By Dave Barry
as appeared in "The Miami Herald", June 26, 1998
This year, why not hold an old-fashioned Fourth of July Picnic?
Food poisoning is one good reason. After a few hours in the sun,
ordinary potato salad can develop bacteria the size of raccoons. But
don't let the threat of agonizingly painful death prevent you from
celebrating the birth of our nation, just as Americans have been doing
ever since that historic first July Fourth when our Founding Fathers --
George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Bob Dole and
Tony Bennett -- landed on Plymouth Rock.
Step one in planning your picnic is to decide on a menu. Martha Stewart
has loads of innovative suggestions for unique, imaginative and tasty
summer meals. So you can forget about her. "If Martha Stewart comes
anywhere near my picnic, she's risking a barbecue fork to the eyeball"
should be your patriotic motto. Because you're having a traditional
Fourth of July picnic, and that means a menu of hot dogs charred into
cylinders of industrial-grade carbon, and hamburgers so undercooked that
when people try to eat them, they leap off the plate and frolic on the
lawn like otters.
Dad should be in charge of the cooking, because only Dad, being a male
of the masculine gender, has the mechanical "know-how" to operate a
piece of technology as complex as a barbecue grill. To be truly
traditional, the grill should be constructed of the following materials:
-- 4 percent "rust-resistant" steel;
-- 58 percent rust;
-- 23 percent hardened black grill scunge from food cooked as far back
as 1987 (the scunge should never be scraped off, because it is what is
actually holding the grill together);
-- 15 percent spiders.
If the grill uses charcoal as a fuel, Dad should remember to start
lighting the fire early (no later than April 10) because charcoal, in
accordance with federal safety regulations, is a mineral that does not
burn. The spiders get a huge kick out of watching Dad attempt to ignite
it; they emit hearty spider chuckles and slap themselves on all eight
knees. This is why many dads prefer the modern gas grill, which ignites
at the press of a button and burns with a steady, even flame until you
put food on it, at which time it runs out of gas.
While Dad is saying traditional bad words to the barbecue grill, Mom can
organize the kids for a fun activity: making old-fashioned ice cream by
hand, the way our grandparents' generation did. You'll need a
hand-cranked ice-cream maker, which you can pick up at any antique store
for $1,875. All you do is put in the ingredients, and start cranking!
It makes no difference what specific ingredients you put in, because --
I speak from bitter experience here -- no matter how long you crank
them, they will never, ever turn into ice cream. Scientists laugh at
the very concept. "Ice cream is not formed by cranking," they point
out. "Ice cream is formed by freezers." Our grandparents' generation
wasted millions of man-hours trying to produce ice cream by hand; this
is what caused the Great Depression.
When the kids get tired of trying to make ice cream (allow about 25
seconds for this) it's time to play some traditional July Fourth games.
One of the most popular is the "sack race." All you need is a bunch of
old-fashioned burlap sacks, which you can obtain from the J. Peterman
catalog for $227.50 apiece. Call the kids outside, have them line up on
the lawn and give each one a sack to climb into; then shout "GO!" and
watch the hilarious antics begin as, one by one, the kids sneak back
indoors and resume trying to locate pornography on the Internet.
Come nightfall, though, everybody will be drawn back outside by the
sound of loud, traditional Fourth of July explosions coming from all
around the neighborhood. These are caused by the fact that various
dads, after consuming a number of traditionally fermented beverages,
have given up on conventional charcoal-lighting products and escalated
to gasoline. As the spectacular pyrotechnic show lights up the night
sky, you begin to truly appreciate the patriotic meaning of the words to
The Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key to commemorate
the fledgling nation's first barbecue:
And the grill parts' red glare;
Flaming spiders in air;
Someone call 911;
There's burning scunge in Dad's hair
After the traditional visit to the hospital emergency room, it's time to
gather 'round and watch Uncle Bill set off the fireworks that he
purchased from a roadside stand operated by people who spend way more on
tattoos than dental hygiene. As Uncle Bill lights the firework fuse and
scurries away, everybody is on pins and needles until, suddenly and
dramatically, the fuse goes out. So Uncle Bill re-lights the fuse and
scurries away again, and the fuse goes out again, and so on, with Uncle
Bill scurrying back and forth with his Bic lighter like a deranged
Olympic torchbearer until, finally, the fuse burns all the way down, and
the firework, emitting a smoke puff the size of a grapefruit, makes a
noise -- "phut" -- like a squirrel passing gas. Wow! What a fitting
climax for your traditional old-fashioned July Fourth picnic!
Next year you'll go out for Chinese food.