Keats had his ode to autumn, and I have this: a tailgate party on a pastoral piece of a public golf course, not far from a radiant old stadium.
We must have 15 cases of White Claw. Have you heard about this swill? If not, just ask your 27-year-old kid. White Claw is the millennials’ holy water, their version of Champagne. The spiked seltzer is a national phenomenon, and we scrambled to find enough. Apparently, the appetites of millennials color every ritual these days, even their parents’ tailgate parties.
Fortunately for me, I am in the middle of a beer-and-pretzel cleanse. It’s a good cleanse, once you get past the billy goat bloat.
Indeed, we also have a couple of kegs — some Longboard Island Lager, some Coors. Three hours before kickoff, my socially insatiable friends start to bounce in, like puppies into a warm pile of towels.
It occurs to me then: You can’t like all your friends all the time. Some you like now, some you’ll like a little later maybe.
Meanwhile, the nihilists who set up next to us must have 30 lawn chairs, all matching. Next to them, our tailgate resembles the Battle of Shiloh. Who cares?
“Hey, the leaves are changing,” chirps a Chardonnay Mom, pointing to an oak.
I think it’s just a dead branch, but OK. That counts. We see what we want to see. And lately, I see a lot of fall.
There is candy corn at the checkout counters; pumpkins outside the stores. The buckwheat is cooking on the hillsides; you can smell it when you hike. There is infield dust, a summer grace note, clinging to the skirt of my favorite couch.
Sure, the lingering September heat can vaporize us, but the nights are cooling and you see a hint of poetry — of October, of Keats — in the serifs of the evening clouds.
Lord, I love fall.
And as the harvest nears, there is much to be thankful for. Fran Drescher has a new sitcom. Vroman’s Bookstore is finally getting a wine bar.
To top it off, the ever-erudite Kelly Clarkson is hosting a new talk show, certain to bring insight and clarity to the national conversation.
You know, we lead small feral lives, my son and I. When we’re out of undies, we do laundry. When we’re hungry, we eat.
“For dinner, sometimes all we have is a jar of nuts,” he recently told some friends.
“Almonds, cashews,” I added. “We go all out.”
Thing is, he and I are still navigating a vast emotional wilderness.
And there is the day-to-day challenge of raising a 16-year-old alone, a young lad who seriously believes he is raising me, which might be a little true.
He teaches me about Instagram; I teach him about point spreads. We roam L.A. like Charlie Brown and Snoopy. We pause only for ballgames and really good, drippy cheeseburgers.
“Just wait till we start double-dating!” I teased him the other day.
In seconds, the dry heaves set in.
For now though, there is this tailgate party in the shadow of the Rose Bowl, with a hundred friends, some of whom I actually like.
And that’s enough.
As my pal Mike put it: “Life is about texture — sometimes rough and disquieting and sometimes soft and comforting.”
On the comfort front, Liz has brought her famous pulled pork; Miller set up some Motown; Bittner sprang for a barrel of beer; Gary a big TV; Charlie a miniglacier of party ice. On the disquieting front, one goof shows up dressed like “Reno 911!”
I like it all, even the setup — all your best friends scurrying about, putting out tablecloths, setting up the speakers, the ceremonial tapping of the keg (an especially tender moment often marked by college memories and tears).
Maybe it’s all you really need: food, ice, family, friends. Texture. Heck, we could hold my daughter’s upcoming wedding right here.
I’ve also brought slabs of sirloin, which I preburned on the big barbecue at home. My recipe calls for the chunks of savory beef to catch fire on the grill, at which point I slam-dunk them back in the teriyaki marinade, sealing in the insanity.
That’s how I cook. Like Satan’s redneck baby brother. One day I hope to have my own cooking show of scorched bachelor food, with a firetruck standing by in the background.
Till then, my buddies and I will hold these silly tailgates, little novellas featuring Chardonnay Moms, sardonic dads, kids, cousins, heartache, humor, secret desires, charred beef and the amazing friends I can’t get rid of, my wobbly and wistful choir.
“The world is full of mostly invisible things,” wrote Howard Nemerov.
Like fellowship. Like team spirit.
All to celebrate another fine fall, season of mists.