Magazine article The Washington Monthly

Grill Seeker: How George Foreman, Ted Nugent, and Bobby Flay Taught Me to Be a Real Suburban Man

Magazine article The Washington Monthly

Grill Seeker: How George Foreman, Ted Nugent, and Bobby Flay Taught Me to Be a Real Suburban Man

Article excerpt

One Of the false promises of adulthood is that once you grow up, all the competitive torments of adolescence will magically disappear. As someone who has only recently done that (hitting the adult trifecta of a new job, new wife; and new house), I have discovered that's not the case; in fact, the assorted humiliations I remember so vividly from my teenage years have suddenly reemerged, only in slightly different form.

Let me give you an example. One evening not long ago I stood on my patio, flip-flopped and contentedly sipped a beer in the manner I imagine common to suburban men. pausing occasionally to wipe my brow as I tended earnestly to the brats on my hulking Char-Broil gas grill. The newly initiated male homeowner in my neighborhood quickly comes to understand that despite whatever life has taught them status really revolves around only three things: home improvement, lawn care, and barbecuing. The pressure is such that I found myself reading David Brooks's latest book not for his humorous dissection of suburbanites but as Cliffs Notes from which I might pick up brand recommendations.

As a longtime apartment-dweller, I hadn't initially understood that the queer looks I received shortly after moving into my house were due to the nearly waist-high grass that, it turns out, rapidly appears when there is no superintendent to care for it. But I'd quickly fallen in line, and after a single pass from my fearsome, all-terrain Craftsman mower, I was beaming at my freshly manicured expanse of lawn when he first caught my eye: There, in the corner of the yard, was an enormous raccoon. And he was digging furiously. In my lawn!

Only later did I pause to reflect on how quickly and deeply feelings of pride and homeownership had taken root and sparked my vendetta against this mortal enemy. At the time, confronted by an adversary, my fight-or-flight instincts took hold, and I simply reached for the nearest weapon at hand, a garden trowel (a very expensive garden trowel, I later found out), which I hurled at the invader like it was a ninja throwing star. The trowel sailed harmlessly past him, though it removed a sizeable chunk from the fence. As I stood there, impotently shaking nay fist and cursing the damage to my lawn, it dawned on me how quickly I was shuttling along life's continuum from Dennis the Menace to Mr. Wilson.

Meat up

I take a measure of comfort in knowing" that difficulties like mine aren't all that uncommon--they can't, be, or there Wouldn't exist such a sizeable body of literature aimed at improving the ambitious suburban male, For while, as a species, we project an image of being kings of our castle, eager to show off the recently landscaped yard or hold forth to visitors on the merits Of various deck sealants, such knowledge and skill are acquired only under the constant threat of humiliation.

Take my initial foray into grilling. Owing only partly to the diplomatic exchange with the raccoon, my first attempt yielded brats that were somehow totally charred on the outside yet still raw on the inside, a sort of double whammy of unappetizing cooking. Chastened, I decided to Sample a number of recently published books on the art of grilling. Like high school, adulthood requires that you declare your allegiance to a group, and deciding what kind of a grill cook you'd like to be is a lot like choosing which lunch table you're going to sit at. My lunchroom choices included jocks, student council geeks, and stoners; the grilling books I picked up broke down along roughly these same lines.

George Foreman's Knock-Out-the-Fat Barbecue and Grilling Cookbook seemed like a good bet since, having been written by a jock, it looked unthreateningly straightforward and brought back memories of the George Foreman grill that had been a mainstay of my old apartment kitchen. Alas, I didn't notice that the book is co-authored by a nutritionist or that George explains in the preface that "my eating habits have changed significantly over the years"--a bad omen grimly justified by his making clear that he no longer cares for the delectable burgers his signature-brand grill was so good at preparing. …

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