More than 60 years ago, a 15-year-old neighbor taught me to smoke a cigarette. Thirty years later, I became a nonsmoker. Now, 30 years after that, I’m smoking again, but this time it’s bovine protein getting blackened rather than my lungs.
About six years ago I was given a small electric smoker as a birthday present. In a couple of years I stepped up to a larger, five-rack smoker; and this year, for Father’s Day, I received an enormous machine with hoppers, chimneys, racks, digital and manual controls, sliding parts for 500-degree flame-broiling, grilling, smoking “low and slow” — in short, everything needed to experience that deck-side, leather-apron, barbecue nirvana. Everything, that is, except the adult beverages. My house guest supplied those. We’ll call him Friend 1.
Visiting us with him was another longtime and dear friend and first cousin of Friend 1. We’ll call him Friend 2. The cousins enjoy their annual catch-up time together at our house and traditionally go off exploring the island and reminiscing while I man the kitchen. This visit would be somewhat different, as their exploring culminated in a 1 a.m. drive home from the Mid Coast ER for the three of us. I’ll get back to the smoker in a minute.
These gentlemen are not youngsters, nor are they small men. Friend 1 is in pretty good shape, despite still recovering from recent shoulder-replacement surgery. Many of his other major joints have already been swapped with aftermarket upgrades and he casually wears the signs of a man used to physical misfortune. Still, he is strong and able, with the only sign of weakness being his choice of footwear when exploring the islands’ ledges. For the record, I did not recommend the bedroom slippers. Nonetheless, tradition is a powerful motivator and off these two went to hunt down the perfect piece of driftwood and some interesting rocks.
Friend 2 is far less physically active, less sturdy, and very unsteady. In fact, when greeted in my driveway and asked how he was doing, he responded with, “I fall down a lot.” He is very familiar with the role gravity can play when an unsteady human meets an uneven surface. On this particular evening, we learned how exciting that combination gets when the human is a 250-pound man and the surface is a jagged granite ledge. As if to fulfill a prophesy, he fell and got himself tightly wedged in upside down, stuck hard and being splashed by the incoming tide.
Hearing the dull “FWUMP!” behind him of his cousin meeting granite, and being no dummy, Friend 1 was able to recognize the obvious signs of catastrophe, and quickly determined that extracting Friend 2 from his now-bloody predicament would require more muscle and expertise than was on hand at the time. Friend 2 had become figurative dead weight, but wanted a cigarette more than he wanted an ambulance. Friend 1 reluctantly complied.
After the lighting-of-the-cigarette ceremony, Friend 1 hiked in his slippers to an occupied home with a working telephone, the rescue squad was summoned, and enough muscle from the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department was swiftly made available to raise Friend 2 from the ledges to a waiting gurney, though not without complaints about a “nuclear wedgie” in the process. He was ordered to get rid of the cigarette, you know, what with oxygen aboard and all that.
The team of EMTs stopped the worst of the bleeding and carefully transported him to the waiting ambulance, all the while treated to an impromptu comedy routine that was totally ignored by those with more serious matters on their hands. Not being able to smoke was his chief complaint until his release from the torturous clutches of the long-suffering staff at Mid Coast. Those folks deserve medals for not deciding to have him put down.
After 17 staples in his head, an X-ray, a CT scan, two broken and several bruised ribs, cuts and scrapes the length of both sides of his limbs and body, a bunch of bandages, wraps, and a funny hat for good measure, we escorted him outside to the waiting truck and the ride home. After a cigarette.
Oh yes, the smoker — the next day was perfect for smoking. Beef ribs, that is. Dino ribs dry-aged and lovingly slow-cooked in the smoker for nearly eight hours until they rendered a delicious, juicy tenderness that defies description. My good friends, 1 and 2, were properly appreciative, although admittedly, Friend 2’s mood was probably somewhat enhanced by the pain meds. Until he coughed. Long-term smokers do that, and then no amount of pain medication dulls the stabbing pain of a cough with a couple of newly broken ribs.
Smoked dino ribs come close, though. Mighty close.
Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.