Hidden Punchlines

In our last dispatch, I reported that the joy had finally gone out of skiing for me. Now what?

As my pal Forrest Gale put it, “This is a huge give. Unless you think it’s not. But it’s a comforting rationalization to think it’s anything other than a loss of some great beauty, even with the crowds and the vapid lift lines, cold, bitter winds, white-outs, runny noses, lift mishaps, sprained tendons, cracked ribs and other dark-sky events happening to most anyone who loves it.”

I’m not sure whether Forrest was talking about skiing or life. I think he started in talking about skiing, then merged into broader issues.

Or as another friend put it: “Retiring from skiing now? Are you nuts?”

Yep. Ask anybody.

Look, for me snow skiing was valuable in that there was anticipation, and a bit of knocking about…team effort…interplay…banter…work. The fresh air was the payoff and the sense you’d done it — schlepped to the mountain, made it to the top, and now you had to somehow get down, cartwheeling part of the way.

No wonder it’s so popular.

Up in Mammoth, my buddy Searles was talking about how the rich guys like to soak in the hot tub, then dive naked in a snow drift. They feel so alive when they do that — I suppose that’s the reason. Or to impress their dates.

No one really knows, because who wants to get into a long, drunken conversation with a snowy, naked man.

Nothing against long, drunken conversations, of course. They can be the best. The other night, we were at a poker party – a nice one on the beach. Everybody was rich – or looked it – and my buddy Jeff concluded, three hours in, that, “Nobody here works for anybody else. They all own stuff.”

The takeaway: Owning stuff is good.

Use that as you may.

As you may know, I come from very humble beginnings. I was born in a DMV line in Woodstock, Illinois. My mother, on her second hot toddy of the morning, didn’t even realize she was pregnant.

“Oh look!” she said. “Waiter!!!”

As a rule, the French barely acknowledge pregnancy. They certainly won’t let one ruin your day. Mom went ahead with her driver’s test, aced it, then took me home to meet Dad in the scruffy little mining town that was then our home.

“You won’t believe what happened to me today…”

Their entire marriage was like that.

Artist’s rendering of the scruffy mining town where I grew up. (David Kurka)

Anyway, around the firepit at the beach party, a guy named Brad was telling us how he once got lost off the LA coast in a kayak, confused in a pea-soup fog. He was sure he was doomed, which led to a long conversation with God. Sort of an exit interview, if you will.

“You should have asked him: ‘Which way to Zuma?’” I suggested. “He’s gotta know.”

As it turned out, Brad survived, eventually washing up on the beach at the feet of three Germans snorting martinis. Off to the side: a table full of sausages and fine breads.

“You washed up in Dusseldorf?” I asked.

“That’s impossible,” said Miller.

“Let him finish his story,” said Suzanne.

Point is, January is long and hard. Best to find a firepit and a long, pointless story. If there is beer around, that helps. Blankets too. Heavy wool.

Indeed, there is a wistful, woolen vibe to January, which is no way to start the year. We fill our days talking about the Niners and the Rams, and where to order free Covid tests.

I guarantee one thing: Soon as home Covid tests are readily available, the pandemic will end. That’s how life works now. Didn’t used to. Now it does.

Meanwhile, a friend came up with this home Covid test you can do in a pinch:

1. Pour a glass of wine.

2. If you can smell the wine, drink it to see if you can fully taste it.

3. If you can fully taste the wine, it confirms you don’t have Covid.

Last night, my friend took the test 19 times. She tested negative each time, but this morning she woke with a headache, so she’s going to test herself again this evening.

I’m no doctor; I’m barely a patient. But this home Covid test seems very promising to me.

Wonder if it works with tequila? We will see.

I was at the track the other day. I seem drawn to institutions in crisis: horse racing, print journalism, democracy.

Just like reruns of “Friends, I hope none of these institutions ever goes away, yet I’m seriously concerned about two of the three.

Hey God, got a minute? Which way to shore? Could you point us there?

It seems, in chatting at the track — or around the firepit —  that no one talks about what they gleaned from Twitter or Instagram or smutty TikToks. They talk about books they’ve read and magazine articles in the Atlantic. Substantive things.  Novels. Chili recipes. The best ’shrooms to add to soups.

I don’t have a sticky mind, but everything I eat – every calorie — latches directly to my ribs. Sigh.

So, I swim and swim, then swim some more. I swim out of vanity, but mostly to stay sane. As it turns out, it’s my daily baptismal.

January is beautiful here, yet so dutiful…so yawny long. I hear they might cancel February for lack of interest.

I sure like the winter skies though, the firepits, the soups. And this Suzanne.

And soon folks will be talking about baseball again. St. Patty’s Day will approach. The March sun will toast the skin, and those Covid tests you just ordered will arrive in the mail, just when (as predicted) you don’t need them anymore.

Life is so funny. I really do love it, if only for the hidden punchlines

Meanwhile, I spent 15 minutes with my son Smartacus the other day, teaching him over the phone how to cinch a necktie.

To you or me, neckties are simple, but were I to show you a bosun’s knot, or (my favorite) the snow bunny half-hitch, it might take you 20 times to get comfortable with the new knot.

Smartacus and I went over and over the necktie. Sometimes he’d nail the knot, but the ends would be off. Other times, he’d level out the ends, and the knot would look like some kind of crustacean.

“That’s pretty good,” I’d say. “Let’s try one more time.”

I liked helping him. I miss helping him. For the first 18 years of his life, all I did was help him.

Now, we’re tackling this long-distance necktie, a satisfying little jolt from the past.

Yet, I want to tell Smartacus: Hey Smartacus, don’t wear a necktie. Don’t work for someone else.

Find a kayak. Wash ashore. Greet the Germans.

Hey, Klaus! Pass the martinis!


Be prepared for some Super Bowl recipes in the coming weeks. Maybe we’ll have a Zoom pep rally like last year, when I made a roux and nearly lit LA County on fire. That was fun. If you have a Super Bowl recipe you’d like to share, please email me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com I’ll pass along the most-inventive and promising ones. In the meantime, stock up on super funny books and super sexy t-shirts at ChrisErskineLA.com/shop/.

Have a great weekend. Cheers!

10 thoughts on “Hidden Punchlines

  1. I recognize that mining town. There’s the Catlow Theatre…a real gem. Agreed January is long. They should call it dreaduary. On the Google map of life, your posts are the mile markers I need to make it through. Thanks.

  2. You say, “There is a wistful woolen vibe to January”. Also, something silent, implacable, like cold wood: dull, mute, and weighing. Can wood be cold ? Put your bare hand on a tree trunk on a.cold, snowy day. You can feel it’s thudding emphasis on solidity, yet it is alive. Maybe that’s what it feels like to be in the U. S. Senate these days…also wooly headed and a little itchy.

    And ahhh…ties. They have flummoxed me for decades; ever since I first tried to tie one. There is something metaphysical about the act. It’s much more than technique, as anyone whose ever tried to tie someone else’s in a great hurry can attest. Maybe it’s because you volunteer for the hangman’s noose, then emphatically cinch and shape the knot; art unto death. There are more metaphors embedded in this ritual than there are days left in Winter, and the continuing desire for the skill puzzles me. I guess we’ll have to wait for a turn of the fashion screw to render the father-son
    flow down obsolete.

    Finally, “…and this Suzanne”, the first red rose phrase in the gray guy prose of this warm January riff. I sense a whiff of the perfume of skin amid the spice of beachfire smoke. Can the candy hearts and dozen long stems of Valentine’s Day be far ahead ? Me, I’m leaning like a dog on a ferris wheel into February.

  3. Actually,” dog on a merry-go-round” is what I meant. But the Ferris Wheel would be uplifting, and maybe one could see Spring from the top.

  4. For a long time I have advocated that men and women should make a deal. Men will quit wearing neckties and women will quit wearing high heels.

  5. Looking forward to the Super Bowl recipes, but always looking for great recipes. Not much of a football guy. Heard something about the Rams this week, but can’t remember what.
    Good luck on the tie tying exercise. I haven’t had to tie a tie in 4 years now. I may have forgotten by now.
    You might try tasting mezcal. From my experience, it’s got a nicer smell than tequila.

  6. I love January, but you have to live in a snowy place, like Chicago. The bare tree limbs, the quiet of snow, the deep cold & the clear blue skies that come with them. It’s cleansing.

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