White Fang Sings Sinatra

I write — snidely and rarely very well — while facing a blank bedroom wall in a blank bedroom community…hovering over a blank screen, my fingers quivering in the pre-dawn darkness.

To be sure, I’ve written in prettier places — in press boxes or at the beach. Suzanne’s place looks out on a lovely costal cove, and some mornings I sit there mesmerized by the starlight in the waves.

Yet, dreamy surroundings are no guarantee of solitude or contentment. Do writers even require solitude or contentment? Doesn’t everybody?

Most probably, the slums of the mind require a soothing, milky counterpoint. And sometimes, we’re merely at the mercy of our quivering moods.

Embrace it. Why not? I was telling Suzanne’s mom – my martini muse — how we shouldn’t be wary of melancholy. My point: There can’t be celebration without contemplation. As thoughtful and reflective creatures, we need to make sense of both the sorrowful and the sublime.

What an idiot, right? Me giving advice to a dynamic 92-year-old woman — a Stanford alum, no less — who has way more figured out than I ever will. Suzanne’s mama then noted that more has changed in the past 20 years than in the previous 70 years she’s been alive.

Such times we live in. Such odd, exciting times.

The next morning, I’m sitting with the dog at Starbucks way too early, overhearing two men of a certain age dithering over whose turn it is to pay, as old men will. Then their voices rise as they move on to some blown business deal. One of them eventually grabs his bike and stalks off.

You’d think the grand old gents of Starbucks would be above that stuff. Like Suzanne’s delightful mom, you’d think they’d have the important stuff sorted out.

You know, these cyclists are a subset of contemporary California, these semi-fit older men, showing up like clockwork in their skin-tight cyclist duds that can’t quit conceal their belly fat, determined after 30 hilly miles to enjoy a warm muffin and a hot mocha.

It’s like Happy Hour for aging males, here in the softness of an August morning, before the sun lifts off its pillow.

At Starbucks, where nothing is left to whim, they usually play Sinatra at this hour, heartfelt tunes that — like older men — have stood the test of time.

And right then, in the wake of this weird, uncomfortable faceoff between friends, White Fang begins to sing along to Sinatra.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…

Like most huskies, White Fang is a wistful tenor, with a fluttering vibrato — though she would do well to enunciate a bit more. A cartoonish yar-yar-yar-yar-yarrrrr is mostly how it sounds.

The important thing is that White Fang feels the emotion in the words – like Joni Mitchell, like Tony Bennett. Something you’re born with, I guess.

And more, much more than this,I did it my way… 

Honestly, you can’t chase an honest moment. Somehow, they just ambush you. And sometimes, as per White Fang, we’re at the mercy of our quivering moods, landing somewhere between sorrowful and sublime.

What do you want out of reading? Same thing you want out of life: a few laughs, a few truth bombs, some moment of real connection with other people?

I love to read, yet two out of three books I can’t even finish. The third makes reading worthwhile, as does writing like the passage below, from the great Tony Hoagland — evocative, thoughtful, deadly smart.

It takes stock of the ethical choices we confront just by being alive. And in the process, makes us feel more dialed in.


Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon,

you feel the faint grit
of ants beneath your shoes,
but keep on walking
because in this world

you have to decide what
you’re willing to kill.
Saving your marriage might mean
dinner for two

by candlelight on steak
raised on pasture
chopped out of rain forest
whose absence might mean

an atmospheric thinness
50 years from now
above the vulnerable head
of your bald grandson on vacation

as the cells of his scalp
sautéed by solar radiation
break down like suspects
under questioning.

Still you slice
the sirloin into pieces
and feed each other
on silver forks

under the approving gaze
of a waiter
whose purchased attention
and French name

are a kind of candlelight themselves,
while in the background
the fingertips of the pianist
float over the tusks

of the slaughtered elephant
without a care,
as if the elephant
had granted its permission.

Starting Wednesday, the countdown to another wedding. Will Dad trip going down the aisle? Will Cakes come through as flower girl? Will the Schlitz be cold enough? Stay tuned. Email me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.

12 thoughts on “White Fang Sings Sinatra

  1. Beautiful. You and Tony both. AI will NEVER produce words like that because it has no soul. Cannot wait for the smiles and maybe tears your wedding excursion will undoubtedly bring us. Will White Fang sing a solo?

  2. Read this in print yesterday in the Pasadena Outlook.
    Your “Candle Light “ quote prompted me to share this with you.
    I’m reading again an American realism novel I first read when I was a junior in HS. About 7 decades ago!
    “Giants In The Earth”. A moving saga about Norwegian settlers the pioneering the virgin Great Plains of the Dakota Territory in the early19th Century. Their joys & tragedies.
    It has stayed with me all these many years. Written originally in Norwegian. Translated to English in early 20th Century. It remains one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.

      1. LAPL has two digital copies with a three week waitlist…

  3. “Before the sun lifts off its pillow” Love it. I’m with you regarding books. Sometimes it takes a few starts before I find one I like. .Another great post, Chris.

  4. This post stood out from the rest. Not much humor but a lot of thought-filled melancholy tinged with music. I’m going to read it many times to mine it’s depths.

  5. In the early hours a blank writing wall is often swept with the ghosts of light from a passing car, or street light wavery from slipping through the fingers of a tree gently dancing in a slight late night breeze. It puts you in a mood, and the night hums with imagined and remembered light that has to shine on the page. These words are a mood poem matched perfectly to a Hoagland piece. They range from pennies to heaven with an early morning ease. You write supremely well when you wax philosophical and just riff off the top, letting the turns of phrase hang likr little lanterns in the quiet pulse of the night, swaying slightly, in tune with the fading stars. Occasionally, perhaps, Writing on that deck looking out over the slumbering coastal escarpment to the quietly breathing sea, the soft breath of the sleeping muse whispering inside. Another perfect match.

    Like Cakes and her divine imagery: game, set, match.

  6. Love Cakes knees…they are adorable. Oh, and your article was good too…..thank you for both…they each made my heart smile.

  7. Once again, your writing provided just what you perfectly wrote, and the same thing I want out of life: a few laughs, a few truth bombs, and some moment of real connection with other people. Thank you.

  8. I absolutely loved this column! Will read again and again. So many things I think about but would never be able to put into words like you. You are a master that can connect all these thoughts and put them in writing for all to enjoy. Hope they have lots of gin for you at that wedding!

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