Monday, October 20, 2003


Built a fire in my simple barbecue over the weekend, out in the back yard some distance from my all-wooden deck. It was on Sunday, a strangely warm and clear day for October. My simple barbecue is one of those ovoid jobs, basic black with a tripod of legs -- a mass-produced ash receptacle, bigger than a hibachi, smaller than MeatMan 3600 Ubergrill, available at Home Depot for several thousand dollars. Not for me a propane or gas grill large enough to grill enough weenies for the 101st Airborne.

First, the layer of briquettes, the generic grocery-store variety. Best to handle these with your hands, so that your fingers blacken up a bit. Dowse 'em with lighter fluid (the briquettes, not your fingers). Top with newspaper. Then, add a layer of kindling sticks, thoughtfully provided by my trees. Well, I'm not sure if trees can ever be thoughtful, but anyway I piled the wood on the newspaper and --- in real retro fashion -- lit the paper with wooden matches, instead of a click-click-click long-nosed lighter. Ours is out of fuel.

All the while, Daughter #1 watches with some fascination. This is good. She's old enough to understand the element of danger, but also to be interested in it at the same time. I doubt that I'm encouraging pyromania, something very rare in girls anyway. She needs to know how to build a fire. (Not that I would let her, yet. It's a someday activity, like driving a car.)

First, the paper fire. Poof! Fun to see pics of worthless celebrities convert to ash. With luck, the fire spreads to the sticks. Mine did, and with the one stick I'd reserved for poking the other sticks around, I poked the other sticks around, and they caught fire too. Worried that it still wouldn’t be enough to ignite the briquettes, I added a couple of small logs.

Pretty soon everything was a-glow. A steady stream of smoke helped us keep track of minor changes in wind direction, which usually involved the smoke being re-directed toward me. I put on the top grill, and Yuriko and I plopped some thinly sliced beef on it. She had soaked the beef in a tasty sauce, as the first stage of Korean barbecue preparation. Both of us used metal utensils to turn the meat, and eventually we served it on plates, to be eaten by wrapping it in lettuce and dipping it in another sauce, the sort Yuriko finds in suburban Asian markets.

I don't think I've built a backyard fire since sometime during the Reagan administration, when I had a back yard in a Nashville duplex. As an apartment-dweller during the years after that, outdoor fires would have been unwise legally and also from a safety perspective. But even when I had a back yard at our old house in the western suburbs of Chicago, I wasn't inspired. The presence of the deck at the new house, however, has made me itch to build a fine fire.

I built or helped build a good number of fires in my formative years, on the "porch" of the old manse in San Antonio -- a concrete slab out back. We had a simple ovoid barbecue back then, too, and trees that provided an inordinate amount of sticks. Usually no meat grilling was involved it, but there was a lot of newspaper immolation and raking the burning sticks. I wasn't feeding a boy's pyromania, as it turned out, but mild pyrophilia.


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