Even when I wasn’t a teacher, I took to summer like Scrooge McDuck takes to diving into his money bin.
I love the season: the freedom of not wearing a heavy coat, the long evenings to enjoy on the back porch, and the trips to the park with Tim. Joy and I have a bunch of little gardens around the edge of the yard. There’s always a plant that needs trimmed or a tree that needs pruned. And then there’s grilling.
Recently, however, I noticed some odd changes to my outdoor grilling habits. These are behaviors that I don’t know when I started doing, but now that I’m aware of them, I get nervous. It’s like I’m starting to notice that someone else is living in my body, controlling my actions. It’s a less-body-horror David Cronenberg thing (google it).
When I go out to grill, I have to get in my uniform. I have a grilling apron that says “Make It So” on the front. It’s a Star Trek thing. Then, I slip my socks into my sandals. I preheat the grill for a few minutes to get the perfect grilling temperature. I like the sizzle when the meat hits the surface, and the only way to do that is to preheat your grill.
In retrospect, this is a lot more work than when I used to grill. I used to go out, fire it up, put the heat to high, and let the meat burn. I wore whatever I happened to be wearing and maybe wore my sneakers or went barefoot.
(Rarely barefoot. I don’t have Hobbit feet. My feet are wimps. On one hand, I can sense a Lego way before I put my full weight down on it. On the other hand, everything feels like a Lego to my wimpy feet.)
I have started buying nerdy T-shirts that are short-term releases, so once they’re stained, faded, or frayed, they’re done and can’t be replaced like a generic Batman shirt. I don’t want to lose the shirt through something preventable, like stains from cooking, so I wear the apron. And why does it feel strange to wear socks with sandals when grilling? As Mr. Spock would say, it’s only logical. My feet always feel cold despite what the air temperature is, so I need socks, and the sandals allow me to slip my feet right into a protective sheath so I don’t have to worry about the random-thing-that-hurts-like-a-Lego between my back door and the grill.
So, desperate-and-transparent justifications aside, I have one new habit that is completely unconscious and terrifying. It’s an action done by someone other than the Andy I have in my mind as my “residual self-image,” as The Matrix would call it. When this happens, I look at the offending hand like someone had taken it over. Maybe the vaccine has finally allowed Bill Gates a modicum of control. Maybe this is how it starts, and then I’ll be compelled to wear blue button-down shirts and khakis like the anti-vax crowd fears I will (which is, admittedly, more logical than what they say they think will actually happen).
What event reduces my grilling experience to a horror movie? What gives me “Invasion of the Body Snatcher” vibes on my back porch? What fear lurks in the heart of this man?
I click the tongs three times.
Click. Click. Click.
I can’t help it! It doesn’t matter what hand I’m using, as soon as I grab the tongs, I immediately click them three times.
After this happens, I look in horror at the offending hand. What did you do? I ask it silently. Do you know who unconsciously clicks tongs when he grills? Do you know who you have just made me?
And then I think about my whole look: the apron, cargo shorts, the socks and sandals.
What. Is. Happening. To. Me?
(The fact that I read that in my head in a William Shatner voice is also a bad sign.)
But then, the conversion was complete. It was like how the many, many moments Anakin Skywalker flirts with the Dark Side during the prequels and the excellent Clone Wars cartoons led to the moment he knelt before Emperor Palpatine and accepted the name Darth Vader.
After a bunch of cold, rainy days, we had a couple of days in a row that allowed me to wear shorts without shivering. I grilled every day. I stepped out on my back porch and clicked the tongs in eager anticipation of another turn as the family’s Grillmaster. My one hand held aloft the plate of yet-uncooked hamburgers and brats and the other held the tongs. The clicking, clicking, clicking tongs. In the oversized pockets of my apron, the spatula and seasonings awaited like gadgets on Batman’s utility belt. The grill shimmered with heat above the cooking surface ready to make that satisfying sizzle I craved.
The outside world was hot and sunny. The steam behind the house bubbled and gurgled. The birds sang. Ruby sniffed something unknowable in the yard. Tim kicked a ball around. And I said it.
I actually said it out loud! I have since lost sleep about what it means. No, the gray in the beard and hair didn’t freak me out. The added weight I can’t seem to lose didn’t bother me. The wrinkles around the eyes didn’t signify a major change. But this moment sealed my fate. The clicking tongs and socks with sandals were but harbingers to this doom.
I stepped outside, clicked my tongs, and said it.
“Hi, summer. I’m Dad.”
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