Erskine Offers Humor as Cure for Pandemic Perplexity

First published in the Nov. 26, 2020, print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Chris Erskine

The man, the legend, the mustache.
For those who have followed local resident Chris Erskine and his nationally known humor columns over the years, it will come as no surprise that the author has released an endearing COVID-19 diary just in time for the next Safer at Home order, with handy “Quarantini” recipes at the ready: stiff on the gin, salty on the laughs.
Erskine, who just retired from the Los Angeles Times after 30 years, has engaged loyal readers for decades by sharing his personal tales of hilarity, sorrow, sweetness and everything in between, often combined together. His fourth book, “Lavender in Your Lemonade,” will not disappoint that audience, and arrives in the nick of time, when readers are just far enough into the pandemic they can laugh over the confounding disappearance of T.P. worldwide (“the Charmin virus,” he calls it), but so deep into the solitude of separation that people are desperate for an escape.
Because, as Erskine writes, nothing is off limits to being joked about:
“To laugh at this awful pandemic, the same way we mock despots and tyrants, is to make it a little less powerful, to rob it of its muscle and ability to push us around too much.
“Laughter is like porridge. Laughter is the best revenge.”
And then, as is vintage Erskine, a punch line, kind of — one of his delectable, idiosyncratic teasers: “My buddy Tom just told me a pretty good COVID-19 joke. I’d pass it along, but it takes two weeks to get.”
Sitting down with the Outlook Valley Sun via Zoom, Erskine explained his inspiration for the book, a collection of daily Facebook posts meant for devoted adherents, dear friends, friends you can laugh at and others, he wryly added.
Ahead of his retirement, his Times column running once every two weeks, Erskine found himself with time on his hands. And in the midst of a pandemic, what else is a writer to do? He took to Facebook, a newer medium for Erskine, who wasn’t always well versed in social media.
“I’m one of those old guys who’s awake at 5 or 5:30 a.m., and I would just tap out a Facebook post. I’d never done anything like this before, but it was in the early days of COVID and we’d never seen anything like it. Writing is kind of my therapy, and I had a lot to say,” he said. “I knew that I needed to laugh a little bit, and it turned into a little bit of a morning pep rally. We all needed to know that we were going to survive this, no matter what.”
The daily posts, which garnered hundreds of responses and comments (that “oftentimes, were so much funnier and bouncier than what I had originally posted,” Erskine said, in a likely overstatement), caught the attention of publisher Mike Sager of Esquire magazine.
When he reached out to ask about turning the odds and ends into a volume, the famously self-effacing Erskine responded, “A book? They are barely Facebook posts, Mike!”
After some convincing, Erskine was on board. Part of the endeavor felt like an ode to his Facebook group, which had gotten him through some dark days, and vice versa.
“I kind of think of it as a plate of warm cookies … you know, it’s not life changing or anything, it’s just kind of a nice gesture to my neighbors,” he said. “It’s kind of a compilation of all the things we took for granted, and you know, I don’t think we’ll ever take it for granted again. And in that way, we’ll be richer and remember that even in the darkest times, there are things that can make us smile and feel better.”
The rest, as he writes, is the “Lavender,” the giggle-inducing explanation of bizarre yet delicious items one might find at Trader Joe’s, a jest to chasing down eggs at Easter only to come up with an empty basket, the alarm at not being able to see people smile or the chagrin of trying to order at the deli counter through mask-muffled grunts and hand gestures.
It’s a trip worth taking, to laugh at the ludicrous, even as readers slide deeper into the pandemic.
“I think humor is really the great unifier — doesn’t humor bring us together?” mused Erskine, who is finally comfortable with social media in the time of COVID. “It gives us that communal back-and-forth that I think we all need in a time when we’re super isolated. You know, we’re pack creatures at the end of the day, we need each other.”
As always in his writings, La Cañada Flintridge plays in the background, like his silent movie partner. He never mentions the town by name (“Partly because of potential stalkers,” he said, only half joking), but the Chardonnay moms, the hiking pals, the local watering holes and his trusty steed, White Fang, all ring sweetly familiar.
Erskine considers moving, sometimes, especially since his youngest, Jack (aka “Smartacus”), will be off to college soon. But he’d miss La Cañada too much, he said.
“I mean, I would love to move sometimes, but then I’d have to take all my friends with me. And, you know, there’s a lot of places that wouldn’t take them.”

James W. Wallace | Obituary

July 13, 1930 – December 27, 2020

James W. Wallace

All are invited to livestream Jim Wallace’s memorial service which will be held at 2:00 pm this Saturday, March 13. Just click on live.lacanadapc.org at that time. NOTE: This is livestream ONLY. Please do NOT come to the church.
James Wendell Wallace (Jim) was born in Norris, Tennessee, on July 13, 1930 and died on December 27, 2020 at age 90. Jim passed away peacefully of natural causes in his La Cañada home of 52 years, after holiday visits from all his children and grandchildren in his final days.
Jim was a kind, loving and generous man who had open arms, a warm hug and a helping hand for anyone that needed them. Jim was the ultimate optimist that enjoyed every day and every person he met. Jim valued family, faith and education above all else and demonstrated these values through his everyday actions.
Jim was a devoted husband to Jeanne Wallace, his wife and constant companion of 68 years when she passed in 2018. Jim was an equally devoted son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend to countless people whose lives were made better by knowing him and basking in his spirit of joy and love.
Continue reading “James W. Wallace | Obituary”

Outlook Newspaper Group Purchases Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun

Charlie Plowman

LOS ANGELES – Outlook Newspapers, owned by Charlie Plowman, has agreed to purchase three community news titles, the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun. California Times, the previous owner of the titles, recently announced that the three papers were being closed due to the challenging business environment and unforeseen economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the publications are part of the Outlook Newspapers group, with the La Cañada publications being combined and renamed the La Cañada Outlook Valley Sun. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are thrilled to have acquired three iconic newspapers with deep roots and historic legacies in their respective communities,” Plowman said. “I heard the outpouring from local residents, as to how much they love these publications, and want to support them.

Continue reading “Outlook Newspaper Group Purchases Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun”

Local Sports Columnist Honored by Pro Football Hall of Fame

Sam Farmer and Andrew Luck
Photo courtesy Tim Casey
Longtime Los Angeles Times writer Sam Farmer (right), who graduated from La Cañada High School in 1984 and is pictured above with quarterback Andrew Luck, will receive the prestigious Dick McCann Award for his coverage of the NFL.

Sam Farmer has interviewed plenty of Hall of Famers throughout his 25-year career covering the National Football League, and now the longtime Los Angeles Times writer will be honored by those distinguished coaches and players as the recipient of the 2019 Dick McCann Award.
The Professional Football Writers Association selected the La Cañada High School alumnus as the 51st McCann Award honoree. The award is given to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to professional football through coverage. Continue reading “Local Sports Columnist Honored by Pro Football Hall of Fame”

LCF Resident Promoted to Managing Editor at L.A. Times

Scott Kraft
Scott Kraft

La Cañada Flintridge resident Scott Kraft was named managing editor of the Los Angeles Times last week, the newspaper reported.
“Scott’s promotion is an acknowledgment of the role he instinctively took on during the past tumultuous year, working with teams throughout the newsroom to produce journalism of the highest quality,” said Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine, according to the Times. Continue reading “LCF Resident Promoted to Managing Editor at L.A. Times”

Local Man Earns Honor

Jonathan Gold
Jonathan Gold

Local resident Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times, is being honored at the Central City Association of Los Angeles’ 24th annual “Treasures of Los Angeles” luncheon on Thursday, May 17. The event, being held at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live, begins at 11 a.m.
Gold won the Pulitzer Prize in criticism in 2007 and was a finalist again in 2011. He began writing the Counter Intelligence column for the L.A. Weekly in 1986, wrote about death metal and gangsta rap for Rolling Stone and Spin, among other places.
Continue reading “Local Man Earns Honor”

LCHS Grad Surveys NFL From Thoughtful Distance

Covering the NFL for the L.A. Times has placed La Cañada High School graduate Sam Farmer in some pretty heady company, whether sitting on a discussion panel with former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman (above), climbing a mountain with Commissioner Roger Goodell (below) or chatting up Denver quarterback Peyton Manning at practice (right).
Covering the NFL for the L.A. Times has placed La Cañada High School graduate Sam Farmer in some pretty heady company, whether sitting on a discussion panel with former Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman (above), climbing a mountain with Commissioner Roger Goodell (below) or chatting up Denver quarterback Peyton Manning at practice (right).

This was a call he had to take.
It was former Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson, wanting to know what everyone else did: Were his Rams coming back to L.A.?
“And I thought, ‘This is really a cool moment in my career,’” said Sam Farmer, a 1984 La Cañada High School graduate whose hard work covering the National Football League for the Los Angeles Times was recognized recently by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, which named him the California Sportswriter of the Year. Continue reading “LCHS Grad Surveys NFL From Thoughtful Distance”