postcard-from-l-a: Finally, it’s time to chill a little. I want a heavy book and nothing to do

The Eastern Sierra is dotted with Alpine lakes. Can you escape the summer heat? Hardly. But it’s a nice place to try.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

All these vacation photos on Facebook are really starting to fry my bacon. Ireland, England, Paris, Prague. So what you saw the pope. I once lunched with Paul Reiser. So what? You think I’m gonna brag to everyone?

Guess it’s that time of year — for travel, for reflection and for a billion photos. For midsummer sarcasm and sidewalks so hot you can bake a bundt cake.

“And you will look to the mountains, and the mountains will look to you,” wrote Carl Sandburg.


“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” said Yogi Berra.

Am up here in the mountains myself, for a couple days of R&R with my buddy Paul. Funny guy — you know the type. Spends $1,400 on fly-fishing gear to catch five fish. That’s $280 per rainbow trout, which he immediately returns to the Alpine lake as if he were a combo of Jesus and Thoreau.

Me, I tie a fistful of old 2-pound test to a long-stemmed wine bottle and toss it in the lake, using the cork as my bobber. I don’t catch anything. But the wine cost only $7, so I think my rate of return is better.

This summer, the Eastern Sierra is ribbed in gushing streams and pounding waterfalls. To sit among them, with nothing much to do, is the best waste of time there maybe ever has been.

“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time,” someone once said.

“You can observe a lot by just watching,” said Yogi.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

I tie a fistful of old 2-pound test to a long-stemmed wine bottle and toss it in the lake. I don’t catch anything. But my rate of return is better.

Yet, the Sierra is California’s snowbelt, and even up here it is hot. Back home, we have had two straight months of 90-degree days. L.A. women have resorted to wearing, essentially, basketball nets.


So, off to the Middle West we will soon go. Haven’t been there much since my mom passed five years ago. The kingdom lost its princess, and then I lost my map.

But it’s time. I still have a sister there — the new princess — and a flock of nieces and a nephew just out of college. They all seem a little depressed over the lack of happy hours in the American workplace. I sense they need my wisdom and guidance, when what they really need is my AmEx card.

I checked the weather. Fat Chicago pizza is in the forecast, and the greatest sandwich ever: the Italian beef combo with extra peppers and extra beef. My sister may send me home in a casket, pulled by a team of mules. I may never make it across the Continental Divide. But it’ll be a smiling corpse.

The little guy and I also hope to head off to Wisconsin, the leafy Sierra of the Upper Midwest, where we will hunt walleye and cheese curds and the sorts of memories I established 50 years ago in similar boyhood jaunts.

Back there, summer is brats and Friday fish fries. I want meatball goulash and maybe a rainy Friday morning … a heavy book, a torn T-shirt and nothing to do. It’s been a wet summer, I hear.

I crave, more than usual, a country road beneath a cylinder of sycamores, maybe a remote diner where the waitress accidentally slips her thumb into your mashed potatoes and gravy. After six straight months in California, I crave overgrowth and imperfection. Fireflies and farm stands. Sweet corn, eight for a buck.

It is turning August, and the summer is burning by. I try to talk to the kids, but every answer is some form of “Ooooooo…ughhhhhh…I don’t know.” Their brains seem to have slipped out of gear.


As my buddy Meyers says, “every answer is a Chewbacca grunt.”

The other day, this conversation:

Rapunzel: “You’re one of a kind.”

Rapunzel’s little brother: “Is that a good thing?”

Rapunzel: “Well….”

Then later:

Rapunzel: “Didn’t I tell you not to be so annoying?”

Rapunzel’s little brother: “Maybe I forgot.”

And yet another day, I opened the garage fridge to find a big container of lady bugs for the garden.

I take that as an omen: Time to chill.

See you in a couple weeks.

Twitter: @erskinetimes


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