Deflated Barebecue Hopes

April 6th, 2010

Dear RJ

For starters, I regret to point out that I have found it necessary to utilize the magnification feature of this OpenOffice program in order to enlarge the printing sufficiently to keep from squinting. This is unsettling and might be another cruel sign of old age creeping it’s way towards me. For now I am writing it off to the fact that it is late and I am tired. By the time you finish reading this you will probably be tired too.

I am writing to inform you (in a roundabout way) of my ill-fated first barbecue attempt of 2010. Things have been rather busy here at the hotel and thus we have been mostly restricted to dining in.   Today, being a very optimistic indicator that Spring is imminent, I thought perhaps the time was ripe for a little grilling.  Late February and all.  As you know I have always considered the Weber Charcoal Barbecue a necessary enhancement to anyone’s outdoor dining experience.  It not only does a bang up job, it also looks good and does so in nearly any setting.   So when I set about on a pre-fireup inspection after a winter of near hibernation, disconcerted was I to see that, at one point or another, an unsupervised dog had seen fit to completely disfigure one of the three vent controls at the bottom of the unit.   That’s right three.  This is not a late model plastic handled Weber product constructed of inferior gauge steel and available only in black possessing but limited control over minute heating possibilities.  My current unit is vintage material.  It is substantially sturdier than the newer ones and uniquely colored in sunburst brown not unlike a fridge we had when I was growing up.  It would have taken a very determined dog at least 20 full minutes to detect a bit of pork fat around the vent and then go about excavating until it became mangled to such an extent.  Consider peeling a piece of Scotch tape off the underside of a table using only your teeth.

I happened upon the barbecue completely by accident.  A year ago I set about to purchase a replacement for my previous one which had been mostly crushed in a rather freak accident whereby two feet of snow that had gathered on the roof above where I had “safely” stored it for the winter let loose and buried it.  I actually forgot where I had stowed it until spring came and it’s pitiful demise was revealed.   Entering the hardware store I met a friend of mine and told him of my intention to buy a new barbecue.  He mentioned that perhaps I would like to relieve him of his old one as he had ceased using it and it was headed for the crusher.  My friend takes his house and patio maintenance quite seriously.  He had faithfully moved this unit inside each year for it’s many winter holidays.  It was in pristine condition.  All this to say I am quite attached to my secondhand 22-1/2” Weber Kettle Barbecue complete with three vent controls.  Phyllis doesn’t really feel the same way.

The barbecue resides in an area at the hotel that is designated “supervision only.”  We have the pet hotel divided into four distinct areas.   Three of these areas are zoned, “anything goes.”  These areas take a lot of abuse as dogs have shredded most of the foliage,  decimated a good portion of the grass and generally wreaked havoc.   After all if the dogs were little angels then they could just stay at home and make their own dinners when their owners left town now couldn’t they?  However, the fourth and largest area has been designated a “supervision only” zone.  This designation was a compromise.   I wanted it to be a dog free zone-a lone area of dog shit free sanity.  Phyllis, although playing at understanding a need for such a place on the grounds, insisted we could keep the area virtually pristine if due care and diligence were to be exercised (her use of the word “exercise” should have tipped me off right then and there).   As I mentioned, this is where I keep the barbecue and where we have the option to enjoy a little time, dog free, if we are so inclined.   It is also where I have planted several fruit trees, varieties of berries, many flowering bulbs, grape vines and a garden.  Our lone chicken(down from four but the subject of another letter)also lived here in a heavily fortified enclosure until it died a natural death just recently.

The greatest single threat to this area’s preservation, as far as I can tell, is Phyllis’ interpretation of “due care and diligence.”   She has her own rating system whereby some dogs, apparently, don’t really require supervision.  As well, she maintains a bit of a sliding scale as to the question of acceptable property damage.  For example, if “an incident”, that she can’t effectively cover up, occurs on her watch, chances are, it will be deemed acceptable. Her defense will most likely involve the development of some pressing item of much greater importance that needed her immediate attention.  And yes, it took precedence over keeping a watchful eye on things, just for the slightest of moments.  These “items” are not always forthcoming when it comes to discussion but I can offer up, based on a bit of surreptitious observation, some of the things I have witnessed that would appear to meet the criteria.   For instance, enroute to heading out to look after things I have seen her stricken with an overwhelming urge to pop off to the computer briefly to try and get an answer for #23 down on a particularly tough crossword puzzle.  If this is met with any degree of  success she might follow up with a concentrated effort to solve more of the puzzle and before she knows it half an hour has passed and her concentration is broken only when she looks out the window to note that, oddly, a dog is loping about the yard with what was a freshly planted apple tree in it’s mouth.  Cleaning frenzies are also common distractions.   A five minute foray to tidy up the kitty litter box is bound to involve a bit of vacuuming which might lead to the discovery of some laundry that needs to be put on and soon she has pulled all of the knobs from the stove and has them soaking in some caustic substance that will contribute to the eventual paralysis of our septic system.  “Well, this place doesn’t just get clean on it’s own.”  is often considered sufficient from Phyllis’ end of things to explain any part she might feel inclined to own up to regarding the two foot pit that mysteriously formed in the middle of the “supervision only” area while she was watching things.   Why the dogs are out there in the first place is the real question and the answer is simple, Ease of Access. And yes, this all will eventually relate to the demise of my first spring barbecue.

The issue here is that the “anything goes” areas have some safeguards built in to try and discourage re-entry into the house.  A dog’s first instinct depending on it’s normal home situation is to do it’s business and then plow straight back into the house seeking some sort of attention either in the form of food or affection and then generally get underfoot.  This is all just ducky when there is one dog to look after but when you have 20 all with the same thing on their minds-and you are thinking to have a relatively undisturbed breakfast before heading out to pick up 20 loads of feces-you have to dole out your time a bit more judiciously.   Therefore we have gates and little fences that must be clasped and unclasped as you let the dogs out.   We didn’t used to have these things but a hole chewed clear through our back door by a well meaning pit bull while our man Lloyd was looking after things gave rise to such precautions.   The downside of this is that first thing in the morning, rain sleet or snow, one has to put on a pair of shoes and enough clothing suitable to be seen in by passing cars as well as ward off the elements. This is counter-intuitive to Phyllis’ approach to the morning routine.   As the “supervision only” area requires little more than opening the front door and a quick “see ya later,”   it lends itself much more to her natural tendencies.  Often the temptation overcomes her latent desire to stick to the “rules”.

And so it is, for strictly selfish reasons albeit in the interest of preserving our “supervision only” area I have volunteered, in most cases, to man the morning and evening shifts of letting the dogs out.   This way I don’t have to constantly trouble Phyllis with insinuations of complicity in property damage that she often confuses with accusations of being lazy which, let’s face it, isn’t going to help the situation.  Phyllis doesn’t do these things on purpose she just has a higher risk tolerance than do I when it comes to these types of things.  Take, for example Congo a young German Shepherd and recent visitor to the hotel who, during the course of his one week stay, managed to haul an entire couch, in bite sized pieces,  from the cabin where it stood to various parts of the yard. Congo easily falls into the “high risk” for property damage category and is one I give a 95% chance of wrecking something were he allowed 10 minutes unsupervised in the “supervised only” area.   Phyllis, on the other hand, might see the risk factor more in the neighborhood of 5-10% especially if seeing it this way meant not having to don proper footwear and a housecoat.   Further complicating matters is a diverging opinion as to what constitutes property damage in the first place.  To me property damage is property damage cut and dry.  Phyllis however possesses the ability to make allowances if a particular act of canine vandalism is accompanied by an extreme display of cuteness.  So when a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are going great guns tugging back and forth on a stick all in all making a very Rockwell Painting like impression, how is Phyllis to notice that the stick is actually half of the blueberry bush and the tug of war is a moving game plowing it’s way through the strawberry patch?  Instead of putting a halt to such nonsense she is running for the camera. How can I blame her when she seems genuinely so thrilled?

Anyway by now you have a bit of very important history in order to understand the mood I had gotten into when I spied the mangled vent on my prized Weber.  Phyllis was, characteristically, dumbfounded as to how that could have possibly happened.   But hey, come on now, we are talking first barbecue of the year.  No point dwelling on trifling matters.  The ribs were just sitting there dusted in top secret dry rub waiting for a slow 4 hour bask in the Weber.  The charcoal, however, admittedly over a year old and essentially soaked, was really not getting into the spirit of things.  It smoldered away with very little intention of catching.   After several attempts it took a promising turn and with a slight rescheduling of expected dining times we were off to the races.   I thought this a perfect time to follow up with Phyllis and ask if we could all make a bigger effort to try and watch the dogs out front.   This seemed to be well received though I did notice she seemed a little preoccupied with brushing what amounted to about a bushel of fur off of one of the boarders which was collecting on the front stoop.   Satisfied that I had made my point and that promising cooperation in the maintenance of the “supervision only” zone was imminent I headed in to assemble some sort of beverage worthy of the first barbecue of the year.

About 15 minutes later with my tray in hand I went to spread the coals and lay down the rack of ribs. Umm Umm Umm.   As I opened the door I was greeted with the smell of a full bushel of mangy dog fur incinerating on my hard earned coals. Phyllis had been very busy. All that remained was about a hockey puck sized fossil-like mass and an acrid sickening cloud of burnt hair smoke.   What does one really say?  By now the whole venture seemed about as palatable as pouring kerosene on a dead raccoon and roasting weenies over the flames.  Fuck it.  I put the ribs back in the fridge. Later, in the sushi restaurant, mostly in silence, I ate my roll.   It consisted of a single sprig of deep-fried asparagus wrapped in rice, nori and avocado.  Those 6 bites cost $8.50, the two beers $9.00.  My disappointment probably showed. Phyllis can’t figure me out sometimes.

I remain, hoping all remains well with you and yours,


One Response to “Deflated Barebecue Hopes”

  1. J

    Dear Kyle,

    Please accept my sincerest condolances at the maiming of your beloved triple (now double?) vented 22½” Weber Kettle Barbeque. Perhaps more dire than the physical damage though, is the emotional scarring. When a unit of such prestige and stature – deserving of nothing less than a pair of 16oz. sirloins – is instead laden with damp dog hair well… I can understand your mortification.

    While on the topic of barbeques, I must say that I find it troubling to see the word spelled without a ‘q’. Dictionaries be damned, it’s as wrong to me as BBC instead of BBQ. I realize that the almighty Oxford is on your side but fortunately I don’t have a problem bucking authority.

    Lastly, in a very Dear Abby kinda way, I have a BBQ question that I thought I would pose. The BBQ is a shunned and forbidden item in the highrise apartment where we live. Largely I imagine because of the raised eyebrows that tend to ensue after seeing clouds of smoke billowing from one of the units. The attention you get from both the neighbours and fire marshals tends to be almost uniformly negative. However, undaunted, we would like to BBQ on our balcony anyway. (Yet another example of the advantages of bucking authority.) However, we think it prudent to do it with a minimum of fuss which leads me (finally) to my question:

    Is there a smokless BBQ? Perhaps an attachment with a fan like the common stovetop unit that whisks away the telltale plume? I’m not oblivious to the fact that one of the reasons to BBQ in the first place is the very smoke I’m seeking to get rid of. But, given our circumstances, we’re considering ways of mitigating this. While wanting a BBQ without smoke may be akin to wanting a tuna sandwich without tuna, I thought I would ask your wisend self nontheless.

    I look forward to being enlightened. -J

    P.S. Give my best to Phyllis.

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