First published in the Oct. 13 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
We’re getting down to the wire on this tailgate bash, and Miller and I are in yelling mode, that pre-party stage where nothing is going as planned, so everyone starts yelling in hopes that the screaming will propel us toward some sort of last-second miracle.
By the way, this is also how major motion pictures get made. Lots of yelling. Lots of last-second miracles. It’s also a popular way to raise kids.
The tailgate dispute is pretty fundamental: Miller thinks we need more breakfast burritos. I don’t. He also doesn’t listen when I tell him I have 200 red Solo cups and keeps asking about more red Solo cups.
“I already told you…” are the words that begin most of our sentences.
As I overheard a neighbor telling her husband the other morning, “I HATE ALL THIS RAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I hear you, sista. Gotta confess, I hate rage too. Hate it, hate it. Toxic.
Thing is, I can kind of relate. Tailgates in melty weather put me on edge too. L.A. now seems down to two seasons: hot and hotter.
In fact, the heat might drive me outta here, the way it drove me out of Singapore and Miami, though to be honest, it was more the people of Miami who drove me out. They were either voodoo priestesses, Marxist exiles or vacationing Canadians, each group nuttier than the next.
Fun for a while, sure — the discos, the fried plantains (used to roll them in rum). But once we had children, we decided to move to a more sensible place.
Which is how we wound up in L.A.
Look, I’m not going to complain. Seriously, I’m not a guy who sits around griping about every little disappointment. At least not anymore. Sure, maybe five minutes ago. Much wiser now. Besides, I hate rage.
Basically, we’re all about as happy as we want to be. I decide in that moment, during the fifth screamy pre-tailgate phone call, to be ruthlessly happy, to be happy beyond all reason, to be happy on behalf of those who are genetically incapable of happiness, no matter if they are rich or poor, gorgeous or rather knobby (like me).
In fact, I’m gonna be so giddy most people will think I’m day-drinking again.
“Do you float through your life?” a friend asked the other day. “I imagine you smiling and floating … and I think it is a lovely way to go.”
Though it sounds like I’m dying.
Hey, just wait till you see this tailgate, in the gauzy Brigadoon that surrounds the Rose Bowl, a pre-game party that is coming together like a Harold Pinter play.
“WE DON’T NEED 4,000 BURRITOS!” I yell.
Miller also ordered 100 loaves of Focaccia bread — huh? — and he rented this trippy Scooby-Doo van. His Mambo Cadillac. His Chariot of Fire.
“It’s a death trap,” Miller explains after he picks up the van.
“Who are you, Jerry Garcia?”
Kurt Vonnegut used to write about certain places in the universe where all truths fit together neatly. This is not one of those places.
This is a tailgate, flawed yet perfect. I love tailgate parties more than life itself — more than fistfights, more than Ferris wheels. I love staging them with my pals Miller, Bittner, Jeff, Gary, Liz, Suzanne, Billionaire Charlie, Verge, Delaney, Ortiz and all the other nuts.
It’s a group fiasco, obviously. We tape the TV antenna to an oak tree, we cut the celery with first-aid scissors (yeah, forgot a knife).
Then the guests file in: The Chardonnay Moms are all amazing, the dads stout and strong. The kids? Well, we’ll see. Honestly? Love them, and the fact they will like hanging around with the moms and dads.
This is the social highlight of the season, obviously. Two kegs. Twenty-five little oil drums of vodka that Miller stole from the Russian Army. He’s got these supply chains, some nefarious. You don’t ask too many questions in case it ever goes to court.
Guests have flown in from St. Louis for this tailgate. Rapunzel shows up with Marty and Lynn, her in-laws-in-waiting from Chicago. Smartacus, our tailgate intern, helps me tap a keg.
An hour before the game, I realize that this may be the only tailgate that needs a concussion tent.
Gawd, there will be so much stuff to clean up. Gawd, what are we going to do with all these burritos? Most of all, how will we get this wobbly hippie van back to Costa Mesa?
These are all questions for another day. For now, let’s get a group photo and call this a win. Let’s put our arms around someone sweaty and lick our salty lips for the camera.
Looking forward to Saturday’s YMCA’s Prayer Breakfast, where I’ll share life-affirming stories from my new book with noted bear specialist Steve Searles. For info, call (818) 583-4731, or email Jpingry@ymcafoothills.org.