I Prefer Schulz to Shakespeare

So I’m watching the Kansas City Chiefs through my $16 martini. As it turns out, I don’t really need eyeglasses, just super-expensive gin.

I’m in some twinkly joint where the bartenders speak the truth. Like clergymen, barkeeps answer to a higher authority than the rest of us. Imagine if you could tip clergymen? That’s the exact dynamic I have with bartenders.

“You’re doing God’s work here,” I tell the busy bartender.

“What, you’re a pastor now?” he says.


Find me a droll bartender, with a car payment and a troubled personal life, and I’ll show you a novel that is better than most novels, which are too often written by English majors who never leave their kitchens.

Me, I get around. I was at the Huntington the other night for an elegant tribute to the “The Beauty & the Beast.” Of course, I relate more to the Beast, another existentialist looking for truth and meaning in a frosty and unyielding universe.

I was with Suzanne’s fam, and they are all beauties, every one – her, her mama, her sis — even her brother, who looks like a handsome Hungarian archduke.

I’ll be honest: In critical moments, my personality comes and goes, depending on what I might’ve had for lunch. A burger, a massive sandwich, and I become bookish and rather introverted. In any case, I try to keep my wits and maintain a Disney-like view of the things that soothe us.

Christmas, as much as anything, is a storybook into our childhoods.

I will never forget the whoosh-clunk of my boyhood front door, the thump of the oven, or the tick-tick-tick of the overworked radiators. 

Look, I’m as simple as simple gets. I’ve always preferred Schulz to Shakespeare, sledding to sleigh rides. I’ll always have a place in my heart for Peanuts specials and snow play – the skating, the snowball fights, the forts.

My favorite sledding hill will always be the one near my boyhood home outside Chicago, up behind the cemetery. In summers, we camped in the nearby woods. In winter, we raced sleds and toboggans into the naked birch trees.

By the way, know how many kids you can fit on a typical toboggan? Fourteen. We discovered that if we stacked ourselves, as you do pancakes, we could get 14 kids on the toboggan without permanently killing anyone. To this day, it’s the reason I don’t have much of a butt.


I’ll never forget reciting the Lord’s Prayer on the bottom of that toboggan pile. Adding to the sense of impending mayhem, the suffocation, the organ failure: We couldn’t steer the stupid thing.

See, wooden toboggans don’t steer. They slide sideways like jack-knifing trucks. And if we timed a long toboggan run perfectly, so that it arrived at the bottom just as Mr. Houlihan was opening his front door to get the paper, we could all glide right through the Houlihans’ tidy house and zip out the backdoor before anyone really understood what the hell was happening.

Whoooooooooooa…Hi, Mr. Houlihan!!!! Hi Sally!!!!!!!!!

Honestly, that was a lot to expect from a toboggan with 14 kids aboard, a toboggan you couldn’t actually steer. But we were idealists back then, little kids with Disney dreams.

Another sledding hill I love: The one on that snowy stretch between Mammoth and June Lake, just off the 395 in the Eastern Sierra. My two sons and I stopped there once during a boys’ ski trip. A little hill, a snow disc, a dog … wet jeans … cold paws. Perfection.

Christmas is something you feel in your bones, especially if they’ve been fractured a few times.

So excited for this coming Christmas as well. Suzanne is knitting me a new mustache. And I have the most-amazing gifts for the lovely and patient older daughter – worthy of a cheesy Hallmark movie. Can’t tell you more than that right now. Stay tuned.

Sure, there can be a melancholy to the holidays, lots of reminders of your folks and my folks and the other loved ones we’ve lost along the way. Rich, wistful, moody. Gauzy memories of Christmas Eves in the Midwest, where houses are always too hot or too cold. Cheery thoughts of our 10 Christmases in New Orleans, where we restored an old Victorian, one splendid splinter at a time.

Our kids still had puppy breath. Posh was still in a breeding mode, so she wore extra-flattering sweaters. She was a lithe, pretty deer. Bossy and lovely.

And that stubborn, enormous old house, whoooooooooa. It had high ceilings and Dickens’ ghosts, plus wide, copper-colored floors that had arrived by riverboat 150 years before. At Christmas, Posh wrapped the whole thing in red bows and garland.

The tree stood behind front windows that still had the original wavy glass, refracting the tree lights, sending Technicolor shards back and forth like moonbeams.

I didn’t drink $16 martinis back then. Didn’t need to.

For books, past columns and gifts, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Email the author at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com

18 thoughts on “I Prefer Schulz to Shakespeare

  1. Gorgeous…both the evocative prose and the pics. Love the one of you and Catty Cakes. Get ready! NEW wonderful Christmas memories are about to be birthed in the Erskine household!

  2. I love tagging along as you zig and zag from one joint to another always eyeing up the place up and giving us your better than Trip Advisor vantage point. And the way your musings make me stop and think of my my own childhood and snowy Christmases. I remember we’d all pile on a snowmobile my brother drove and zoom down the street. Dangerous but fun!

  3. There are a lot of sweet memories here but my favorite line is
    “…without permanently killing anyone.” Know the sled area between June Lake and Mammoth well and, luckily, never permanently killed anyone there. Love that picture with Cakes.

  4. Memories, the stuffed mushrooms, chicken wings at the Christmas cocktail parties, the year she took the Christmas tree back!
    The year Skip put the fence up so you kids wouldn’t end up in their front yard with the toboggan or 🛷.
    I will be going home for Christmas as I have an 18 month old great grandson, Kathy is a grandmother, Luca Bear is my Cakes!
    Merry Christmas Chris to you and your lovely family.
    Peace, Barbie W

    1. Congratulations on having a great grandson! My great nephew’s name is Luka and he is a joy, always interesting.

  5. We used to toboggan at the slides at Devon and Milwaukee in Chicago. They’re gone now. We never put that many people on the sled, but one of the boys actually had the use of a car! Between 8 & 10 of us would pile into the clown car. Talk about dangerous. Once we didn’t realize we had left someone behind so we had to go back.

    1. In my Michigan youth, a classmate broke an arm while tobogganing. She hit a sign that read “No Tobogganing Today.”

  6. Adding this one to my favorites list. Loved sledding, hated ice skating. And the clothes. Heavy, wet and ultimately useless. Much better now. Brought back a lot of memories. One you didn’t mention, but probably have, is walking in to someone’s house on a frigid Friday or Saturday night for a dance party in the basement and having your glasses fog up as you went down the stairs.

  7. “Christmas is something you feel in your bones….” Chris, you captured the joyous and wistful Christmas Spirit.

  8. I Always stop to read what’s up in Chris World. As always, memories… and yes, the photo of you and PattyCakes on the beach is priceless… Merry Christmas, old friend…

  9. I have noticed that we tend to get nostalgic about cold from the vantage point of warmth; when we’re immersed in it , not so much. I am a skier of decades, but have always preferred 20 degree blue sky no wind powder days to howling blizzards, and I’ve been in quite few of those. Skiing and tobogganing are vigorous sports so you generate your own heat, but I have always been a goggles and face mask guy on really cold days, and the onset of helmets helped even more; except when I was a kid, when few had one, or wore it. Kids in my youth were rarely adequately dressed, relying on metabolism for comfort—a dubious bet. One of my coldest memories ever was a Boy Scout camping trip west of Chicago in near zero weather in which we snow-camped, and tobogganed (two to a sled) on a nearby high wooden trestle-like structure whose bottom ran out onto the frozen surface of a lake ( you got great distance, whizzing along over the ice). Fourteen kids on a toboggan? I think there were fourteen so they could share body heat (thermal mass) to keep from freezing to death. I bet most of their prayers were just about that. Perhaps the thrill looks better from the distance of many years and the seat of a warm bar stool; but I could be wrong, for I note that all masochists are warm blooded…

  10. Happy Holidays to you and your lovely people, Chris! What would we do without your posts to provide nostalgia and laughter at the breakfast table? Thank you!!!

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