The Middle Ages: In a year of trauma, finally some laughter and tears of joy

At 16, a good laugh with friends is everything. The boy (in footstool mode) and his buddies.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

My son’s laugh makes me laugh. Lately, he’s into these Bob Menery Instagram posts, audacious takes on sports in the language of a locker room.

His late mother would never approve. But a huge laugh is a huge laugh … better than aspirin or Valium or Scotch. Better than a sloppy kiss. Almost better than family or eternal friendship, the two best things we know.

Huge laughs have always been my morphine drip. That my son and his knucklehead friends collapse with laughter at Menery’s sports clips gives me traces of hope. Like cirrus clouds curling across a sunrise, small promises that this day will be lovelier than the last.


My son’s laughs are like seizures. They start with the eyes, dart toward the mouth, then consume his shoulders. Eventually, he struggles to breathe … a true belly laugh. It tickles his spleen, then his gall bladder, till it exits his rear end.

As you may know, for a while, we could’ve watered the lawn with our tears. Grief and disappointment were ganging up. Things were better and then they weren’t. A boy misses a mother in a million ways — the nagging, the hugs, even the trademark thumbprint she used to leave in the soft bread of his school lunches.

Since we last talked, we also lost the 300-pound beagle. Well, we didn’t exactly lose him. You could never lose something that big and stupid. At 16, the poor dog had reached the point where he was spending entire days going in and out, in and out … then piddling all over the wood floors anyway.

We’d already suffered so much loss that I put up with the leaky old dog, till the day he could no longer walk, and I carried the button-eyed beagle in a blanket for his last car ride ever. I’m sure he piddled all the way across the so-called Rainbow Bridge, tail wagging the entire time.

The beloved 300-pound beagle in his early days, before bad choices and time took their toll.
(Jessica Erskine)

Then my buddy Paul died, as good a guy as there ever was, a world-class pal. We talked in code: “How are you?” “Oh, never better” (meaning lousy).

We could argue for hours about Charles Grodin movies or the pop in Mike Trout’s swing. You get only so many buddies like that. I was certain I’d know him forever.

How did life get away from me like this?

Then, as if God awakened, there was finally some good news. The lovely and patient older daughter announced that she would soon wed Finn, a fine young man she’d been seeing for several years.

I told her that I had only one request, that at the wedding they play Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Of course, I also like Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” Maybe some Sinatra and Jethro Tull. But I don’t want to get ridiculous about it. Weddings can crash under ungainly expectations.

“But I don’t sign no checks till I see the song list,” I say.

“Yeah, throw the old dude a bone,” the boy urges his sister.

“Oh, shut up,” I tell him.

Finn is from New York, so I’m pretty sure the Sinatra is a slam-dunk. I hope the New York connection also means lots of mini-meatballs on toothpicks.

In any case, it’ll be a big Irish wedding with Italian overtones, Croatian chocolates, Polish sausages, a multinational sort of theme. I’m hoping for an Italian tenor and a few mobsters, though not as many as if my Sicilian wife were still around. Posh used to watch “The Sopranos” as if it were a Super 8 family movie.

Anyway, the wedding is sure to be a modest thing, with swans, fairy godmothers and Air Force flyovers. My daughter has been planning it since she was 3. The only way it could go wrong is if she doesn’t include my irreverent buddies.

Her sister left this wedding congratulations on the mantel in my daughter's apartment.
Her sister left this congratulations on the mantel in my daughter’s apartment.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

My buddies are a loud, dysfunctional, emotional, playful, crude and insightful bunch. Geniuses at quips and personal digs. I can’t imagine a major social occasion without them.

“We’re already at 240 guests,” my daughter warns me.

“Seriously? I’m not made of money, you know,” I say.

“What are you made of, Dad?”

Chicken wings. Light beer. Caffeine. Excedrin.

By the way, if you’d like to attend the wedding, I’m selling tickets on the side for 50 bucks. Don’t tell the daughter. She’ll think it mercenary and in poor taste.

But how else am I going to afford the good grappa? And without a toot or two, how else am I going to get through the long Roman Catholic ceremony, crying quietly for myself, crying loudly on behalf of dear sweet Posh, on the special day she’d dreamed of forever. For a wedding that, in many ways, would be more important than her own.

So, yeah, tons of tears. But good tears. Finally.

You could water the lawn.

Editor’s note: Beginning today, the Middle Ages column will appear every other week.