We are the Smokin’ Dopes

A handful of scientists have just left my house, having concluded a battery of tests on me that included asking me to sort colored objects, examining my hair follicles under a powerful microscope and drilling deep into my cranium. I don’t know why that one squirrely fellow kept insisting he had to measure my penis, but I guess it is science. All of this, because I somehow managed to go seven years without having watched one minute of Lost. There is no explanation, they muttered.

Yes there is an explanation. It is baseball season. And when it is not, it is always grilling season.

I’ve powerwashed the two smokers and the Weber grill, leaving a few years’ worth of pig grease and salmon essence, bits of charcoal and unidentifiable crusties washing across the driveway. It smells like – sniff, sniff – like the Gulf Coast with the breeze blowing in from the oil platforms.

The team has been assembled, the recipes rehearsed, the chunks of apple wood ordered. Dead ahead: The Roc City Rib Fest, a Memorial weekend event at Ontario Beach Park that has drawn 104 team entries from barbecue capitals from Kansas City to Canyon, Texas. Now they’ll be competing against my team. We are writers, vintage motorcycle reconstructionists, quilters, office managers and musicians. We are the Smokin’ Dopes.

While fire and meat is a tradition that we easily associate with Neanderthals and Good Ol’ Boys, I find it to be a thinker’s game. Selecting the right wood is the province of Thoreau. Minding the vents to make certain the fire gets enough oxygen to burn correctly must be done with the eye of a craftsman. The hours spent sitting alongside a double-chambered smoker built from a 55-gallon drum, welded to pieces scavenged from your last smoker, are filled with the kind of quiet, worldly philosophies you see from soldiers in World War I films such as Paths of Glory, just before they bolt from their trenches and advance into No Man’s Land.

In barbecue competition, and war, the cook does not get shot.