Joyce has bought us a grill.
She says that it gets very hot in the kitchen in the summer, and that it’s shaping up to be a very hot summer here in the San Gabriel Valley. She’s definitely right about that: we had a heatwave last week with temperatures pushing 100°, and we’re in for another this weekend. I don’t mind the heat if I’m being active and playing ball or something, so it’s not bad working with my pupils on a super hot day. They may complain a little, but, when they do, I tell Lucas to stop being gay…and I tell Noah and Cody what Meemaw always used to tell me on super hot days: complaining about the heat doesn’t make it 1 degree cooler.
The thing is, Joyce ordered the grill off Amazon without consulting me – it was supposed to be a surprise – so she didn’t get exactly what I’d have got…which would have been a smaller version of the grill Dad has back home. Dad’s grill is a pretty simple affair; the one Joyce got us has a lot of bells and whistles that I didn’t even know existed. I mean, I just thought a grill was a place to put hot coals with a rack for the food on top.
And the thing is, Joyce expects me to be an expert at using the dang thing.
Dad let me help out manning the grill once I turned 16, but he never really showed me how to use it. I don’t think I’m from the only family where Dad does the grilling while Mom does the side dishes in the kitchen and the kids play. That’s how it was with us. I remember plenty of summer nights when Dad made Block Burgers and I was playing catch with Turner and Gardner in the yard instead of paying attention to the grill because one day I was gonna have a girlfriend who was gonna expect that I knew how to grill shit.
And the only thing I have any experience with is Block Burgers. Dad did teach me how to put them together…and, when he found out about the grill at Joyce’s, typed out his secret chili recipe and emailed it to me. Only problem: I don’t own half the equipment the recipe says I need. I mean, why the heck do you need a coffee grinder to make chili?
Joyce has said she wants to try a Block Burger, so Keaton’s gonna help out and make a big batch of his super hot Texas chili to stuff the burgers with. So it won’t quite be authentic Block Burgers, but I’ve had Keaton’s chili before, and it is pretty dang awesome…once you get used to the heat lol.
But before we got to the burgers, Joyce suggested I break in the grill by making us steaks and baked potatoes. So she got us some New York strips at the Kroger and said she was going to go inside and relax in the air conditioning while I did the cooking for a change.
Ok, big problem there: I didn’t know jack shit about grilling steaks. So I did the only thing I could do…call Dad for help.
I did at least know from seeing Dad do it all those years that you need to use the chimney thing to get the coals going, but I needed Dad to explain to me that you use newspaper underneath the coals to get the fire going. Good thing Joyce still gets the Los Angeles Times…or else I’d of been out on the first pitch. Dad told me to put some cooking oil on the newspaper to get it to light better, and that worked. I stayed on the phone with Dad until I thought the coals were ready, then I got Dad to move to Face Time so I could show him the coals. He said he couldn’t exactly tell if they were hot enough by looking at a picture of them from 2000 miles away.
So, sure enough, I fucked up. I left the coals too long and they fell apart when I dumped them into grill.. So it was back to the drawing board with a new pile of coals and the last few sheets of newspaper Joyce had in the house. I had to get it right this time or I was gonna be fucked.
I’m pretty good at not repeating mistakes, and I got the second batch of coals into the grill at close to the right time, I think. I put the potatoes on like Dad told me to…so…so far, so good.
Then came time for the steaks…and another call to Dad. I was behind schedule because of the mess I made with the first bunch of coals, but Joyce was still chilling in the air conditioning and didn’t come out to rush me and make me all nervous. As it was I was nervous that the coals I had were going to go out before I put the steaks on, since Dad had to explain that a potato takes a whole lot longer to cook than steak. The last thing I wanted to do was start fucking around with the chimney thing again, so I decided I’d just cross my fingers.
Dad said to wait until the potatoes looked done before starting with the steaks, but it turned out at that point – like I was afraid it would – that the coals weren’t as hot as they should have been. I let the steaks go for 3 minutes on each side like Dad said would be right for medium (which is how Joyce likes her meat), and I could tell they weren’t done.
So now this was like the fifth time I called Dad, and I could tell he was laughing at me, but what was I supposed to do? I didn’t know the first thing about grilling anything, and there I was in Joyce’s backyard flying blind. Finally Dad gave up and told me just to cut into the steaks and see if they were done. He said it’s the best way to see before you start getting the hang of it. So I did…and… don’t ask me how this happened…I had one steak that was super super rare (even by my standards) and one that was totally well done. Dad told me that I should take the well done one and keep cooking the other one until it was the way Joyce likes hers. That seemed fair to me…but it got me wondering about how many times Dad took something that he’d fucked up on the grill so we wouldn’t know he’d made a mess of it.
Although it was cooling off nicely outside, like it usually does here when the sun goes down, Joyce wanted to eat in the dining room in the air conditioning, so I brought the steaks and the potatoes inside.
Joyce got one look at me and let out a scream that made me almost drop the steaks.
“You’re on fire!!”
“What?,” I asked, looking down at my clothes. My tshirt and shorts looked fine. I couldn’t figure out what she meant.
“Oh shit!,” I said. She was right. One of the sparks from the coals had flown up when I was juggling the steaks and my phone and it caught on my mask. I had one of those multi-layer disposable ones on, and, sure enough, it was on fire. Since I don’t have to worry about how I look at a hotel front desk these days, I’ve been experimenting with a beard for the past few weeks. I think that’s why I didn’t feel the hot mask against my face. Ok, the thing wasn’t in flames, but it was smoking. Joyce practically tore it off my face and put it under the water in the kitchen sink, like it was gonna burn down the house or something.
So finally we got to table, but the steaks were starting to cool off a little. I gave Joyce the one that I got to turn out medium and I ate the overdone one. It wasn’t that it was terrible, but it’s not how I like my meat.
I could tell that Joyce was trying to spare my ego when she bit into her steak. I mean, I’m sure it was ok…but when you get a steak off the grill, you expect something better than just ok.
So I fucked up my first time grilling. The potatoes were good, though…and Joyce always has all kinds of awesome stuff to put in a baked potato. She had a salad for us too, so we didn’t starve.
When Joyce was in the kitchen doing the dishes, I grabbed a beer and Dad called to tell him how things went.
“A disaster,” I said, feeling pretty sorry for myself. “Joyce was a good sport, but I could tell I disappointed her. She bought that fancyass grill with me in mind and I can’t use it.”
“How do you expect to learn if you don’t mess up first?,” Dad asked me. “Your papaw didn’t tell me the first thing about grilling either. You can ask your mother how I did with the grill the first time. Only it was burgers I ruined. Women think that all men know how to grill automatically or something.” Maybe he had something there. “The good thing is that you screwed up the coals once and then you screwed up the steaks, so that’s two mistakes you won’t make next time.”
I thanked Dad again and hung up. He texted me 30 seconds later:
“Don’t tell Joyce how clueless you were. Your mother is still telling people about how I screwed up that first time.”
So that’s what I did. I apologized again, and let Joyce think that I was just not used to the kind of grill she’d bought. She said she was sure things would go better the next time.