Was watching Catty Cakes chew a chicken bone the other night, thinking how much her great-grandma – my own mama — loved grilled chicken and little girls, and how much Mom would’ve enjoyed watching this wide-eyed babe with the barbecue smile.
The very passage of time can make you a little melancholy, an emotion I kind of embrace once in a while, a wistfulness I learned from Walt Whitman and Carole King and Leonard Cohen. Wistful is real. Wistful is honest. If you’re not wistful now and then, are you even alive?
The wistfulness has now passed — thank gawd — though I am still very smoky from tending the chicken on the grill, as we celebrated Rapunzel’s b-day.
Finn started a big batch of thighs and drumsticks, and I finished up. There is nothing more challenging than chicken. It flares. It takes forever. After the fireball, there’s a divine crust, black as an Amish Halloween.
Success. Summer is here: Gentlemen, start your gin and tonics.
For the record, I now smell like a dad again — and my dad, and all the fathers who have stood over a backyard grill, a primordial rite, perhaps the most-American tradition of them all.
Little-known fact: Abe Lincoln loved his Weber!
Anyway, this grill smoke I’m wearing will linger into football season. There are certain musks. The smell of a hot driveway during an August rain. An old rowboat in the summer sun. Mustard at a ballpark.
For dads, scurrying around a barbecue checks a lot of boxes. It’s a tabernacle, a Eucharist. A grill fuels our need to feed others; it satisfies the strange male fondness for fire.
Then there’s the chemical attractions, namely bourbon and barbecue sauce.
For you serious cooks, there’s hardly anything you can do to ruin a barbecue sauce. Brown sugar. Syrup. Old Spice. Soy. To me, soy is the answer to almost every cooking dilemma. But then, I am a simple man with simple tastes and – if you’re counting – a single wistful brain cell.
By the way, Smartacus called me a “simp” the other day, and of course I didn’t know what he meant. Young people mostly talk in code, like German spies. If we were smart, we’d deport them all.
Turns out simp is slang for someone who gives excessive attention to someone. A suckup, A sycophant. Or something like that.
But let’s move on. Because I’m a little afraid simp is something off-color and wrong.
I had, earlier in the day, mailed off an Easter package to Smartacus, including some jelly beans, Peeps, plastic grass, a Starbucks card, some Tums, a few batting tips, a naughty limerick, a self-help book and some lucky shamrocks.
Hey, if that makes me a simp, so be it. I’m a simp! Cancel me, I don’t care.
To be honest, I’ve been sprinkling shamrocks on everything lately. My pasta, my eggs, my sandwiches. I mean, what do I have to lose?
“Hey, I think that’s parsley,” Suzanne pointed out.
“Don’t be so negative,” I told her.
Of course, she might be right. But Smartacus won’t know parsley from a bunch of shamrocks, any more than he knows a poem from a pogo stick.
Swear to gawd, my kid still can’t name five good movies. But this is why he has a father, to guide him through pop culture disappointment, to teach him all that college never can: Taste. Virtue. A grand male worldliness mostly gone from this good Earth. How to hold a baseball. How to hook a trout.
Smartacus and I spent one summer studying Hitchcock. Another summer studying Kubrick. And, still, he can’t name five good movies. But we’ll get there.
By the way (Part II): It wasn’t so long ago that Smartacus sat at the dinner table with barbecue sauce smeared all over his face just like little Catty Cakes does now.
It was this past Christmas, in fact.
At 19, he talks when he eats and eats when he talks. I remember just sitting there marveling at this creature I’d created — sort of shaped — who wears barbecue sauce like warpaint and points drumsticks at the sky to make a point, just like his grandmother did.
This creature … this scion…this legacy. Miss him so much his very first Easter away.
Ran across a photo the other day of Smartacus with his team, at age 11, the age I wish he’d always be.
In the team photo, the coaches stand on either side of them, like parole officers (Coach Matt was so tall he didn’t fit in the frame).
I remember it being a decent season. The most valuable thing Coach Matt and I taught them was how to do a proper handshake.
“Look the other dude in the eye,” we told the players.
So, yeah, we lost a few ballgames that season. But maybe – who knows — they’ll win at life?
You like cool t-shirts? You like life-changing books? Well, we don’t have any of that. But we do have some funny shirts and some funny books (just in time for Father’s Day). We’ll soon be off hiking again, and gin & tonic season is upon us. Please dress appropriately. Info: ChrisErskineLA.com. Cheers and thanks!