We held a tailgate the other day, in the shapeless hours of early autumn — a garden party in the shadow of our beloved Rose Bowl, over here on the scrappy side of town.
Since UCLA is playing, we have a fair amount of Westsiders, who always seem a little bit better looking than the rest of us, platinum-haired and nicely dressed. Teeth like piano keys.
My buddy Wheels is here, in his Barry Sanders jersey. To be honest, I’m not even sure where Wheels lives. I think he leads a shepherd’s life, following the seasons, guided by the North Star.
Apparently, Wheels is a horseman of some note, though you don’t find many horsemen in Barry Sanders silks. So I’m leery. Another red flag: He brought along Verge, his mischievous sidekick.
It’s as if you planned a dignified garden party, and both Belushi brothers showed up.
In fact, I’m leery of all these people, partly because they’re my friends. I mean, what kind of person would choose me as a pal? Right there, you’re dealing with a very dicey demographic.
Doesn’t help that the lovely and patient older daughter is here, with her squeeze. They also invited a few friends, one of whom is a fugitive from Australia. While most Australians are fugitives, I’m pretty sure this one used to rob trains at gunpoint.
“Actually, I think he was a plumber,” someone says.
Another of my daughter’s friends is like Rain Man; you name an event — Madonna’s second marriage, the birth of jazz — and he’ll blurt out the year.
Rain Man hasn’t figured out a way to monetize this skill. But it’s sort of nostalgic, in a pre-Google way, suggestive of a time when knowing trivia was the sign of a beautiful mind.
“ ’Annie Hall!’ ” you shout.
“1977,” he’ll say, sneering at how easy it is.
“ ‘The Sonny & Cher Show’!”
“1971,” Rain Man says.
My poor niece — she’s witnessing all this. She just moved to L.A. from Chicago, trading a city of some distinction for this roly-poly region of wise guys and aspiring Streeps. I’ve tried to warn her how dubious and weird SoCal is compared to the heartland.
In L.A., everything is a little off. The grass doesn’t turn green till winter. There’s maybe a million minimalls, yet no good Greek food. If you live east of the 5, you may as well reside in Petrograd.
On the positive side, we have some excellent pomegranates.
And you’ll find that L.A. weekends are always too short — there’s so much to do. On weekends, you will virtually live outdoors, as Wheels does, following your flock across the sage and chaparral.
Which is why we’re at the Rose Bowl on a perfect Saturday afternoon, with misfits, train robbers, an anchorman and other local lunatics.
“What I like about Christmas are the turtledoves,” I’m explaining to someone.
Three of my kids are here. I think back to how I once prepped these turtledoves for preschool every morning, and now I’m schlepping them to tailgate bashes. Life happens in about five seconds, maybe six.
A friend’s dad is here too. Mike is a young 96, and thought he’d just about seen it all. Perhaps not.
“Lotta weird dudes here,” my younger daughter Rapunzel notes.
“Yeah,” I say pridefully. “We’re very fortunate.”
Over under a big sycamore tree, my co-host Miller is tapping the keg.
“Can I just ask: Do you love this or what?” he says, gesturing to the trees, the barbecue smoke, the cosmos.
“Is this the part where you always cry?” I ask him.
“Yes,” he says, and starts misting up.
What a fiasco.
We’ve set up tables with food under a pop-up tent, so the flies know exactly where to land. There are chicken wings, Bay Cities sandwiches for the millennials, and some crusty, carved tri-tip. There’s also a little booze, which I tolerate but don’t encourage. Who am I to moralize?
The charred tri-tip crunches like Wheaties when you chew it, and then there is the sloppy kiss of pink inner beef, followed by shortness of breath. People like it well enough.
On the other hand, there is also a big bowl of botulism on the table. This is what happens when Miller and I host a tailgate on our own, without our wives around.
Essentially, we are poisoning people.
But no one goes away hungry, that’s for sure. And, after playing some Australian party games, our faces hurt from laughing. Right up in the cheekbones is a soreness you can’t buy.
It’s more of a soreness you shun. But, as with any marathon, you don’t fully appreciate what happened until the next day.
Then what sets in is semi-comprehension ... warm, like poison tea.
People don’t seem to mind.