The Foolish Things We Did Without Fear

"You really shouldn't do that."

That is Eugene talking. I am ignoring him.

"It is very dangerous. Really."

Eugene is correct. Eugene is almost always correct. That is why he has so few friends.

"It could explode. I am not kidding," Eugene says.

As he says this, I squirt more lighter fluid onto the hot coals in the barbecue grill.

You are never, ever supposed to squirt lighter fluid onto hot coals in your barbecue grill. When you do, a huge fireball whooshes up and just about takes your eyebrows off.

It is the part of barbecuing I like best.

"I read an article," Eugene says, "where the flame can travel right back up to the lighter fluid can and explode right in your hands."

Yeah, I say. I think it says that right here on the can.

I squoosh a little more fluid, and we both have to step back from the blast of heat.

"So why do you do it then?" Eugene asks, waving his hand back and forth to disperse the oily smoke. "I mean if you know it's dangerous, why do you do it?"

It's to make up for my guilt over not going to Vietnam, I say. It's the only way I now have of proving my manhood.

The fire in the grill is now high enough to singe the locust tree that hangs over the deck. That's how I know the coals are almost ready.

"Have you ever considered a gas grill?" Eugene asks. "That way the food wouldn't taste so much like lighter fluid."

I like the taste of lighter fluid, I tell him. That's how you can tell the food is barbecued and not microwaved.

"I think that much fluid could cause cancer," Eugene says. "Honestly."

I look on the back of the can.

Naw, I tell Eugene. This stuff is made from all-natural petroleum products. It was probably sitting under the sands of Saudi Arabia a month ago. Our soldiers fought Saddam Hussein to safeguard this stuff. So how can I not use it?

"You going to put the meat right over the coals?" Eugene asks. "Because I read where if you put the meat right over the coals, that can cause cancer, too."

Eugene is correct once again. When fat drips onto the coals, chemicals form. These chemicals rise with the smoke and get onto the food. Charring meat also produces chemicals. These chemicals are suspected carcinogens.

"Well if you know it, why do you do it?" Eugene asks.

I slap the ribs on the grill where they sizzle furiously. I don't answer. I let my ribs do my talking for me.

One of Eugene's kids rides around the corner of the house on his bicycle. I am supposed to know which kid it is, but, to tell the truth, kids look very similar to me. The parents claim they can tell them apart, but I think they depend a lot on the clothing.

Does your kid always wear a helmet when he rides his bike? I ask.

"His name is Drew and, yes, he does always wear his helmet," Eugene says. "It's much safer. And it's the law."

Tell me, I say, did we wear bicycle helmets when we were kids?

"It wasn't the law then," Eugene says.

Drew rides around the corner again and I notice he has some stuff smeared all over his face. Why does Drew have stuff smeared all over his face? I ask Eugene.

"That's not Drew, that's Zack," Eugene says, "and it's No. 25 sun block. The damaging effects of the sun are cumulative. Every sunburn he doesn't get now will pay off for him later."

Did we have No. 25 sun block when we were young? I ask. And yet we seem to have made it this far in life.

"Not the point," Eugene says. "We did a lot of foolish things back then."

And we did. We barbecued without fear. We squirted lighter fluid without a care. We rode our bikes with the wind whipping dangerously past our unprotected skulls and never thought twice about getting a tan.

I take the ribs off the grill and slap them onto Eugene's plate.

Live fast. Die young. And leave a beautiful corpse, I tell him.

He looks at his plate for a moment and then at me.

"I think I'm going to stick to the salad," he says.

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