Songs in the Key of Life

My wolf White Fang is of Russian descent, famously stoic. Grim. Peptic. Reminds me of Dostoyevsky in the way she stares off grimly into the horizon. About as exciting as a bowl of borscht.

So it’s difficult to tell whether White Fang misses the cheerfully annoying golden retriever that stayed with us for a week. They were such an odd couple, the steely Siberian husky and the happy-go-lucky bombshell. The socialist and the free-wheeling capitalist. Khrushchev vs. Kennedy.

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering,” Dostoyevsky once wrote.

Hey, speak for yourself, brother.

Meanwhile, golden retrievers are the Cameron Diazes of the animal kingdom — famously fluffy and gifted with buttery good looks. Goldens romp around certain that everyone is so happy to see them. Like me, they have one brain cell. Works sporadically – off and on, off and on — like a bad blue-tooth speaker.

FYI, I once threw a cheap blue-tooth speaker out the back door and deep into the ravine behind our house. A perfect spiral, too — like Peyton Manning finding Marvin Harrison deep, a step past the safety.

Sure, it was pretty sophomoric. No question. Yet I was pretty proud of the fact that, at my age, I could still throw such a long and perfect pass.

“Touchdown!” I yelled as I closed the back door.

A few weeks later, my son Smartacus found the remains of the little speaker while traipsing through the ravine. “What’s this?” a friend asked. “Oh,” Smartacus explained. “When my dad doesn’t get technology, he just shucks it out the door.”

That’s just my approach. But it can work for anybody.

In fairness, there is only a blue-tooth speaker or two in the ravine, maybe a remote.

Really, it is the cheapest therapy, though I draw the line at anything over 25 bucks. Then I have thrower’s remorse. But under $25? It’s a lovely, liberating sensation. Just smash it to smithereens.

Irish anger is a sewer gas; it eats its container. “Better out than in,” as Shrek said.

I come from a long line of Irish screwballs, with hair-trigger tempers and dashing good looks. My old man, a cross between Peter Graves and Red Buttons, invented road rage. From the moment he put the key in the ignition, my old man was a little teed off.

How do you deal with that? Mom drank a good bit, but she was a happy tippler. She also overfed everyone she loved: her husband, her dogs. Oddly, we kids were very thin.

Shrug.

Coincidentally, I was married to a woman who once fell into her own purse, just tumbled in one day while searching for our boarding passes.

The lesson? Love the person, love the flaws.

I hope I’ve evolved, though I suppose my kids would scoff at that. On Sundays, I read the Comics front to back, then I tear recipes out of Parade, the best magazine in the world. It is to serious journalism what Disneyland is to the Vatican.

Listen, I don’t ask much of the world. I want to be entertained. I want my kids to love me. I want my speakers to work. That’s it, really.

When my daughter Rapunzel stops by, I wash her car for her. It beats talking to her, yet I think it conveys the fact I adore her. Washing cars is my love language. So, for her birthday, I washed her car.

“The soul is healed by being with children,” Dostoyevsky also said.

The other day, there was sap everywhere on Rapunzel’s car, in long snotty streaks down the driver’s doors.

“Did you park beneath a glue gun?” I asked her.

I had to scrape this resin off with my thumb nail, the greatest tool ever. If you can’t clean a car or a frying pan with a thumb nail, it can’t be cleaned.

By the way, my daughter leases her cars. I don’t approve. In my book – “The Book of Dads” — you pay cash for cars, no interest, then you keep the car a good 8 or 10 years. It’s better for the planet. Nothing you buy is as harmful to the environment as a German SUV, full of fluids and plastics made of petroleum goo.

See how enlightened I am? Never saw that coming, did you? An original thought! “Who is this guy,” you’re thinking, “Descartes?”

Well…

By the way, a note to all those who shun newspapers because of the environmental dent they leave: We grow those trees. They exhale oxygen. When we harvest them, we plant more trees. Squirrels move in. Birds too. Aphids. Owls. It’s a pretty sustainable cycle, actually. And newspapers are so worth it.

I mean, I’d give up gauze before I’d give up newspapers. I’d give up underwear. I’d give up my Susan Dey scrapbook.

All to save newspapers. My other love language.

Much as I bash contemporary music, I found the Grammy Awards the other night to be a ray of hope. They are usually so clangy and politically sectarian, mostly unwatchable. Not this year. Silk Sonic reminds me of Stevie Wonder. Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo write smart songs with impact, a refreshing change from screamers such as Ariana Grande. Jon Batiste gave the most-gracious speech of the awards season. Even the host, Trevor Noah, was terrific. Pop culture has been such a mess lately. But not Sunday night. Bravo.

For past columns, books and info on my hiking club, check out my free website: ChrisErskineLA.com.

19 thoughts on “Songs in the Key of Life

  1. Everything I know about Dostoyevsky, I learned from you. Glad to see you are always open to learning, as you used to make fun of Trevor if I recall. Your unique blend of keenly insightful observation and laugh provoking truthiness keeps me sane, twice a week at least. Keep up the great work.

    1. Dear Chris–we had 2 Goldens. Our 2nd was Kassiopi–named for a village on the island of Corfu. She was a rescue from a puppy mill and probably the best dog we ever had Kassie, for short, in turn suggested that we rescue Nick a former racing greyhound. So we did and talk about an odd couple. They were madly in love but he was such a wuss and totally hen pecked, loving every minute of it. He doted on her, nuzzling her neck and getting a mouthful of Golden hair and choking. He didn’t have a brain in his head. Lord, how I miss those two.

  2. Haven’t been receiving emails about your posts. Good thing you’re on Facebook 😀

  3. I like to fantasize a time when things that have gone down that are intrinsically wonderful come up again—are reimagined, because of their beauty and the energy that eminates from it. Spring frequently demolishes logic, so perhaps words and their carnivals of delight, the newspapers, could now again be as celebratory as they once were, and far less freighted with the weight of ominous social purpose, an almost sneering bias, and righteous attitudinal rhetoric. Dare I say, become once more intriguing, thrilling, artful, fun ? You read the funnies. This time of year it would seem a fine place to start, the plethora of political cartoonists notwithstanding, and far away from The
    Front Page, with its jingo of journalistic turbulence, inserted tumult, and not so subtle editorial placement.

    It’s Spring, and nature is wildly, colorfully, joyfully, frivolously pleasuring itself. Remember when reading the paper was (mostly, often) like that, and a glory of the morning, with the ills of the world so beautifully balanced with its incredible wonders? Without being a pollyanna’s dream, couldn’t it be that way again, father than locked in a wintry death spiral partially occasioned by technology and societal shift, but also very much of its own making ?

    Without meaningful thought that leads to balance, there is no proportion. Without proportion, there is little art. How the inner eye loves art, and the words, contrasrs, and dizzying extensions that attend it. Art makes love to the world to make sense of it. Isn’t that what we aspire to in the very best of our Journalism ? Even in The funnies ?

  4. Nothing better than to start your day with a cup of coffee reading the hand held newspaper!!

  5. Love your column. Been following you for years. We still take the LA Times, not the same online.
    Glad to read you in the OUTLOOK now as well. A double treat each week. Thanks Chris☘️

  6. What a delightful romp through the attic of your brain this was! Many of your columns have a definite theme, but some are like you at a bar after a combination of coffee and alcohol – speedy and wonderfully random. How you got from Dostoevsky to throwing speakers to cleaning a car with your thumbnail would stump Oliver Sacks, but it was a great ride to get there. And wow, the old music curmudgeon liked the Grammys! The guy to whom the high water mark was maybe Dion enjoyed the show. That’s a ray of hope if I ever saw one.

  7. The fact that you even watched the Grammys is mind boggling. And you appreciated it! I’m impressed! I am dumfounded!!
    I love music, the American Songbook Frank Ella Sarah Tony Nat, Brubeck Shearing Kenton Goodman Shaw, all of ‘em; country western & classical!
    I wouldn’t have thought about even turning the show on (same with the Oscars)!
    Chris I think you’re the best. I’m overjoyed that you’ll be in newsprint with columns in the Outlook.
    I support freedom of thought and free speech as foundations of Liberty.
    You’re “Bravo” may be earned, but it ain’t me.

  8. Only 4% of the original old growth forest remains in the United States. Pulp, which is used for print, had a huge impact on the decimation of thousands of species of trees and animals. The ecosystem of those areas is also altered by fast growing trees planted by the lumber companies.

    Read “The Overstory” by Richard Powers on your Kindle. “The Overstory” won the Pulitzer in 2018.

    We are in an environmental crisis and need to alter our habits.

  9. As usual, you always come up with a great column. Definitely agree with you in that reading a real paper with the news printed on it is very satisfying and you’re right about the trees. So much better reading paper than pushing my visual limits trying to read the print on the internet. Unfortunately, I think that battle has already been lost and internet print is our future. Keep up churning out your articles, they always brighten my day. I also don’t take your column for granted, thanks for continuing to write.

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