Chris Erskine: Christmas cleanup, a needle at a time

By Chris Erskine - Los Angeles Times

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

We’re easing out of the holidays, one ornament at a time, one fugitive sprig of Oregon fir swept into a dustpan, one eggnog glass forgotten in the dishwasher. A little at a time, we’re putting away Christmas, which feels sort of funereal.

I think it was a successful season, though there are always misfires — something I said in jest taken seriously, a flubbed or forgotten gift.

For instance, I forgot to tip the newspaper guy, just hadn’t gotten to it, though he rises in the dark every single day of the year to deliver my paper, even the Monday ones, which aren’t much good except for the Sports section. To my mind, Monday papers should be entirely sports, concert reviews and comics. That would be an uplifting way to start a work week.

Anyway, I forgot to tip Ramon, our paper guy, who flies across the earth in a battered truck every morning delivering history, like Patton into Africa. I’ve noticed that, since I forgot to tip him, the paper has ended up under one of the cars in the driveway each day, hard to reach … groan, grunt, got it.

Coincidence? Probably. Ramon is the best. Yet there’s no underestimating the power of crisp American currency at the holidays. To the kids I gave million-dollar bitcoins that I made myself. To Ramon I will mail an old-fashioned Ulysses S. Grant. At least eventually, when I get to it, as with most things in January, a month without much form or purpose. Once the poinsettias are gone, it loses all its color.

Looking back, I tried to spread good cheer wherever I could. I grilled up lunch for my colleagues, which was far more work than I anticipated, and wrote glowingly about the meatheads I play touch football with on Sundays. I love them. Then I don’t.

I have one rule for my touch football friends: Don’t let them near the house. Once inside they would never leave. It would be like one of those frat houses that universities decertify.

Me, I am constantly trying to flee our house, as would any sensible person. Immediately after Christmas, the two daughters — whose names escape me right now in the rum cloud of post-Christmas funk — fled to Mexico with their boyfriends. I think the Yucatan is where they wound up, I’m not sure. With its sugar-white shores, the Yucatan always reminds me of Florida but with fewer whack jobs. At least until last week.

Anyway, the house got suddenly quiet and I could finally concentrate on the thing I do best: nothing. I do nothing better than almost any man you’ve ever met.

For example, I spent an hour rubbing the dogs’ bellies, to the point where their feelings for me surpassed love and entered a whirling emotional cosmos that only dogs feel for their owners.

I also sorted through a fat stack of heavy winter reading — our holiday bills — that I shaped, like blocks of ice, into an igloo. I am now braced for the harsh realities of a Los Angeles winter.

I also, on one evening, had to stick my hand up a toilet, but I won’t go into that now. Just one of those things dads have to do.

On the short, crisp early winter days I played catch with my sons, the only other activity, besides rubbing dogs’ bellies, that I am reasonably good at. I can still teardrop a nice spiral into outstretched hands or zoink a pass as they toe the sideline.

These are worthy skills every man should have, though I have yet to monetize them. I guess I’m waiting for Tom Brady to retire, after which I will step in. But I promise you, I want nothing to do with that bossy Brunhilde he’s married to. I’m talking about Belichick, of course.

“Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain,” the great Martin Mull once noted.

True, though I think it’s subtler than that. My kids drive me crazy with the way they fiddle with their cellphones or speak strange languages — “Cray-bananas!” — or insist on non-GMO, cold-pressed juices, whatever that is.

I had to scold them at one point because the level of irony and gleeful, pop-culture snarkiness was making their mother uncomfortable and frightening the dogs.

“Can you be a nice boy for 10 minutes?” I scolded one son.

“Maybe eight,” he said. “Nine max.”

They also continue to befuddle me with their addiction to social media. On Christmas morning, our daughter Rapunzel paused to photograph every gift so that she could show the world later — friends and strangers from Yemen to Tuscaloosa — what she received.

I guess that’s a good sign. She was happy with her holidays. She was proud of what she got.

We all were.

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT) Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

By Chris Erskine

Los Angeles Times

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at or on Twitter @erskinetimes.

Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at or on Twitter @erskinetimes.