Jewish World Review June 28, 2004 / 9 Tamuz, 5764

Dean P. Johnson

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Consumer Reports

Now, they're killing the good ol' American backyard barbeque! | "How do you like your burger?" My friend yelled to me as he stood over his new outdoor cooking system which, when fully assembled, was nearly twice the size of the average kitchen.

"Medium rare," I shouted back. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking and stared at me as if I had just lit a cigarette.

My friend gave the other guests an I-didn't-invite-him shrug. "Uh, I meant veggie or ground turkey," he said. He then went on a twenty-minute lecture about fully cooked meat that was about as interesting as a twenty-minute lecture about fully cooked meat.

The modern backyard barbecue has little resemblance to its predecessor. My attendance at a small gathering this past Memorial Day weekend opened my eyes to the changes and possibly the future, or the lack thereof, of the good ol' American backyard barbeque.

I began to sense the change as soon as I stepped into my friend's yard. I quickly realized that I was somewhat underdressed. Even though the day was not extraordinarily warm, I was still surprised that I was practically the only one wearing shorts. A woman I had never met immediately accosted me. She not only wore a long sleeved shirt and a wide brim hat, but her jeans were tucked into her socks that were pulled nearly up to her knees and she smelled something like the Exxon Valdez. She offered me some of her oils that purported not only to keep away insects while leaving softer skin, but could also clean car engines, remove paint and leave teeth whiter and breath fresher. When I politely declined, she warned that I should stay off the grass because of ticks. I looked down at the grass we were standing on, thanked her and went to find the host.

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There he was, standing over his grill that in some towns would need its own address. He flipped burgers on the grill, checked the pots on all four burners, sliced vegetables on the attached butcher block, tuned the shish kabobs, basted the chicken, marinated the steaks and I believe I actually saw him put a layer cake in the oven. What a marvel. Here was this man who couldn't tell you the difference between a Dutch oven and an EZ Bake oven. It's amazing that when the cooking apparatus is moved outdoors, the men suddenly become culinary aficionados.

I think it was all a trick, though.

That's why the woman allow, nay, encourage the men to buy, buy, buy such extravagant grills while at the same time complain about the purchase of a new DVD player. While the men are outside sweating over a hot stove, the women sit in the air conditioning watching their video of a week's worth of The View.

As I crunched down my extra well done burger adorned with green ketchup, honey brown mustard and no fat mayonnaise, an acquaintance walked up to me. "Too bad about the weather," he said. I looked up at the mostly blue sky.

"Oh, yea. Too sunny?" I said sarcastically.

"Exactly, he said seriously. "I didn't catch what the UV index was, but it's gotta be high. It's a shame, too, because they were calling for showers all week."

I thought about how all those songs that celebrated the renewing, joyful qualities of the sun would have to be adjusted: "You are my eclipse, my only eclipse. You make me happy, when skies are blue. You never know dear, how much I love you. Please do take my sunshine away."

As the sun began to set, there was a rush for the back door. People couldn't get inside fast enough. I would have thought that now the sun was going down, people could shed their long sleeves, toss hats to the wind and party like it was just a couple of years ago. "Mosquitoes," someone said. "West Nile."

Inside I was surrounded by conversations on mold spores and pollen counts, about air quality and pollution indexes. While one group of people wondered if the vegetables were organic, another shared their relief that the burgers were made of ground turkey and not ground beef. When someone asked me if I knew whether or not the soap in the bathroom was antibacterial or not, I decided it was time to go.

Back home, as I ate my all beef, medium rare hamburger, dripping with grease, piled high with gobs of red ketchup, yellow mustard and real mayonnaise, sitting in the grass in my own back yard, I lamented the loss of an American institution and wondered how many others were sitting, eating alone in their backyards and about how soon they would all find one another and start gathering in the speakeasies of the twenty-first century.

JWR contributor Dean P. Johnson's columns appear in Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Hartford Courant, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, San Francisco Examiner, Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, Atlantic City Press, Philadelphia Inquirer among other smaller papers. Comment by clicking here.


04/20/04: Once again, it's TV's fault

03/31/04: My kids have been watching the news again!
03/26/04: Why are we still annoying Americans with metrics?

© 2004, Dean P. Johnson