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Splendor in the SoCal Sand

First published in the July 9 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

I live in the tiny Puritan community of Los Angeles, where people watch you out of the corners of their eyes and every little gesture is judged.
It’s hard to have an opinion here, so I’ve pretty much scrubbed my mind of opinions. Instead, I live like Jesus lived — modestly and by example.
To this day, I still put two spaces after a period, return shopping carts, hold doors for strangers. The stranger they are, the more satisfying this is.
Holding a door can be like a sociology class, a window into the human spirit. A good 50% of the time, the stranger doesn’t bother to acknowledge my kindness.
For the record, the best kindnesses are the largely invisible kind.
This is shaping up as the kind of hot summer where groomsmen faint at weddings and dads go without socks and women shun undergarments in desperate bids to stay fresh, but none of it works — none of it — because the weather always wins.
So, we go to the beach.
You know, parties give me purpose, just as my son Smartacus gives me purpose. What else gives me purpose (and porpoise too)? A SoCal beach.
There’s this one we always shlepp to. It’s a pain in the butt to get there. And once you arrive, you have to lug too much stuff to a remote place in the middle of the beach, to give ourselves a little space.
Oh, my aching shoulder. Not only do I carry the sins and burdens of my neighbors, but I also just carried a super-heavy pop-up tent on my shoulder across this Orange County sand, as we celebrate the holiday with 20 friends and family members … Bill and Nancy, Charlie and Taleen …

What’s on your grill? For us, banana boats stuffed with chocolate and wrapped in foil.

It’s a rustic beach, cradled by bluffs and misty seascapes, not a snack stand in sight.
By tradition, everything we do here is always the same. First, we sit around eating too much salty food — briny as the sea.
Then we gripe about our lives. About the Big Ten. About how hard it is to get into concerts and sporting events anymore, or even board a plane — the e-tickets, the apps, the QR codes.
Then we talk about the miseries of parenthood; that’s good for five hours right there.
I tell them — as conveyed by my pal Lucy — how tricky it is to be a mom or dad these days. Not only do you have to teach your children about the birds and the bees, but you also have to teach about the birds and the birds, and the birds that look like bees, and the birds that used to be bees and still have their stingers.
That’s a lot of stuff. Like Jesus, I don’t judge. Like Dolly Parton, I love everyone. Besides, I have this throbbing shoulder — killing me, this thing. I drink my holy water and rub my shoulder, like Clayton Kershaw.
As Whitman wrote, “Your very flesh should be a great poem … in the silent lines of its lips and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
That’s me, all right. Pretty sure Whitman was talking about me flopped in a beach chair, skin red as an American flag, unsure what happened to my keys.
Basically, I’m a Jimmy Buffett song.
In short time, though, I am ignoring the lingering pain, the torn schnitzel, the emotional scars that make up a modern dad, and I am burning hot dogs on a small grill, where I turn them with my fingers. Ouch. Anybody bring some tongs?
Then we burn some marshmallows — see a pattern here? — while speculating where the name “smores” comes from. The consensus is that some mom named them after the kids kept begging her, “Mom, can we have some more? Please-please-please!” And the portmanteau, or whatever it’s called, became “smores.”
Then Rapunzel, the daughter/princess with the bull’s-eye smile, pulls out some bananas and aluminum foil, and preps these crazy over-the-top desserts, whereby she:
• Splits the banana long ways, but keeps it nestled in the peel.
• Stuffs the banana with chocolate and marshmallow (if you like, add cherries, walnuts, toasted coconut, peanut butter, whatever floats your boat).
• Wraps the whole schlimazel in foil.
• Tosses it on the little grill to meld, weld, fester, ferment, gurgle, kiss, cuddle and waba-waba, till it becomes perhaps the finest beach dessert you ever tasted.
Five stars, kiddo, for these gooey banana boats.
Try it on your grill at home. When it’s done, put it in a bowl and top with a snowball of vanilla ice cream.
The best summers smell of sunscreen and Christmas.

Questions? Email me at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers.

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