Can I Gush?

I pulled the ripcord on Social Security the other day, applied for the monthly payments, shunning the nominal boost I’d have gotten if I waited a few more years.

As it is, life requires too much waiting around. You wait for the right job, the right moment, the right relationship. You wait for stoplights, for coffee, for a table at the weird new restaurant everyone likes.

You wait for a break, a bus, a driver’s license, the doctor, a flight to Vegas.

Listen, my jackpot was never a jackpot. My jackpot was steady work for 43 years. Never once did I not have a job. I’d quit a job, take two weeks to move, then begin the new job – new school, new dentist, new friends. That’s no life. But it sure beats a lot of the alternatives.

Now, at 66, I’m a little worn out. Some days, it hurts just to pull a sweater over my head. And the other morning, I put my shoes on before my pants.

Fortunately, my mind is as nimble as it ever was (not very). I’m still pretty good at “Jeopardy” but it comes and it goes. Increasingly, names slip away during cocktail conversations.

That South Africa guy…won the Peace Prize…Nelson…Nelson…………………………………………….

Still, my mind remains my merry-go-round … all sorts of ideas about almost everything.

I spend far too much time categorizing the things I love from the things I don’t.

I love road trips

I hate zoos.

I love cinnamon on my cereal.

I hate lime in my beers.

I love the way my granddaughter says goodnight.

I hate the way drivers glide through stop signs almost crushing me.

I love regional rivalries.

I hate transfer portals.

I love climbing on the roof.

I hate crawling under sinks.

I love the way bacon sings to me. Like birdsong. Like Brahms.

Plus, I love the way you can improve a stranger’s mood – and even his mental health — just by being a little kind.

Old guys with canes, for instance. Those are some great guys. They just want someone to listen to them, maybe share a laugh, to talk about the old days…Korea…Vietnam…Peggy Sue.

It must take a special courage to grow old gracefully, to laugh over the modern inconveniences, the QR menus and the self-help kiosks… the validation requests …the passwords on top of passwords.

As a young man, you’re mostly faking it – swagger, bravura, impertinence, triumph. Before you know it, you’re a middle-aged dad with a plastic dog bag dangling out your back pocket, walking down the boulevard and wondering where your hair went.

Hey, if you’re lucky, right? The best people I’ve known went away far too soon.

I hope I can one day become an old guy with a cane, and that some punk in his mid-60s pauses for a conversation, or to gripe about the Dodgers, or to marvel over the way the clover grips that hill over there.

You don’t have to be a poet to live life poetically, to pick some wildflowers, to help someone fix a flat.

Mental health is a carnival ride. When you help another person, you help yourself. You climb aboard their merry-go-round.

Sorry if that sounds a little hokey. If being nice is not for you, fine. Live your life. You be yewwwww. Be grumpy. I admire grumps. Grumps are authentic, they tell it like it is. But I’m not so sure they’re happy enough.

Isn’t that an obtainable goal? To be happy enough?

Gimme an optimist anytime – a rogue, a raconteur. Give me someone who appreciates the way firelight burnishes a beer glass, the crack of the bat, or the way California glows after it rains — as if it’s just been kissed.

I hit the jackpot in California, we all have. It’s not the Eden some insist. I mean, any definition of Eden has to include restaurants open past 9 pm, right?

And the way motorcycles sneak past you on the freeway, inches from your elbow? That’s no Utopia either. Or those noisy, flatulent Italian cars.

But it is more Eden than most. In this Mother of all Marches, thank your lucky charms you are here, where the setting sun backlights the surf and colors the weeds along the freeway.

Can I gush a little? On spring days in LA, I feel like I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams (to borrow from the great Ogden Nash).

Like Shakespeare, Nash was a poet with a swashbuckler’s sneer.

I’ll bet he used a cane. I’ll bet he ordered bacon.

Need a hike? A glass of gin? A funny story? Stay tuned for info on an upcoming hike, on a Saturday afternoon in the not-so-distant future, to admire the way the glover grips the hills. Or I grip a beer glass. Meanwhile, for books, old columns and really cool hiking gear, please visit

21 thoughts on “Can I Gush?

  1. Yes, we have all hit the jackpot. Not just living in California, but getting to read your amazing posts twice a week. Oh, and those delightful pictures! Keep spreading the kindness, laughter and thoughtful observations around. We need them.

  2. Such a joy to read your pieces in the early morning silence with a great cup of coffee. Delightful pictures indeed. Thank you for all the laughter in so many columns

  3. Hey Chris…I’m a little ahead of you and I took Social Security at 65 instead of waiting to 90; it’s worked out fine. Evidently, not recalling names is a function of old age. I can remember yours most of the time, mine some of the time. If you hang with young people, you can give ’em a hint [as in: “Marty” – oh, Ernest Borgnine] and get your answer. The “golden years” are coming…enjoy!

  4. Once again, as always, thank you for making me smile and tear up all at once. I know I don’t comment as often as I once did, but it’s important for you to know that you are still a part of my life and simple gratitudes. So can I gush a little? Chris Erskine is a delight!

  5. I certainly have not hit the jackpot but I know gold when I see it and these twice weekly posts are a treasure. Especially on a cold, cloudy March morning.

  6. Brilliant Chris! Love this column. And congrats on winning the social security jackpot. You’ve earned it.

  7. Ahhhh my dear friend…I say “friend” Chris because though we’ve never met, I have always imagined sitting with you and talking and dissecting the world and counting our blessings at the same time over many cups of coffee, or booze or soup. Not in a creepy way, don’t worry… just the perfect mix of admiration and appreciation and respect that humans potentially have for one another in my imagined world. Any man that wants to gush is a rare find. Your beautiful brain rocks.
    Enjoy that first check. Buy yourself a fine cane, maybe with a solid gold rabbit as the handle with a diamond in his eye. And in 25 years… you can take it for a spin as simply a great conversation starter. Till then… you keep doing yewwwwwww because dammit, you are sublime.

  8. Speaking of grumps, have you seen the movie ‘A Man Called Otto’ with Tom Hanks? Great movie taken from the Swedish film ‘A Man Called Ove’ (free on Tubi) which is even better. Hope you can enjoy these.

  9. hi Chris ~ thought you might like this quote from the wonderful Billy Collins (taken from Prairie Home Companion’s Writer’s Almanac): “It’s the birthday of American poet Billy Collins (1941) , who once said, “While the novelist is banging on his typewriter, the poet is watching a fly in the window pane.” Collins is widely considered the most popular poet in America.”

  10. Chris, a friend once told me (simultaneously creating my favorite oxymoron), “You are a hopeless optimist.”

    I think this description fits you equally well.

  11. Congrats on signing up for SS. I was so ready to retire. Just before Covid. May you find lots of young 60Yo whippersnappers to snooze with. I’m more of a Grateful Dead fan than Peggy Lee.

  12. Mental health is a carnival ride. When you help another person, you help yourself. You climb aboard their merry-go-round.

    Boy, is this ever true. As always, you are the man who just says what’s in our hearts!

  13. You’re right on with that last diatribe!! I’m a third generation Laguna Beach “survivor”. Dr. Mark Judy. Remember me! I brought you the giant bag of Plumera blooms for your wife Tosh while she was going through Chemo when you made a stop in San Clemente for a book signing. Come on down sometime and we’ll have a great chitchat over a Sebastopol Pinot Noir about granddaughters, UCLA and California. Keep the faith.

  14. Hi Chris,
    As usual, your column is so great! I will be looking at SS in probably 3 years myself, and my hubby is already on it. We are hoping to make a hike in the future!
    Kim Alvarez

  15. We wait for coffee, sunlight…the perfect relationship. Yeah, but can I gush?…

    Cafe Fresca

    You bring the word-full grains from somewhere
    Inside you into the light and begin
    To stack them, where—at their natural
    Height—you airbrush their sandy fall
    Into the morning’s waiting silence;

    It is the fall I love most—air
    Tumbling, the ear often within
    The dark coffee of its limits—full
    Of the morning’s steam with its tall
    Beginnings, words turning sounds of romance
    Like some kind of luminous gyre
    On the screen, the grains firing the eye
    With their little black signs like fingers
    Caressing space, pulling the mind along
    Dancing with the seconds, breath a thought
    One remembers when awaking to fire
    In its many guises; you wonder why
    The smoke from each letter lingers
    In the light, almost like a song
    From last night drifting in that you ought
    To know, the music that you heard
    Rising once again, its written words
    Black with matter streaming down each line
    Of the lyric, unique in its design;

    Moments of the new day sing, and pause
    Before gravity invokes its laws
    Upon the lyric sweetness of the flesh
    As the night unwinds, and words mesh
    With the morning’s shine; and the coffee’s fresh…

    That picture of you and the girl
    Like cocoa in the coffee’s swirl
    More said than.words herein written
    Of steam and mocha therein smitten
    A sweet thing now that’s all the rage
    A latte swell at any age
    Methinks the girl is the cream
    And much more than a Winter dream
    A fulsome fetching coffee cup
    With Spring here, bottoms up.

  16. First thanks for sending me such a nice message last week . Today’s message really hit a spot with me since I am one of those who unfortunately is getting old day by day. Enjoy your messages tremendously.

  17. That dress! That yellow Disney Princess dress. If that doesn’t scream happy childhood, I don’t know what does. A feast for the eyes. Little cupcake. Awww.

Leave a Reply