trailer – Curveballs: Sweet & Smokey Down the Barbeque Trail

During the summer the school day at the correctional facility where I work ends at noon. On this particular Monday a hand waved me over on the way out of the lunchroom. Action Jackson wanted my presence. Plopping down next to him, he had on a nice blue polo shirt and light colored dress pants. Head tilted down, peering over his glasses, he said, “Have you had barbeque lately?”

“Not lately. Well, I did try some on my trip to Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Some Polynesian place. The ribs looked good. But the mustard sauce lit my mouth on fire and the red sauce tasted like tomato paste for pizza.”

He nodded, “That’s typical.” Still staring over the top of his glasses, “I’ve been working on my barbeque. I just made some. Has anyone ever used paprika?”

“No, I’ve never heard of anyone using that.”

“I use paprika and garlic and ….” I lost track of all the things he used. By now his eyes were shooting over the rim of his glasses like laser beams. He faced me square. “I wrap it in tin foil and poke holes in a circle, then I place it by the coals, then I move it, then I place it by the wood, then I move it again. It’s awesome. I’m really getting it.” While saying this he simulated the wrapping of ribs in foil followed by the poking of holes in it by a fork. He finished by moving the imaginary ribs to different places on the lunch table.

Curiosity entered the picture. I said, “How do you rate compared to your brother’s?”

“I’m at the bottom of the totem pole,” he said as he began rattling off the names of his brothers in rapid succession.

“I mean the one you were talking about before, the one in California who makes barbeque.”

“I’m way down at the bottom. He’s Wolfgang Puck and I’m starting out. How do you compare?” his voice trailing. After a brief pause he recharged. “I never use lighter fluid. Ever. I use one of those chimney smokes. You wouldn’t even have to taste the smokiness. You would just pick it up and go, ‘Umm, smokey.’ I’ve figured out that when they use those bigger smokers, it makes the ribs a lot more smokey.”

“It probably surrounds the ribs from all directions,” I said.


“You know I’m gonna want some.”

“If I brought in even a sample you would say, ‘That’s it. Over. Done.'”

A few weeks later I sat at the computer with mouse in hand. I was getting ready to make the move of the century. I am going to get him, I thought, wait until he sees this move. Checkmate! You’re finished, buddy.

Then I heard him, my dad. “Tim, Tim, TIIIIIIIMMMM!,” he yelled from the living room, clear on the other side of the house.

I jumped up and stomped down the hallway. “WHAAAAAT? What do you want?” I said, knowing he heard the irritation in my voice. I didn’t try to disguise it.

“It’s Pete, he’s on the phone.”

Still irritated I snapped the phone from his hand. “Yeah?!” I said into it while stomping back down the hall.

“Yeah, man. Me and Pete went to this barbeque place in Chicago. Smoque or something like that. We took pictures and shot some video. We interviewed the owner. The barbeque was really great man,” Greg said.

Feeling his excitement through the phone, but struggling to understand the words because he talked so fast, I said, “Really? Was it good?” The bitterness I felt for my chess game being interrupted subsided.

“Yeah man, it was great. Pete really liked it.”

“Is it better than I-57 BBQ?”

“Yeah man, it’s like ten times better than I-57. Pete said it’s one of the best barbeques he’s ever had. It was great. We got pictures and video. We’ll show them to you when we get back.”

“Hey thanks, cool. Yeah, show it to me when you get back.” By now the guilt for snapping at my dad had me on my emotional knees.

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