SUMMERTIME by Thad Buckley
Everybody loves summer. Flowers, longer days, warm weather, barbecues. Everybody but me. It’s a tough time for me.
I’m just different. And it’s not only that I’m not your standard macho guy. I admit, I’d much rather help my granddaughter write a poem than watch a ball game. I get a lot more from planting some tomatoes than going elk hunting. But it’s more. I just can’t do it—one of the real man things. Oh, my wife and friends know about it. They try to understand, and don’t say anything. But I’ve never admitted it before.
I cannot barbecue.
I can’t cook on the modern cave man’s open fire. I can’t even start one. My neighbor’s out there in his undershirt, his head half hidden by blue-grey smoke puffing up lightly off the steaks. He’s sweating in blotches on his shirt, in his glory doing his dance around the coals, poking the meat while it sizzles, splashing on gobs of sauce and sprinkling on garlic powder and pepper on the grill-streaked meat. His kids are watching in awe, and his wife is ready to pile the rest of the food on the table as soon as her man ceremoniously grasps the meat in the tongs and declares, “It’s ready!”
He doesn’t know I’ve been taping it all, and that I’ll watch it time after time trying to see what I’m not doing right. But it hasn’t helped, so far.
I can’t even get it started right. I’ve tried charcoal lighter, just a bit. I light the match carefully, and as soon as I get near the coals there’s a POOF, and flames skyrocket straight up, white hot and wicked. I’ve burned down two sets of telephone wires and brown-curled the feathers on a low flying goose.
If I put the top of the barbecue on and put the match through the hole in the bottom as the directions indicate, the sides expand and instead of being round, my Weber flattens out like a UFO and the top blows and follows a ballistic arc toward my neighbor’s backyard.
What’s really dangerous are those coals in a bag where you just light the corners, and the coals “will be perfect” in no time. I’ve tried that, watching the flames start the bag afire. Small flickers struggling to stay lit. But inside, the heat is turning the air into super-heated gas and charcoal fumes, building up enough pressure to blow that bag of flaming sections in all directions, setting everything within six feet on fire. Including me. The charcoal inside, being heavier, is fragmented into sharp shrapnel pieces and strewn wildly toward anything still alive after the paper generated firestorm. Me. Barely.
When the flames die down, there is supposed to be a bed of glowing coals. But when I can finally get close to the Weber, the coals are white powder and turn cold in ten minutes.
My steaks don’t smell of sauce and garlic and pepper. They smell like burnt hair, napalm-seared grass, and burnt goose feathers. The hot flesh smell is coming from me, not the meat. I’m medium rare with blood running from charcoal cuts. Exposed arm and leg areas are hair free, and there are singe marks on my clothes. My face is grey-brown with red eyes and tear streaks down my cheeks.
My wife orders pizza, delivered, and puts her salads and relishes and potato salad in the fridge for another day.