The Middle Ages: My daughter invited me to a long day at the theme park. What choice did I have?


Life is tiny bursts of joy scattered willy-nilly across various time zones. Sometimes they find us; sometimes we find them.

For instance, my first waking thought the other day was that there was something on my tongue. In this case, another tongue … a dog tongue, which is to tongues what Mariah Carey is to Mozart.

It’s a fine tongue, obviously. I have to confess to a joyous, full-body tingle before my yuck reflex kicks in.


“Messh … cinnghh … neetz … guhn arrgh … ”

To borrow from Tom Wolfe, I was making “every inarticulate sound known to heavy labor.”

“Get off my tongue!” I finally yelled.

And that’s how I started the day, by waking the entire house over an innocent little kiss.

Every smooch is different, of course. Like a glass of wine, you still taste a deep kiss days later. Even sloppy dog kisses can sun the soul a bit, and if you can extract yourself before drowning, I highly recommend them.

I love dogs, I love daughters … sometimes too much, for later I found myself at a famous Orange County theme park with Rapunzel, the hairier of the two daughters (you spot a theme here?).

Somebody we know had won theme park tickets, and you certainly don’t let an opportunity like that slip away. In this case, the tickets were to Knott’s Berry Farm, a lovely little development hemmed in by mini-marts and freeways … strollers everywhere, and really great lousy food.

You know the drill.

It was a father-daughter date and we don’t have nearly enough of these. They are so busy, our daughters, always in search of the next amazing food truck or toasting someone’s engagement at a twinkly rooftop bar.


Their lives now are weddings and vacations that require a passport. I’ve gone more than a month without seeing the lovely and patient older daughter. Not even sure I would recognize her.

So I jump at the chance to spend the day with her little sister, at her request.

“We’re going where?”

“Knott’s,” she says.


“Why not?”

She is a blithe spirit and much too glib for me. I find clever banter difficult and tiring, especially against the backdrop of people screaming for their lives on roller coasters.

At this stage of my life, an amusement ride seems more an instrument of torture than something I’m eager to do. Besides, I’d started the day with a dog jamming his tongue down my esophagus, so I was already a little nauseated and cotton-eyed.

In short, I couldn’t wait to climb aboard the Whirling, Twirling Twister of Death, a ride that looks and sounds like a giant knife sharpener.

At Knott’s, they rate the rides from 1 to 5, with 5 reserved mostly for teenagers and other lunatics too stupid to know better.

At Knott’s, they rate the rides from 1 to 5, with 5 reserved mostly for teenagers and other lunatics too stupid to know better. We start our day, of course, with a 5.

I know it’s a 5 because teams of surgeons wait at the bottom of the ride to piece you back together — suture your spleen back to where your spleen should be or to reattach a missing leg.

We survive the 5, or maybe it was a 4. Because I don’t think I have the pulmonary strength to survive a 5. No one does.

Then we decide to seek out the bumper cars, which turn out to be a real blast, sort of like being on the 405 on a Friday night when your only hope of getting home is to push surrounding vehicles out of the way.

The bumper cars wind up being therapeutic and relatively benign. Eventually, I hope to regain the use of my neck and head.

We are not alone at Knott’s. Another father-daughter team invited us, with free tickets and an open date on their calendars. They are old friends, and just waiting in long, unmoving lines with them brings me tiny bursts of joy for — like us — they are people-watchers with a keen eye for absurd behavior.

For me, these long, idle moments between thrill rides are better than the thrill rides, at least if you’re with the right people. And we are.

In the end, though, it isn’t the bone-rattling rides that get the best of us, but the lousy-wonderful food: roasted corn, followed by funnel cakes, which is the greatest lousy food you can possibly consume, all 6 million calories (more if you get one with ice cream).

A funnel cake, properly prepared, may wedge in your colon for decades. It has the half-life of manganese.

You only live once, as they say, and if you spend many Sundays like this, you might not live very long.

Yet, once in a while, in the company of a bubbly daughter, her sweet childhood pal and the pal’s witty dad, you can live very well.

Very well indeed.

Erskine will discuss his new book “Daditude,” a collection of his Times columns, in a free event Oct. 14 at 3 p.m. The appearance takes place at the La Cañada Flintridge Library, 4545 N. Oakwood Ave.

Twitter: @erskinetimes