Rock Island, IL
This radio station—“Classic Hits All the Time”—claims to have been fulfilling its mission in these parts for over thirty years, but I have my doubts.
I’m pretty sure some of the hits lack thirty winters on their heads and that many others are not hits at all but swings and misses. Whiffs. Case in point: “Hot Blooded.” Don’t check it and see.
Nevertheless, I’m on a big ol’ jet air-a-liner. I’m takin’ it to the limit. I’m smokin’ in the boys’ room.
And in the bed of my Ford there’s a propane tank with an illegal brass quick-couple attachment on it. It’s a little tank that holds about seven pounds of propane designed to run a gas starter on my charcoal grill. I’m a charcoal and hardwood man.
The phrase “now we’re cooking with gas” does not impress me unless I’m indoors, where gas is an improvement over electricity. In fact, the Weber charcoal tower I use for back-up is really my preferred means of setting the carbon deposit on fire: it’s faster and fussier, and I prefer fussier.
But I also like getting away with using a perfectly good tank that happens now to be illegal because some Regulator doesn’t like its regulator. And I like convincing my local propane guy to keep refilling it even though he isn’t supposed to.
“Isn’t supposed to” by lawyers, who have pretty much ruined our lives. They’ve decided that the best posture for a creature made in the image of God is that of a man looking over his shoulder, scared. They’ve decided that, because lawyers start all conversations with “what are the risks?” instead of “what are the benefits?” (as any sane person would do), the rest of us should also therefore inhabit a suspicious and litigious world—a world of retribution, ill-will, and greed.
The more I think about it, old Willy was right: kill all the lawyers. Kill ’em tonight.
I pass an ugly cage with Blue Rhino propane tanks poised for exchange—big clunky things for heathen gas grillers and despisers of the coal deposits placed specifically for our summertime culinary needs by the blind forces of evolution. I see a man open the cage to make an exchange.
Carry on, my wayward son. There’ll be war when you are done.
To the local butcher I go for some local butterfly chops. I love my butcher, not because he’s especially good at carving up those intricate delivery systems known as pigs, cows, chickens, and fish, though he is.
I love him because he’s fat.
You want your butcher to be fat. Your priest you want a bit less fleshy—gaunt, in fact, if possible, like your politician, because no one can trust the politics of a fat man. But your butcher, whose politics you have no reason to trust or distrust, you want to be fat. Four, five, six chins are good, as is a distinct waddle in his gate and some wheezing brought on by taking as few as four steps toward the counter.
Fat-bottom butchers make the Betty Crockin’ world go round.
“What’ll it be today?” he asks breathlessly, like someone who’s just finished an 800 in record setting time, his several chins jiggling to the sound of his carnivorous baritone.
This is working out perfectly.
“You know what, Tad?” I say, thinking that “Tad” is the perfect name for a fat butcher. “I think I’ll take five of those butterfly chops—the thicker ones, not these half-inchers cut for PoMoCons and other league bowlers.”
“Do you have dark beer at home?” Tad asks.
I also like it that my fat butcher isn’t curious about PoMoCons. In this respect he resembles the rest of the world.
“Not if I can help it,” I say. “I try to keep the bottles empty.”
“Put ’em in dark beer and brown sugar. Chop up a little ginger. Let ’em sit overnight.”
“Sounds good,” I say, and it is: I’ve tried it. “But these are for tonight. I’ve got a rub that drives the Counter of Cocktails and Chief Eye-Roller wild.”
In my periphery I see another customer, a man with much shorter hair than mine. His hair has “product” in it.
“Once the rub soaks in,” I continue, “I bathe the dead pig in soy sauce. This does the trick”—and here I look intently at my fat friend—“I assure you.”
Gel-boy next to me looks my way and smiles knowingly. I’ll bet that, out on the floor, he shuffles his feet away.
“You’re going to grill them, I hope,” says fatso.
“What do you take me for?” I ask. “A pagan? An idiot materialist? I’m going to grill them over charcoal and apple wood. I’m not a gas-grilling gel-haired sissy lawyer, after all.”
“Excellent!” says fatboy, even as the brown-flip-flop-shod Night Owl beside me straightens.
“I have a gas grill,” he says.
Seems I’ve stepped into it once again.
“But you’re no lawyer, I hope,” I say.
“In fact I am,” he says. And, as I’ve said, he’s got gel in his hair.
“I see,” I say. “You know, there are people out there who can help you.” I reach out my hand. He takes it, and we shake. “I’m Jeff Polet,” I say. “Not from around here but glad to know you.”
Tad knows two lies when he hears them and backs away. His assistant, Willem, steps up.
“What do you do, Jeff?” asks the crisp-haired litigious prick in brown flip-flops, cargo shorts, and a designer crew-neck shirt.
“I grill over charcoal,” I say. “Otherwise I teach feminist theory.”
Polet, it occurs to me, is not helping my cause.
“And what is feminist theory?” asks gel-boy.
And I say, “well, it’s not really a theory. It’s just a way of talking. Like Pig Latin. You learn how it works and then start talking and never shut up.”
I realize I’m giving Polet way too much credit on the creativity scale and think about backing off.
“Actually, I’m not Jeff,” I say. “I’m Patrick Deneen. I’m a professional localist perpetually on the national circuit. I just stepped in here to get some local halibut, but the dead pig caught my eye.”
Gel-boy is getting confused.
“You’re not Jeff but Patrick,” he says, “not a feminist but a … what did you say… professional localist?”
“Actually, I’m neither of those.” The stable world of laws and ordinances is no good to this man here. I smell lawyer blood. “I’m James Wilson and I’ve just come from a Chick-Feel-Gay rally down at the local Gay-Mart—I mean the HomoDepot–and now I’m ready for pork.” I put on a wicked grin as gel-boy’s brain short-circuits.
Don’t look back. It’s been too long since I felt this way.
Speaking of bad hair, Gel-boy begins to back away. Willem too. I’m learning what a benefit it is to have friends in low places and a firm belief that the untruth will set you free.
Out to the Ford with my chops. I see a delivery truck loaded with liquid propane roaring by. Hah!
Home to the grill. I snap the starter tank in place, light the charcoal, and head in to soak some apple wood shaved from the apple tree on the SW corner of my little yard here.
Onto the chops goes the rub. It’ll soak in while I’m takin’ care of business. Every day. Every way.
Which means pouring a couple of fingers—bulbous fingers, Meyer Wolfsheim fingers—of bourbon, whereupon My Lady Scrutiny, as if on cue, enters.
“I’m sailing away!”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” The eyes roll. They imply that bourbon changes my personality.
“Nonsense!” I apparently say, meaning only to think it.
Which settles the matter. It appears I did in fact say, out loud, unprovoked, “nonsense.”
That is, “on the fence,” I say. “I’m on the fence about whether to serve a salad or grilled asparagus.”
The eyes roll. “Asparagus. And make it good—if you mean to sleep in clean sheets.”
Kentucky’s finest export, I want to say, doesn’t effect a personality change. It brings out the true personality that sobriety merely restrains. Deep down I’m a … a …
Ground control drops major bomb. Let’s get the asparagus going.
Cut the tips, then halve the stalks. Discard the fat bottoms. Fat bottom asparagus makes the rockin’ compost go round. But the rest of this stuff is fresh out of the ground earlier today. It’s as fresh as …
Lordy, where’s my freshened tumbler?
Freshened? I’m ahead of myself! Where’s the Counter when I need her to see me ahead of myself!
I instruct the oldest of my lazy offspring to chop some garlic. She takes this as a sign to put on some music. It had better be “classic,” in keeping with the promises of the radio station.
She’s making for the trades on the outside. My love is an anchor tied to her, tied by a silver chain.
What a girl! The bread is up to her.
Onto the coals goes the soaked apple wood; then onto the grill go the chops. I drizzle the residual soy sauce as I turn the dead pig lovingly and quickly. Before it’s done it goes off direct heat, and on goes the asparagus—first the thicker pieces then the thinner ones. They’re drenched in olive oil, and the coals come alive. I turn the stalks, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, then brush them with maple syrup.
Off the grill with all of it and onto a covered platter. My first-born has timed the bread perfectly. We call the others to dinner.
There will be good eating tonight. But, more importantly:
I’ve insulted all propane grillers. I’ve masqueraded as three different Porchers. I’ve expressed my preference for gaunt priests and fat butchers. I’ve heard a mix of classic hits and classic shits. I’ve seen eyes roll and cocktails counted (one by my count, but I’m not the official score keeper). I’ve screwed with a local lawyer who, much to his discredit, puts gel in his hair, wears brown flip-flops, and owns a gas grill. I’ve broken a propane law and convinced my LP guy to break another.
Not bad for a Tuesday in June, given that the peripatetic NBA still pollutes our world with its pretense to sport and, what is worse, to place.
Me, I’m here with my grill, my chops, my, asparagus, my family, and the sunshine on my shoulders, which makes me happy. (Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry.)
And now I’m just lookin’ for some … for some … for some toothpicks. Yeah. That’s it. Toothpicks.