When You’re Smiling…

Passed a yard sign for a service that offered: “Senior relocation. Downsizing. Estate sales.”

And I thought: “Wow, they’re essentially selling old people. Should I buy one? Maybe I am one? How much would I cost?”

About a buck.

For me, the takeaway from all this is that old people often have a lot of assets. It’s only natural some savvy entrepreneur would eventually monetize them. Good for everyone! Chef’s kiss!

Can’t help but think that, in America, the homeless are treated far better than the elderly.

Just remember, for a buck I’m all yours. Plus, this wolf that, as we crossed the park the other morning, eyed a schnauzer the way you or I would eye one of those slider burgers where the American cheese drapes off the corners just so. That’s how White Fang sees schnauzers.

As I always say, careful what you pay for. Where I go, White Fang goes. Plus, my kids will want to drop by occasionally to bum money.

Where I go, she goes — for a buck!

Trust me, you won’t want anything to do with them, especially Catty Cakes, the bright-eyed princess/grandbaby. Copernicus was wrong. The sun is not the center of the universe. For us at least, it’s this Catty Cakes person.

“Hey, Cakes,” I asked her the other day. “When did you take over this family?”

Her answer? May 4th, to be precise, crack of dawn, St. John’s Hospital, where it seems half of LA was born into soft, prewarmed blankets held by nurses beautiful enough to have their own sitcoms.

Odd place, LA. So lucky!

Yet, I realized my time had passed when, for the first time ever, we didn’t celebrate Christmas morning at the family compound here on LA’s eastern plains.

Oh, we had a tree and decorated till we were nauseous, as we always have — every shelf, every nook jammin’ with snowmen and elves, some of them sort of demonic, with tiny Tim Burton heads and other odd proportions.

With Christmas, as with LA, there’s such a fine line between good and evil. Like some sort of cotton candy fence.

I mean, it’s not much of a house anyway, more of a hut or a yurt. At one point, it was the region’s first drive-thru Weinerschnitzel (on damp days, you can still smell the kraut).

In winter, the only warm room is the kitchen, and everyone gravitates to it. It’s a decent-size kitchen, but soon everyone is bumping butts and elbows as they lean to open a cupboard.

That is probably what I missed most. The riotous din.

“Move, would ya, so I can get to those yams…”

Anyway, it was a solid Christmas, celebrated mostly in Santa Monica, where the daughters now reside. Now, I have only the tree to take down. I’m struggling with it (procrastination is like a meat group for me).

For the first time, our Christmas morning was spent somewhere else.

Each day, I awaken determined to tackle that tree – I mean literally get a head of steam and plow myself into the damn thing, hitting it low, as you would a Big-10 fullback. Yet, I don’t.

Like me, I guess it still awaits an actual Christmas.

Oh, listen to me. I’m a very needy schmuck, obviously. Jobless and socially stunted. Fun to drink with though! Pick up a lot of tabs.

As 2022 begins, I’m excited that, every day, the world grows more interesting – not better, certainly, just more tantalizing in its la-la idiocy.

“Wanted: Someone to hand feed me Doritos so my fingers don’t get orange. No weirdos,” posted my pal Lucy the other day.

Like I said, LA is different. And different is often good. I mean, not in this particular case. But often.

Go Lucy! Let me know if you can’t find someone. I’ll send Bittner over. Or (my attorney) Billable Bob.

First, a heartfelt note to everyone younger than me and Lucy and Billable Bob: We live in such sad and shocking times. I’m sorry. No doubt, your parents could’ve done better. But they loved you, no doubt. Eventually, you will find the energy and dedication it takes just to support a family on an everyday basis. And then maybe you’ll cut them a little slack.

Problem is, even when good news happens, as it still does, the media does such a negative spin. That’s where the money is now in journalism, in shocking people, in predicting the absolute worst outcome.

“Epic Rains Not Even Close to Solving California Drought” go the headlines, when really the headline could read, “Epic Rains Put Dent in California Drought, Give Hope for a Healing Winter Ahead.”

It’s all how you look at it. Trust me, I worked in newspapers for 45 years, and there was never a day when we couldn’t find evidence the world was about to implode.

Eventually, it got the best of me, this negativity, though I am a cynic in the first degree. I put sarcasm in my coffee. I enjoy a side of snide for lunch.

Yet, the media’s insistence that all hope is lost does not match up with our personal credos: that when your feet hit the floor every morning – thud- thud — there is hope.

Thud-thud, means there is a chance that you’ll seal the deal, find true love, make yourself a little healthier, snag a few laughs in the course of the day.

To me, thud-thud means I made it through another night. I’m told I mumble in my sleep…stuff about the Chicago Bears choice of play calls, mostly.

Honestly, they don’t blitz enough. And they don’t run over people like they used to. In the stands, there will be four topless guys painted navy and orange, cheering their bad beards off.

Isn’t that the very definition of optimism, cheering for the Chicago Bears as frostbite works its way through to your kidneys?

And Antonio Brown thinks he has problems?

Listen, I bop about in mostly mindless pursuits, in search of a free drink and a juicy quip, as we all do. I’ve always approached life with a mixture of wistfulness and delight, like a more playful James Bond.

If you don’t have a bit of lilt to your life, well go find some. Because life’s too damn short; and there is no overtime.

The other day, my buddy Murph, a certified leprechaun I’ve goofed with for years, on the touch-football field and during various parades and mindless social functions, where Murph always knew where to steal a quick drink…this Murph, this Notre Dame grad, this drifty slice of Irish mayhem, announced that he had Stage 3 cancer.

He did it with hope and aplomb, while inside his soul must’ve been rattling and his heart was doing donuts, not just for him, but for his wife and their amazing kids. For all the things we often take for granted.

Can you imagine: a Notre Dame guy asking USC Keck to save his life? That’s funny right there. And Murph knew it right away.

So, if Murph can manage the donuts at a time like this, why not you and I? And why can’t the media, the shapers of modern thought and discourse, find a smile or a thread of hope even in our dire times.

Because that’s our rocket fuel, hope. That’s our meat group.


Thank you for all the interest in “Surviving Suburbia,” my collection of early columns, back when I was actually funny, before suburban life and marriage bled me dry. And coaching, that changed me too. The parents, not the kids. It was always the parents trying to live vicariously through their children’s soccer goals, which were usually a fluke anyway. Did the best I could with that. And it’s all in this book. Can still take a few more orders. The $20 cost includes shipping and an inscription, should you want one. Would make a wry Valentine’s gift for someone you don’t like all that much. To request a copy, please e-mail me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers and thanks!

13 thoughts on “When You’re Smiling…

  1. Save me one of your books! I promise to email today. I keep forgetting. Like you, I am procrastinating on many things, including taking down the Xmas tree. I love the glow and twinkle in the dark mornings when I sip my coffee and read your great posts and put off reading the dire warnings in the LA Times about Covid, drought etc. Thank God for your posts, Chris. They make the day worth getting up for. Thud. Thud.

  2. Love your articles. They’re honest, hopeful and humorous. Read your newspapers articles for years, now enjoying the email articles. Sorry about your friend. Hope everything works out for him. Sometimes people get lucky.

  3. That’s why I am secretly glad I don’t have cable. No one is constantly reminding me that we are all doomed to die…soon…of something really awful. I get enough bad news just listening to NPR. Hang in there Chris. I’m rooting for Murph!

  4. Chris
    Why do bad things happen to good people? One of life’s eternal quandaries
    Your pal Murph’s bout with cancer touches all of us. Love the Irish, hate the Trojans, but the Keck medical people are Saints. Don’t know him. but he’s instantly in my thoughts & prayers.
    We’re all in life together. This becomes really clear once you reach full maturity; starting at about 65.
    Faith Hope & Love is our refuge. Eat, drink & be merry is our revenge.

  5. Hey Murph, you’re at the right place. My granddaughter is an oncology nurse at Keck. Her grandpa, my husband, had stage 3 small bowel cancer 13 years ago; was told no one survived it. Well, he certainly looks good and eats a lot for a dead man! Prayers for you Murph, you have angels at your side.

  6. Sorry to hear about Murph. You have a decent following (don’t you?) so he’s got quite the gaggle of prayer warriors (myself included) praying for strength, healing and recovery. You got this Murph. My friend has left her Christmas tree (fake obviously) up for two years now (since 2019.) She was also procrastinating…then Covid arrived. She decorates it according to the holiday being celebrated at the time (Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving) and even the important ones like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day. It’s always fun to see.

  7. In the new year, the detritus of Christmas past has an odd shelf life: things inanimate seem possessed of memory and their wistful spirit attaches more than latency to their material presence. Our trees always lingered after twelfth night’s passing eroded their position, when we had trees. We no longer do, though the house is beautifully but more sparsely decorated now, and the outside lights that once announced wide defiance of the encroaching darkness have withdrawn their sphere of influence to the front entry. After all, isn’t that where influence means the most to the weary traveler it is designed to invite and re-assure? Anyway, the Christmass stuff here has been loosely collected, but not put to bed in the attic yet, so I’m with you on this one. And now comes the long, eventually sonorous climb from the enveloping blackness of the solstice to Dylan Thomas’ grand green fuse, Spring. Oh to be in England then, with the fires of Covid dimmed, to see the blazing green earth sing.. Or, in Santa Monica, to hear the seas’ harmonica, that reedy splashy one, singing in the morning sun, of an April day to that little one…
    We’re on our way…omicron be damned.

  8. How awesome that you spent Christmas morning somewhere Santa had just been! Your tree is beautiful. Leave it up for as long as you need to. I left the 2020 Christmas cards displayed on the louvered door the entire year…until the 2021 cards began to arrive. Whatever works. Thanks for your posts!

  9. First of all, do you need me to tell you that that is one beautiful baby!? What a picture. “Adorbs” as they say now.

    Second, you and I don’t agree on everything (aka Trevor Noah) but man are we of the same mind on journalistic negativism. I worked briefly for the San Diego Union Tribune doing editorial research (if it bleeds it leads, right?). But when they say the torrential rains don’t mean anything to affect the drought, I go ballistic. Throwing things and profanity might come into play.

    And finally,I am so there with you when your home as the parent is no longer the center of the gathering. Between that and covid, left wondering why I bothered to decorate (whoa is that negative?). But I’ve decided to get over it, and continue to do it in the future just for solitary joy. Besides, not being responsible for the cleanup is in itself a bit of a joy
    Just have the tree still to go, but got all the other stuff boxed up and put in the garage today. At least I had an excuse. The torrential rains of last week put my condo’s elevator out of commission for the third time within a month (due to the other torrential non-helpful rains). Not about to attempt carrying those boxes down 3 floors.

    Prayers going out to your buddy Murph. I’ve witnessed more than a few stage 4 situation recoveries and gotta believe prayer chains helped.

  10. A buck, you’ll go for a buck? You should ask for at least10. Prayers for your friend Murph.

  11. As a devoted Domer, I have every faith your friend Murph will defeat the Big C. He has God and a lot of Irish lovers on his side! Sending a few more prayers, just for good measure!

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