Roses. Glue. Freeway fumes.

FYI, I’ve got thorns in my fingers from putting flowers on floats. Stupid thing, to spend three hours decorating a Rose Parade float that bites you back.

Best stupid thing I’ve done lately, by the way.

At the float decorating depot, the first tool they hand you is a giant corkscrew.

“Happy hour!” I yell.

Well, no. Actually, we’re to use the cork screws to twist holes in the Styrofoam skin of this Rose Parade float, whose overall theme has something to do with mischievous raccoons making a mess of things…don’t they all?

Then, into the hole we slip a slim water vial containing a beautiful rose.

It’s basic dentistry, super simplified.

“Hey, kid, I got you some roses,” I keep telling Suzanne, repeating it till she laughs, which she never really does.

So, that’s how we welcomed the new year, at the float depot under a dank overpass: Roses. Glue. Freeway fumes. Haven’t been this high since college.

As you know, my life is mostly guided by impulse and indecision. Which is how I wind up 20 feet up on a parade float scaffolding. “We need 10 people who don’t mind climbing a scaffolding,” one of the supervisors says.

So there I am, me and Suzanne and her Cambodian exchange student (Jess), who has never seen a Rose Parade and is now with her own thorny fingers, helping to craft one.

What a life, huh. I’m like a poem that’s been hurled from a bridge, fluttering this way and that.

I’m an anachronism wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a fortune cookie.

There’s so much I don’t understand.

To this day, I don’t get the metric system, or protostars, or decaf coffee — how do they get the caf out?

I’m still not even sure how they make babies.

In general, I’m drawn to anything whose time has passed: FM radio, Jewish delis and angry Irish actors … wood bats, real breasts and Caesar salads with anchovies, served from tableside carts.

Tell me, what happens when everything you cherish goes extinct? You carry on, damn it. You smirk, you smile, you sing in the rain. You help build a Rose Parade float, pressing the tips of tiny thorns in your tender flesh. It’s faintly Biblical. All we’re missing is the snakes.

Despite the small pains, I find the world to be a mostly magnificent place. No, really. Even lately.

Take Suzanne. No, wait. Please don’t. What a light she’s turned out to be. What a terrific float builder.

And then there’s my 20-month-old grandbaby (Cakes), whom I just taught to do the three-point stance favored by most football players: butt down, back flat, ready to torpedo your opponent. Over the holidays, she’s really gotten the hang of this football stance. Go Cakes! Go Bears!

So, it is with a glimmer of hope and confidence that we enter 2023, which might turn out to be our best year ever. Or the worst year ever. We don’t know. Depends a lot on what the Fed does.

“There’s a new face at the door, my friend…a new face at the door.”

That’s Tennyson, of course. Fortunately, it’s the only Tennyson quip that springs to mind, though I do recall something he wrote about the new year, “cold and starry… blithe and bold.”

Speaking of blithe and bold, consider my pal Jeff.

Just before Christmas, Suzanne and I zoomed down to La Jolla, where we hid in the hotel veranda’s heavy velvet drapes while Jeff proposed to our beautiful friend Lydia. Talk about stage craft. It was vaguely Shakespearean and lovely and amped.

“I’ll make my heaven in a lady’s lap…etc, etc.”

Down on one knee Jeff went, just like in the olden days. After he proposed, Suzanne and I jumped out of the drapes – SURPRISE!!! — snapped some photos, gushed over the rock, sipped some Champagne.

On the patio of a magnificent old hotel, we talk about how some people are “happy criers,” as Suzanne puts it – meaning they can look lovely and wonderful in tears.

I cried. Lydia (the happy crier) cried. Even total strangers smiled and clapped.


God knows. Could it be that — in a broken, thorny world — love still triumphs?

Naw. Yes! Naaaaaw.

Well, some things don’t change. A heart sparks, a man takes a knee, a woman loses her mind a little. Tears flow. Strangers applaud. A waiter serves imported French bubbles that tickle our sinuses.

So maybe 2023 is going to be OK after all. Maybe there’ll be a new face at the door.

Mazel tov!

Mazel to the max.

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20 thoughts on “Roses. Glue. Freeway fumes.

  1. Damnit, float decorating has me peeling glue that looks like snot off of my hands & jeans for weeks (maybe months) & Suzanne is fresh enough to host dignitaries. You sir have hit the jackpot.

  2. Happy times! Building floats and participating in proposals, not to mention coaching your adorable granddaughter to prepare for a sports career. What’s not to love about 2023 so far? Thanks for reminding us it’s really the little daily joys that make life great. Cheers to many more this year for you, Suzanne, and your wonderful family.

  3. The cold while float decorating is like no other – it gets into your bones from your feet up. And that glue does NOT come out of clothes! I’ve filled those tiny vials with water, glued seeds, applied those same vials, but the best day of decorating? “We’re moving you to the camera side of the float” High praise in Rose Parade float decorating, my friends. 😉

  4. “Tell me, what happens when everything you cherish goes extinct? You carry on, damn it. You smirk, you smile, you sing in the rain. You help build a Rose Parade float, pressing the tips of tiny thorns in your tender flesh. It’s faintly Biblical. All we’re missing is the snakes.”

    Well….don’t forget the locusts. And, of course, the frogs. And maybe even water turning to wine – no, the plague version was water to blood. Not so good. And never forget the lice – probably worse than a roadside motel in Alabama (and I’m from there – I know!!).

  5. Sometimes these posts remind me of something. Sometimes they jog my memory or make me think of a forgotten song or place. I usually laugh but have also wiped away a tear. But I always take something away. Thank you. I am carrying on damn it! Here’s to a fabulous 2023 to you, Suzanne and your family. I think your 2023 is going to be way better than ok. 😉

  6. LOVED La Canada’s float and you! Great job managing the thorns and glue. Thanks for carrying on with your great columns, always a joy to read. All the best in 2023!

  7. Dear Chris,
    I enjoy your column in the San Marino Trib, but seeing the pictures here are a plus. Have followed you for years, through many sad family events. So happy for you now that you have found a new love. You deserve it. If one day, we meet, I will have to remind you that I
    already feel as though I know you. Do you get that alot? Just so grateful for your continuing good humor. Happy New Year.
    Janet Doud

  8. It’s been a turbulent, wet week split by flashes of sunight and Friday’s blazing coda, but the atmospheric rivers of water continue to line up like those in-the-pattern jets approaching LAX that you previously noted. The way the cold and the roses adhere to late night float stuffing I remember well from my undergraduate days in Boulder. Was that tall angular geeky blade walking the parade route with the float the next morning really me? (the driver could only see foreword, and needed two wingmen on the corners). Maybe those days face extinction, too, though some of the other things you mention, like real breasts, exist everywhere else except among the glitterati, astride surfboards on the age wave, looking backward. Your trip to the 96 year old La Valencia dame that still looks serenely down and out to sea, reminds me of its extinct afternoon tea dances there, conga lines snaking sinuously through its’ great rooms’ flat white Winter light, the rhythms keen and perfectly tight. now there’s a warming thought for the intermittently wet week ahead. You know what else warms a wet Winter day like no other? A love poem falling down through the luminous gloom going this way, and that…and this way…

    Summer Into Winter Goes

    Why was I there? For that old rock and roll?
    When did I know it would be so commanding?
    How could I bear such a loss of control?
    Who could have seen what this force was demanding?
    Where is it written a Summer like this
    Against all the odds of a great loss
    Would appear in mid-Winter, with just a kiss?
    Surely no fire that I’ve run across;

    What was I doing that made me come late
    To understanding what was at stake?
    How could a blowtorch so articulate
    That I warmed my hands, seem something to take?
    Questions that burn like the answers they name
    Crowd in the reaches of my altered brain
    A trial by desire that still is aflame
    Consumes my moments, again and again;
    Nothing in heaven predicts this well
    No warning adorning existence can tell
    How love can transform that alone perfect hell
    Into bonds of hot steel that feel so swell;

    The snow piles up, layer upon layer
    Like time’s cold weight, it’s promises deep
    In the folds of the bed she shifts, and lays her
    Head unto mine, and the heat cannot sleep;
    In Summer and Winter, Spring, and the Fall
    Of reason, how the seasons blur
    Some mighty sun aligns it all
    It seems, just for the love of her
    And all my being must concur…

      1. …and to you and your most vividly rendered and richly experienced family, all the warmth and pleasure of a life of love and meaningful variance in the coming months. In other words: Happy New Year to you and yours. And, of course, all this to the slender silver sliver. May her illuminate presence continue to warm the atmosphere and “blind the senses”, as they say. Love your work, oh Don Of Domestica.. You are getting inside us all; read and understood. What more could a writer ask?

      1. You’re right, Arlington Heights would be the last straw. A new owner might do the trick. But I’m not really a football fan anyway; too much running, stopping, falling down, running again, stopping again, falling down again. Make up your mind already! And then there’s the head trauma, not to be Debbie Downer, but still. Give me a baseball game any day, I’ll be happy.

  9. Congratulations to Jeff and Lydia! Bill and I loved talking with them at the party on the hill. Happy New Year to you and your family, Chris! Thank you for your wit and humor.

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