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.
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.
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.
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.
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.