This Windy City

Made a bucket of popcorn, then died right there on the couch late the other night, remote in one hand, Bible in the other.

Over time, Monet lost his eyes, and Beethoven lost his ears. Me, I’ve lost all track of time and responsibility. Retirement will do that to a dude. Especially if you work it right.

Someone recently suggested that I look younger lately. I credit the people I rub shoulders with: Cakes, Suzanne, Bittner, White Fang.

I think it might also be that new shampoo and the extra sit-up each day. But who can say, really?

Maybe it’s the sailing and the sea.

As per Melville:

“Having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world….”

And that’s what I did off Marina Del Rey the other day, with my new pal David, a sailor of some note, whose boat (Westerly) and world-class crew won the famed Transpac back in July, skimmed the slippery surface of the planet, from San Pedro to Hawaii.

This is performance sailing we’re doing today, not a tiki cocktail in sight. Nope, Yves Montand is not dangling his linen legs over the side of the ship. Bridgitte Bardot is not twirling about in a bikini with a flute of sun-kissed Champagne.

This is all business. More like the NFL than a sundown regatta. At one point, they hoist this dude Alec straight up the mast like Long John Silver.

In our six-hours at sea, there are lots of carbon-fiber sails to test, boat data to collect. It’s a little like watching engineers build a computer.

Pro sailors aren’t just sailors. They’re surgeons. Cut here. Cut there. Thread that needle. To win Transpac, you have to ride the right winds…tack at the precise time… as you zig and zag 2,500 miles, guiding this 52-foot rocketship all the way to Diamond Head.

Look, I’m not an obsessive person. I don’t know wines or widgets or Civil War trivia. There is no topic, except for my kids – or maybe the Chicago Cubs — that gobsmack-thrills me over and over. I’m a Midwesterner, more suited to an old farmhouse, surrounded by orchards, patching the barn.

But maybe this? Maybe?                                                                                      

So much to learn, so many questions. All that pasta running across the deck. All those acre-feet of sails.

For instance, a big sail called R1 (aka Reacher 1) is pulling us through the waters off Malibu like a team of runaway stallions. Why this sail and not that one? Why three jibs? Why not simply hoist the largest bedsheet you got and be done with it?

If I sailed, it would be semi-seriously, and mostly for the dreamy Melville moments. Even in your basic 5k Turkey Trot, I always say to the other runners: “Why the rush?”

This though. This is theater.

After a couple of hours, I’m starting to understand a few basics: Sails equal horsepower, and artisans build them the way God makes tulips, strong and no thicker than absolutely necessary.

In the Euclidean gumbo of weight to mass to mast, there are margins of victory and margins of heartache. You can’t over-muscle the rudder system. You can’t push your luck with frayed halyards. Your helmsman better mind that slight wiggle in the wind.

Obviously, I know nothing. I’m looking at one tiny gear of an enormous watch.

My pal David — an economist by trade, a sailor by need — explains the Transpac experience this way:

“As a crew member, you have four hours on, then four hours off. You have your tasks. If you mess up, you have four hours to think about it and figure out how to do better the next time. It’s a cycle of sin and redemption…sin and redemption.”

Suits me, doesn’t it? The sun. The sins. The redemption.

Rinse. Repeat.

Coming Saturday: At Thanksgiving, my daughter cooks in octaves. I know only a few lousy notes.

Please join me at Flintridge Bookstore this Saturday (Nov. 18) from 1-3 pm. I’ll be signing “What the Bears Know,” the memoir about famed “Bear Whisperer” Steve Searles. Bring your books by even if you purchased them somewhere else. Or bring “Daditude,” my own memoir of modern suburban life.

In the meantime, here’s an encore performance of Posh’s chicken chili recipe – a quick, delicious meal on a chill autumn week like this. Cheers!


1 rotisserie chicken (or the equivalent)

1 onion

3 jars mild green salsa

Cooking oil



2 cups chicken stock

Sour cream

In a big pot, in a splash of oil, sauté 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic and a medium chopped onion. Add the peeled meat from the chicken and three jars of Trader Joe’s salsa verde (other markets’ green salsa also works fine).

You slosh it around a while, maybe an hour, add a couple of cans of white cannellini beans and a tablespoon of cumin, a spice that tastes lousy till you add it to food. Oh, and a cup or two of chicken broth. Then slosh it around some more. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a scoop of sour cream, a dash of hot sauce and a cold beer. Feeds six normal adults. Or about 60 Chardonnay Moms.

8 thoughts on “This Windy City

  1. Wow. This one caught me by surprise. Didn’t know you would be so taken with the magic of sailing. There is something so beautiful about a colorful spinnaker filled with the wind that is pure art. I am no sailor but I have been in a few “beer can races” in Newport and I know the thrill of skimming the water. Lest you get too carried away and be tempted to buy a boat, I pass along my friend’s sage advice: “Don’t own a boat…Befriend someone who owns a boat.” Sail on.

  2. Wonderful. And a perfect example of one of the best things about this writing business. It’s a great excuse to learn about something you might otherwise never experience. Then you get to share it with other people who can read about it in bed with a cup of coffee next to them and a heating pad under their lower back. And now they get to feel like they went to sea without ever having to find a really long extension cord for the heating pad. They’ve learned a little something about the “Euclidean gumbo of weight to mass to mast” (applause for that phrase) and they’ve been reminded of their old pal, Yves Montand and their original fantasy flame, Bridgette for the first time in too many years. What a great way to start the day. Now I’m going to go into the closet, dig out that old beret, drive to the smoke shop and buy a pack of Gitane cigarettes. Or at least think about it while I drink the rest of this delicious coffee.

  3. Lovely writeup! “So much to learn, so many questions.” is how I feel every time I go out; especially a day like that with a top-notch crew.

  4. I raced out of Marina Del Rey for over 10 years. We entered just about every race a yacht club would sponsor. Never won a single one. Didn’t really care. I called being out on the ocean the Church of the Deep Blue Sea.

  5. I think you should jump aboard, cast off lines, and go for it. You would be sailing a course past the usual tack: small class boats, crewing on larger boats; becoming addicted; buying a larger boat (or a few); and always racing, racing, racing. As a writer, think of a new world of similes and metaphors in which “ like a team of runaway stallions” will seem landlocked; lubber bound. In the days when my abdomen was as tight as the stay on a tuned mast I used to set jibs and spinnakers and excessively hike out (hang out, suspended by a wire, over water) on a Flying Dutchman ( 21’ 11” double hull olympic class keel boat—a wet boat with an enormous spinnaker ) in races helmed by a merciless, demanding former class national champion. They call this form of devoted self punishment “crewing”, end many consider it a thrilling watery ecstasy. It IS great fun, like many other forms of magnetic masochism, for sailing is yet another metaphor for life. For you, there is added nautical benefit in hitting the water, since that sleek silver sloop you sail around town with is a regatta mistress par excellence, spending many of her weekends directing these sail fests. You could then be a character in her plays. But wait—you already are. Now THERE’S drama for you. Go for it

  6. “Euclidian Gumbo”. As a formerly competent design engineer, I like that coin. It also sounds like the title of that “Erskine’s Eats” cookbook you’ve been hinting at for so long via the intermittent aroma of recipes wafting from your keyboard.. could that be your next book?
    From bears to bagels—what an appetizing transition, worth putting on a bib for( or a yachting jersey), sitting down at the helm, and waiting for the breeze to blow again from the galley. Meanwhile, new titles inspired by your possible nautical pursuits swim in the head ! For instance: “The Galley Gourmet”; Cuisine Cruising ( With Chris); “Sated Sailing: The Art of Over-Water Satisfaction”; “Marine Menu Mania:: Food For Turbulent Water”, “Marine Menus For The Mentally Marinated” ; “The Briny Deep::Adventures In Salt Water Cooking”; “Navigating Food Over Water”, “Marine Meals”. Well, you get the point of the compass. You could easily cook up a book while on those long boring reaches on a Transpac; or just yachting around the L.A. archipelago with Suzanne. To abuse an old phrase, you’ve “Wetted Our Whistle”….

    …There’s water on the brain here. The first autumn storm just hit the hill and it’s “raining like hell”, to paraphrase Sinatra. El Neenyo is upon us, and we are now as the sea is, redolent with a taste of salt—-from your writing. Bon Voyage.

  7. I swear I read your recipe line, “Serve with a scoop of sour cream, a dash of hot sauce and a cold beer,” as reading, “Serve with a scoop of ice cream…” which I thought was exceptionally daring… either that or you’d been taking your Marching Orders from Cakes a little too long… 🤔 😁

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