A Fourth In the Stomach

Posted: July 5, 2009 in The Roper Files
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Got a three-and-a-half day weekend respite this week because of the Fourth. Today is my last day off and I am just now starting to feel relaxed; this has been a long week.
Summer has arrived and with a vengeance; triple-digit temperatures daily since Memorial Day.

So using the old logic of making lemonade when life doles out lemons, when one lives in Texas one can complain about the blistering heat or they can make sun tea.

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Holey Moley I can’t walk across a room; I can’t think an entire line of a sentence without “Fuck it’s hot” working it’s way into the middle of the sentence somewhere. Somehow I gather my wits ( as well as my prescription sunglasses) and open the door to my storage space in the carport. Okay that grill’s gotta be in here somewhere; there it is. Dust it off and then take a quick inventory: I’ve got my favorite charcoal (mesquite; kind of overkill for hot dogs but if it burns, good) but need to buy starter. Good: here’s the grill brush. It’s been a while since I used the grill; I know I’m going to need that.

Off to the store I drive in the sizzling sunlight. Somehow I have managed to get out the door halfway early this Saturday; the store parking lot has lots of empty parking places. I pull to a screeching halt as far away from everyone else and their carts and their car doors as I can stand to walk across the Death March parking lot to the store. Shit I can see the heat as I look across the parking lot hanging over the hot concrete like waves of radioactivity, distorting the landscape beyond.

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Rush through the store in a mad dash, my own version of Supermarket Sweep. The edible stuff is easy; I pretty much know the inventory on my kitchen shelves: coffee, cereal, that six-year old jar of peanut butter and that nine-year-old bottle of salad dressing. It’s the little things like that can of charcoal starter that always seem to throw me. Find that new by-product of the recession, the “dollar aisle” where I locate 88-cent buns, 99-cent chili and 99-cent sweet relish. I spend a whopping $1.70 on a package of hot dogs and an even more extravagant $2.29 on a small can of charcoal starter. Seven dollars and two pennies later, I have purchased all the makin’s of my Fourth of July feast.

Back at home I give the grill a quick cleaning and arrange fresh charcoal in it and soak them good with the starter fluid. Wait a few minutes…dum de dum de dum ….”I am a lineman…for the count-eeee….” okay that’s long enough….toss the match on there and …it lights; success! Go inside and start heating the chili on the stove while the coals ignite..

This is kind of a guilty pleasure; I know damn well hot dogs aren’t good for you but what the hell it’s the Fourth. These aren’t a usual part of my diet but they do seem to taste better when I fix them myself. I open the packages for the buns and wieners and extract four from each. My own one-man hot dog eating contest; how can I lose? Don’t usually eat four hot dogs in one sitting but if I’m going to the time and trouble of digging out my grill I’m going to do this big. The chili heats up fast; peek out the door. The coals are white; time to cook. Put the sunglasses back on, grab my thermal mug full of ice water , hold my breath and open the door. I’m Going Out There.

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My grill is a tiny “tailgate” grill; it doesn’t really require a lot of charcoal and I have in the past cooked small steaks for as many as six people on it. For the hot dogs I have placed all the coals on one side of the grill and put the dogs away from the coals and let them cook slowly until they swell and the skin starts to crack. When they look as if they are close to being done, I put four buns on a piece of aluminum foil and heat them directly over the coals, flipping them once. All of this takes mere minutes which is fine with me; it’s insane to be out here any longer than one has to. Just bought a new thermometer a few days ago and have it hanging in a shaded corner of my carport just above my grill. According to it: 101 degrees in the shade. The buns and hot dogs look as done as I feel; the nine of us dart back in the air-conditioned house, and I begin assembling the hot dogs for consumption. Fish my favorite mustard off the shelf and apply it to the dogs. Spoon fulls of chili and sweet relish are ladled onto the dogs; I now have a feast fit for … well, me.

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Wake up on the couch hours later; the phone is ringing. Where am I? What day is it? Where are my glasses? Where’s the phone? Is it ringing or is that the TV? Dazed and disoriented; takes me a few seconds to figure this out. The sunlight outside is now dark; look at the clock. Oh shit, the fireworks!

Drive up to my favorite spot and guess what? Cars are parked up and down the street but fortunately no one is parked exactly in my spot; I wheel into the parking lot and back up to the corner of the lot I usually just walk up to and set up my tripod. Tonight I will have an added advantage of using the back of my truck as an elevated platform for my tripod. I put everything in the back, set up and wait. I have brought a big travel mug full of ice water as well as a back-up bottle of water. Good thing too; even though the sun has gone down it’s still 96 degrees out. More waiting.
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The show starts a few minutes later. Across the way through the trees I can hear a choir and the Fort Worth Symphony orchestra building up to some sort of climatic finish. Unfortunately I can also hear crying children, people yakking on their cell-phones and even though rockets are flying through the air, taking pictures of each other instead of the colorful explosions in the sky. A glass bottle hits the concrete and breaks behind me; come on people! I can count no less than four open dumpsters within both eyesight and easy walking distance. Exactly WHAT is your excuse for littering?

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They drag out the show; there are long pauses where nothing happens and then the fireworks start up again. I shut off the camera after about five minutes of this and a solid minute of black sky. Switch the camera from video to night exposure mode, take a few pictures and then remember the special fireworks mode and snap a few more. Then I switch back to video and shoot the grand finale to the show.

When the show ends I take down my tripod and get ready to get out of there. I have a plastic bag in the back of my truck I have brought from the house with some stinky take-out remains. After everyone else leaves I walk around real quick and pick up the larger bits of trash: bottles, cans (which I can at least sell) and fast-food debris. Oink oink people; do you do this at home? I sink a bag of trash into the dumpster with the elan of an NBA player and leave.

The Fourth is over; I spent seven dollars. Safe? Give it that much. Sane? Seems sane enough to me. Hey considering the budget I’m running on, I’d call it a good weekend. Now I’m off to cook the rest of those hot dogs…

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