Amid life’s mysteries: Since when did Brussels sprouts become a dish we crave?
I can’t stand the Eagles or freeway traffic, yet I have managed 26 mostly glorious years in “The City of Angels,” which I quickly learned was meant ironically.
Over that time, I have had a couple of kids, made some friends, even had a good meal or two.
In a twinkly tavern the other night, a few of those friends gathered.
Outside, the street was a tunnel of holiday lights. It looked like some municipal worker’s take on Bedford Falls.
What I’ve found is that L.A. has these patches of fetching main streets — in Monrovia, in Montrose — little pocket parks that are more reminiscent of Pennsylvania than L.A. This time of year, they glow like jewelry.
When I walk into the establishment, I pause to stomp the snow from my shoes, though there is no snow. Muscle memory, probably, from a snowy childhood. Stomp, stomp, stomp. I blow on my hands and head to the bar.
Needless to say, it was a lovely California night, and I wasn’t about to let a few close friends ruin it for me. One was recently out of work … blah, blah, blah — I try to tune out bad news whenever I can. But he’d lined up something new, so we toasted that. On TV, the Raiders made a first down, so we toasted that too.
Another friend announced he was about to go off to Berlin to make a movie, so we appropriately mocked him. We weren’t about to let a buddy’s success go by without snark and sarcasm. That’s what old friends are for.
Of course, I’ve lived here long enough to appreciate that making movies is agonizing work, full of turmoil, psychosis, thievery, misdirection, ego and broken luck. But every once in a while, someone bottles up a Bedford Falls, so they keep making movies anyway.
“I smell Brussels sprouts,” someone says, and so ensues a 10-minute discussion of vegetables.
Like I said, I wasn’t about to let a few friends spoil an otherwise decent night, so I pretended to participate in the discussion of Brussels sprouts — how you can roast them, or sauté them in garlic, pancetta and olive oil.
Then there was talk about how Brussels sprouts are everywhere now, on every menu. Of all the comebacks, the unlikely resurrections, few have surpassed the humble Brussels sprout; they are the Chicago Cubs of food.
“How did I get these friends?” I think to myself. “Did I lose a bet?”
As we close in on Christmas, there is such a holiday lilt to the air, almost a brogue. Strangers seem hurried and preoccupied, but a little nicer. Not the nice that’s chumpy, or cloying. Just 10% more civil. The other day, someone held a door.
Another day, a colleague addressed me by name, which is what passes for cordial in a brusque newsroom. He might’ve just called me “Champ,” or “Ringo,” as is normally the case. Instead, inspired by the glory of the season, by its intrinsic spirit, my colleague said, “Hey Bob, you gonna finish that bagel?”
Point is, he wasn’t merely trying to mooch a bagel (which was actually a jellyroll). He was trying to reach out, in a busy metropolis that doesn’t lend itself to human connection.
OK, probably he was just hungry. Besides, as you can tell, I don’t need any new friends. My old friends are challenging enough.
Truth is, I find this a weird time for me and my buddies. Most of our children are now adults, working for tyrants, finding their way. Our kids are also discovering how totally inept adults can be — more ego, psychosis, broken luck. That’s just how the real world works.
Meanwhile, my friends and I are at a more bittersweet stage, with five or so years left in our careers. Every conversation has started to include talk of doctors. Any car we buy might be our last.
Two drinks in, I confess that I sometimes wish our kids were all 10 again, how that period was a holiday season all its own; it was magical, finite and flew by too fast.
Yes, they mocked me. That’s what old friends are for.
You know, it’s not like I don’t relish this period in our lives. “Act III,” my buddy Siskin calls it. According to Siskin — who is sort of a prophet, sort of my Socrates — our Act I ends with college graduation. Act II ends with the empty nest. So now, most of us are entering Act III.
Ask any writer, Act II is the toughest. The middle of any story meanders, drifts, struggles and is often the death of art itself.
So, in this season of seasons, here’s to Act III and all that it will bring — sprouts and doctors and funny old friends. To punchlines … to life.