The Middle Ages: Our humble backyard creek is close to gushing, and so are these thank-you notes

The little muddy: Our backyard creek, full with rain for a change.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

I warm these winter days with a dark drink, a flickering fireplace and a favorite book.

Life could be worse. Life could be better.

When it rains, a creek curls through the back of our property. I don’t want to romanticize it, for it’s mostly runoff from our lusty little cul-de-sac. Were you to work this creek for rainbow trout, you’d likely come up empty, though I did one time catch a giant compression sock.

Still, it’s a creek … 4% of the time.


Lately, though, it’s been almost thrashing. I’ve enjoyed the recent rains and the way they green the vales and rinse clean our precious strip malls, a point of pride for so many L.A. residents.

We are a region of extremes. California has no sensible center points. When it rains, it floods. It is either too rich or too poor, too wet or too dry, too tentative or too fast.

In the recent storms, a flugel of finches took the opportunity to gobble the lawn seed I’d put down in the front like little crusts of bread.

Most times, birds hunker down when it rains. Not these idiots. They gorged themselves on the finest Marathon seed, 20 bucks a can.



In our neighborhood, the birds live better than I do.

And why not? The birds get up earlier, deal with homicidal cats, pesticides, leaf blowers, droughts and a soul-crushing, dreary-beige suburban aesthetic.

Me, I stand out on the porch, shooing them away with helicopter arms. I can almost hear the finches giggle as they retreat to a far bush.

These beautiful birds, wearing little flecks of gold and red, may be nature’s sequins. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. I find them opportunistic and ungrateful, just like my snarky friends, “the Apostles.”

By the way, have you ever tried to pen a sincere thank-you note to a wise guy? That’s my latest challenge. It’s been two months since my wife, Posh, passed, and the kids and I are finally getting to the notes.

That’s an inexcusable amount of time, though in our defense, hers was an inexcusable disease. Maybe the delay was our way of jabbing back at God.

“We’ll get to the damn notes when we’re ready, pal … when our fingers quit quivering … when our tummies no longer flip at the thought she won’t ever return.


“You OK with that, pal?”

Besides, good manners shouldn’t be rushed. The lovely and patient older daughter finally put together a Google Doc spreadsheet. I guess it beat my own system: scribbling addresses on the leg of my favorite jeans.

When I finally opened the spreadsheet, I discovered that my daughter assigned me 80% of the thank-you notes and 100% of the notes to wise guys. Having been a wise guy once myself, I sensed an opportunity to send a heartfelt message but was careful to find the proper tone:

“Dear friend,” I wrote.

“I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all you did for us in our moment of need. You were extraordinary, and that surprised many of the guys, but not me. I’ve seen you be extraordinary before, though it is not common … not so frequent as to become a character trait. And I hope it never does. Because were you to be extraordinary on a regular basis, what would you and I have in common, other than a passion for ridicule, raw oysters and old episodes of ‘Barney Miller’?

“In closing, I want to say that I love you. No, not in a sexy sense — don’t go crazy. I love you the way I loved my best buddies back in the third grade. I love you in the way I loved my very first dog, Myron the Siren.

“Somehow, by virtue of your wry, subversive and wholly inappropriate sense of humor, you manage to summon in me a boyish verve. That’s something I hope we never lose. At least not till Tuesday of the following week.

“Love forever, Erskine.”


I wrote that same note a dozen times, customizing it to my buddies in spots. But the sentiment was always the same.

Sophomoric? Supremely so. For these friendships provide a goofy childlike laugh track for everyday life. Had I not organized this makeshift men’s club myself, I would probably pay to join it — though not a lot.

Less than a buck.

Yet we have — with our coaching days behind us and our kids mostly grown — established a life-affirming second adolescence. Think of it as a Cub Scout den for middle-aged men, who grind it out every day and always show up on my lawn whenever it pours.

Not exactly nature’s sequins. Not exactly not.