I am still of two minds about many things, like requiring vaccinations, or eating dogs, or the Westboro Baptist Church, but I’m not undecided about the Internet right now. Right now, I am still thinking the Internet is awesome. The Internet makes communities for people who would otherwise have none, and that’s great.
Of course, Facebook is on my shit list at this moment, but one thing I’m liking is Laura Olin’s Everything Changes newsletter. It appears in my email a couple of days a week. It is usually short. It is often different. The past two days she has asked simply what I’m thinking about. Not just me, of course, but me and everyone else who subscribes and responds. She will collect the data in a few more days, I think, and present it back to us, her readers.
The day before yesterday when I opened it I had just looked at a picture of a jar of homemade barbecue sauce and I was still thinking about barbecue sauce. So that was my reply, “barbecue sauce.”
Yesterday, I was closing Twitter, and glanced at a picture of that state senator who compared women to inferior cuts of meat, and someone had made a graphic with him and a rack of ribs smothered in barbecue sauce so when I glanced at my email again and was asked the same question, my honest reply was, again, “barbecue sauce.”
The thing is, I don’t even really like barbecue sauce very much. I mean it’s ok. It has its place. I certainly do use it when I eat ribs. But I don’t keep it around to put on fries or sandwiches or anything. If I have some in my fridge, it’s leftover from the last time I made ribs.
But now I’m dwelling on barbecue sauce, so my mind leaps to the staple of my teenage years: barbecued chicken.
My mother did not enjoy cooking. Really, my mother resented cooking. She had a book called the “I hate to cook cookbook.” She served Spaghettios for dinner without apology. We regularly had creamed chipped beef on toast. She cut the Carl Buddig processed meat with scissors to make it. We ate canned peas.
We had a gas grill, built in, next to the house, out near the patio. It was surrounded by ivy on the ground and climbing the walls of the house and a walkway to the side porch. Somewhere I have a picture of my mother holding the tongs and a bottle of barbecue sauce, standing next to the grill. I took this picture. She is tilting her head and giving me a cheesy grin. Someday I might find that picture again.
The grilling of the chicken was a regular event. It was the one thing she seemed to resent less than chicken piccata (hammered thin with fury and served over brown rice), or spaghetti (in a red sauce that had slices of carrots but no garlic), but I’m pretty sure flank steak was still easier. Nothing really justifies how much barbecue chicken she made. Maybe she was just trying to get outside.
One time, the cylindrical base of the gas grill rusted through suddenly, right at the bottom, while she was barbecuing. She opened the lid to turn the chicken and the weight of the lid sent the whole grill groaning backwards. My mother said that the chicken all fell into the soot-blackened lid, and burning gas flames shot twenty feet into the sky. I can see it all vividly: the blackened, half-cooked chicken breasts, Mom snatching them with tongs and putting them in a Pyrex dish. I can still summon the scorched ivy on the side of the house.
The truth is, I’m not sure I was there to see any of it. Why do we remember things that happened as if we were there?