Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On Buying a New Grill

David Brooks starts a piece on the new Exurbia phenomena with a howlingly funny vingnette:

I DON'T KNOW if you've ever noticed the expression of a man who is about to buy a first-class barbecue grill. He walks into a Home Depot or Lowe's or one of the other mega hardware complexes and his eyes are glistening with a faraway visionary zeal, like one of those old prophets gazing into the promised land. His lips are parted and twitching slightly. Inside the megastore, the grills are just past the racks of affordable-house plan books, in the yard-machinery section. They are arrayed magnificently next to the vehicles that used to be known as rider mowers but are now known as lawn tractors, because to call them rider mowers doesn't really convey the steroid-enhanced M-1 tank power of the things.

The man approaches the barbecue grills and his face bears a trance-like expression, suggesting that he has cast aside all the pains and imperfections of this world and is approaching the gateway to a higher dimension. In front of him are a number of massive steel-coated reactors with names like Broilmaster P3, The Thermidor, and the Weber Genesis, because in America it seems perfectly normal to name a backyard barbecue grill after a book of the Bible.

The items in this cooking arsenal flaunt enough metal to suggest they have been hardened to survive a direct nuclear assault, and Patio Man goes from machine to machine comparing their features--the cast iron/porcelain coated cooking surfaces, the 328,000-Btu heat-generating capacities, the 1,600-degree-tolerance linings, the multiple warming racks, the lava rock containment dishes, the built-in electrical meat thermometers, and so on. Certain profound questions flow through his mind. Is a 542-square-inch grilling surface really enough, considering that he might someday get the urge to roast an uncut buffalo steak? Though the matte steel overcoat resists scratching, doesn't he want a polished steel surface on his grill so he can glance down and admire his reflection as he is performing the suburban manliness rituals, such as brushing tangy sauce on meat slabs with his right hand while clutching a beer can in an NFL foam insulator ring in his left?

Pretty soon a large salesman in an orange vest who looks like a human SUV comes up to him and says, "Howyadoin'," which is, "May I help you?" in Home Depot talk. Patio Man, who has so much lust in his heart it is all he can do to keep from climbing up on one of these machines and whooping rodeo-style with joy, manages to respond appropriately. He grunts inarticulately and nods toward the machines. Careful not to make eye contact at any point, the two manly suburban men have a brief exchange of pseudo-scientific grill argot that neither of them understands, and pretty soon Patio Man has come to the reasoned conclusion that it really does make sense to pay a little extra for a grill with V-shaped metal baffles, ceramic rods, and a side-mounted smoker box. Plus the grill he selects has four insulated drink holders. All major choices of consumer durables these days ultimately come down to which model has the most impressive cup holders.

Last week I had need to go to the Island's new Home Depot. And there they were, the lawn tractors (I pointed out the cup holders to Mrs. Islander) and the gas grills. Now as much as I am weary of pushing my old, chugging lawnmower around the homestead, I really couldn't imagine paying $1.2K$ for the experience of riding. Those grills, however...

I have been using the same old Webber Kettle for over a decade. The aluminum vent controls corroded off a few years ago. 7 years ago, while moving the thing from a second story deck, I placed the lid on the balustrade. Sure enough, when I turned back I knocked it off and it fell 20 feet or so to asphalt. The fall knocked out a divot of the enamel, but it was still mostly round and kind of fit on the kettle, so I have been making do.

I just came back from a lunchtime trip to Costco, where I bought my new first-class grill. It is everything that David Brooks described. Minus the cup holders. I am torn between a wicked case of buyer's regret ("You haven't opened it! You could drive back and get a refund, NO QUESTIONS ASKED!") and sheer desire to cut out of work early, race home, set that thing up in the rain and grill enough food to feed the extended clan.

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