Rock Island, IL
The painted tribes of November break loose from their branches in a late sunlit breeze and fall about you in a riotous leafstorm. The air smells of football and barbeque and hoodies and denim. (O those back pockets! Lord, let them appear! Let them cross this field of vision, this field of dreams!)
And what’s this between your fingers and thumb? A fine cigar left behind by a beneficent father after his latest visit. The cool gentle draw. The taste of greenleaf dried and cured and browned. The aroma of heaven in heaven’s yellow light.
You have a feeling that things will go your way today.
Across the wide Missouri a purple Wildcat growls and growls again, and you sense that they who husk the corn are cowering and backing into the shadows. You could swear a certain band of unscrupulous cretins clad in red and white are about to pay for their cheating ways of a week ago.
And lo! Nearer still, on a field called Kinnick, surrounded by heartland maize, an army of much diminished glory is poised to make a noble stand against a foe proudly adorned—and inexplicably so—in the very color of corn. East Ypsilanti could fall again. Hard.
O lord, if it be so!
Further east, where giants still walk the land and hold congress with the gods themselves, instructing them in the ways of justice and mercy, of truth and beauty and goodness, the Mighty Spartans, you intuit, the Noble Green & White will toy with, and then crush, a fraternity of gilded subterranean rodents hailing from a city of twins, a place known across the land as “That Mistake With a Vacuum Bag Stadium a Stone’s Throw from The Guthrie.”
And your elder boy—what a boy! Didst see that interception he returned for a touchdown in the last grab-ass Parks & Rec game of the season?—your boy tells you he wants a haircut. An excuse for some quality father-son time in a men-only zone. So you walk him to the local barber shop for tonsorial improvement and a little banter. (“You want a shave too, young feller, or do the girls like that shadow of yours?”)
You leave him there and duck across the street to the hardware. Today, on the back deck, you’ll be re-wiring the neighborhood-famous home-designed patent-pending daylight-“savings”-time grilling-light-with-deck-rail-attachment. The time-change defies the faultiest logic, for it makes grilling even at five o’clock on Central time damn-near impossible, but you roll with it. You’re not going to take on Daylight Losing Time. Not today. Because already things are going your way. (Witness the roar from the West, the cheers from the East, the boy in the barber’s chair, the banter with the hardware guys and the feisty girl at the checkout, who can almost give it right back. Every time you hand over money she sharpens her ferric wit on the iron of yours, and good for her for doing it. So we inhabit our places and practice the arts of placed habitation.)
Back to the barber shop with your Romex and conduit and the boy aloft in the chair. How he loves the hum of the clippers on his head! How his grin betrays him! Yes, what a boy. The heart cracks, does it not?
Home to the electrical project and all the others you can dream up for yourself on this glorious fall day.
And to think that some men do not like yard work or home-improvement projects! They’re computer junkies, TV addicts, daylight readers. As if books weren’t made for the morning darkness and coffee or the fireside darkness and candlelight and the soft company of scotch whiskey, neat, in a thick tumbler.
Home, too, let us not forget, to the hope of splendid back pockets. The briefest glimpse of them will suffice (until you get the briefest glimpse of them). Do your eyes deceive you? They do not! A brief flash of denim across the deadlight window in front. And was that not the cobalt blue sweater, the one with the V-neck? It was! Jesus loves me, this I know. / For the sweater tell me so.
Piggy-back on an existing outdoor receptacle and run your wire under the deck to a hole pre-drilled near a rail post. Run the wire through conduit up through the hole and then wire in your new receptacle newly screwed to the deck post.
Hit the breaker. Test it for power. Good. Mount your neighborhood-famous home-designed patent-pending daylight-“savings”-time grilling-light-with-deck-rail-attachment in its new position. Mission accomplished.
But wait! A dim something is dawning on you: the grill light is in place… things might be, probably are, going your way… and all this means … means …
Quick! To the garage radio to check the scores!
Off you go.
And what’s this? IPA in the keg? It is your day. Time for a little break in the action.
As the pint glass fills (and you remember a fallen mate who would surely be with you had not the bending sickle’s compass come within his pleasant demesne) the good news emerges. Big Red: Very Dead. Maize and Blue: Lifeless Too. Golden Moles: In Their Holes.
All indicators point to evidence not even instant replay can overturn: it’s time for the annual Hog-in-a Pig Pig-out, the Pork a la Bacon Baconplatter, the How Now, Ground Sow Event, the Sine-Porcine Tangent, the Feast of St. Hoggustine, The Swining, The Pig Bang.
The what? a reader may ask.
You’ve heard of pig-in-a-blanket? This is pig-in-a-pig-blanket. This is the pig dish for your best pigskin Saturday.
The missus flashes before you, back pockets and cobalt sweater shouting instructions at you like a game-show audience. Above the noise you hear her ask, “What shall we do for dinner?” and see that she’s expecting an answer not at all to the purpose. You can see she’s prepared to roll her eyes—to walk away if necessary, to gather up every syllable of body language in the service of saying, “For the love of God! It’s the middle of the day!”
But all your eros is now turned pigward. All you can do is make blubbering comments about pork and bacon. The blubbering she’s used to. But now it’s different. And she’s relieved, for she knows that once a year your incoherence isn’t pocket-induced. It isn’t about Binx Bollling and the dagger in the heart, the stitch in the side. She can tell the pigskin stars are in a row. Jupiter is aligned with Mars, and she’s a free woman. You might pat those pockets. You might even take a loving swipe at them. But she knows you’re going to leave her alone. This is the dawning of the age of Porcinius. Peace will guide planets, and love will fill the stars, but none of it concerns her. You’re already out starting the charcoal grill, oblivious of all else, and she’s inside, saved by dead pig.
Onto the cutting board—wait! Refill the pint glass—onto the cutting board go a large onion, a whole garlic cluster, mushrooms, and one green thing of your choice. A green pepper will do but a hotter pepper will do better.
You chop them. Exuberantly you chop them. You think of unflattering words that rhyme with “huskers.”
You grate some sharp cheddar cheese.
You make sure you have near you (1) your favorite pork rub and (2) your favorite barbeque sauce.
Onto another surface you dump no less than two pounds of ground pork—three if you’ve got more to feed than the Jester Five—and you form the ground pork into a rectangular paddy about a half-inch thick. The thickness helps determine the dimensions. You don’t get your boxers in a wad over the dimensions.
Onto a third surface you make a bacon weave. This requires a pound and a half, maybe two pounds, of bacon. You lay about eight strips out in one direction, then fold every other one in half and lay a cross strip right at the fold. You re-straighten the folded strips and then fold the others, also in the every-other-one pattern, and lay a second cross strip. You repeat this pattern until you’ve reached the top. Then you start again from the middle until you’ve formed the same pattern all the way to the bottom.
What you have now is a beautiful and elaborate piece of lattice-work, such as you see beneath decking or porches—Front Porches, even. It’s a bacon weave or, as the guys you stole this idea from call it, “bacon bark.” You will use it momently.
Back to the ground pork. You sprinkle your rub and pour your barbeque sauce over it. You spread across it your onion, then your garlic, then your mushroom, then your pepper. After all that is done, you top it off with your shredded sharp cheddar.
Now the difficult part: you have to roll this fat concoction into a pork log.
Once you’ve done that, you set the pork log on the bacon lattice, because now you’re going to wrap the lattice around the log.
You sprinkle the finished sculpture with your rub. Then you rub it. Then you drizzle your barbeque sauce over it. Verily, you paint it with barbeque sauce.
When your coals are ready, you push them to one side of the grill and place the Pig Bang on the other side of the grill. You want indirect heat. You make sure your coals are good and white and then add a few extra pieces of charcoal plus some wood for smoking. You cover the grill, leaving the top and bottom vents open. Fire, you know, likes oxygen.
If your heat reaches 300 degrees or more, you don’t allot any more than 2 ½ hours for grilling this Pignificant Porksterpiece (though you might need three hours on a very cold winter’s day). You’ll open the grill lid and turn the dead swine half-way through the grilling, usually stirring the coals and adding more wood at that time as well, even though doing so lowers the ambient temperature for a while.
Meanwhile, you think of uncharitable things to say to Nebraska and Michigan fans. More IPA usually helps with the uncharitableness. If the aroma from the smokewood induces you to switch to Woodford Reserve, your uncharitableness improves by mere enlargement.
When the grilling is done, this thing that was so hard to make hang together when you were rolling it, and then rolling it again, holds together beautifully. The bacon is like twine about it, proving once again that there’s nothing bacon can’t do.
You put this beautiful hogroll on a platter and cut it as you would a loaf of bread: in big thick slices. You serve it with husked corn or whatever makes you love the color purple more. If today is your day, and it is, you just might be lucky enough to wake tomorrow to purple cotton wantonly askew. How it will remind you, even at that early hour, of splendid back pockets–and how the eyes (what eyes!) will roll.