Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Let me preface this wordy bit of self-denigration by insisting that I am not utterly devoid of basic social skills—I just keep them well hidden. I don’t engage in friendly banter, I ignore the proper utensil order when setting the table (but hey, I am setting the table for goodness sake!), and I couldn't care less if I’m caught wearing pink after Labor Day. Or whichever color is verboten.

Kristin doesn’t have these problems. She is not obsessed with the formality of proper behavior, but she can toe the line and behave in an appropriately grown-up manner when necessary. This might stem from the fact that she was nearly a debutante during her upbringing in North Carolina. She escaped, however, to California and saved herself that ignominy.

Whenever visitors descend on our house, therefore, Kristin is the designated host. She can greet with a smile (I do not) and effortlessly relieve the intruders, I mean guests, of their burdensome purses and jackets (I will not). Kristin can also provide a refreshing beverage without even asking what they’d like—she’s that good.

I’ll point out the kitchen faucet and assume the guests can find the nearby drinking glasses. That is, if I have even bothered to look up from whatever I am reading on the couch. It’s not so much disinterest as it is a lack of interest.

The most recent social event at our house was comprised of thirty teenaged girls, blowing in from the nearby high school for a pre-game pasta dinner and taking over my house in a loud and teenaged fashion.

It was “pre-game” by about twenty-four hours. The field hockey game was the next day, but the girls often gather one day prior for a team-building meal. This started out several years ago as pasta dinners—probably because it was cost effective—but have morphed into whatever the host-daughter can convince her parents to provide.

Kelsey (defender and occasional goalie) wanted me to barbecue burgers this time. It had everything: the party atmosphere of grilled meat; not the regular boring food; and me cooking in the backyard (in other words, out of the house). The latter was important to help make the evening more enjoyable for everyone.

This was no assembly line, “you’ll get it like I like it,” meal. I have served those to my own children for the better part of two decades. Doing that in this instance would have resulted in thirty-plus burgers with mustard and onion and nothing else, and plenty of disgruntled girls with strong arms and long sticks ready to do me damage if I didn’t become a little more flexible.

Kelsey made sure I had a couple of vegetarian patties available, and even a few hot dogs. There were condiments galore, cheese if you please, and various vegetables (lettuce, tomato, onion) that I knew would go mostly unused.

Never fear: they would be Kelsey’s dinner salad the next night.

The grilling started off reasonably well before the players arrived, and while it never really went out of control, it most definitely toyed with the idea for a while. I cooked more meat than this at any given dinner service back when I worked at Burger Pit, but I was dealing with a much smaller work area in the backyard, and possibly more flammable food.

Apparently thirty individual hamburger patties, each comprised of roughly 83% real meat, drop a tremendous amount of melting fat on the flames beneath. This only angered the flames, which rose high to melt even more fat and perhaps even remove my eyebrows if I was standing too close. At one point I was disoriented by the smoke, and the flames reached out to grab my best spatula. I rescued it in the nick of time.

Despite the fact that I had been banished to the backyard to be away from the crowd, the party slowly moved toward me. The girls were sitting on the ground and chatting over snacks, though I know some were watching me trying to beat back the inferno. They were probably worried about their meal, and quite possibly I had become the evening’s entertainment.

In the final analysis, the only charred meat was served on my own dinner plate, and the guests were all satisfied. When the gas was finally shut off, I was left on my own. Kristin took care of whatever else came up, with assistance from Kelsey. Like a flock of birds, the team departed in a mad rush, just as they had arrived.

They were all appreciative and called out “Thanks!” on the way through the front door. I waved and left them alone, because I didn’t belong at the center of the evening’s festivities. I belonged behind the scenes, especially as this was rather a rather large party. Quick, but large. My hosting skills have atrophied, although I can imagine this possibility:

“Baxter, party of one?” Now that’s a party I could host.

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