumn, amid the hazel nuts and the pomegranates.

Or any of LA’s misty ocean piers.

There’s a thought: A pier on a winter’s day, me and Smartacus and White Fang,  maybe the grandbaby, layered in three of her micro-sweaters, her big eyes glistening like the sea.

“Peep-peep-peep,” she’d say, which translates into “I love you, Pop-Pop. I do.”

I’d explain to her how a little winter brings out the best in all of us, summons within us a clarity of purpose and a need to cozy up.

“You could probably use some of that,” I’d tell her.

“Peep-peep-peep…”

Perfection.

OK, this reads like something written by the bartender on a cocktail napkin, between orders. And then it has the easy go-to ending of the grandbaby. She’s like my Irish exit. Anyway, thanks for playing along, those of you who even made it this far. Lots whirling in my head right now – gift lists, dinners. Sometimes seems like it would be better to stretch some of our holiday traditions and get-togethers into the drab months of January and February. But so be it. The holidays are a blast. Meanwhile, Dec. 17 is the cutoff for ordering gin glasses, T-shirts and caps in time for Christmas. Obviously, all this a little spotty these days, because of staffing shortages with various delivery services. But any order before Dec. 17 (Friday) is a pretty solid bet. Like taking the Packers over the Bears. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com. Hugs and happy holidays.

23 thoughts on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside

  1. Finally it rained a proper rain. My dog’s been gone for five years, but I still feel the urgency to get her outside for a good walk before the downpour. So I watch to make sure the neighbors are dragging their dogs out in the cold. They are. The street is crowded. The dogs want back inside though. Then, of course, during the deluge, all the dogs force their owners back outside. “No, now! I have to go now! And it may take some time, bring some reading material.” Man plans and dogs laugh.

  2. Perfection…like your descriptions of the familiar things in our lives that are transformed into something rare and precious when you describe them. Honest to God, I don’t know how you do it. But I am so glad you do, Chris. You have a great gift. Thanks for spreading some warmth and cheer when we need it most. Happy Holidays and thanks.

  3. Amen on the cold, wet weather. All that sunshine IS boring by December. Yes, Kate Beckinsale is perfectly proportioned. Death Star meets Frank Gehry, how in the Lord’s name do you come up with these? Don’t know, but love them. Thanks.

  4. I’ll take your go-to grandbaby peep-peep-peep endings every day of the week. Melts my heart, she does, thanks to you.
    Winter reminds us to appreciate our other SoCal season – yearlong SpringSummer. And bundling up with loved ones is ALWAYS a good thing. Thank you, Chris.

  5. This time of the year brings out the best in you. Audible laughs, audible “awww’s” (I don’t know where that close quote goes) and a smile on my face throughout that got bigger as the similes and metaphors went off like fireworks. Just delightful! And to Laura’s point I’m guessing it was supposed to be “gurgling,” but if not, I look forward to seeing this late entry into the Oxford English Dictionary’s New Words Of 2021.

  6. I’m very happy you came around to SoFi. Your initial take was so different. Joyeux Nöel and all that.

      1. Yes…an amazing stadium…as long as you don’t buy any of their awful food. Can you believe that they deep fry a hot dog? Now that’s a crime.

  7. I loved this. Filled with so many dreamy metaphors I was transfixed. And always appreciate the Chicago shout outs (3 Bears mentions and 1 Michigan Ave.) I did not know you spoke fluent Catty Cakes but yes peep, peep, peep DOES mean I love you Pop-Pop. I understand the whirling in the head. Just got my freshman home (6 days early) from her semester in Florence, Italy and I’m positive I have jet lag.

  8. Lyrical and perfectly proportioned , like the grandchild’s cheeks and the balanced prose on the dominions of heat and cold. Ain’t the swirl of lights and color and silence mixed with noise—all the rustle and to-do of the hours—hypnotic and deliciously engaging, this time year ? And your “joint memory’” is impressive, as always. To clearly render watering holes, especially after what goes on there, is a feat Irish writers have honed to a lucid art. You have mastered it,

    Merry Christmas to you your rosy island of family, where both external and internal warmth are assured. I feel the heat even at a distance. It warms the mind, Chris.

  9. Speaking of LA gems…you are our gem!!! You always make me smile, sometimes shed a tear, but always grateful for you.

  10. The Irish exit is the cheekiest Babe I’ve ever seen. I feel a pinch coming on but hate people who do that. I must get to SoFi stadium again cuz when we toured, I marveled at everything except the employees who seemed to know nothing. And the food way less then satisfying. My fault. I vowed years ago to never visit a new anything for two months until all kinks were worked out.
    You, Chris, are still working out kinks. Aren’t we all? Merry Christmas and the best in 2022 val

  11. There’s nothing like running in a “proper rain.” Haven’t been too many lately. Enjoy your family and that gorgeous little one. Nothing in the world like grandchildren – and running in the rain. Happy holidays, Chris!!

  12. our New Years Day tradition was going down to Seal Beach pier and having breakfast. Looking for birds and just wandering.

    Your ramblings take me back to snow covered places and hot buttered rum. Love reading your excerpts. Keep it up.

Leave a Reply to Maureen Green Cancel reply