We’re recovering from vacation — a form of detox — where we reluctantly wash the ketchup stains off our T-shirts and stuff the suitcases away till Christmas. It’s like cleaning up after a bar mitzvah, quiet now except for the sweet pings of empty wine bottles — a time for wistfulness and reflection.
Our summer escape to the heartland was a success on almost every level, though we never made it up all the way up to Boyceville, Wis., which as you know is the birthplace of the great Andy Pafko, a Chicago Cub from the good old days, when the team was known as “The Mistake by the Lake.”
Oh, that’s Cleveland, you say? No, for 108 years, the Cubs were the real Mistake by the Lake. Now they’re just another bunch of annoying winners with a bandwagon full of smiling sycophants.
As if the world needs more of those.
My younger son and I also never made it up to Madison, one of the finest college towns you will ever meet. My buddy Ira, who knows a little about a lot of things, recommended stopping by the University of Wisconsin to sample the new ice cream flavors they’re testing at the dairy school.
Sounds like a scene from a Harold Arlen musical, right? “I’ll have the pistachio-custard-rhubarb, please. Five scoops,” and suddenly the pit orchestra begins to play and two strangers fall in love. Ice cream will do that to people.
In any case, you can’t visit the Middle West and expect to accomplish all of your dreams. We made it out of O’Hare alive, which is something you can list on your resume. I’m never 100 percent sure I’m ever in the right line for anything. So to make it out of O’Hare, and through the musky cattle cages of LAX, feels a little like having rowed around the world.
So, we’re back, and Posh is thrilled, of course. She confesses to sleeping fitfully when we’re away and there are fewer people around to drive her totally insane. Partial insanity is nice, but it can never match the complete mental anguish of having your oddball husband around and all of your mouthy children.
Besides, there is much to do before the harvest. Posh insists we need a new patio set — now! — and in that vein is on a mission to seduce the one guy at the big-box hardware store who seems to know what he is doing, in hopes of getting the table she actually ordered.
“If you need anything on the first floor, just ask for Bob,” she tells me later.
To tell the truth, she seems a little too fond of Bob. Hope she got a good price. I just want her happy.
From what I hear, another school year is starting, and there are also backpacks to purchase, and laptops to charge.
We have only one kid left in school, but don’t think that simplifies our back-to-school process. Posh preps him as if for war, with enough new underwear to last through the holidays and so many pencils he could build a bridge.
“What are you reading in English?” I ask after his first day.
“‘How to Kill a Mockingbird,’” he says.
“So tell me,” I ask, “how do you kill a mockingbird?”
“That’s what I’m about to find out,” he promises.
Posh, meanwhile, seems back in full flower after her illness. She pads around in her slippers, turning on the furnace when the outside temp drops below 80 degrees (beautiful women are always colder than the general populace).
She insists on making elaborate meals again, when something simple will do, and craft-brews her own special hummingbird nectar for the winged idiots who reside near the front porch. She ages this hummingbird hooch in oak barrels in the garage, in hopes of one day opening a distillery. I assume there’ll be a tasting room.
Her hair is back as well, perhaps the most visible sign of her resurgent health. Well, the hair is almost back. It is really cute, what there is of it — short and silver and tight around her noggin.
“Hey, Anderson Cooper!” our older son teased her the other day.
She does look a little like Anderson Cooper, the anchor dude. Or Annie Lennox, of the Eurythmics. Tony Bennett also comes to mind.
“Mom, why do you still do your eyeliner like that?” one of her daughters scolded the other day. “It’s the 21st century.”
The fact that the kids are teasing her again is a sure sign of her comeback. I suppose that’s also another indication of life returning to normal.
Normal? Is that what this is?
Sure, mockingbirds everywhere. Alive and well.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @erskinetimes.