July 4th 2021 (part 1)

I got to have a Block Burger this year for the 4th of July.

Well…strictly speaking it wasn’t a Block Burger. It was a Hunton Burger like me, Keaton and Joyce invented last summer, which uses Keaton’s chili recipe in place of Dad’s.

Not only did I get to eat one: I got to make them, too. Ok, I had help…and y’all will be able to see the whole thing on TV next week.

Although we shot the Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes of At Home with Maya a few weeks in advance of the holidays so that our episodes could air Thanksgiving and Christmas week, they didn’t bother having us do that for July 4th. We celebrated the holiday on the 4th with the cameras rolling at the real event. I liked that a lot better than our fake Thanksgiving and Christmas for the cameras: what you’re gonna be seeing next Wednesday is the real thing.

The Block Burgers idea began a few weeks ago, when Ethan, Jean-François, Maya and Robert were having a meeting about what to do for the July 4th show this year. They were fresh out of ideas, and apparently that’s when I walked by the window wearing a ball cap with a bat slung over my shoulder. I was doing it innocently enough, but, upon seeing me, Jean-François apparently said, “if someone who looks that American can’t give us an idea for July 4th, then no one can.”

So they sent Ethan outside to get me just as I was heading back into the pool house.

“We’ve got a question for you,” he said, “can you come inside?”

I said, of course, sure…and, a little afraid that I was in trouble, followed him into the house and then to Maya’s office, still carrying the bat.

“We’ve got a question for our resident All-American Boy,” Maya said. “What can we do for July 4th this year?”

“The President gave that speech about if, we all got vaccinated, we’d be able to have a small barbecue by July 4th. Maybe we can do better than that?,” Robert said. “What did you used to do back home?”

“We have a big cookout,” I explained, like y’all already know. “Most of the neighbors come over, Dad makes Block Burgers, we all sing ‘America the Beautiful’ and Meemaw makes a whole mess of pies for dessert. Peach was always my favorite. Then we’d go over to Alcoa to watch fireworks in the park.”

“What’s a Block Burger?,” Maya asked.

“It’s a hamburger stuffed with chili,” I explained. “They’re messy but delicious. Dad invented them.”

“How about we have Block Burgers?,” Maya then suggested to the group. Then, turning to me, she asked, “do you know how to make them?”

“Me and Keaton” – Maya had met Keaton so I didn’t need to explain who he was – “made a version of them last summer,” I said. “We called them Hunton Burgers because they used his family chili recipe instead of Dad’s army buddy’s recipe.”

“Is it a family secret?,” Maya asked.

“Not really…but Dad doesn’t fully trust me in the kitchen.” I left out the story of having set myself on fire trying to use Joyce’s new grill last summer. “They came out great with the Penner family chili, though.” Given how generous the boys are with Salsa Tapatío on their food, I decided I didn’t have to warn anyone that the chili that goes inside a Hunton Burger is pretty dang spicy.

“What do you say to Hunton burgers?,” Maya asked the rest of the planning committee. “Oh…wait…I get it. Hunton from Hunter and Keaton.”

I nodded.

“Sounds good,” said Jean-François. “Will your friend come over and help?,” he then asked me.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I’ll have to ask him.” I know Keaton said something about not wanting to end up on international television the first time he came over to see my new residence, and I know that was because he thinks it’s better for the drug dealers he was working for back when he lived in Amsterdam not to know where he is now.

“Any other things you like to do for July 4th?,” Jean-François asked me.

“What about fireworks?” Ethan asked.

“Well…my friends in Alhambra do a fireworks show in the backyard. I went last year and it was pretty impressive. I was thinking…maybe I could take the boys…”

“We could think about that…if they’ll let us take a camera in…”

“I’m not sure,” I said, honestly. “It’s not like the fireworks they set off are exactly legal…”

“Illegal fireworks?,” Maya asked, in a tone that suggested that she wasn’t loving the idea.

“Yes,” I said, ‘but he’s been doing it for years. He’s very careful about safety.”

“Isn’t this the person with the soccer game that Jacob got hurt during?”

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, Chuy was at the park to play ball that day, but the soccer game was a pick-up thing that the kids started.” I wanted to add ‘and Jacob’s fine’, but I realized that I just had to give Maya more time to get over what had been a bigger scare for her than it had been for the rest of us.

“Well…we can think about the fireworks. But these burgers sound definitely like a good idea. Can my mother help you? It’s her grill after all,” she said with her movie star smile. She wasn’t kidding: the grill was mostly there for shish kebab. “We should have people over…including your friend, of course.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Ethan said. “Who should we invite?”

They then got into a whole discussion about people I didn’t know, so, after standing there for a while feeling really lameass, I excused myself, picked up my bat, and headed back to the pool house.

So that was a couple weeks ago. I called Keaton right away to ask if he’d come over and make Hunton Burgers for July 4th, and he agreed, although he said he had to do some checking before he’d agree to having his face filmed. Otherwise they’d have to make do with his hands making the burgers. I said that might look weirdass, but Keaton said it was a potential deal-breaker. A couple days later, he told me that it would be ok for him to be filmed. He had some acquaintances back in Amsterdam do some research into the drug dealers he was working for, and the report came back all clear. Whether that meant that the drug dealers were all in jail, or whether the drug ring was under new management…well, y’all know Keaton pretty well by now…and he wasn’t telling me anything about his past he didn’t have to.

The one thing that he was being secretive about as far as the TV cameras were concerned was the chili recipe. Dad’s chili recipe isn’t a secret, but apparently the Penner family chili recipe is. Keaton also said it takes a few hours to cook, so it would be better if he made it at home the night before and brought it with him when he came over to the Sharpmans.

So Keaton was onboard for making his TV debut . The boys were really pleased at the idea of seeing him again, especially as most of the other guests were going to be boringass grown-ups. Maya told me they were considering inviting more kids, but that they realized I wouldn’t be able to watch kids and cook Hunton Burgers all at the same time, even with Keaton and Mrs. Bedrossian helping at the grill. So they invited four couples, only one of which had kids, and only one kid at that, a boy Jacob’s age.

The couples were very obviously chosen so that they’d be a racially even ‘mix’ – probably because there’s been some complaining on Facebook that the show is getting ‘too white’, even if Maya is Armenian. So there was one Asian couple, one black couple, one biracial gay couple and one white couple…plus Robert, who’s Jewish, Maya and Mrs. Bedrossian who are Armenian, Belen, who’s latina…plus me and Keaton, who are of course as white as they come lol.

The kid belonged to the white couple, David and Sylvia. David was somehow involved in the entertainment business, but I didn’t spend enough time with him to find out exactly what…and I didn’t find out much about Sylvia, either. I didn’t want to, since, if I did talk to them, I would have had to tell them they had raised the most obnoxious kid I’ve ever met and that I wasn’t at all sorry when Jacob punched him.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself, but now y’all can wonder about how things got to that point lol.

Actually nearly everyone invited was involved in the entertainment business somehow. The husband from the Asian couple, Henry, was an agent, and his wife, Suzy, is an actress. Not a super famous actress or anything, but the kind of actress who can make a living at being an actress, which is a pretty big achievement. She looked a lot younger than he was, but I think I’ve told you before that I’m not too great at telling women’s ages. One thing she was was beautiful, and one person who really noticed it was Keaton…regardless of her age, she was exactly his type. I’ve never seen him react to a woman that way before, and it was kinda funny how he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

Y’all already know the wife of the African American couple: it was Michelle…who I reckon is my lawyer as well as Maya and Robert’s. (I never got back to you with any news about the lawsuit over In Hell with Maya because there hasn’t been any news worth reporting. Robert explained that the lawyers are racking up bills but that they’re not actually achieving anything. I did have to go in on my own to the lawyers’ back in May to give a deposition, which was kinda intimidating at first, but, like I told everyone there, I have nothing to hide. So I just told my story like 5 times and that was the end of that.) Michelle’s husband is named Devin, and he’s a lawyer too, but he works for a different firm from Michelle and does corporate law, which sounds totally boringass.

As for the gay couple, I reckon they were cool enough…except… Y’all guessed it. As Keaton put it, “they had trouble keeping their tongues in their mouths every time you walked by, bubba.” Lucas kinda inspired me about working out, so I’ve been hitting the gym more than I usually do…as a result I look pretty dang good in a pair of boardshorts this summer. (Joyce says I look like a Greek statue, but Joyce is my girlfriend and is supposed to say shit like that. Keaton says I look gay…which I’m taking as a compliment lol.) The two dudes are both writers and they usually collaborate. I didn’t talk to them too much (Keaton: “watch out or they’ll be asking you to rub sunblock all over them”… ew!), but they were nice enough when we did find something to say to each other. I can’t help how they were looking at me, of course…but they kept their hands to themselves, so I was basically cool with it.

And then there was David and Sylvia’s kid, Asher…

Both Matteo and Jacob made it clear that they didn’t like Asher as soon as they found out that David and Sylvia were coming on July 4th. (Jacob: “he’s totally retarded”. Matteo – being a little more specific – “he’s a brat.”) They were looking forward to hanging out with me and Keaton by the pool…and then they got Asher dropped into the middle of their plans and weren’t happy about it. I resolved that I was gonna give the kid a chance and not let Jacob and Matteo make up my mind for me, but it would be hard to say that I was looking forward to meeting him.

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