The Middle Ages: I see signs of another fine American autumn — college sendoffs, weepy parents and AYSO

It's the season of college sendoffs: Be thrilled. Be heartbroken. But don’t be surprised when they don’t do laundry for two months.
It’s the season of college sendoffs: Be thrilled. Be heartbroken. But don’t be surprised when they don’t do laundry for two months.
(Los Angeles Times file photo)

There are trace amounts of autumn in the air — pixie dust, or maybe that’s just garden grit. Whatever. Change is good, or so they tell us.

Soon there’ll be a chill blush in the children’s cheeks and Christmas trees atop the cars. Halloween has been in the stores since early August. Can pagan dances and flu shots be far behind?

To be sure, it’s a thrilling time to be alive. The supermarkets are full of apples, and that long national nightmare, the AYSO soccer season, is about to begin.

“Come on, we’re going to be late again! Come on!”


“Mom! Where’s my other sock? MOM!!!”

Hint: Check the ceiling of the dryer, or the back of the car, where the kids probably peeled their mortally stinky socks off after practice. If that fails, check the dog’s intestines.

Unable to locate the right socks, we once sent a daughter off to soccer in her mother’s riding boots. The world went on. No one complained … except the one ref, and he eventually came to his senses once my wife tore into him a little. Something about his “slavish, self-emasculating devotion to the AYSO creed.”

Nice guy. Committed volunteer. He was never seen on a soccer field again.


Yeah, I like the cool air and the sense of impending change right now. Seems everyone we know is dropping kids at college. Woooosh, off they go to St. Louis and Philadelphia, Pomona and San Diego.

Such milestones can be a little weepy. In our town, many of the Chardonnay Moms have stocked up on tissue and buttery California whites. There’s an irony to this, as there’s an irony to most everything these days. Parents work so hard to get their kids into the best universities, then complain when they actually go.

When I was 17, my father didn’t care that I left for college. From all accounts, he celebrated with bottle rockets in the driveway and single-malt Scotch. That’s not to say he didn’t miss me a whole lot.

Our youngest son will be heading off to college in a few years. There’s a healthy anticipation over this. For instance, he’s already started packing and is planning to crate up the 300-pound beagle and our pet wolf. He’ll probably take his mother too, at least for the first semester, till he’s settled in and the team of designers she hires is done with his dorm room.


Know this about your college freshman: He or she is on the cusp of life’s most memorable year. Be thrilled. Be heartbroken. It’s OK to cry. But don’t be surprised when they don’t do laundry for two months. Or fall in love 30 times, yet bring home a C in biology.

So much love, so little understanding.

Halloween has been in the stores since early August, and the supermarkets are full of apples.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Meanwhile, the little guy has started high school, and it’s much like trying to awaken a pile of bricks each morning.


“Rise and shine, porcupine!”

His mother hired a photographer to capture the majesty of that first day, when he pulled the expensive new backpack from the back of the car and the strap tore clean off.

Thwaaaaaap. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!

If you’re looking for metaphors for modern life, there’s one. His backpack was so heavy on the first day of school that it defied the heavy Taiwanese tent threat they use to make them now.


To his credit, the kid carried on. He must’ve been so sick of me by then. After all, we’d had a relaxed, sensible summer that wasn’t as overbooked as some summers are. A little Spanish, a little baseball. That left time for a lot of cheeseburgers by the beach. By Christmas, we’ll have most of the sand and mustard out of his hair.

Summers blow by so fast. This one will always be remembered for the day my son sort of saved my life. For lunch, he’d ordered pizza, and for me there was a pathetic salad, because if I ever ate what I really wanted to eat, I’d weigh 40,000 pounds.

And midway through the pathetic salad, I inhaled a large fava bean, which somehow wedged — like a fat chunk of veal — in my enormous windpipe.

The boy relished the quiet for a few seconds, then noticed something was wrong with his bug-eyed old man and raced behind me.


Well, raced may be too strong a word. What he did was sort of moseyed behind me, in that cool way teen boys have, where he first checked his phone, then began a halfhearted Heimlich maneuver, careful not to strain himself too much, then checked his phone again.

By then, I’d swallowed the fava bean, like, three times.

As I told him later, the Heimlich maneuver — like life — is never something you want to perform half-heartedly. You want to use your entire heart. And maybe even an arm or two.

So much love, so little single-malt Scotch.


Twitter: @erskinetimes