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Top Gun Moments

First published in the June 4 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

FYI, I just registered my son Smartacus for Vacation Bible School, kindergarten through 5th grade. Smartacus is 19 but he still has that French bread face. He can probably pass for 10. A little Bible School might help his frat-boy heart.
Let me ask you: What else do you do with college kids during the summer? They will sleep till noon, like 2,000-year-old Romans. And they will need a spiritual component to their lives that even Snapchat cannot fill.
You know, we talk a lot about guns, public safety, mental health. We don’t talk enough about spiritual components: church pews, magnanimity, charity, family, friends.
Obviously, I’m way more than just another social-media sensation, a pretty face with a knack for TikTok. I’m also a free thinker … a spiritualist. John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rosseau spring to mind.
You know who else I remind me of? Jimmy Piersall, baseball’s most-famous flake, who once described diapering this way:
“Spread the diaper in the position of the diamond with you at bat. Then fold second base down to home and set the baby on the pitcher’s mound. Put first base and third together, bring up home plate and pin the three together. Of course, in case of rain, you gotta call the game and start all over again.”
Look, I’m jazzed for this summer. I like baseball and berries and sunlight through sycamores … marinas where the sailboat lines ping-ping against the masts.
I like music on soft Sunday mornings, with the windows thrown open. Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett had this run the other day, I wish I could map it. Better than Jimi Hendrix, better than Jim Brown, all these brush strokes, these delicious turns of phrase, these simmerings. It was just the way he leaned into chord changes, the way he turned eighth-notes into gems.

Photo courtesy Chris Erskine
You marry the tri-tip with some teriyaki, then grill it to a light sunburn inside.

Ah, jazz. Minus words, how does it say so much…
Know who else I remind myself a lot of lately? Maverick.
The other day, I had a rare “Top Gun Moment” in the mirror. I was just out of the shower, and the late-afternoon light caught my wet skin a certain way. In particular, my left bicep — my best bicep. And I had a “Top Gun Moment” of pride and hubris over a minor male bulge.
Now, please keep in mind, my body is an old jalopy. Every morning, I inventory what hurts — my neck, my ankle, my soul. At my age (65), my tendons have a tendency to sleep in. I’m like the Tin Man in need of a spritz.
I don’t think it’s arthritis. I think it’s life.
Know who I wish I reminded myself more of? My late pal Don.
The other night, a misty evening in our leafy Brigadoon. The Gin & Tonic Society of Los Angeles is meeting in my buddy Kate’s backyard. There are tables of dumplings, meatballs and tri-tip sliders. I contributed the tri-tip, which I’d married overnight with some teriyaki and later grilled to a light sunburn.
You wanna feed 30 friends cheap, buy a couple of tri-tips. Marry them in marinade. Stand back and watch your guests take a knee.
Wanna enjoy a soft summer night? Buy a bucket of gin. Made with grain alcohol and juniper berries and what they like to call “botanicals” — lavender, basil and various weeds.
Anyway, for a longtime, our host Kate (so lovely) was married to Don (so nice). They raised three kids here in this marvelous house. Their dogs are named after characters in the hit movies Don wrote. So, yeah, it’s that kind of house, an L.A. screenwriter’s house, a fine family home.
As I told friends the other night, Don was the best of the best, the Patron Saint of Friendship. He did it better than anyone I have ever known. He reached out. He rallied the guys. He talked serious, he talked smack. He popped bad times in the nose.
Don’s been gone 10 years now, and it’s as if he were still a little bit here, with his rag-tag band of brothers: Gallagher, Pete, Jeff and Big-Wave Dave.
It was more than a toast. It was a benediction.
Boy, would Don laugh at all this — me so misty in his beautiful Brigadoon, all of us still missing him so much.
Don Rhymer. Patron Saint of Friendship, the candle on the table.

The Gin & Tonic Society of Los Angeles is one of the nation’s leading gin-related organizations. To join, go to ChrisErskineLA.com. Coming soon, a Sunday evening hike, followed by Music in the Park. Stay tuned for details. For books, t-shirts, gin glasses and more, go to ChrisErskineLA.com.

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