We celebrated July 4th this year with a cookout at the Sharpmans where the main dish was Hunton burgers. Me and Keaton put the burgers together earlier in the afternoon, before the guests arrived, so there really wasn’t all that much to do in the kitchen later in the afternoon, except separate the boys from their guest, Asher, a bratty kid Jacob’s age who Jacob finally slugged after he took a run at Matteo and pushed him into the pool. Luckily the boys were definitely interested in Hunton burgers, and I think there’s some nice video of me and Keaton showing them how to put one together.
“We better get the fire started, bubba.”
“I think Mrs. Bedrossian is doing that already,” said Belen.
The boys were busy grating cabbage for the cole slaw (I’m sure Belen has a machine to do that, but she’s great at finding jobs for the boys in the kitchen), so me and Keaton headed outside to where the huge grill is located. I could see Keaton was impressed when he saw it.
Mrs. Bedrossian was fussing with the coals like she knew what she was doing. Keaton probably grew up thinking that grilling was man’s work, but, around the Sharpman house, it’s Mrs. Bedrossian’s job to make the shish kebabs, so the grill is mainly her province. Robert’s done hamburgers a few times, but, when he was making them, I got the feeling that Mrs. Bedrossian didn’t like him messing with her grill.
Mrs. Bedrossian and Keaton got into a discussion about the finer points of grilling that left me out of the loop. But they hit it off, and, by the time they were done talking, Keaton was promising to come back and show her how to do a brisket Texas style in exchange for her showing him how to make shish kebabs Armenian style.
Belen showed up with the tray of Hunton Burgers almost to the second when Mrs. Bedrossian said the coals were ready. The boys were with her, while Asher was still with his mother and clearly keeping his distance from Matteo and (especially) Jacob. That was more than fine with me. The boys had plenty to interest them at the grill: their grandmother doesn’t usually make burgers, and they’ve never seen me or Keaton cook. So they were watching us pretty intently, which meant me and Keaton had to keep them from setting their eyebrows on fire…not that I was the best person to do that, given my experience setting my mask on fire last summer…
The hard part about grilling a Block – or a Hunton – Burger is turning it over without breaking it apart and having the chili pour out onto the coals. When Dad used to let me help him with the grill, I did that a few times, and, well, let’s just say that those weren’t the times Dad was proudest of me lol. Although me, Keaton and Belen worked carefully to make sure that the edges were sealed with egg white, there’s always the danger that the burger will split when you go to turn it. Thus you need to take firm hold of the top and the bottom, but without squeezing too hard. Keaton got some practice last summer, so he had some idea of what was involved…but Mrs. Bedrossian figured it out for herself. I was impressed, although she was less impressed with herself (Mrs. Bedrossian: “it’s a hamburger, you turn it over.”)
Belen then came out with the rolls (those Mexican ones they call telera), the mayonnaise, the sliced tomatoes and big bowls of cole slaw and potato salad.
“How do you tell if they’re done?,” Jacob asked his grandmother.
“You just know,” Mrs. Bedrossian explained mysteriously.
Counting the crew (and we weren’t going to leave them out when it came to Hunton Burgers, especially on a holiday), there were close to 20 mouths to feed, so Mrs. Bedrossian had to make two batches of burgers on the grill. The boys were the most impatient to taste them, so they got served from the first batch. Mrs. Bedrossian served me and Keaton too (“I can cook the rest of them just fine”) so we went over to one of the tables by the pool, followed by the cameras. A Hunton Burger is very thick, and Ethan probably didn’t want to miss getting some footage of the boys’ small mouths trying to wrap themselves around a 2” thick stuffed burger.
The boys managed, and said the burgers were delicious. Matteo even ate his whole one, which isn’t something he does too often these days. The Hunton Burgers went over well with almost everyone else, although, wouldn’t you know it?, Asher thought the chili was too spicy…and Sylvia backed him up on that, repeating it at least a dozen times. Ethan and the crew got lots of footage of everyone eating and having a good time, which was great. He also did an interview with just me about the origins of the Hunton/Block burger. So it all went over very well, and Hunton Burgers were a definite success.
I also gotta give Asher a little credit. While we were having ice cream, he came over to Matteo and apologized for pushing him. It took a meaningful glance from me, but Matteo accepted the apology. Then one more meaningful glance and Jacob apologized for punching Asher. So it was all good, more or less. I could tell the boys still didn’t like each other, but at least open hostilities were at an end.
By that time the sun was just about down. Chuy said he was going to start his show once it was fully dark, so around 9:00…and Maya gave permission for me and Keaton to take the boys to see it. I don’t know how thrilled she was at the idea of having Jacob and Matteo around live fireworks, but I reckon she trusted me, if not Chuy.
So the boys went upstairs to change out of their boardshorts (Jacob needed a new tshirt too…like I said, Block Burgers are messy), and me and Keaton did the same in the pool house. While we were changing, Robert came by to give me the keys to the SUV. Keaton heard him from the bedroom and came out, looking a little concerned.
“Are those the keys to the SUV in the driveway?,” Keaton asked. “The Mercedes Maybach?”
“Yes. It’s safer for the boys to drive in something substantial like that than in Hunter’s car.”
“I’ve driven it before,” I said to Keaton. “You don’t have to worry.”
“I’m not worrying about you, bubba…I’m worried about the car. It’s not like we’re going to a totally sketchy neighborhood…but it’s also not the kind of place where people leave $150,000 SUVS parked on the street. And people set off fireworks in the street, too…”
“Keaton’s right,” I said.
Robert looked undecided.
“How about we take my truck?,” Keaton said. “It’s built plenty solid and the kids will be safe in it.”
Robert still looked suspicious.
“I drive for a living,” Keaton then added. “You can check my record with Amazon if you want. I’ve never had an accident in my life.”
“You haven’t had anything to drink today, have you?”
“Not a drop. I never drink if I’m going to be driving.”
Most men instinctively like something about Keaton. I think that was a factor in how he persuaded Robert to let us go to Chuy’s in the truck instead of the SUV.
By that time the boys were ready to go, masks and all. We were gonna be outside and Chuy and the family (including Eric, but not the younger kids) were all vaccinated…but Maya still hasn’t given up on the masks idea when the boys are out, so there’s not much I can do about it. It was progress that we didn’t have to wear masks all afternoon.
The kids thought Keaton’s truck was cool. They don’t get to drive around much in anything, and, even if the back seat of Keaton’s truck isn’t as comfortable as the Maybach, they seemed plenty happy as they got in. I don’t think they knew what to expect from a homemade fireworks show, although did know Chuy and the family from the afternoon when Jacob popped his shoulder out.
“How come you don’t have a truck like this?,” Matteo asked me, settling into the back seat.
“Y’all can buy me a Silverado any time you want,” I said.
“Hey…with gas prices the way they are, I’m not sure I’m not gonna get a shi…Prius like bubba has.”
That led to an explanation of supply and demand for the boys’ benefit, probably with more political commentary from the two Republicans in the car than would have been safe if the kids had Democrat parents, but Maya and Robert are libertarians, and no more fans of the current administration than me and Keaton are.
When there was a lull in the conversation, Jacob took advantage of being alone with me and Keaton to ask a question that probably was bothering him all evening:
“Was I right to punch Asher? I don’t think I’m going to get in trouble for it when we get home – although I know Mom said something about not letting me go see the fireworks until Ethan showed her the film of Asher pushing Matteo – but everybody was kind of acting like I’d done something wrong. I mean…it’s a good thing to stand up for your brother, right?”
He came to the right place for the answer he wanted. I wasn’t fully sure what Maya thought about the incident, but I also wasn’t going to say something I didn’t believe. One thing I know is that you shouldn’t lie to kids.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to encourage Jacob to fight if that wasn’t what his parents were going to want for him. So I had to be kinda guarded in my answer.
As for Keaton, I knew what he was thinking: that Jacob should have hit Asher more frequently and harder. Although I was fairly sure he wouldn’t say that aloud.
“I think you did the right thing,” I said, “and it’s always good to stand up for your family and friends. My Dad taught me that. But…”
“But sometimes doing the right thing has consequences, tough guy,” Keaton contributed, probably seeing that I was hesitating. “You can do the right thing and still get punished for it. Like with bubba and his first girlfriend.”
So I had to tell Jacob and Matteo an abridged version of the story of Jacob Bernstein and Shoshanah.
“He deserved to get beaten up, but I lost a girlfriend over it,” I finished, hoping that they’d understand.
“But do you regret beating him up?,” Jacob asked.
“No,” I answered, truthfully.
“Well…I don’t regret punching that retard Asher, either,” said Jacob. “He had it coming to him.”
“And that’s how you take care of a bully,” I added, largely for Matteo’s benefit.
“You mean…punch them?,” he asked.
“You got it, scout,” said Keaton. “You’re lucky to have an older brother who can look out for you, but it’s always good to fight your own battles.”
“Yeah…but Jacob knows how to punch someone. I don’t.”
“Where’d you learn to throw a punch like that, tough guy?,” Keaton asked. (And, yeah, I could see how pleased Jacob was with his new nickname.)
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just did it. Nobody taught me or anything. Why? Didn’t I do it right?”
“You made Asher cry,” I said. “I’d say you did it right.”
“But I don’t really know how to fight,” he said. I knew what was coming. “Can you show me, Hunter? You take boxing lessons, you must know how. And you can teach Matteo too…so he can take care of anyone who tries to bully him.”
Y’all know the thought has crossed my mind more than once…but I’m still not sure what Maya and Robert would say to my improving the boys’ pugilistic skills.
“Just tell them it’s one more sport you’re teaching them,” Keaton said, basically reading my mind. “There’s nothing wrong about learning to box.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “Please.”
“I’ll talk to your parents about it,” I said. Keaton kind of forced the issue, and he did it with Matteo’s interests at heart more than Jacob’s. I know him, and I know he doesn’t think anyone should get bullied. Jacob did well by Matteo this afternoon, and Keaton was dang pleased with that, but, even if the Penner Code says that you should always stand up for someone who’s getting bullied, it also states that you’re best off if you can take care of the bully yourself.
By the time I half-promised to teach the boys something about boxing, we arrived at Chuy’s house in Alhambra.