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Chris Erskine: This is goodbye, but before I go, some thanks are in order

The farewell column
Lots of columns, lots of laughs. But, in recent years, some heart-wrenching moments as well.
(Stuart Patience / For The Times)

So, now I’m finally going. Promise. This goodbye has been like a Cher farewell tour, it goes on and on and on ….

Just go already, right?

After 30 years here, this will be the last time you will read my words in the Los Angeles Times.

Sure, I’ll show up elsewhere, I promise that as well. After all, I have more weddings to pay for, including maybe even my own.

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I’ve always been a sucker for happily-ever-afters. No wonder I ended up spending half my life in Hollywood, land of sun-baked Cinderellas. I probably suffer from having seen too many Lakers championships and Garry Marshall flicks.

I also believe in leprechauns, Santa Claus, daily doubles and that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. As always, take everything I say with seven grains of salt.

The absolute best moments have always between you and me on the page, where I sometimes shared a quip, or poured my heart out, or teased my kids and my screwball pals.

Just want you to know that I wrote every column for The Times like it was my last. And now it is.

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I used to talk about this very thing with Dan Neil, a fabulous writer I once edited who now scribbles for the Wall Street Journal.

We agreed we should always write as if some assistant managing editor — ornery over everything — might read the piece and think: “This guy’s done. Who else we got?”

With every column, we’d write as if we were auditioning for the job.

A column is a gift, a really remarkable gift, because you land next to someone’s breakfast with your half-baked notions, which you hope end up swimming in their bloodstream with the bacon and coffee.

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A handful of Chris Erskine quips.

A weak nutrient, maybe; a nutrient just the same.

That’s a covenant I never took lightly. I spent long hours seeking “a blaze of light in every word,” to borrow from songwriter Leonard Cohen.

My words seldom blazed. Often, they leaked. I write like a guy who’s been locked in a basement with too many Dave Brubeck albums — jumpy time signatures, weird harmonic hops. Sometimes, it’s like a can of Coke zizzed all over my keyboard.

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Once in a while, not often enough, maybe my words glowed just a little.

With that in mind, I will light an extra candle tonight.

Rarely mention this — not even to the kids — but the cluster of candles on the mantel represents the four children and my late wife.

Each evening at 5 p.m., the electronic candles spring to life, an electronic anode firing electrons at a semiconductor. A diode stirs.

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And, like that, my wife breathes again. And we are all together.

Hardly a substitute for the real thing. But reliable, you know? I’ll settle for reliable right now.

My older son is gone too, except in this votive sense. All there really is left of my late son are his ashes, his wolf-dog and this battery-powered candle I found at Target.

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If he were alive, my son would make a joke of trying to blow it out each night and hyperventilating when the LED candle would keep burning.

That kind of idiocy is what I miss most about him, probably. He was the funniest guy.

He’d laugh at how things are now, so bad they’re funny. I mean ridiculously funny.

He’d joke about how his father, the alleged “humorist,” is now better known for making everybody cry.

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Candles
Each night, like clockwork, the candles spring to life.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

So?

Ever the sap, I’m adding one extra candle to the mantel tonight — for the readers who helped pull us through our recent torments.

Miss you already.

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Listen, my kids and I have been through so much tragedy that leaving a job I’ve loved for 30 years hardly feels like a loss at all.

And now there’s my lovely and patient older daughter’s wedding to think about. After that, we’ll be sending the last little goof off to college.

Then my nutty buddies will all move in. Then Angie Dickinson. Then Dawn Wells. Maybe even Bill Murray and Mel Brooks. We’ll be a refuge for any American treasure in search of a belly laugh and a fishbowl margarita.

Point is: Life always goes on.

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From now on, instead of these pages, you can find me on my website or in some dark bar. If there’s a stool open, climb aboard.

Prepare for a certain amount of blarney. I’ll probably ask if you’ve lost weight, even if you haven’t.

Here’s a selection of poignant and funny columns by the L.A. Times’ Chris Erskine.

If I happen to quote from Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past,” note that it probably wasn’t Proust. It was something I entirely just made up.

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I require a certain amount of patience, obviously.

Thanks go out to my editors for their professionalism and patience through the years. Also, thanks to the amazing cadre of colleagues — the designers, copy editors, artists and my all-time-faves, the photographers, a newspaper’s first responders.

Mostly, props to my family.

Over three decades, I wrote about their waxy morning breath, their footed PJs and how they tongue-kissed the dog.

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One fall, I wrote about taking my daughter Rapunzel for homecoming photos and asking about her date, who’d banged up a knee playing football the night before.

“He’s OK, Dad,” she chirped. “He’s been taking Viagra all day.”

My wife and I exchanged glances.

Finally, I said: “Hope you mean Vicodin, sweetie, because …”

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Not once did Posh and the kids ever flinch over sharing their private moments. Not once did they complain.

Their never-ending good humor became this wide-open suburban diary.

I hope it turns out to be a kind of dopey keepsake for them. If nothing else, it paid for their braces.

So here’s to fresh beginnings. Cheers to the next generation of parents and the magic moments they’ll face: the births, T-ball games and proms I cherished so much.

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I am humbled, at this moment, by how fast it all happened.

I am humbled, at this moment, by everything.

Hallelujah.

Chris.Erskine@latimes.com


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