Sorry About the PJs

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – We’re back in California, that Greek myth, a state that flew too close to the sun. Increasingly, my front yard looks like Syria, though there are still pockets of California I adore.

Tahoe, for one. Lake Tahoe is probably the best argument for being filthy rich, though there are a few others (private planes, vintage Jags, Holiday Inns).

Still, the affordable cinderblock cottage we rent for the night isn’t half bad. I rise early to absorb as much Tahoe as I can before returning, rather reluctantly, to LA.

Dear Lake Tahoeans: If you recently spotted a dad in Vietnamese pajamas, enjoying his motel coffee while walking what appeared to be a huge serpent with multiple heads, that was me, with my beloved White Fang.

Sorry about the PJs. And for singing, unprompted and a little too loud, “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” that night at the burger joint (Grid Bar & Grill) overlooking King’s Beach. My heart was full, and so was my beer stein. Sometimes, you just have to go with it.

After our walk, White Fang and I sit by the fire pit while Smartacus sleeps off his college finals. As I said, it is not a fancy cottage, but if you squint, you can see a sliver of Lake Tahoe through the trees.

At my feet, White Fang is sitting on a nest of pine cones, her nose twitching at all the alpine scents.  Thoreau had his pond. I have a twitchy-nosed husky who thinks she’s a pony. Same thing, really.

When Smartacus rises, we prowl the lake, the bluest lake in the world, full of rounded rocks and cutthroat trout.

As with many returning college boys, Smartacus’ hair looks like some sort of satellite dish, the big kind that can reach distant nebula. Task one: Find a good landscaper with a sharp and powerful chainsaw.

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …

My college boy’s summer internship starts this week, slinging cheeseburgers at Bittner’s restaurant down near the multiplex (or as I call it, “The Theater District”). Trust me, Smartacus will learn more there than at some office, and unlike so many internships, Bittner actually pays him.

Meanwhile, we head down the hill to see Garrison Keillor in Livermore, a strange man appearing in a strange little town. But aren’t all writers a little strange? Trust me.

Anyway, Keillor is splendid, a world-class humorist who puts David Sedaris to shame, though who doesn’t? Not a Sedaris fan, as maybe you can tell. But Keillor is a hero who — to me at least — belongs in the same conversation as Thurber and Twain.

Keillor shuffles on stage in Livermore in red high-tops, warns us he’s a Democrat with doubts, but a lifelong Democrat just the same, which elicits cheers from the masked Bay Area acolytes in the crowd. Keillor is nearly 80 and looks like he could still dance a fandango if necessary. There is a sense of mirth about him, a deep, almost profound Midwestern decency.

At 79, Keillor is a performer of the first rank, and his writing continues to astound me. Note that I am rarely astounded by any living writer aside from Plaschke maybe, and Caitlin Flanagan (as delicious on the page as she is in person). I like Susan Straight a ton too.

At the top of my hall-of-fame, Keillor, who writes of rhubarb and summer lawns. Reading him is like watching deer swim across a glassy Minnesota pond.

For Father’s Day, there was this:

“Mother’s Day is the big deal when tanker ships full of French perfume dock at the bottling plants and four-star restaurants hire extra staff, and Father’s Day is the Sunday when someone gives you a bottle of cologne that smells like disinfectant. The price tag is still on it, $1.89.”

And this:

“Traveling around last week, in and out of airports, it was touching to observe the gentleness of young fathers with small children, their sweetness and patience, a far cry from the brusque tyrants of old. … Back in my day, dads were enforcers of high standards to which their children aspired but inevitably failed leaving an embittered pater consoling himself with a bottle of Scotch, and now a loving style of fatherhood predominates. This bodes well for humanity.”

Hope so. Something has to. Are American fathers now the world’s best fathers, more enlightened, further along?

If so, that’s way better than tanks and missiles. That’s better than GDP.

Wouldn’t that be something? Kindness triumphs?

This weekend’s Happy Hour Hike has been postponed to July 10. Sorry for the switch. Please adjust your calendars accordingly. We’ll begin at Memorial Park in La Canada at 4:30 Sunday July 10. We will gather at the park, amble along some easy nearby trails and return to the park by 6 pm for a free concert. BYOB, plus lawn chairs and snacks, if you like. Please email questions to Cheers!

12 thoughts on “Sorry About the PJs

  1. I don’t know if all American fathers are the world’s best, but I believe you certainly are. And someone who can effortlessly come up with the simile “like watching a deer swim across a glassy Minnesota pond” certainly belongs in the ranks of Keillor and Thurber, if not THE greatest, Mr. Twain. Thanks for another beautiful post.

  2. Good for Smartacus having a job slinging burgers. With our sons, we strongly encouraged a job in food service & a job in retail; both instilling an understanding of how difficult it can be to deal with people…and hopefully a fair degree of patience.

  3. I am going to wholeheartedly disagree with your hot take on Sedaris, sir. That being said, thank you for your wonderful dispatch. Cheers!

  4. Keillor is in a class—Americana—that ages well, like fine Boufbon, since the alcohol of nostalgia once imbibed never leaves the palate. All of us have participated countless times in its intoxicating rituals, and addiction can be assumed to be a national pastime, else, why are you here? He writes cleverly, humorously, and with a fine eye for character, and no pun, lowly joke, or verbal escapade is found unworthy. Thus, he writes of the masses to the masses from a position slightly above them. But he loves his fictional characters, and that love wins out in the end. He is one of a very few writers who can be sophomoric in a sophisticated way, and make that funny rather than merely gauche or banal. His radio show has been beloved by all levels of american society, and President Obama called him while the show was last on the air, to wish him well upon his retirement. . He is earnestly self aware in his blog and other internet communications, frequently not sensitive to what he is really saying about himself, but trying like hell to get it right. He has disavowed politics numerous times since retiring, but simply cannot stay out of the national discourse. He’s touring some, post Covid lockdown, and worth a masked look if you can brook the proper separation. His final Prairie Home Companion show at the Hollywood Bowl was iconic and unforgettable. He is in the process of becoming an American Insitution, fictionally and in performance, representing a time and place in our recent cultural history in which the humanity of our values offered much to savor and emulate. That he is able to humorously evoke its wisdom and charm certainly places him somewhere in the canon of Will Rogers and Mark Twain.

    1. wish I had written this…” representing a time and place in our recent cultural history in which the humanity of our values offered much to savor and emulate. That he is able to humorously evoke its wisdom and charm certainly places him somewhere in the canon of Will Rogers and Mark Twain.”

  5. Love your take on Keillor and the quotes, although like Ashley, I must disagree with the blanket dismissal of Sedaris. There are times when both men miss the mark, Keillor when wistfulness turns into languor and borderline lethargy, and Sedaris when acidic wit turns into snarkiness. But when they’re on, Keillor is magical and Sedaris can be bitingly brilliant and even, at times, sweetly vulnerable. The world of humor is big enough for both of them.

    1. Finally, someone defends Sedaris. Spookily quiet response to my diss, for the most part. I find Sedaris meh at best. But to each his own, and I certainly respect your thoughts. To me, your comments and feedback shows far more wit than he does.

  6. Yay I can go on the hike now! What I love about your writing is how you gently fling a reference to Thoreau or other literary maestro and it doesn’t seem pretentious— rather a humble nod of awe. Thanks as always for making me smile.

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