Every time my wife, Hailey, begins planning a birthday party for one of our kids, the negotiations are intense. She starts high, proposing a seven-layer, princess-castle cake. I counter by suggesting that we put a candle in a Twinkie, hoping we will meet somewhere in the middle with a 99-cent cake mix. I consider myself the Voice of Reason and Simplicity, someone to be honored as a wise planner; she considers me the Voice of Cheapness and Laziness, someone to avoid.
But the most recent birthday, when Ellie turned 5 earlier this month, was characterized by a pleasant dose of simplicity. Hailey had just given birth to baby Kennedy, so she wasn’t interested in making origami decorations or filling hundreds of water balloons.
To make Ellie’s party fun but simple, we went to the park instead of decorating the house. Instead of homemade obstacle courses, we pointed the kids in the direction of the swings. Instead of searching Pinterest for unrecognizable finger food ideas, we settled on hot dogs.
When Hailey allows hot dogs to be served, you know something dramatic has happened. Normally, she has a speech prepared about nitrates whenever hot dogs are mentioned.
“We might have 30 people, so I bought 40 hot dogs,” she said.
“Not enough,” I said. “People generally eat three, so we should buy at least 90.”
“That’s disgusting. No one eats three hot dogs except for you.”
I raised my eyebrows but said nothing. I wasn’t about to upset the delicate balance that had led to this victory.
As the kids played, I set about to fire up the grill. A grill, I might add, that I would not have to clean after I was done with it. I gently brushed aside the pine needles and scraped away what might have been a lizard carcass on the cooking surface.
Ever since the caveman days, men have been expected to learn how to grill meat at some point in their lives. It has evolved into a hobby for men who like to hide in a cloak of smoke as a means of avoiding having to socialize at a party.
Unfortunately, my grilling experience has been limited. I don’t like to handle raw chicken because of the slimy texture, so that’s out. I don’t like to eat steak because it’s always either too soft and pink or too dry and tough. I’m coming along in my hamburger skills, but still prefer the convenience of McDonald’s over the stress of figuring out exactly when to flip the patty.
When it comes to hot dogs, I’m more of a microwave-them-until-they-split-down-the-middle kind of guy. But at this party, I got into a rhythm. I turned them just so, making sure each one was plump and appetizing.
Just to make small talk, I asked if anyone had brought a meat thermometer to make sure they were done.
“You don’t need to check the temperature,” Hailey said. “You can eat hot dogs raw if you want to.” Then she made an unpleasant face, as she apparently caught a whiff of hot-dog flavored steam.
Once all were fed, I officially crowned myself “Grillmaster.”
Then a friend paid me the ultimate compliment: “You really outdid yourself with those hot dogs,” she said with a smile.