The Summer Barbecue

What I am about to say may release a mob bearing pitchforks and torches, tools that can excoriate heretics from the population and char up some meat. Nevertheless…

I hate barbecues.

Okay, I hate 95% of barbecues.

They are man’s answer to what makes a scorching hot day even better: fire. Plus, scorched meat. As a pale vegetarian whose favorite vacation involved glaciers and sleet, you can imagine how this thrills me. Somehow, the events attract a diverse cross-section of the population. For your convenience, I’ve assembled a field guide.

Population 1: The menfolk. Men tend fire. Every one of them is an expert, and half the barbecue will be spent arguing the finer points of fire-making. The other half will consist of them walking in and out of the house, trailing heat and smoke and bugs. Humans spent centuries perfecting doors as a means to keep these things outside the home, but no matter.

Conversation: Endless debates on charcoal placement, chimneys, or lighter fluid; explosions; things that can be set on fire or made to explode; sportsball (or, “dude, did you catch the game last night?”); and the tragically short film career of the great John Belushi.

Population 2: The womenfolk. Women are responsible for everything else. The majority of their time will be split between assembling salads, drinking wine, caring for tiny humans, and talking about child birth/child rearing/fluids that come out of said tiny humans.

Conversation: how to raise a tiny human to adulthood (I understand this is difficult and necessitates a support group of your peers); funny things the tiny humans say or do; the horrifying ordeal miracle of childbirth, in explicit detail; complaints about the menfolk; the price of a pound of beef.

Population 3: Tiny Humans. The children are responsible for “AAAHHHHH! Jimmy’s head is stuck in the laundry chute!” Their volume increases in direct relation to the number of children in their age-range also attending the event, an effect both staggering and exponential in nature. Remember what it was like to hear the thoughts in your head? Neither do I.

Conversation is disjointed and histrionic. In the course of five minutes you may hear: what they can do better than anyone else; what they can do better than you; “Look at this!”; noises that tiny butts make; smells that tiny butts make; and, “Did you see Jimmy’s head stuck in the laundry chute?!”

Perhaps it’s that I hate the outdoors, and therefore have no interest in sitting outside on a hot day, next to fire, debating which mind-numbing movie is funnier: Animal House or The Blues Brothers. Perhaps it’s that, even though I’m a woman, I can’t decide between puking or fainting over the casual conversations about wombs and vaginal tearing around a big bowl of pasta salad. Perhaps, after fifteen minutes trying to rediscover my childhood amongst the tiny humans, I remember that I’m glad to have left it behind.

As if this isn’t enough, a barbecue shines a large, blinking FREAK light over my vegetarian head. I’ve tried to mitigate the effect by sneaking faux meat onto the grill. You know the kind of over-processed, pre-packaged meat substitute I’m talking about. It’s not delicious and definitely doesn’t taste like meat (thank goodness), but my other option is to fill my plate with chips and mayonnaise salad. Sometimes I do this, then cut out of the party early to appease my hunger with a cheese sandwich on the way home.

Either way, everyone notices my meatless plate.

All attempts to fit in fail. Though I’m in a house or yard full of good people, I am uncomfortable and alone. Where are my people? You know the ones–those who want to talk quietly about a good book, who’d rather play a game of cards than turn on the game. I’ll tell you where they are; they’re inside, sitting around little plates of cheese and drinking wine in an air conditioned room, like civilized people.

Come to think of it, the 5% of barbecues that I find enjoyable involves these people.

At other barbecues, my inability to fit in casts me adrift, wandering from room to room. I can’t even eat to look busy and give my hands something to do.

Wait. This family has a dog. She’s not starting a fire–no opposable thumbs. And she’s almost certainly avoiding the tiny humans and their not-at-all gentle touch. Maybe she’s my people.

I’ll just be over there making friends.