The artist-writer has long been considered effeminate, a wastrel drunkard who dresses in linens, soft silk pocket hankies and slip-on espadrilles, whilst lolling around friends’ pools or sipping wine in Parisian or Manhattan boites.
This is the stuff of myths, a pack of lies made up by the tragically uninformed that must be dispelled. When I came home after acting in a play in New York many years ago, my hair, done for the part, had been curled. My five brothers sat across the table at a barbecue and eyed me suspiciously. One asked, “You don’t play in a band or anything, do you?” That was Irish cop code for gay, or as it was spoken then, “queer.”
At one time or another, my brothers, when they thought of me at all, endeavored to “guy me up,” make a man out of me. In my late teen years, they introduced me to Budweiser. When I asked for a glass, they wept. They taught me the Navy way to light a cigarette in the wind. The smoke and ashes blew back into my face and made me cough. They wept.
I twisted an ankle attempting soccer, broke a finger at baseball and suffered a nose bleed when struck with a football. They wept. Then they gave up.
Over the years, I’ve studied the way of the macho warrior — the “guy” — who kicks sand in the face of the wimp at the beach, who always catches the tossed ball, hits a nail right on the head, knows how to spit, never splits the wood when sawing, doesn’t drip paint on his espadrilles and can barbecue on a grill. Not one of those little black and red bowls that take charcoal and hours to heat up, but a big grill, a guy grill. I envied my guy friends who could slap on that frightening jug of propane, light up the flame and prepare an outdoor meal for five or six, or 10.
I watched my best friend do classic burgers, roast veggies and corn on the cob, while all the while sipping a martini, or a beer — from the bottle, of course. When the women around him watched, they sighed and applauded, hugged him and praised his skill. I wanted that. I craved it. I wanted to be a guy. I’ve never played in a band — not that there is anything wrong with that — but deep in my heart, in my Irish genes, I know I harbor the seeds of guydom.
So last week, when my oldest daughter came visiting from her home in Los Angeles, she brought her love, Rick, a television art director and chief set constructionist. He’s a big guy, a genuine guy-guy, an Iraq war veteran who can build anything in 10 minutes and tear it down in five. Nevertheless, he is a sensitive man, a perfect blend of both worlds.
I offered him a beer — no glass.
He talked of his state-of-the-art barbecue grill back in L.A., on which he can grill a coyote if one should wander into his organic garden. As a gift, he brought me a brand new power drill. I knew then that I may have found a mentor, a true griller who can hammer a nail and drink from the bottle without spilling it on my espadrilles.
As a family, we went up to Home Depot to buy a grill, no little bucket thing, but a genuine guy grill. So there it sits on my ancient creaky deck. Rick bought me all the necessary tools and cover, about $100 worth, as an added gift, and we ran several runs to test my new guyness.
It’s getting dark now. It sits there like Darth Vader’s personal pod, waiting for my solo flight. She who paid for it watches from the kitchen window. I lift the heavy metal hatch. It drops and bangs my finger.
JP Devine is a Waterville writer.