Chris Erskine: Open mouth and insert a foot. Or food, whichever is handier

By Chris Erskine - Los Angeles Times

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

As we were saying at work the other day: It’s fall; eat a little. You’ll soon wrap yourself in coats and sweaters. No one will be the wiser.

So go ahead, eat up. Orally insulate. All happiness starts with the mouth … a chicken wing, a bite of cheesecake, a sloppy kiss, a witty remark.

I am sadly short of those, even though I am in the business of witty remarks. In fact, I hosted another big benefit the other night.

Flubbed a few names, as usual. I am a game and enthusiastic emcee, though I occasionally have a mouthful of marbles, which surprises people, considering how much I jabber on and on. You’d think I’d have picked up more of the language by now.

Lately, I chatter almost incessantly. I even gave up coffee last week in hopes of dialing it back a little and told colleagues that quitting coffee was changing my entire personality.

“You have a personality?” they asked.

I understand their confusion.

But the banquet went very well. Raised a few shekels for some young scholars, ate some very tender beef — all happiness begins with the mouth — told banquet-caliber stories about friends and grizzly bears, including the absolutely true story of a good buddy who climbed into bed after a long night out.

From the other side of the bed, a woman’s voice: “You’re drunk again, aren’t you?”

“How can you tell?” my buddy asked.

“Because you live next door,” she said.

True story, far as I know. At least, it seems like it could happen. As they say: Dying is easy; marriage is hard.

You meet these women — our wives — and they seem the nicest, most-interesting women ever. They totally are, except with their own husbands, who seem always to be on probation for some perceived infraction.

“Sometimes you have to push back,” one husband explained to a few of us the other day at breakfast.

We all nodded.

In truth, I don’t see a whole lot of pushing back. Compromise and surrender just seem so much more expedient.

Saw a lot of good friends last week; it was as if they were dropping out of the sky: a sitcom writer; a wry restaurateur; my physician, Dr. Steve, who operates a magnificent medical practice out of the trunk of an aging Eldorado.

An old high school buddy, Kimla, also came barreling into town, ordered up an Irish whiskey, and caught me up on the last 10 years of his life, including a stunning new granddaughter.

I told him: “Me, I don’t have grandchildren. I just keep having my own kids.”

“How many?” he asked.

“No one knows,” I explained. “Maybe a hundred.”

“That’s a lot,” he said.

“Nothing we can’t handle,” I said with a shrug.

He told me about his life in Texas and how things had worked out pretty well. He traveled a lot, liked his job, couldn’t imagine retiring.

I explained my own financial strategy — holding doors for rich widows at every opportunity, yet how I still find myself at the helm of a 12-year-old minivan full of stale French fries and broken dreams.

“So things are really working out for you?” he said.

“It’s fall,” I told him. “Eat a little.”

As we kibitzed, a confident young woman blew into the bar, the way confident young women do these days, as if on a jet stream, as if on a layer of her own helium.

You couldn’t miss her, this woman. The afternoon sun lit her like an autumn day. I recognized her immediately — known her a while. I can locate her in a crowd just by the chestnut in her hair, the reds and browns of early October.

“Hi, sweetie,” I said.

“Coors Light,” said the patient and lovely older daughter.

Obviously, I am rich in many things. Just nothing with any equity to it.

You gotta laugh, right? As old high school buddies remind us, life blows by, as if on a jet stream. No regrets. No apologies, except to our wives, on an almost hourly basis.

Other than that, no apologies at all.

Another buddy, Marcus, understands all this, the capriciousness of human relationships, the need to act morally in challenging situations, and how all happiness begins with the mouth.

He told me how he was at a wedding the other day — splendid event, vineyards so near you could crush your own grapes.

Late in the evening, he found himself at the dessert table and decided not to be greedy. He’d just eat the tops off the cupcakes, then put them back neatly on the table.

“I’m on a diet,” he explained.

True story, far as I know.

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.