What’s Behind All Those Lights?

First published in the Aug. 27 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

All these years I’ve been writing about children and other malcontents without much success, when I should’ve been writing about dogs, judging by reaction over a recent column about Dog Park Gary. Could’ve carved out a career as America’s favorite dog columnist, sponsored by Purina and various flea and tick sprays. I could’ve had a life.
Right now, yet another dog is sitting on my feet as I write this. Pair of silk slippers, this golden retriever pup. Probably should’ve named her Slippers. The best pair of slippers is a pair that snores, sleeping on your feet, wiggling as you write senseless columns about children and other malcontents.
For the record, the pup’s name is actually Penny Laine, a dog that belongs to my daughter and for the next seven weeks, to me and Smartacus. When I agreed to watch her, I didn’t know about the special baths she needs every other day. Or the pill and a half she needs each night. Suppositories? Whatever. I volunteered for this, after all. I’ve always been the kind of person who volunteers for things, then complains about it.
Hey, I’ll watch the dog. You can’t kennel the poor girl for seven weeks.
So, Slippers is ours as the lovely and patient older daughter vacations in New York City, as fine a place as you will find east of the Hudson, kind of a dirty-gummy concrete tomb, yet kind of not. Probably best known for its crime and corrupt public officials, I mean, really some of the worst people on Earth. Yet, New York City offers far more than that.
“Have the pizza,” I told my granddaughter on her first trip to New York.
I’m a little worried. Many L.A. kids go to New York and never return. No doubt, they are attracted by the crime, grime and corruption … the pizza, the choking sports teams, the rude vibe. Some of the finest people I know are from New York, my son-in-law Finn, for example. Some of the worst too. In that way, it’s very much like L.A., a magnet for madmen.
I was working with Suzanne the other night. Her diction is superb, and she speaks in the lilting tones of a fairy princess, in sonnets and sighs. So that was our first project. I was trying to get her to slur her words, like I do, to sputter and spit, so that we’d seem more of a couple.
As we worked, we looked out on the blanket of lights, admiring the view from the rooftop of her little castle, and I asked: Hey, have you ever gazed out across L.A. at night, across the canyons, the valleys, that quilt of stars that makes up the basin, and thought:
How many people are making love right now? How many are leaning in for a first kiss? How many dads are reading to their children? How many teens are texting, tweeting, writing sly and tooty notes to a friend in need?
In the million-or-so homes, apartments and yurts across L.A., how many people are taking a bath? How many are flushing? How many are finishing up another cringy screenplay about dragons and spaceships?
Have you ever looked out at that tranquil sea of lights and wondered: How many moms out there, within eyesight, are just now going into labor? How many kittens are being born? How many boyfriends are walking in on someone else?
How many game show hosts are tinting their hair? How many ingenues are wiggling out of their bikinis? How many ER docs are saving lives? How many chefs are blending scallops into butter? How many bank robbers are planning the morning’s hit?
How many possums, skunks, talent agents are out there right now?
They call this the City of Angels. I think they were being ironic.
But man, what a storybook, full of wonderful people, a few rude ones and the best noodle joints, hiking trails, Minions, mimics and horn players. There’s that bar just outside Sony where the Munchkins used to drink, that joint on Ocean where Marilyn used to wait for JFK … the stretch of Wilshire where Billy Joel crafted “Piano Man” (the Executive Room, now gone).
It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sittin’ next to me
Makin’ love to his tonic and gin
Like all the other great cities, L.A. is rich in all the things that make a midnight interesting.
I like, especially, the little moments: the grace notes, the noodle joints, the shadows, the slippers.
Sleeping on my feet this minute …

Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For past columns or books, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com.

– Chris Erskine