Of course, I’m going to barbecue on July Fourth. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but regular readers know I’m all about keeping local traditions going.
I remember, when I was about five, how little kids were manipulated at multi-family July Fourth barbecues.
“Oh, and Little Rick will have a hot dog. Little Rick loves hot dogs! Don’t you honey? Right, honey?”
Actually, I hated them then and I don’t like them now. But everywhere I went for a dinner, I got a hot dog.
I didn’t take me long to realize the pecking order. The little kids would get hot dogs. That left Fat Uncle Ned and the other slobberin’ cousins garish amounts of steak to gnaw on. For the business model to work, a certain number of us had to eat hot dogs in order to afford five cases of beer.
This same principle is at play when we go the prix fixe dinners or two-for-one nights with our friends. (OK, when we used to have friends.) The server comes over and asks if we want a cocktail.
To me, this is the beginning of the perfect three-course dinner. The second course is when they say, “Sir, can I get you another?” And the third when they ask, “Would you care for an after-dinner drink?”
I know I’ll love the drinks. The food, on the other hand, is a crapshoot. I already know the prix fixe will be soup or a Caesar salad (someone remind me exactly why Caesar liked his lettuce brown and wilted), either chicken, salmon, or a pasta, and a sliver of some two-day old cake, and/or coffee, as if coffee is a “course.”
I am most assuredly the nightmare friend from hell to invite to these affairs because I drinks a bit.
The way I figure it, the only way to swallow that dried-up salmon is by ordering wine, and plenty of it.
This habit of mine will put Karen in a precarious position. She’ll elbow me and whisper, “We were only going to have one drink each!” Let’s get this straight: “We,” that being the people at the table, decided to limit drinking for the evening and didn’t inform me, the only genuine alkie in the place.
Oops. I guess opting for the Perrier over the table water was a buzzkill, too. In the last few years, servers have taken to pushing $9 bottles of water on restaurant diners. The waiter will brighten up and say with an engaging smile, “Shall I bring a bottle of Perrier to the table?” And then his face will turn dark and sullen and his voice will change into something Satanesque. “Or do you want poopy water?” he asks ominously. He leaves little choice. But I digress.
“Golly,” I said the other night between bites of the Chicken Surprise. “Don’t worry about the liquor bill. I already informed the maître d’ I would take care of it.”
This of course, was untrue. If for no other reason than this is the Hamptons — the maître d’ doesn’t speak English. But I played on. Yes, should we get a bottle of red AND a bottle of white?
Funny how the mood changed. All of a sudden, I had nine best friends. I let it soak in for a while until I reminded them that they were committed to a single glass each.
Back to the hot dogs. Never go to a Bring Your Own barbecue. If you are anything like me, you make a tray of antipasto and maybe some BBQ chicken breasts; Karen makes her signature dish Sardine Supreme that many of us discuss later on the bathroom line and remember not-so-fondly for a week.
Then Ned and the rest of the big lugs arrive carrying a pack of 99-cent hot dogs. They drink all their beer and eat your chicken. Maybe they are onto something.
On July Fourth, we celebrate life in America. You don’t have to choose between the soup and the salad. We are hated all over the world because of our perceived greed and selfishness. All of us are, to a certain extent, Uncle Ned. No one can stop us from eating steak. It’s what’s in the water that will kill ya.