Bad Mood BBQ

Everything’s set for the big backyard weekend BBQ. Everything except you.

Okay, admittedly, the day didn’t start right. About 5 AM, you were lying on your back in bed having a vivid dream of a cat lying on your forehead, and you awoke to realize there actually was a cat lying on your forehead and you shooed it away with a “No, Henry! Go away!” and so the day started with a surge of irritable irony because you don’t even have a cat named Henry, (you have no cats at all), it belongs to the Donners next door and it chooses to come into your house whenever it damn well pleases, mewing at the screen door, because your wife Amber loves all animals, especially Henry, and feeds it Lucky Charms. You love Amber, but she is on the Donners’ shit list because she feeds their cat Lucky Charms and they want their cat occasionally in their own house eating healthier food, and there’s a large part of you that wants to fire-bomb every Lucky Charms factory from here to Shanghai, but then Amber would merely switch to Trix or Froot Loops.

Bad start, but you’re mostly over it now, Henry’s back home, and the kids and Amber are great today, all looking forward to the big backyard BBQ you’re throwing today for them, their friends, your friends, and some loose family member here and there. The kids are great and smiley and helpful this morning, but they insist that you wear the T-shirt they gave you on Father’s Day that said —

World’s Greatest Dad!

With a few words underneath, in parentheses and somewhat smaller but in all too legible type —

(more or less)

— which you try ever so hard to dismiss with a wry chuckle to cover the sting of doubt that their group sense of humor is too warped or convoluted for you to find very funny. But today will smooth all that over because it’s all about a terrific BBQ on the big deck for friends and fam with burgers, dogs, baby back ribs slathered with sauce, chicken wings and drumsticks, salads, chips and dip and beer and soda and martinis for two of you (you, and Bill McGrath), beer for most of the guys, chilled white wine for Amber and Debbie Donner, and iced sweet tea for the Hildebrands, plus games on the lawn with the the giggles and shouts of children and hearty neighborly hugs and expressions of pleasure from the adults.

So much alike! Why?

Somehow your attention drifts to the hot dog and hamburger buns and their utter sameness, and you realize now you must be in a Bad Mood if you’re annoyed at the buns. You’ve taken them out of their bags, laid them out to be wrapped in tinfoil and warmed in the oven. What is it about these buns that’s so irritating? Stupefying uniformity – yes that’s it, that proves how totally woke you are! Same puffy shape, same tawny coloring, one indistinguishable from another as if they’d been baked in an endless array of identical bakery blow molds. Solution? Muss them up a bit to make them more genuine.

Less alike! Well-fondled!

Now, a welcome mood shift – a chuckle memory – the time you and Amber joined Dave and Debbie Donner and two other couples for a fancy dinner out and after a short wait the hostess called out “Donner, party of eight.” Donner Party! Miraculously Dave and Debbie remained clueless about their notorious cannibalistic namesakes. Punchline: Dave tells the hostess, “Just seven of us now. We wanted an app.”

Joey needs to get on this, pronto!

The crud-caked grill grate needs wire-brushing. More likely sand-blasting. That’s an easy chore for your oldest, Joey (or maybe Ben or Caleb, whatever name best suits your oldest), but Joey’s off at a friend’s house probably doing some weed and frankly you wouldn’t mind if he shared some with you to improve your disposition a notch or two. You: “Any chance I could sample a spiff?” Joey: “Gee, Dad, what’s a spliff?” Yeah, right, the kid’s a terrible liar, which is a good thing.

It’s getting hot and sticky again, and that’s bad news for your mood. Gooey, greasy “air” straight from New Jersey acquiring extra layers of other states’ crud as it wafts northeastward right into your back yard, and it makes you a bit tetchy. Like yesterday, in the heat and mugginess when Amber wanted Angus ground beef for the BBQ and you snapped “Angus Shmangus, plain ol’ ground chuck is fine.” Your sad thing persists right through abusive violation of the success-proven burger recipe to serve 12 —

  • 4 lbs. ground Angus sirloin chuck
  • 1/2  lb. ground veal
  • 1/2  lb. ground pork
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsps. Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste

Just as you’ve finished shaping the “no-extras” patties and the word “Trump” starts to hammer itself into your brain to the tune of a Billy Joel song on the stereo, you understand there is no need to wait any longer to make that martini, even as Amber and teenage kids Josie and Brad walk through the kitchen to catch you in the act of rattling it noisily and with a hint of anger in the shaker. So it’s 10:45 AM, so what? You’re prepared to say in short-fused defiance, but they blink in staccato tics (a la Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin), or arch an eyebrow and what comes out of your mouth is “This happens when you wake up with Henry on your face.”

The guests seem to come en masse around noon and are happy to help themselves – even Bill McGrath assembling a martini and insisting you join him, not knowing you’re one ahead of him. The Donners chat it up with everyone, studiously avoiding originality and wit, except for Debbie’s announcement that Henry has been barfing Lucky Charms almost every day now, and finally, last to arrive, is Joey (or Ben, or Caleb) handing you a small chocolate bar labeled “Wellness,” with the tagline: “Mike’s dad has a medical license. And he shares.”

Things will be better soon, you can feel it.

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.