“This is the part where Orlando scores 15 points in three minutes,” my boy Robin’s neighbor jokes as we watch the final moments of the NBA Finals on TiVo, an hour after the game has actually ended. Relaxation is in the air up in Silverlake and I have no intention of moving. But when Robin’s phone rings and he tells me that some friends are having a barbecue at seven in the evening in Echo Park, something tells me that it might be worth tagging along.
Armed with a 12 pack of Pacifico beer, turkey burgers and cheese, we show up at a cozy wood house drowning in foliage. Exile, the famed underground beatmaker is the only person I recognize amongst the mostly white faces. A dude in a pork pie hat strums a guitar as he sings one of his own tunes. Another guy shows up with a girl whose dressed like it’s wintertime outside and seems as nervous as clumsy as the geeky chick in a high school movie. The sink is piled high with dishes and stained with organic matter a CSI crew probably couldn’t ID. Two Mexican women, one with big pretty eyes and captivating tattoos on both shoulders, float between all the various worlds within the single room. There’s only one problem: Nobody’s actually barbecuing.
After spending a decade in New York, I’d gotten used to witnessing the bumbling antics of people who think they know how to barbecue: dumping entire bottles of lighter fluid on a single set of coals, painting up meat like five seconds before it goes on the grill, and serious undercooking and overcooking based upon criteria that might only make sense to a five year-old, it got to the point where my friends, even if we were in the homes of strangers, always turned their heads to me as if I had been named grill ambassador. Now, five months into this new place, I was at it again.
With a dirty counter and no cleanser, no Brillo, and a rack of spices about as organized as store inventory the day after Christmas, I rubber turkey burgers with sesame oil seas salt and a touch of soy sauce. I rubbed chicken with teriyaki, black pepper and cumin. I drenched hot sausages and long slabs of carne asada in whatever made sense, and slapped them all of on a grill someone had filled with an entire bag of coles. Needless to say, things cooked quickly.
As I brought in each platter, the two ladies and one of the houseguests, who was also Mexican, began chopping cilantro, onions and tomatoes, and organizing bread and condiments for a cafeteria-style meal. While the white boys listened to vaudeville records on an old phonograph, the folks of color were all about eating. The food appeared and disappeared. It wasn’t my best work, but the entire room eventually came alive with praise, full mouths and thumbs up thrown in my direction. As the clock jumped past one it felt strangely good to be out and about at an indecent hour, a welcome change from all of these early bedtimes and assemblies of folks talking about the same thing forty different ways. Driving north to south on Vine, I thought dreamed of days ahead when I might have something to celebrate again, when the Job-like storyline of my life here might finally come to a close. That future, if it is to be, can’t get here fast enough. End of line.