Anyhow the English held onto him for five years then deported his ass back to the States. I shit you not, Rhys came back on July 2nd of 2007. Naturally, we decided to throw a party on the Fourth. When something serendipitous is handed down from the gods one cannot ignore it. Maggie Muligan (that just shows how fucked up the Muligan family is -- who names a kid Maggie Muligan? That‘s just asking people to give her shit, especially when she‘s a ginger to boot. Anyway) got party supplies. She worked at this discount party shop with all that shit people buy for kids' birthdays. Down side is that she can only get a hold of the overstock. So we set up for a Fourth of July barbeque slash welcome home celebration with this fucking mish-mosh: Valentine’s, St. Patty’s, Groundhog’s, pretty much all the possessive holidays, in bits and pieces. We got a fucking Leprechaun dancing with a Groundhog while Cupid excites the creepy pederast next door… fucker peeking over the fence. But Maggie’s doing her part, so nobody is pissed. In fact, it makes the situation more memorable. Plus, fuck all, the one thing that mattered is the meat.
Jimmy Hoffman calls in a favor to his cousin Merle and bam! We got steaks thick as a brick, ribs that look cut off a dinosaur, chicken, burgers, brats, dogs, pork shoulder to tempt a rabbi -- you’d think we were opening a fucking restaurant. And consequence of which the whole neighborhood gets invited. Personally, I think it’s great since we haven’t had a block party since I was seven, so that’s like twenty years ago. (It all stopped because my Pops and his buddies finished off this one neighbor-asshole’s expensive yuppie vodka. In addition, said assbag happened to be puking in the bushes while they all laughed and drank his eighty dollar liquor... which led to a rift in the community I won’t get into.)
Now, nobody in our area thinks twice about what to do. Mort Dreyfus and Wally Toten block off the street by parking their cars at either end. Anybody that’s got a table that’s easy to move hauls it out to the street. I put my recliner in the driveway. My friend Pete gets put in charge of the four grills that get carried to the curb.
Here we have to have what is known as a brief aside: despite referring to the Fourth as a time for barbequing most Americans actually just grill. The difference is seemingly subtle, while at the same time being rather pronounced. If you cook meat within a half hour, you’re grilling. If it takes you all day, or at least three hours, you’re in barbeque country. The thing to really keep in mind is there’s no shame in grilling… unless you use the wrong terminology. No one has now or ever will barbeque a burger.
Pete exists in a strange middle territory. He is masterful when it comes to BBQ. I’ve seen him slow roast a shoulder till you could pull it apart with a pair of spoons. But he’s got ADD like a motherfucker, so he’s impatient as all hell. Consequence: Pete doesn’t mind grilling. The good thing is that when it comes to parties guys will defer to whomever they know is the master. Like Toby getting put in charge of the cocktails. That man is an encyclopedia of mixacological information.
“Yo Toby! What’s in a Fat Hooker?”
“Besides your Dad’s dick?”
“And your Mom‘s tongue.”
“Vodka, Peach Schnapps, Rum, and then orange juice or pineapple.”
See what I’m talking about?
So it all gets laid out in the street. Pete fires up the coals around eleven. We set the booze on a table in the middle of it all; no one has to inform Toby he needs to orbit this liquor station; and we crack open some cold beers, pop a couple shots. The aroma of expertly cooked meat drifts out slowly luring more people out of their houses.
All block parties have an implied, albeit optional, toll: bring some food and/or booze. While neither is required, not contributing makes for a bad reputation; people feel taken advantage of… despite the fact said toll is usually paid in such a way as to show off. To paraphrase, ‘I’m better than you. Don’t think so? Look at what I brought compared to you.’
That being said:
Mrs. Williams brings her German potato salad which Ruth Ginsberg won’t set her ambrosia salad near on account of the holocaust. Jim Duffy continues proving he’s a cheap prick by producing a bowl of chips as his contribution. Whoa! Two whole bags? Way to splurge Jim. The Muligans show up with a trough of taco dip and a super bowl of, I am not exaggerating, homemade tortilla chips. The Blacks, who are whiter than vampires, contribute a punch bowl full of Pad Thai, which my friend Willie spends an hour explaining to his Dad. Lisa Reinhart and her husband Bill -- may he die soon so I can fuck his wife without fear of God -- deposit, not only, a bottle of Wild Turkey but also onion rings you can wear like bracelets… which I hate Bill for because he made them, and consequently I don’t want him so dead anymore. Even my folks come out of the basement… Mom loaded on Valium, Effexor, and wine, Pops on a case of beer, and the two sporting an uncooked cookie dough roll. But I don’t really get excited till I see the Euginedes family coming. They lay out a whole Greek festival of dolmades, spanakopita, tyropita, moussaka, and baklava. I make sure to give yia yia Euginedes a kiss on the cheek, especially for putting out the only real dessert so far.
A pair of choppers come riding in, bypassing the cars blocking the west end via the sidewalk. Rhys pulls up on a ride borrowed from Bill Portis, with whom he’s staying, and the party can finally get into full swing.
Over the hours friends show up from all over town. By four in the afternoon the block is swarming with near a hundred people. Pete is dishing out meat as fast as it finishes, according to his satisfaction. Kids are running all over the place. Willie gets pissed at one smartass eleven year old and hits him, surprisingly light, with a water balloon. His Machiavellian strategy doesn’t become apparent till we see the kid’s mom bitching the punk out for stinking of vodka. Rhys pounds Johnny Walker like it’s Christ’s piss with a promise of resurrection. Somewhere around 6:30 the younger Mrs. Euginedes sends her husband home for Tequila, and about then Mr. Williams is getting flirty with anything that has sprouted tits. His wife counters his desire to still feel attractive by slugging back Merlot till Willie’s conversation about Metallica vs. Megadeth is something she can look horny for hearing. The Blacks sit by themselves, people watching and sharing observations. Pete , thankfully, runs out of meat right when everyone is getting too full for food. But the booze keeps pouring.
For a while Toby turns into a sideshow, whipping up cocktails on command, sometimes fabricating things when he knows some drunk is trying to fuck with him by shouting a bullshit order. “I’ll take a Lemon Whirl.” “Vodka, Lemonade, and ginger ale. Coming right up.” Toby never loses his cool.
Some of the neighbor’s teenagers hang around looking as bored as possible. My best friend Sid and I know they’re lurking for a chance to sneak booze, so we slip them some drinks. The last thing we need is for their folks to get irritated and that ire to bleed over into other matters. Annoyance provokes people bringing up petty bullshit no one wants to see now. We’re all having the best time in a long while. It’s been too long since this block felt like a community. Normally, we all sit in our own homes, sometimes cordially say hello on the way to the car, on the way to elsewhere. A live and let live attitude pervades, though we all know cliques exist. This house or that one talks to one or the other about how so&so is an asshole for whatever reason. We smile in public but gripe about each other behind closed doors. Sid and I know well enough not to let the teens get on their parents nerves. It could be the start to the end of a great evening.
Not that we expect the convivial mood to carry over in the weeks, months, and years to come. However, it’s always nice when people can get along.
After dark my buddy Teddy announces, “I got a surprise.” And heads to his car. He comes back hauling a box, might as well be a crate. Teddy pops off the top and inside is this myriad of fireworks. He pulls out a Zippo and bam! Zipping balls of sparks are shooting around the block, rockets are screaming into the air. He plants a cone on the ground, and it fires up a column of multicolored stars. Teddy hands out sparklers to all the kids that ask. It isn’t long before the whole neighborhood is lit up by colorful explosions, packs of sparklers running every which way, dancing balls of fire, pinwheels burning mandalas into the night; and everyone cheering. Sid takes a handful of Roman Candles, plants them into a front lawn, lights the fuses, and watches the balls shoot in the air. Fu-pop, fu-pop, fu-pop.
About then Pete is rolling up a fat joint to celebrate a chef session well done. Willie and I are hanging around him, joking, waiting for a chance to smoke, as well as congratulating him on perhaps his finest cooking. Sid is heading over, a beer in hand, his Roman Columns firing color into the sky behind him. We see Rhys head over to the crate, dive in, and run to an empty table. We raise our drinks to him. He smiles over and nods. With a cigarette between his lips he lights the fuses of the two sticks in his hands. He shouts out, “It’s good to be home,” just as the fuses burn down. Everyone cheers. The one in his right hand fires colored balls down the street. The other seems to be a dud. He looks down the tube with a jester’s grin. Sid’s made it over by now. We’re all waiting for the Candle to fire into Rhys’s face -- slapping and jabbing one another, trying not to laugh. Sid says, “That’s not a Roman Candle.” And a quarter stick of dynamite blows Rhys Branagh to pieces.
The party sort of broke up after that. I don’t know what we’ll do next year. Given what happened to Rhys, it seems too hard to top. We'll probably just keep things low key next Fourth of July.