The Music of Summer

I was initially going to write about an extended family situation–and the distress it has caused our immediate family–by contrasting it with the generous offer of an old friend. But the distaste of the former has in no way been diminished by the magnanimity of the latter, so I decided to let it go. I therefore turned my attention to the recent comments on bullying uttered by Porterville Mayor and linguist par excellence, Cam Hamilton. But he is lost, I think, in the poorly reasoned topiary maze that is his mind–and I don’t want to kick a man when he is down. The next topic I considered for this issue was the disintegration of Iraq, and the transformation of al Qaeda in Iraq into the Islamic State of Iraq, currently the wealthiest klepto-jihadi/terrorist organization in the world and now commonly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Syria), sporting the otherworldly acronym ISIS. Some also call it ISIL, substituting the Levant for al-Sham or Syria. Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto–I called the whole thing off.

In a couple of days, literally, it’ll be summer. Why not celebrate that?

Argue–if you’re able to–against a barbecue. A family favorite around here is a recipe I helped invent more than thirty years ago: Chicken Mismo. Marinate chicken leg quarters overnight in teriyaki and mustard, toss in honey, beer or any red wine–maybe both–Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, olive oil, lime, garlic, curry powder, peppercorns–anything at all, really. These will only contribute the tiniest of subtleties, and you’ll notice, if you make it enough times, that Chicken Mismo always comes out tasting much the same–thus the “Mismo,” which is Spanish for “same.” Our kids coined the name for this dish when we lived in Mexico and, because it was warm all the time–like summer–I frequently made use of the grill. The secret, of course–for those who favor an uncomplicated palate–is that any marinade ingredient apart from the first two is unnecessary. This is a bonus when the cupboard is bare. What is essential is the following: Using an electric mixer, blend about two cups of mustard into roughly a quart of teriyaki . Then come the optional touches. Let the chicken–eight to twelve leg quarters–soak in the refrigerator until about three hours before grill time. In other words, bring it to room temperature. Over an extravagantly hot fire–hotter than good sense tells you is wise–place the chicken meat-side up on the grill. Cooking time is an hour, during which no bird will be flipped–except by the ravenously hungry. Ply them with drinks. Well, tell them to get their own–you will not be able to leave the barbeque. When, after a few minutes it seems you’re merely burning the chicken, ladle some of the marinade liberally onto each piece. Then cover the grill. This will result in a tremendous, if aromatic, sort of smoke signal. It will signal the success of your effort. But you have to repeat the process every five minutes. It may require some experimenting with the frequency and amount of marinade applied–and with venting–but the result will be a dinner worth the hour’s wait. Your chicken will be smoky and crunchy and juicy all at once.

All at once–or not. Perhaps because of its lengthy daylight hours, summer seems to offer a choice of pace. You could, for example, reasonably eat dinner at ten o’clock, catch the end of a ball game, then go for a midnight swim. But during wintertime, the sun goes down like the curtain at a play–and the night then is a different scene entirely.

This will be the summer scene I’ll always hold in my head: Despite the many road trips, concerts and days at the beach, despite the many parties and barbecues and beer-fueled softball games, I’ll always be, say, 25-years old. It’ll always be a comfortable 110 degrees poolside, in the shade of an umbrella, where a cold bottle of good lager will clank against the glass table I rest it upon between tiny sips. Tiny sips, because I’ll drink many bottles. Everyone else will be inside, cocooned in their air-conditioned siestas, and the chicken will be coming to room temperature on a kitchen countertop. It’ll be a full three hours before I’ll have to light the coals, during which time nobody will venture out into what they call the “heat.” And on the radio–yes, radio–the Dodgers will be in a tight one against my Giants. I’ll always be able to hear the first verse of KSFO’s unofficial theme song:

When the Giants come to town, it’s Bye-Bye Baby
Every time the chips are down, it’s Bye-Bye Baby
History’s in the making at Candlestick Park
Cheer for the batter, and light the spark…

That’s the music of summer–that, and the crack of a bat, the splashing of pool water, the fizz of beer, and the sizzle of grilling. Forget Heyward and Gershwin’s “Summertime,” no matter how easy the livin’ is. Forget every paean to sunny Southern California ever penned by Brian Wilson. Cole Porter said it best, referring to someone as the “Top,” when he favorably compared this person with “the purple light of a summer night in Spain.” It works for me. Just substitute the fizz of beer for that of champagne.

Use your voice

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