The Middle Ages: Back to school, where we mull important lessons from scorched souls and wayward wolves

The shady recesses of a college campus, as close to Utopia as we'll ever see.
The shady recesses of a college campus, as close to Utopia as we’ll ever see.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Into the scrapbook of failed good intentions falls another lost week.

Had to fire my muse after she stole all the bacon off the kitchen counter one morning, confirming that she’s indeed a wolf or, at the very least, a thief without conscience.

In any case, I told the husky pup that I could no longer use the services of a muse like her, no matter what flourishes she added to my craft.

“You steal my bacon, you steal my heart,” I explained.


White Fang took it much better than I anticipated. We were always an odd couple — a wolf and a big white lamb. In any event, this romance is over. Over!

Still, even after I fired her, she follows me around everywhere, like a shadow, like King Hamlet’s ghost.

Doesn’t help that we both have abandonment issues. I suppose I should quit talking to her altogether, but as I said, I’m kind of a lamb about it. It’s no wonder I was always a lousy work supervisor. I have no grit. Can’t even fire an insubordinate wolf.

So the young animal lingers at the fringes of my frayed life. On cool evenings, she still sleeps at my feet, licking barbecue sauce off my toes.


“Hey, thief, you missed a spot,” I tell her.

As if that’s not enough, my main weekend social event fell through. I’d organized our own “Burning Man at the Beach,” a day-long men’s retreat in Santa Monica, featuring a bunch of buddies in search of spiritual fulfillment along a sudsy and tumultuous sea.

We were to ride there in style, in my minivan that I just washed — red and glistening, a big sweaty strawberry. Once arrived, we’d have some brunch, after which Bittner would re-baptize me in the waters of the Pacific, a low-rent spiritual cleansing.

I hadn’t washed my spirit in months. Seriously, you could smell my spirit from 50 paces.


After that, we were going to our buddy Verge’s beach shack to drink mescal and discuss how we could become better men. Even Miller.

As I’ve mentioned, Verge’s beach shack is the purported love nest of JFK and Marilyn Monroe many moons ago, so we’d hoped to summon Marilyn in some sort of hazy séance, before returning to our chore lists in the suburbs, laughing all the way.

Full bellies, full spirits, full speed ahead. Which is really all you can hope for from a free, day-long men’s retreat.

The theme of the hike was ‘Back to School!’ which seemed to resonate with the hiking club.


As with my wolf muse, our retreat just wasn’t meant to be. One guy flaked, followed by another guy, then another guy. Soon, there would be only a couple of us at the inaugural “Burning Man at the Beach” event. That’s a lot of trouble just to save a few wayward souls.

Even after we canceled, Verge remained very positive, as only Verge can.

“You boys mean a ton to me. Even Miller,” he texted, which made everyone feel better.

Verge then sent this inspiring Roald Dahl quote:


“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms….Lukewarm is no good.”

They’re Dahl’s words, but they sound like Verge. Verge is our Willy Wonka — but funnier, and without the eyeliner and creepy drummer boy jackets.

In the movie version of Verge’s life, he would have to play himself. I mean, no one else would.

Fortunately, the week was salvaged by a late-afternoon hike across the UCLA campus, with my hiking club, a.k.a. “The Happy Hour Hiking Club,” a fine group of goofs united in their belief in minimal exercise and maximal good times.


The theme of the hike was “Back to School!” which seemed to resonate with the hiking club. After all, a college campus is as close to Utopia as anywhere we’ve been. To me, they are giant chocolate factories.

“It’s not a real hike till your butt hurts,” I warned them as we strolled the hilly campus.

This resulted in a lot of inappropriate jokes, mostly by Bittner, but a chortling undercurrent of quips and disparaging remarks moved through the group like a hot breeze.

See why I love these hikers? I love them, even though I see them only once a month for easy treks across Southern California, followed by a few beers at dark and stinky saloons.


In most cases, the beer wins.

You know, the world is brimming with mysteries. Why is my printer toner always low? Is ketchup a condiment, or a vegetable? Where are all the oaks in Thousand Oaks?

But I know this for sure, from a long and mostly fortunate life:

Our dogs are pack animals — they crave our company.


And people are pack animals too.

Twitter: @erskinetimes