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Chris Erskine: As I pack my bags, here are some favorite moments from the last 25 years

Memories of 25 years of columns.
That time I scored 5 points against the Globetrotters, all in the first half. In the second half, they pants’ed me. I was never the same.
(Leila Navidi / For The Times)

I’ll confess right upfront that I don’t appreciate a soupy pork rib. I prefer a rib that resists a little, so when someone says he knows a guy who makes ribs that “fall off the bone,” I become immediately uninterested. I yawn. I fidget.

A rib needs a certain amount of chewiness is all I’m saying. A good rib needs to kiss you in return.

Took a nice sampling of baby backs over to Santa Monica the other night for a driveway party with the daughters, the niece and their respective boyfriends. Driveway dinner parties are now taking place all over L.A., with careful people, at careful distances, drinking careful wines.

White Fang came along, snatched two ribs off plates, the way pet wolves will, dismissive of protocol. Oy. The other guests were nice about it; I was appalled.

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“Young lady, that will probably be your last dinner party,” I told White Fang on the car ride home. “Hope those two ribs were worth it.”

Probably were.

::

These are the kinds of stories I’ve told for 25 years. The small and insignificant stuff that defines a town and deserves a nod now and then.

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Look, if nothing else, I can get a lot of mileage out of a used book and a $5 cigar. Books, cigars, children, dogs, friends, sports. The ribs of life.

After I leave The Times in two weeks, someone suggested I take the old Andy Rooney gig on “60 Minutes.” That’s flattering but seems a lot of work. All that ticking of the stopwatch. Reminds me of time bombs. Tick-tick-tick. Watches and time bombs, the metaphors of the moment.

I believed life’s little moments were worthy of a great newspaper, not because they were happening to me, but because they were happening to everyone.

I’ve never minded talking to an audience, though I am always astounded that anyone pays attention.

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But the absolute best moments have always been between you and me on the page, where I sometimes shared a quip, or poured my heart out, or teased my kids and my playful pals (Bittner, Big-Wave Dave and my attorney, Billable Bob).

For 25 years, I was a minor poet in a major town. And what a town it was.

I wrote on a wide range of topics: trips to London and Paris, and for a while, sports. I wanted to be George Plimpton — to drive the lane against the Harlem Globetrotters or chow down with Joey Chestnut.

Globetrotter Kevin "Special K" Daley keeps columnist at arm's length.
Globetrotter Kevin “Special K” Daley keeps columnist at arm’s length.
(Leila Navidi / For The Times)
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For the record, Chestnut destroyed me in the one sport I’d devoted my life to: drunken power eating.

But I scored five points against the Globetrotters, all in the first half. In the second half, they intentionally fouled me, sent me to the free-throw line, where they pants’ed me in front of 5,500 fans. I was never quite the same player after that.

Yet, those were the stories I wrote — sort of ridiculous, sort of a smile.

Jet pack was great, except for the part when I almost drowned.
(Arianan Van der Akker / Los Angeles Times)
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Over three decades, I wrote a little, I edited a lot. I also rappelled down skyscrapers and tried an overpowered jet pack, where when I dropped down into the water, I rolled over and nearly drowned.

I learned to surf. I conducted a symphony.

As it turns out, I wasn’t Plimpton. But I had a blast.

::

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To me, the best stories came from my four kids. I couldn’t escape them; they were everywhere. To this day, Chuck E. Cheese tokens still turn up in my loose change; my old shins bear the fender dents of kids’ fastballs in the dirt.

With the lovely and patient older daughter. The stories about fatherhood probably resonated the most.
(Cathy Erskine)

When someone asked me about something I’d just written, I’d usually have to dig to recall it, because I was already thinking ahead to the next column — the next soccer game, the next screwball moment that I’d try to spin into a little silk.

Since the 1990s, we’ve even spent a lot of holidays together, you and I.

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Like that one Christmas Eve....

The church is packed and hot and incredible. The six of us wiggle into a pew. Like any parent in church, I look around to make sure the kids all have clothes on and aren’t scribbling dirty limericks in the hymnals.

To start the service, Pastor Gary asks us to pull out our keys.

“Great,” I tell Posh. “Now they want my car.”

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“Nobody would want your car,” she says.

Then led by this big, beaming pastor, the congregation proceeds to sing “Jingle Bells,” accompanied by our rattling car keys.

“Over the fields we go, laughing all the way…”

Perfect, right? Except that in my arms, the baby is jingling his sister’s key chain, with a little can of Mace dancing on it. I start to wonder at what point the Mace will blast me between the eyes.

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In the end, that’s what I really wrote about: silly, blinding love.

My next column, on May 30: A few final words

Chris.Erskine@latimes.com


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