Teardrops in the Driveway

I make my son a big buttery egg and flip on McCoy Tyner, who is to jazz what lipstick is to smeary kisses.

Love is in the details, right?

I try to father by example, though that hardly ever works. Good parenting requires either bribery or threats. Purportedly, Caesar Augustus melted down statues of himself, and finally paid the Roman soldiers a living wage. He also hired a goon squad to protect himself. The secret to his success? The goons.

Look, you lead your way, I’ll lead mine.

Short a car, I’ve taken to biking around town in flowing robes, like Gandhi. My life could change in an instant, when a total stranger (say, Melba), abruptly opens her car door and sends me flying over the handlebars. Broken clavicle. Cracked noggin. Torn schnitzel.

“Oh no,” Melba will cry. “I’ve killed Gandhi!”

“No, no, no,” some local will explain with a laugh. “Just that writer guy.”

“Whew,” Melba will say, and get on with her day.

If I’m lucky, I’ll land on my head, protected by a $3 helmet with a flimsy egg-like outer shell the thickness of a wish.

Life begins with eggs, life ends with eggs.

Reminds me of the joke: “On Amazon, I ordered an egg, then I ordered a chicken (long pause). I’ll let you know.”

At breakfast, I always used to ask my wife: “How do you want your eggs?”

“Unfertilized,” she’d mutter.

Still, we had four kids. Even then, sperm counts were plunging, the species in peril. We did what we could.

Years later, my life has become a Hungarian fairy tale. Too many expenses, too little funding. A bike, for gawd’s sakes. What would Gandhi say? Even he drove a Lexus.

The other day I’m riding this bicycle, thinking how nothing makes sense — not this city, not this to-die-for girlfriend (who might be some sort of duchess). Not these dogs (which might be goats).

Even as existentialists go, I’m sort of adrift, raking my sock door at 5 am for a pair that matches. “ONE PAIR OF SOCKS!” I scream. “JUST ONE!”

Poor Smartacus. Those are the first screamy words my son hears in the morning.  No wonder he’s a little weird.

Bottom line, Smartacus has been raised by a small-town boy in a too-big city. He is the residue of all my worries.

After 30 years here, I’ve discovered that there is no soft gooey middle to Los Angeles – no Central Park, no main drag, no focal point.

LA clings to an ocean named for its passive nature. That’s the first big lie right there. LA is notoriously shallow; the Pacific, ferociously deep — the deepest ocean in the world. Believe what you will, but opposites always attract (see “duchess”  above).

As you may know, I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in a tough mining town on the outskirts of Chicago, where the women were far meaner than the men – they had to be.

My own mother taught me how to put rocks into snowballs. She was French, obviously.

“Those snowballs,” I once told my daughters, “were my first lesson in modern feminism.”

Cut to LA 50 years later, where I’m splashing vodka in the tomato sauce. Stirring, sipping, stirring. Love late September here — so hot, so cold, so hot. September here burns the tongue.

I smiled when I woke the other morning, early before the traffic and the gunfire, to find the driveway damp from an overnight mist, in honor (I suppose) of her royal majesty the queen.

September is change. September is good-byes…eulogies, college drop-offs, high school reunions. Good-bye, summer. Hello, Christmas ads.

I remember, last September, dropping Smartacus off to college. For a week, I could barely breathe. Doctors thought I’d died.

Finally, I let out a huge, cleansing gasp (and out popped a martini olive!).

But seriously. When I dropped off Smartacus, I realized that all the soccer games, tutors, teacher conferences were finally done. Felt like we were crossing some sort of life bridge. “C’est fini,” as the French feminists say.

I now realize that adulthood is one long bridge – a little damp from all the September tears. The drizzle of bittersweet change. Watch your step. At your age, you slip on a teardrop and…

Meanwhile, there was another power outage the other day – a constant problem in our sleepy little village on the edge of the massive industrial complex they call LA. As you’d expect, Xanadu gets all the juice. Our suburb is too tiny to matter, too slow to figure out alternating current.

But we’re working on it, OK?

Listen, we just do the best we can with what we have. As the autumn mornings cool, we rake the sock drawer, we walk the dogs, we tend our scruffy gardens, we send our sassy kids off to overpriced colleges, near and far.

Bye, you silly little eggs.

Speaking of eggs, please join me at the YMCA’s annual Prayer Breakfast Oct. 15 in La Canada, where I’ll share more valuable life tips and life-affirming stories from my new book with noted bear specialist Steve Searles. For info, call (818) 583-4731, or email Jpingry@ymcafoothills.org

5 thoughts on “Teardrops in the Driveway

  1. Another dizzying, delightful stroll along the streams of your consciousness! You always wake me up and make me think about “mundane” details in new ways. Best to The Duchess.

  2. Alas, September is in the rear view mirror and everything pumpkin spiced has overtaken us all. Resistance is futile.

  3. Such a melancholy moment you’re having. Find the Duchess and the Dogs then ask for hugs from one and all. Hope you can feel mine from afar.

  4. Is Autumn a metaphor for change? When you’re in it, Summer just seems to go on forever, the heat so heavy handed. In so many ways; until it’s not. Summer seems masculine; not so, Autumn. Fall appears to be much about movement, everything changing before your eyes, and under your feet, making the kinds of choices where feeling dominates the senses—or is it the other way around? Anyway, Autumn seems to be a lovely, queenly woman who dazzles with her flashy garb and golden jewelry much in evidence. So it was appropriate that Queen Elizabeth left us in this most queenly of seasons. But wait: Elizabeth was the most unchanging of monarchs, and ruled, it seems, almost forever (truly, for many people with shorter lives, which was most of us), through so many unchanging Summers. Amid such soaring quandaries and paradoxes, Autumn grinds her spicebox into the ever shorter days and increasingly grainy sunsets, perfuming our consciousness. Is it any wonder we are spellbound by the spice and the light, now? . Never were the blazing ambiguities of our existence in more colorful evidence. If you think not, just picture falling leaves when you follow the drifting, swirling paths of the rustling prose falling herein into our minds, and you will see and feel the season as a bittersweet chronicle of change; in one life, and by extension, all of our lives. What brilliant sorcery it takes to make it so.

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