The coming weekends will be filled with the smell of burning charcoal as the last barbecues of summer get underway. Men, who cannot cook anything more complicated than toast inside the house, become Master Grillers who lay out their cooking utensils on a table by the grill like neurosurgeons preparing to operate. The cuts of meat are trimmed to the perfect ratio of fat/protein. Some of the meat is in sealed plastic containers where it has lived for days in the refrigerator in a bath of secret ingredients. In order to accommodate everyone, the Grill Master has even sharpened scissors for any vegans who show up, so they can forage on the ground for food.
I’m always early to a barbecue so I can find a good chair. Only young people with good backs can sit in the aluminum frame chairs with the woven plastic straps and the thin metal bar that lines up with your tailbone. Plus, those chairs almost always have one of the straps on the seat broken, so your thigh hangs out the bottom like a blob. The green or white plastic chairs are nice, but check for cracks on the legs before you sit because they can snap and you and your food plate will be on the ground and the dog will get away with your bratwurst. Adirondack chairs are always comfortable, but they can have splinters. The best chairs are the metal frame ones with nice chair cushions. There usually aren’t too many of them at a barbecue, which is why I arrive early and drop my handbag in the chair, which is the universal sign for “occupied.” Having secured a comfy seat, I go inside to help with setup.
Croquet is still fun if you have the whole set of matching stripe hammers and balls. Horseshoes is still a classic barbecue game. I’m glad that lawn darts has faded away. Remember that game? People filled with alcohol throwing a pointed, three-pound dart into the air with kids running all around…what could possibly go wrong?
I remember attending a barbecue during one particularly hot summer. The host had three kiddie pools filled in the backyard and a sprinkler that the kids could run naked through. As the heat of the day wore on, the adults chased all the kids out of the pools and took their spaces. I remember sitting cross-legged next to my husband with two other couples in a brand new little mermaid pool.
Before I was married, I had to worry about getting waterproof make up for a barbecue, because perspiration will melt off anything that isn’t shellacked on. Plus before you’re married, you have to constantly pose regardless of what you’re doing—eating, sitting, etc. You can’t be caught shoveling baked beans into your mouth. In those days, single women would pre-eat before attending a barbecue, so they could leave half a hamburger and some chips on their plate and say they were just too full to eat another bite. After you’re married, you still don’t let your husband see you gorge, and that’s when you discover the kitchen group. Hungry women eat that extra ear of corn in the kitchen where judgmental eyes can’t see them. The men usually sit in chairs around the grill using their plates like catcher’s mitts to catch whatever’s hot off the grill.
Unlike on Facebook, fights and big dramatic scenes at barbecues are much more entertaining. There’s just something about a live performance.
Soon the Island will have the End of the Summer Shindig. And after that, the creatures who we call children will return to their school lagoon, and you don’t have to hear, “I’m bored,” “I don’t wanna go,” and “That’s stupid” anymore. Well, not until Thanksgiving, at least.