HomeCity NewsTeardrops on the Driveway

Teardrops on the Driveway

First published in the Sept. 29 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

I make my son a big buttery egg and flip on McCoy Tyner, who is to jazz what lipstick is to smeary kisses.
Love is in the details, right?
I try to father by example, though that hardly ever works. Good parenting requires either bribery or threats. Purportedly, Caesar Augustus melted down statues of himself, and finally paid the Roman soldiers a living wage. He also hired a goon squad to protect himself. The secret to his success? The goons.
Look, you lead your way, I’ll lead mine.
Short a car, I’ve taken to biking around town in flowing robes, like Gandhi. My life could change in an instant, when a total stranger (say, Melba), abruptly opens her car door and sends me flying over the handlebars. Broken clavicle. Torn schnitzel. Cracked noggin.
“Oh no,” Melba will cry. “I’ve killed Gandhi!”
“No, no, no,” some local will explain with a laugh. “Just that writer guy.”
“Whew,” Melba will say, and get on with her day.
If I’m lucky, I’ll land on my head, protected by a $3 helmet with a flimsy egg-like outer shell the thickness of a wish.
Life begins with eggs, life ends with eggs.
Reminds me of the joke: “On Amazon, I ordered an egg, then I ordered a chicken. (Long pause.) I’ll let you know.”
At breakfast, I always used to ask my wife: “How do you want your eggs?”
“Unfertilized,” she’d mutter.
Still, we had four kids. Even then, sperm counts were plunging, the species in peril. We did what we could.
Years later, my life has become a Hungarian fairy tale. Too many expenses, too little funding. A bike, for gawd’s sakes. What would Gandhi say?
The other day I’m riding this bicycle, thinking how nothing makes sense — not this city, not this to-die-for girlfriend (who might be a fairy princess). Not these dogs (which might be trolls).

Life is one long bridge, full of milestones and fairy princesses. I hate milestones.

Even as existentialists go, I’m sort of adrift, raking my sock door at 5 a.m. for a pair that matches. “ONE PAIR OF SOCKS!” I scream. “JUST ONE!”
Poor Smartacus. Those are the first screamy words my son hears in the morning … his dad yelling: “SOCKS! I NEED SOCKS!!!” No wonder he’s a little weird.
Bottom line, Smartacus has been raised by a small-town boy in a too-big city. He is the residue of all my worries.
After 30 years here, I’ve discovered that there is no soft gooey middle to Los Angeles — no Central Park, no main drag, no focal point.
L.A. clings to an ocean named for its passive nature. That’s the first big lie right there. L.A. is notoriously shallow; the Pacific, ferociously deep — the deepest ocean in the world. Believe what you will, but opposites always attract (see fairy princess above).
As you may know, I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in a tough former mining town on the outskirts of Chicago, where the women were far meaner than the men — they had to be.
My own mother taught me how to put rocks into snowballs. She was French, obviously.
“Those snowballs,” I once told my daughters, “were my first lesson in French feminism.”
Cut to L.A. 50 years later, where I’m splashing vodka in the tomato sauce. Stirring, sipping, stirring. Love late September here — so hot, so cold, so hot. September here burns the tongue.
I smiled when I woke the other morning, early before the traffic and the gunfire, to find the driveway damp from an overnight mist, in honor (I suppose) of her royal majesty the queen.
September is change. September is good-byes … eulogies, reunions. Good-bye, summer. Hello, Christmas ads.
I remember, last September, dropping Smartacus off to college. I hate milestones — for a week, I could barely breathe. Doctors thought I’d died.
Finally, I let out a huge, cleansing gasp (and out popped a martini olive!).
But seriously. When I dropped off Smartacus, I realized that all the soccer games, tutors, teacher conferences were finally done. Felt like we were crossing some sort of life bridge. “C’est fini,” as the French feminists say.
I now realize that adulthood is one long bridge — a little damp from all the September tears. The drizzle of bittersweet change. Watch your step. At your age, you slip on a teardrop and …
Meanwhile, there was another power outage the other day — a constant problem in our sleepy little village on the edge of the massive industrial complex they call L.A. As you’d expect, Xanadu gets all the juice. Our suburb is too tiny to matter, too slow to figure out alternating current.
But we’re working on it, OK?
Listen, we just do the best we can with what we have. As the September mornings cool, we rake the sock drawer, we walk the dogs, we tend our scruffy gardens, we send our sassy kids off to overpriced colleges, near and far.
Bye, you silly little eggs.

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For past columns and books, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com.

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