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Old Piers and Pony Rides

By Chris Erskine

In a recent episode, I’d left half my liver and a chunk of my brain down in rustic and irresistible Temecula.
It was for a good cause — a pal’s bachelor party — so I didn’t think twice about the cost to me personally. My body is a regenerative marvel. I should’ve been dead 60 times already.
God lets me live, I suspect, to bring flowers to older neighbors and to rally buddies for occasional dinners in gin joints where the drinks are very cold and the soup is a little hot.
Word of warning: I had the worst salad in Beverly Hills the other day, of all places. One of the actresses from “Love Actually” sat nearby. I wanted to ask if she missed Milwaukee, before realizing her character lived there, not her. She’s probably never even seen Milwaukee, which is a shame. Milwaukee is Paris without the sniffy pretense.
Anyway, it was a nightmare, this salad. No matter how much lettuce I ate, there was still a ton of lettuce left. My lunch mates finished long before I did, and there I was shoveling gobs of this tasteless iceberg lettuce in my mouth, with chunks of dried out chicken.
I mean, what did I expect for 28 bucks? Dressing? But still …

Cream-colored ponies for hire: Sometimes, it’s as if I’m dating Los Angeles.

The bright side: Parking cost a mere $2, which is a miracle in Beverly Hills (a garage off Camden, across from the WME talent agency). No payment kiosks, just a cheerful attendant, to whom I gushed: “Wow, two bucks? Such a deal.” She seemed pleased by the feedback.
I’ve always thought of L.A. as a bit of a miracle, anyway. Author Walker Percy once conjured a device called a “lapsometer,” to measure the health of the human spirit. If you pointed it at this one joint off Sunset, it might spin and start to smolder.
Indeed, Earth itself is a major miracle in an otherwise barren cosmos. No other planet seems to have the weather, the water, the pinot, the pork chops, the dahlias, the jazz.
Think of the lush lawns of England, the polka dots and moonbeams … the way Coltrane jiggled his sax. Think of Mel Brooks. Mahler. Beethoven. Jack Benny. Martin Short. Nina Simone. Mookie Betts. Cary Grant. Art Carney. Zendaya. Secretariat. Cher.
Name me a planet that can compare to Earth. Europa? Ha. Its ocean lies beneath a slab of ice 15 miles thick. Great for hockey. Bad for skinny-dipping.
Little disappointed the other day when my son Smartacus confessed he’d never heard of the great Cher. I explained that she was much like Elvis, only funnier, and she invented the hair flip, perhaps the greatest American contribution to the social good.
One night, on her CBS show, she did her trademark hair flip – leaning back, like a tennis serve. It triggered puberty in me. I haven’t stood up straight since.
Cher starred in “Moonstruck,” one of the great comedies of all time. If you can forgive her for “Mama Mia 2,” which sounds like a car alarm, you have, perhaps, the most perfect earthling of all time — a little annoying as a person, but an enormous talent, nonetheless.
I tried to convey all this to Smartacus over breakfast. But his cavalier attitude toward Cher, and his overall disregard for the nuances of American pop culture, seriously bummed me out.
Look, when I was his age, I wanted only two things out of life: a date with Cathy Rigby and Ted Danson’s hair, which hasn’t really worked out for me. I never made much money, and I was kicked out of the handsome store.
Yet I’m rich with kids and friends and blessed with a silvery new sidekick as lovely as a lullaby.
And as further evidence of Earth’s majesty, I took my granddaughter to the carousel on the Santa Monica Pier. If you ever run low on Ativan, or Irish gin, or cherry pie, consider visiting this glorious old carousel. There’s even a soda fountain in the corner.
Sometimes it’s as if I’m dating Los Angeles. You might suspect L.A. would be a difficult person — attractive yet damaged, overly dramatic, tanned, tattooed, a toothy trust funder, careless with cars. I find her exciting.
Old but not forgotten, the Santa Monica Pier is the person Cakes and I need on a rare sunny morning. All the things we love are here: roller coasters, corn dogs, smiling horses.
Remember the Dashiell Hammett story about the stolen Ferris wheel? Call 911. We found it!
But the real find is this carousel, coated in caramel, cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels …
Cakes loved it. I loved it. Even Smartacus, who wouldn’t know Cher from a tow truck, loved it.
See? Told you it was a really great planet.

For books, past columns and cheapo Father’s Day gifts, please go to

First published in the June 10 print issue of the Burbank Leader.


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