HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: A Book, a Beer, a Belly Rub

Chris Erskine: A Book, a Beer, a Belly Rub

My son Smartacus is gone again. I dropped him at the airport just before daybreak. I prefer to say my goodbyes in the dark, in case I mist up, which I won’t. But if I ever did. I mean, no one wants to see their dad verklempt in public.
“Be safe, Smartacus,” I tell him. “And once in a while study.”
Then I hugged him. He was wearing one of those so-called puffer jackets, and you have to wade through layers of it to hug him, to get to muscle, bone, sinew, ribs.
“I love you too much,” I say.
“I know you do, Dad.”
They say to tell your kids you love them too much, and never too little, so I’m giving that a try, just to make them as uncomfortable as paternally possible.
With Smartacus gone, the music is suddenly 40 years older. His bedroom is dark. Some days, the furnace kicking on is the only sound.
Before he left, Smartacus was telling me how he doesn’t itch up at college, only down here in L.A., as I scratched between his shoulder blades while he ate the enormous breakfast I’d made: loaded hashbrowns, with bacon, cheese and bits of scorched red onion.
I wouldn’t necessarily call him spoiled. Or entitled. I’d just call him itchy.
So now the holidays feel officially over. He’s gone, along with the tree and all the Amazon boxes, the new icon of an American Christmas.
You should’ve seen them the other day, smashed into all the recycling bins along our cul-de-sac.
As you may know, we live in a very fine, very fragile house. Used to be a successful creamery, then a busy Wienerschnitzel. That’s the only way we were able to afford it.
By the way, over the holidays, pine needles spilled out of the ice dispenser, right into my cocktail glass with the ice. Quite the festive mystery.
“Hey Posh, you seeing this?” I said to the ceiling. “Pine needles in the gin!”
Sometimes I think God drinks a little.
Since Posh left, our house has developed a honky-tonk vibe, which will make it an easy sell when the time comes.
In fact, I was looking at all the empty Amazon boxes lying around the other day and thought: “Why not just go? Why not pack up everything in these boxes, hop a freight train and go off in search of America the way Simon and Garfunkel did?”
I had just pumped the brakes all the way from Santa Monica to Long Beach, an excruciating exercise, really one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had (worse than a colonoscopy, worse than a fussy fusion restaurant).
In some sort of post-COVID haze, I’d agreed to a book club visit way down in beautiful Long Beach; they’d promised takeout pizza and craft beer.
“Did you just say beer?” I asked.
FYI, there are no gray areas in my life. Only yes. Only no.
So, there I was, inching along that weird world between Culver City and El Segundo, distinguished by its ability to look like nowhere you’d ever want to live.
The book-clubbers were understanding and a little buzzed when I showed up almost 30 minutes late. As promised, there was pizza — miles and miles of pizza — plus all sorts of craft beer with saucy craft-beer names.
And for two hours, we talked about books. Not just my recent book, but books in general, and how so many start out dull and slow, like a lousy date.
We talked about how if you find a good author, you’ve found a friend for life, someone with similar sensibilities, perhaps, or at least the ability to make you laugh or think or itch.
Two nights later, I visited another book club, this one in Studio City.
If you’ve ever been, you know that Studio City is pretty much the St. Moritz of the Valley, all twinkly with the leftover holiday lights and the mini-malls along Ventura, where you can pretty much buy anything — a fake passport, a skein of yarn. Really anything.
The best books, we all agreed, make you sad when they are over. Like no other art form, books give us a resonance, a satisfaction, a bond, a belly rub.
Yes, that’s what a good book is: a belly rub.
By the way, the Studio City book-clubbers asked for recommendations.
I told them that it’ll be super tough to follow Steve Searles’ best-selling bear book — sort of a “Great Gatsby” of bears — full of adventure, soul searching, self-discovery and passion.
Laughs too. And belly rubs.
I mean, who doesn’t love a belly rub?

The January reading stack books provide resonance satisfaction a bond a belly rub

To schedule a book appearance — or just to vent — please e-mail the columnist at

First published January 11-13 in Outlook Newspapers.


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