Today is my wife’s birthday. Each year, as she refuses to age, I start looking like more and more of a stud. To paraphrase David Wooderson, “I get older and she stays the same age,” meaning that if I can hang on long enough, I’ll eventually look like an old guy with a hot young wife. All done without the benefit of a divorce and/or a high-paying job.
For her birthday, my very demure wife asked for a barbecue. She’s wanted one for a long time. Until now, I’ve successfully deflected her attempts at buying one by pointing out the obvious: the usable portion of our backyard is approximately ten feet square, hemmed in by four foot-high retaining walls, which keep the rest of the yard, which is at a 60 degree slope, from falling into our bedrooms.
The upside of this arrangement is that any casual thief wanting to break into our house from the rear would first have to rappel down the yard. Either he’d make so much noise digging his boots into the dirt that we’d hear him, or he’d simply fall off the yard, tumbling past the retaining walls and onto the cement patio. And then he’d sue us.
It didn’t matter. She continued to indulge her backyard fantasy. At Target, she’d pore over the outdoor furniture display, rearranging pillows and sitting in chairs. “This would be great,” she’d say. Usually, I’d let a few seconds pass before adding, “…if we actually had a backyard.”
That we are also vegetarians who will never, by definition, throw a few steaks on the barbie, went unsaid. There are always garden burgers.
Someday, we will transform our backyard. Like many of our neighbors, we will chop, grade and dig, moving mountains of dirt, adding more retaining walls and a multi-tiered deck. On the deck will be a hot tub, the quasi-Adirondack chairs that showed up via FedEx two weeks ago, and a barbecue. Only then, I would bellow, will we need a full-sized barbecue.
Two weeks ago, completely bereft of ideas, I went to my wife and asked her what she wanted for her birthday. She didn’t know. Maybe a gift certificate to Nordstrom for some new sunglasses. There were these Kate Spade ones she liked.
That just wasn’t going to rate. A gift certificate? For Kate Spade sunglasses? Doesn’t the Spade family have enough celebrities in it? Not wanting to press the issue, I filed that away and figured, “Hey, no problem. The Jawa and I can go grab that gift certificate any time.” So it is when you have already celebrated 19 birthdays together.
Then, about a week ago, she changed her mind. “I know what I want,” she said. “A barbecue.”
Clever girl. By making the barbecue a birthday request, she’d removed my ability to resist. Were I to ridicule the idea, I’d be a bad husband who makes fun of his wife ON HER BIRTHDAY. Were I to opt instead for a Nordstrom gift certificate, I’d be a bad husband who, given two options, chose not only the easiest one but the least personal one to boot. The next day, I received an email, subject line: “Sandra Bullock’s Birthday Present.” The body of the email was a link to the Weber E210 propane barbecue, available at Home Depot.
So three days ago, the Jawa and I rolled down to Home Depot, once I’d checked online to make sure the Daly City store had the E210 in stock. There we stood in proximity to many barbecues, waiting for someone to notice us while the Jawa tried repeatedly to get me to reject the E210 in favor of larger, flashier units. “No,” I said. “This is the one Mommy wants. She did research, and I know her: she will not want to get something other than what she has stated she wants.”
Undeterred, the boy continued to hammer away, pointing out the advantages of the other barbecues. “This one has three burners!” he said. Finally, I had to appease him by agreeing to get a cover. We got out the door, my wallet much lighter than it had been an hour prior, and set about getting the thing home, taking it out of the box and putting it together.
Jerry Seinfeld thinks father-son projects are the funniest thing in the world, and he’s right. Had anyone been watching is wheel this giant box, precariously teetering on top of a standard shopping cart because the guy who finally noticed us standing near the barbecues couldn’t find a flat cart, through the Home Depot parking lot would have had no choice but to assume that the Jawa and I had a mutually abusive relationship.
My boy, he likes to take charge. “This way, Dad. No! This way! Wait! Back up. BACK UP!”
Me: “What, you’re the world’s biggest authority now? You just backed me into a pickup truck.”
Him: “DAD! Hey, Toyota Tundra. Don’t you see us back here? HEY!”
Somehow, we reached the car without beating each other up. I was bathed in sweat. He, twelve years old, looked as if he’d just completed a refreshing stroll in the park. It would have been great if he’d not felt the need to continue project managing me while we drove him, but it was not to be so. “Can you see out of the back, Dad? Do you need me to tell you what’s behind us? There’s a car back there.” I was forced to turn the radio on, volume up, before we even reached the freeway.
And then there’s the issue of the 32 steps that stand between the street and our front door. “I’m going to go get one of the neighbors,” my son announced forcefully as we pulled up to our house.
“No!” I said.
“No? I’m going to get one of the neighbors.”
“No. We can do it ourselves.” Seriously. I’ve got great relationships with my neighbors. I don’t need to be bothering them to come hoist a giant box up our 32 steps. In retrospect, given that I probably lost about a half-hour off my lifespan by trying to carry that thing up the steps with the Jawa, I should have listened to him. At age 12 and 90 pounds and imbued with an analytical confidence that can only come from the child of a woman whose job it is to keep people in line, my son was not the ideal furniture-moving partner.
By the time we reached the top of the stairs (and we only went up 16, since we opted to stow it downstairs), the folly of our ways was evident. The only reason I was able to summon the brute strength necessary to single-handedly shove a giant box into our basement was because, like that woman who lifted a two-ton car off of her husband when the jack broke, I’d been possessed with superhuman strength borne of crisis. It was push that thing into the basement or strangle my child.
“Okay, lets hide this thing,” he said, once inside. “We need to build it and then move it to the backyard. I want to surprise Mommy on her birthday.”
My kid is the kind of kid who, once he’s got an idea, will not be swayed by trifling details. Like the fact that the “Mommy will be surprised” ship sailed the moment I got the email outlining in great detail her birthday present wishes. “Okay,” I said, mostly to get out of the room.
“I’ll put it together Thursday,” answered the Jawa.
You know what I wanted for my birthday? Freedom from ever having to assemble items that come in big boxes. And you know what? That’s what I got for Sandra Bullock’s birthday. Last night, with back-to-back episodes of “Mythbusters” as his soundtrack, the Jawa went downstairs, took everything out of the box and, by God, assembled that barbecue. Naturally, he was positive that the thing had arrived missing screws, bolts and other hardware. That always seems to happen to him. Kind of like how his alarm seems to go off at weird times because the radio’s broken. “What are the odds?” I often say.
But I’m not kidding. We went down there at about nine o’clock and the thing was together. My only contribution was grabbing a bottle of Windex and wiping the Jawa-sized fingerprints from the barbecue’s gleaming stainless steel surfaces. I led Sandra Bullock down to the basement, where the Jawa executed a dramatic reveal. He yanked the cover and there is was: a gigantic, assembled barbecue that will occupy approximately 38% of the total usable ground space in our backyard.
“Wow. It’s really big,” said Sandra Bullock.
“No kidding,” I said.
“We’ll bring it up there once I paint the ground.” Because what good is the Saturday after your birthday if you don’t spend it painting cement?
Today is my wife’s birthday. For it, she asked for and received a Weber E210 propane grille. To keep our theme consistent, on my next birthday I’m thinking I might ask for a nice piece of jewelry.