Our Favorite Joint

For the record – I prefer Belgian chocolates and burgers by the pier. Simple stuff. Simple guy.

As I’ve said, if you line up a bunch of tiny pleasures, like shot glasses along an old mahogany bar, you can live a very rich life without actually being wealthy. Money can be such a bother, can’t it?

Wouldn’t know.

Look, I’m rich with quips, that’s about all. I will never be a wealthy novelist.

First, I’m not negative enough. Second, I don’t use words like “tendrils” or “phalanx,” the kinds of words that show up a lot in serious books. I use words like “oooomph” and “ju-ju” and “vengeance.” I’m like my own Old Testament.

In that regard, apologies to the table next to us at dinner the other night. 

My grandchild Cakes and I were on another date – first the playground, then tacos, then ice cream at the little shop that charges 6 bucks for a thimble of chocolate, plus rainbow sprinkles. I think the sprinkles are complimentary, though probably not. When you charge $6 for a children’s cup, you are pretty much beyond shame.

Obviously, I have no idea what it takes to make money in this demanding world.

Stop me if I’ve mentioned this, but Cakes really loves Lula’s, a mid-priced Mexican joint in Santa Monica. It has all the right colors, the yellows, the greens, the Aztec geometrics. Doesn’t everyone need a loud and loving Mexican place that opens to the sidewalk, where the hosts half-recognize you when you walk in the door? 

Lula’s is ours.

When we settle into our booth, Cakes dances a bit, then performs an aria of pure toddler joy, somewhat of a yodel, somewhat of a primal scream. The older trio right next to us doesn’t really appreciate her four-octave range. They keep ordering rounds of drinks and not looking over. It’s crazy the way they don’t look over.

“Ayyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee,” she says.

“Shu-shu-shuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuush,” I say. “Or there’s no ice cream.”

At 2, Cakes doesn’t make easy deals. She is squirmy and acrobatic and mostly just a blur.

Apologies, as I said. But really, if you come to a family restaurant with a phalanx of strollers parked by the door, you pretty much have to be prepared for all-out mayhem.

All the same, sorry, sorry, sorry.

Friends ask what Cakes and I talk about at dinner. Just the usual, I suppose. Our uncertainties, our dreams, our blunders, our self-doubts ….

Whatever she wants, she gets, of course. Sure, there’s a little slime in my hair (guac?), but that could’ve come from anywhere.

On the way home, I realize we’ve lost Cakes’ favorite doll. Nice move, Papa.

“Hey Mom, remember the time Papa lost my best doll?”

So, I drop her home to her parents, careful not to mention the missing doll. Back to the restaurant I trudge, dog in tow, hoping the doll is still in there somewhere.

“She’s been sleeping,” the busboy says, carefully carrying the doll to me.

Don’t you love life sometimes? Don’t you love the grace and the humor and the whimsy?

And the random acts of charity…

For instance, I just upgraded Suzanne’s fireplace – new gas jets, the whole schlamassel, getting down on my knees, as if in prayer. Grunting and groaning, twisting off sooty old iron pipe that wants to crumble,  putting in new pipe.

Schlamassel tov!

As Steven Wright once noted: “The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.”

The same goes for old plumbing.

With the help of God, the fireplace install goes well, as these things seldom do. In two hours, Suzanne has herself a fine new fireplace set, the flames quivering up, dancing in the darkening room.

To celebrate, we order pizza, then welcome a single set of trick-or-treaters, several parents, all in costume. They are grateful enough, and I can see one of the moms eyeing Suzanne’s courtyard and thinking, “Wow, this place is super nice. Wait, she’s dating her plumber?”

Yeah. So?

FYI, my cuticles now look like Alice Cooper, sooty and rimmed with stage makeup. 

See, dating isn’t just rough-housing and romantic dinners. It’s sharing little chores. We both love our houses. Hers overlooks the world’s greatest sea. Mine overlooks a grove of olive trees, the only reason I bought the modest ’50s rancher … the only reason anyone ever would.

To fix up someone’s house is to pamper them as well. Sure, I could just dial the phone, that’d be easy. But there is something to be said for personally caring for someone else’s place, as you would your own. To caulk a window, fix a lamp, patch that hole in the wall the doorknob made.

Little pleasures, all in a row.

Dubbed (by me) “the holiday season’s most heart-warming read,” What the Bears Know is now available in bookstores. Look for it at Flintridge Books in La Canada. Also, pick up signed copies at {Pages} in Manhattan Beach, which has supported our book like no one else. Also, Amazon, of course, which saw the magic in this uncommon memoir and ordered half the first printing. Order online here. Need a book club guest? Schedule Steve and me for an upcoming meeting, by emailing Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com.

Upcoming calendar:

Nov. 15 (7:30 am): Signing and talk at La Canada AM Kiwanis, Lutheran Church, 1700 Foothill Blvd. Open to all. Please purchase book in advance.

Nov. 18 (1-3 pm): Signing at Flintridge Bookstore, 858 Foothill Blvd, in La Canada.

Dec. 2 (2 pm): Happy Hour Hiking Club holiday hike in Calabasas, with drinks after at Sagebrush Cantina. Free, but space is limited. RSVP to Letters@chriserskineLA.com.

Dec. 5 (6-7 pm): Signing and talk at Santa Monica Main Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Books available for sale and for signing. Free.

5 thoughts on “Our Favorite Joint

  1. I am hugely impressed that you have such handyman skills. And Suzanne’s trust that you can install gas piping without blowing up her fireplace shows the depth of her love. Thanks for vividly reminding us of what it means to patiently appreciate a 2 year old’s unbridled passion for life. As always, a true delight. (And yes, you do use words like ‘phalanx’.) Ole.

  2. Your granddaughter has absolutely the cutest cheeks. As a granny, I’d be hard-pressed not to tweak them every time I saw her. She’s a little doll.

  3. Oh Chris, thank you for this and how lovely your granddaughter’s favorite doll was well taken care of and safely returned. You and Suzanne make a beautiful couple.

  4. Money is a gift that evaporates in mind and eye. Brain and muscle are the synergistic gifts that keep on giving. You will burn in the thought of every fire in that fireplace this autumn and winter, and thereafter. Erskine on fire—I like the metaphor, I’ll bet Suzanne does, too.

    A picture may be worth a thousand words, but is much more complete with them. The lost doll story has a touching warmth and reads like a childhood fable. One should not let sleeping dolls lie, especially if they are lost and alone. What doll would not want to wake up to little Catherine? That doll face…

  5. Great wit as always! I once wrote a piece for the Pasadena Weekly titled “Baby friendly Bistros”. It was tough finding a place for foodies like us plus the toddler. Usually the Italians welcomed us with open arms. Some places stuck us near the kitchen or the chilly patio.

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