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Man Up: Coping With the Holiday Barbecue That Gets Summer Started

An afternoon of grilling, drinking, and friendly conversation with neighbors is one man’s nightmare

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I have a great idea for a holiday. It’s called Fuck-Off Day. One day a year, every year, everyone in the country stays home. No get-togethers, no barbecues, no nothing. We’ll make it August 1, a slow time of the year, holiday-wise. Stores can even have special Fuck-Off Day sales: 10 percent off dead bolts and peephole kits. People will buy each other Rottweilers and rifles. What a holiday that would be, don’t you think?

Jesus Christ, Shal, said my wife. If you don’t want to go, just don’t go.

I didn’t want to go.

We had been invited to a Memorial Day barbecue, and I was feeling guilty. I’d been buried in work for months now—writing, rewriting, editing, copyediting—and I thought it would be good for my son to see me behaving like a human being, interacting with neighbors, nursing a beer while standing around the grill with the other dads.

It’ll be fun, Dad, said my son.

Of course it will be, I said. I can’t wait.

We brought wine. My wife saw some friends of hers from town and quickly fell into their conversation, my son ran off to play with the other children, and that left me alone with the men. I busied myself with the family dog for a few minutes and pretended to read some magazines that were lying on the deck, but soon I had no choice but to join them.

“Hey, Shalom,” called the homeowner. “Glad you could make it.”

He was standing in a tight half-circle around the barbecue grill with three other men, leaning in, hands in their pockets and licking their lips. “Oh, yeah,” said one. “That looks good,” said another. Perhaps I’ve simply watched too much pornography, but I was fairly certain they were about to gang-rape that poor grill.

I smiled and waved. Where was that damn dog?

My son called to me; he was playing tetherball with the other kids.

“Hey, Dad!” he called.

“Hey, buddy,” I called back, walking to the men. I wanted him to see me walking toward the men. He waved. I waved back.

When I reached the grill, one of the men was telling a lie. I didn’t know their names. He was, after the homeowner, Man No. 2. As he lied, Man No. 3 and Man No. 4 nodded.

“So, I said to the guy,” said Man No. 2, “ ‘I don’t think so. I think you’re going to go back into the stockroom, and get me a new one.’ ”

The other men nodded.

“I was like,” the liar continued, “ ‘I don’t think so.’ ”

Men are not my favorite people. I dislike them. I dislike them so much, I’m fairly certain they all dislike each other. How could they not? Everything with men is a pissing contest, a clumsy attempt to prove their manliness over one another. And so every story becomes a lie, every tale some macho confrontation. If we can’t outright ban testosterone, in the interest of world peace I think we should at least establish that men should measure their penises from the bottom; this adds a fast couple of inches and might negate the need for these contests once and for all.

Everyone nodded at Man No. 2’s lie. I did the same, glancing over at my son. He was trying to hit the tetherball back to a much larger boy, who was hitting the ball as hard as he could. The other boys cheered.

Man No. 3 decided to tell his own lie. He was the soccer coach, and his lie involved standing up in a manly manner to the father of one of the players.

“So, I said to him, ‘I don’t think so,’ ” he said. “ ‘I think you’re going to sit down and shut up while I coach this team.’ ”

Everyone nodded.

“ ‘I’m a better player than you,’ ” he continued, “ ‘and I’m a better coach than you, so sit down and shut up.’ ”

“Good for you,” said Man No. 2.

Man No. 4 nudged me.

“Did you see the Barcelona-Manchester game?” he asked.

“The what?” I asked.

““Man-Barcelona,” he said. “Yesterday.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I don’t follow sports, because they’re so stupid. I just never particularly cared for them. Let’s see a little hustle out there! my camp baseball coach used to shout at me. Why? I asked. I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer.

“Manbar Silona?” I asked.

I looked up and saw my son walking away from the tetherball court, alone, his head down. The other boys were shouting at each other, grabbing the ball, pushing each other.

“Man never had a chance,” said Man No. 2.

“Man,” agreed Man No. 3, “never had a chance.”

My son came over and hugged my leg.

“You OK?” I asked him.

He nodded, but I knew something was bothering him. I stepped away from the grill, and knelt down beside him.

“Did you have fun playing with the boys?” I asked him.

He shrugged and shook his head.

“Not really,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“They just want to win,” he said.

Man never had a chance.

I asked him if he wanted to go home. He said no; it had rained that morning, and he wandered off to look for newts.

Back at the grill, the pissing continued. Man No. 2 mentioned that he was going to go to his house on Cape Cod. Man No. 4 mentioned his trip to South America. Man No. 3 described the mountain-climbing trip he was looking forward to. I silently wondered how we could pass the measure-from-the-bottom law. I watched my son wandering through the tall grass as the other boys continued to fight over the tetherball.

Only two more months to Fuck-Off Day, I wanted to tell him.

Only two more months.

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Man Up: Coping With the Holiday Barbecue That Gets Summer Started

An afternoon of grilling, drinking, and friendly conversation with neighbors is one man’s nightmare

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