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Chris Erskine: California: Lovely, Yet Edible

I read so slowly that I might have some disorder, kind of odd when you consider my ideal day is having a stack of books and nowhere to go.
I may, in fact, read backward and forward all at once. I may be reading up and down, as you would a crossword, or diagonally, as if darting across the street in a heavy rain.
One eye goes left, the other right.
Still, I read lovingly, as if each letter were a piece of teriyaki pork. If anyone ever Heimliched me, extraneous adverbs might pour out.
Similarly, I was helping my granddaughter make cupcakes the other day, and she applied my principles of reading to the process. To a toddler, cupcakes are edible fingerpaints (note: business idea!). She swirls the frosting, pauses to lick her hands, then swirls them a little more.
By and large, toddlers are like packs of entertaining drunks.
Admittedly, my eyes are old and my heart a seedy bed-and-breakfast … open to the public and slightly worn, as if generations of kids were raised there and dogs were allowed on the couch. That kind of heart.
But I would probably trade all the crypto in the world, plus my car, just to watch my granddaughter smear some lopsided cupcakes.
FYI, I dance so slowly that my feet might be reversed. At birth, my left foot might’ve been where my right foot should’ve been, and vice versa. And nobody — not the doctor, certainly not my parents — paid enough attention to even notice. To this day, most of my major issues have gone undiagnosed.
So now, six decades later, I am taking ballroom dance lessons.
Be forewarned: If you’re stopped at a crosswalk, and some fool in a Ditka jersey spins by, it’s probably me. I often spiral right out of the Arthur Murray dance hall and directly into rush-hour traffic.
The impulse might be — given our era, given the nasty mood of the moment — to run me right over. Well, like Mike Ditka, I am a lot of man. So, avoid hitting me — it could dent your crummy tin-can fender. And it would be such a deterrent to other aspiring dancers, who might also be prone to punitive dance studio disgorgement.
Thank you in advance.
As we know, February is a rotten month. The Super Bowl grub is all gone, and we spend Sundays pulling our taxes together or sand-bagging our homes. I spent the other day throwing a big blue tarp over the saggy slope behind Suzanne’s house, to keep the mayhem off the bluffs. To hide them from Mother Nature’s long, quivery fingers.
In February, Santa Monica Bay becomes our Irish Sea. The winter storms have turned the coastline to custard. That’s California: lovely and slender, yet edible.
Wouldn’t that be the greatest Manifest Destiny of all? “Go west, young man!” Once there, you’d drive straight into the angry ocean. Waaaa-oops.
Like Gandhi’s mass march to the sea. Or Norman Maine wading into the waves in “A Star Is Born.”
Of course, my vision of California is more robust and romantic than that. Back at the dance studio, for instance, our young dance instructor seems smitten with my partner, Suzanne.
Young women seem especially drawn to Suzanne. I think it’s the two-tone hair, but it’s also the self-assurance and the way she juts her shoulders. But mostly the hair. In some cases, she turns admiring young women into granite slabs. Or chocolate bunnies (depending on her frame of mind).
Meanwhile, little by little, we are learning to waltz, about as useful as calf-roping, yet similarly ancestral.
If you have never waltzed you cannot imagine the sheer voluptuousness of it, noted the poet Mary Mackey. “Wool and silk mixed below the waist, your partner’s warm breath on your neck coming quicker and quicker … so incorrect, so atavistic, so unspeakably sweet.”
So it goes each week at the Arthur Murray dance studio. Wool and silk and forgotten prairie virtues. I have to be careful of Suzanne’s fragile right wrist, which she twisted playing rugby. And she needs to be wary of my reversed feet, which I use to fall down a lot.
We glide, we stride … we laugh a little. I mean, whatever it takes to get us through this wet, nasty month.
And splash right into March, when the spring poetry begins. And you could make a nice salad of our luscious L.A. hills.

A cupcake artist at work swirling tasting dabbing smearing painting

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First published February 22-24 in Outlook Newspapers.

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