Fathers and Sons

I like my burgers medium-rare and my legs a little pink – though not too much.

And I like my summers a little past ripe. Berries. Wines. T-shirts. So, step on up to the microphone, September, too warm and a little past prime, where your tiny imperfections are just starting to surface.

Never much liked new and perfect things. That’s why I shop at pool halls, pawn shops, and that sprawling thrift store on Magnolia, where they sell the lightly used clothing from TV shows and movies.

Got a real nice business suit there once, elegant and traditional. “Brooks Bruhs,” the label said. Might’ve been a knockoff.

But it’s lasted, this suit – multiple weddings, multiple speeches, a mitzvah or two…now mostly funerals.

Ah, life (and death).

I don’t think Smartacus likes perfection either. Each morning, he tosses me a t-shirt he found on the floor of his bedroom.

“This smell?” he asks.

Of course it does. He wears it anyway.

Like father, like son.

By the way, I still make him breakfast every morning, just like in the old days. When he returned from his freshman year, I told him that I wasn’t going to wait on him anymore, that he’d have to fend more for himself.

“OK, Dad,” he said.

Lasted maybe a week.

When you do stuff for other people, you are really helping yourself. At least, that’s how I rationalize these breakfasts. I am making his scrambled eggs for me.

By the way, he’ll be closer to home this fall, attending a local community college, where he will sharpen his study skills and move on back to Oregon or another four-year school.

First semester’s tuition: $656.

No, that’s not a typo. The price discrepancy between these community colleges and the $50,000- $80,000 four-year schools hasn’t gone unnoticed. Up at chilly Oregon, $656 wouldn’t even cover his soup purchases. Here, it’s a semester. And none of his classes are on Zoom.

I’ll like having him home again, making him breakfasts, vetting his t-shirts, though I know his heart will still be up at that leafy PAC-12 campus with the sweaters and the football Saturdays that, more than almost anything, represent the glories of a young man’s life.

Hey, football is forever, it will always be here. Life goes on, and so will he. He handles setbacks remarkably well, better than me, no question.

Go Lancers! Go Ducks! Go Smartacus!

Tell me, can you fall for someone twice? Well, I’ve loved this kid from the first day I saw him and every day since.

I just want him happy, content, moving forward. Tonight, after his second day of classes, I am making the Korean short ribs that his mother used to make — his usual birthday meal even though it’s not his birthday.

Then, in the morning, I will make him breakfast, during which he’ll lean up over the Sports page as if studying Scripture.

That’s right, my 19-year-old son starts his day reading box scores like a 55-year-old CPA. You surprised?

Like father. Like son.

Of all the things he missed his freshman year – his dad, his dog, his sisters, his friends – it might’ve been the daily sports page most of all.

“A man can stand anything except a succession of ordinary days,” Goethe wrote.

For Smartacus, the baseball box scores make every morning a little less ordinary.

You know, I was all set to quit my daily paper. The bias has become so bad, and the coverage so polemic. Day in and day out, it was a disappointment when – for decades – the paper had surprised and invigorated me.

There’s nothing like robust daily newspapers. Fell for them when I was 12 and every day since.

The beauty of democracy, the residual glory, is that there are many opinions and many answers. Major newspapers and networks used to celebrate and foster that.

Seeing Smartacus study the box scores, I just couldn’t cancel the paper, while noting that, a few years back, the same paper tried to stop running these same baseball stats, just as it has quit running TV listings, stock tables, track results, maps, schematics, sidebars, a food section, a travel section, a business section, a car section, real estate, a Sunday magazine and all the other stuff that, in the minds of the newspaper’s panicked bean-counters, readers could just find somewhere else.

Imagine their plight. In LA, the car capital of the cosmos, where your ride represents style, status, taste, environmental awareness and – due to long commutes – are a second home, the paper couldn’t even print a profitable automotive section.

Same goes for food, the connective tissue of this town and a passion that unites us like nothing else.

But it’s lasted, print journalism has. For better or for worse, I’m glad it’s still around.

Baseball. Box scores. Fathers. Sons.

The second-hand store I mentioned is “It’s a Wrap,” in Burbank, a treasure chest for everything from sports coats to Halloween costumes (3315 Magnolia).

Meanwhile, Saturday’s Gin & Tonic Society bash is sold out. Directions and details have been emailed to those who reached out in time. If you missed it, we’ll have a holiday G&T bash in December. And once it cools down, some Happy Hour Hikes. For books, gin glasses and past columns, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers!

19 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons

  1. Ah…. Sharpening up the ol’ study skills. Had to do that, myself, after getting the first “D” of my life my Freshman year. Still worked out OK.

  2. God help us, we love our boys, don’t we? And our girls. I don’t have a daughter, but I do have Sophie, our German Shepherd, and last night I think I fed her more of my delicious chicken breast than I ate. Those eyes. Who could resist? Used to feel the same way about the newspaper, but the passion has cooled a bit. Maybe because I get mine digitally now and without the tactile sensation of holding, folding, that satisfying snap as you re-establish the crease after the fold, it’s not the same. And they’re not the same, as your long list of lost sections made sadly clear. You didn’t even mention the comics section. Do they still have that? When my dad passed away, my brother and I slipped the Green Sheet (which died about six years after Dad did) the four page section of the Milwaukee Journal that had comics, crossword puzzles, celebrity news, local human-interest stories, and what Wikipedia calls “bits of ephemera,” into the casket so he’d have something to read in that majestic bathroom in the sky we hoped he was going to. The place he was most content. In his last years he had a CB radio in there so he could hear police and fire calls. One of my niece’s first sentences was, “Poppa poo-poo potty.” And her younger brother, at the age of about five once commented, “He’s gonna die in there.” He didn’t, but he wouldn’t have minded that. And in his case it would have been a happier way to go. Not like Elvis. Well, seem to have gone a little far afield. But your columns encourage that kind of free association. It’s one of the many things I love about them. And you, ya ginger Midwest
    poet, you.

  3. The paper in question does do real estate on Saturday’s , but crams Metro,Sports and comics in one section.
    Wish there was some competition!!
    Soon just one page

  4. Will Smartacus be attending Southern Montrose University (aka Glendale Junior College) this fall?
    I will be at the Bumble Bear’s football game this Saturday, I assume you will be also.

  5. Can you fall for someone twice? Ah, yes! You can fall infinitely for those you love. Over and over and…

  6. PCC!
    In the Spirit of # 42! Sons! Too much fun at the U of O! It’s a common young male student’s malady. Away from home for the first time. It’s easy to indulge in the essential values of college life. Now home, he can study. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson…He’ll cherish his second time around.
    The Star-News has a better Sports Section than that LA paper that I read for most of my life. No more. Take it Sundays only, but it’s still a struggle. But life’s too precious to be pestered by righteous aggravation. It says here…

  7. Chris, after your column was dropped by the LA Times, I cancelled my subscription. That newspaper was in a slow decline to oblivion.

  8. Chris, once again you have spoken to my heart.. Oh! what I would give to have my daughter home again. Alas, it is not to be, but savor every moment you have with your boy and Smartacus, good luck this semester, you’ve got this.

  9. So happy you and Smartacus get to spend more time together and I know his sisters, niece and especially canine girlfriend all feel the same. I have to stand up for the paper in question because a) The level of journalism and writing are still far superior to its local rivals and b) that’s where I first encountered your writing. Had it not been for them, I would have missed years of joy. I am grateful there are still newspapers in general, and I still like to feel the actual paper in the mornings. I know it will end eventually, which is sad, but I will hang in there until then.

  10. I assume the paper you’re talking about is the LA Times I had no idea that things had gotten so bad. I’m still clinging to the Chicago Tribune, even though. they’ve gotten rid of almost every columnist I cared about reading. At least the Sunday paper still covers books, movies, theater, sports, trave!. They still have a food section on Wednesdays. But almost all of the news comes from the AP. It’s hard when I remember it as a great paper.

  11. Fully expect to get a subscription rate raise with notification that LAT will now no longer be covering the news.

  12. I don’t know what to say. For me, that is something to muse upon, but not new. Actually, old and often….. It should be noted that two years at a solid JC, then matriculation to a fine state institution is a commonly (highly) intelligent way to go—except in some of the sciences—for those who must pay their own way and don’t catch a ride of some sort, of which—it would seem— there are many these days for select hitchhikers. It’s a fine way to go, and beats the many hubric insanities and lofty romanticized glories of the alternate experience, hands down, though one should never lose one’s dreams of its storybook educulture ambiance. Solid top notch pros teach in the practicum of the local learning environments, and there is the fine hum of realism in the air—life’s business as usual. Better late than never. Rock on. As for the dominant local papyrus, you have said it all. It’s light died in my eyes when you left.

  13. California community colleges are the best. I’ve know many students who became inspired by the great teaching and went onto excellent CA universities such as Berkeley, UCLA, Cal Poly SLO, UCIrvine and all the rest.

  14. Yes, LACC for freshman, sophomore and 2 blessed years at UCLA did me fine.
    Bashing your brains out trying to keep up isn’t a good thing and doesn’t work in the long run anyway. Deep breath, Smartscus. PS: One more price hike and I’m done with paper news!

  15. My daughter went to Cal State Long Beach for 1 week. Mesa college in San Diego for 2 years, then UC Berkeley. Works for Microsoft as a Sr Marketing Manager. She’s 26!
    Community College for the win!

  16. I have a 19 year old grandson at Pierce as a sophomore, which may be too far for Smartacus to travel, but I have been wanting these two to meet since they were born!

  17. Regarding newspapers, I have joined the digital age, except for Sundays when I still get a real paper. I don’t know why. It’s nowhere near as good as it used to be. One frustrating thing about the Times, they publish the “Weekend” section on Sunday. Sorry but the weekend is over by Sunday for me. And the Sports section on the digital edition is backwards…what’s the logic there?

  18. You might like the LA Daily News, it has a separate sports section and its
    Sunday Opinion section has columnists who still practice journalism.

  19. I was placed on academic probation after my first semester at Southern Illinois University. I went there for two reasons: 1. Playboy Magazine ranked it the #1 Party School in America. 2. My high school guidance counselor strongly advised me not to go there.

    Nobody told me those big buildings on campus had classrooms I was supposed to frequently visit.

    I got my act together, made the Dean’s List and then graduated from law school here in California.

    Smarticus will be fine.

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