This is the next-to-last Lonnie and Tiny story of Story a Day in May. I think it needs to be expanded a little, so I’ll see about doing that when I put together my forthcoming Lonnie and Tiny anthology. Meanwhile, the first story, detailing that shed explosion referenced in this one, is the title story in my first “animals and oddities” collection, LONNIE, ME AND THE HOUND OF HELL, on Amazon for electronic reading devices at the low, low price of 99 cents.
Lonnie, Me and the Block Party Cookoff
by Marian Allen
The wives came back from the Neighborhood Association meeting all pumped up about something. Lonnie and me, who’d been doing yard work at Lonnie and Leona’s while they were gone, gave each other A Look. When the wives got all het up about something, it usually meant a Project. Not a project, a Project.
My wife, Mary Lee, said, “Oh, Tiny, you boys are going to love this!”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, saluting her.
She slapped my arm a little, gave me that oh, you rascal grin that still kills me after twenty years, and said, “We’re having a block party!”
Leona said, “More than a block, though.”
Mary Lee nodded. “More than a block. These three blocks, from Anderson’s Hardware on over to the park, mostly.”
Lonnie loves block parties, and he’d been agitating for years for Leona to talk the Neighborhood Association into throwing one. So you’d think he’d be high-fiving the rest of us and doing his chicken dance, but no. He’d got himself stung by a ground wasp while he was picking up downed branches and was miffed because I’d been telling him right along to put on gloves and he wouldn’t, so he was in a contrary mood.
“What for? That would have been great, back earlier, but it’s too dang hot, now. And what’s to keep it from pouring down rain?”
Leona, who is either a saint or missed her calling as a kindergarten teacher, said, “The ten-day forecast says it’s supposed to be cooler and partly cloudy next week, and next week is when we’re doing it. Ace is getting us the permits.”
“That’s pretty soon,” I said. Lonnie muttered, Is that so, Captain Obvious, but we all ignored him. “What’s the rush?”
Mary Lee said, “We’re raising money to help send that oldest Maclemore boy to New York City with the high school band. They thought they had it covered, but then Jack Maclemore got laid off, and Clint wouldn’t have any spending money or anything to eat on. He’s just a third trumpet, so it doesn’t matter to the playing of the band, but it would break his heart if he didn’t go.”
Lonnie said, “I’d give a hunnert dollars if he’d take Blaine with him, and another hunnert if he’d leave him there.”
“Now, Lonnie,” his wife said.
Blaine Maclemore was Jack and Ella’s youngest. They lived on me and Mary Lee’s side of the street, and it was our house the Maclemore kids spent half their time at, but it was Lonnie they pestered the worst. Sometimes he wanted to tease them until they screamed, sometimes he wanted to play along with whatever game they were running through the neighborhood, and sometimes he channeled some kind of a crabby old man and chased them off his lawn.
Mary Lee said, “We’re going to rent a couple of those bouncy house things.”
When Lonnie’s eyes lit up, Leona said, firmly, “For the kids.”
Mary Lee said, “But the main thing is a BBQ rib cook-off. That’s where the money comes in.”
Lonnie perked up again. I love to grill, don’t get me wrong, but I never saw anybody who loved a grill more than Lonnie. He’d wanted to build a brick one on the slab where his shed used to be before he accidentally blew it up and got the cops called on him, but he decided to buy a portable one instead. He loved it like most men love a car.
“We have to pay to grill or something?” He would have, too.
“No,” Mary Lee said. “It’s a cook-off. We’ll have grills all along the street, kind of blocked off so the kids don’t run up and burn themselves, and we’ll have jars in front of each one, and anybody who comes to the party can taste as many ribs as they want to for a quarter each. Then they put a dollar in the jar of the ones they like the best. Then, if they want a whole meal, they pay five dollars and get their ribs and take their meal ticket to the side dish booth and we give them corn and green beans and bread.”
It sounded like a good deal to me.
“Who’s paying for the ribs and sides and all?”
“The hardware store is sponsoring it,” Leona said.
“Why don’t the hardware store just give Clint Maclemore the money and leave us all out of it?”
The wives protested with stuff like, “What fun is that?”
The real reason, of course, is that giving Clint the money wouldn’t bring a crowd of people into the neighborhood, where they’d see the hardware store’s name plastered all over three blocks and maybe stop in for those mousetraps they’d been meaning to buy.
“Sounds like a lotta work,” Lonnie said.
Leona said, “Fortunately, this block is blessed with plenty of big, strong men and energetic women.”
“You boys run along,” Mary Lee said. “Leona and I need to make a shopping list.”
Mary Lee is a good woman, but a little of Lonnie goes a long way with her. If it wasn’t for Leona, she’d have no patience at all with him.
Lonnie was glad to go, since his wife was a hardshell Baptist and didn’t hold with drinking, and I always had a few brews in the fridge.
By the time Mary Lee came home and sent him back across the street to Leona, you’d have thought the whole block party was his idea.
Different grocery stores had donated napkins and plates and corn and green beans and soda and bottled water. Restaurants gave us some carry-out boxes and plastic-ware-and-napkin packages. The locker plant gave us a discount on the ribs, and Jack’s VFW post paid for them. The wives made desserts – well, mostly the wives: I made my world-famous peach and pineapple dump cake.
And, sure enough, the weather that day was perfect: overcast and mild, with no breeze to blow the smoke into people’s eyes.
By the time we pulled back the sawhorses and let folks in, I was about worn out. All us “big, strong men and energetic women” had started at the crack of dawn, setting up the sides booth and the grill barriers and about a million card tables and folding chairs for people to sit at and eat. The rent-a-bounce guys had staked their bouncy houses down on a couple of lawns, so any kids who fell out would fall on the grass and not the street where we could get sued.
Lonnie was in his element, fussing with his coals like he was the guy who invented fire.
Like I said, Lon’s good on the grill, but I wouldn’t be trying any of his ribs today.
“Some folks like it hot,” he’d said, “and I’m just the boy to give it to ’em. I’ve been experimenting with this new hot sauce, and it’ll take the top of your head right clean off.”
“I’m kind of attached to the top of my head,” I’d said. “It keeps my brains from getting the inside of my hat all gummy.”
But he had a sign on the barrier in front of his grill that said, WARNING! HOT! HOT! HOT! EAT AT YOUR OWN RISK!
I wouldn’t have believed it, but Lonnie’s grill had the longest line in front of it all day, and any given table always had at least one person with sweat pouring down his or her red face.
None of the grillers were eating anything but ice cream their spouses slipped them, it being too hot behind the grills, and the sight and smell of all that meat for hours on end being too much of a good thing.
Finally, though, the crowd thinned out as the sun got low. The grillers turned off the gas or put the lid on the fire bowls so the coals would burn out.
The bouncy houses came down, and the leftover sides – not much left over, really – got packed away and divided up into anybody who wanted any’s refrigerators.
The cooks and the rest of us, who were frazzled with keeping children out of trouble and mischief, sat down to eat. We’d put everything away before dark, but right now we needed a break.
My favorite – because you just know a man called Tiny spent the day sampling the ribs – was Jack Maclemore’s apricot-rosemary glazed ribs, and I had a double order of those in front of me.
Lonnie’s eyes were bugged out and he was sweating so hard it was dripping off the ends of his hair, because, when it came to hot barbeque, he was his own biggest fan.
I guess everybody was so tired, they left somebody else to look after the kids. You know what that means: Nobody was.
When things got quiet, I kind of halfway noticed it, but I just figured we all got too tired to talk all at the same time, like happens sometimes. I guess I thought the kids had gone in to watch television or play video games.
But then all the kids were at their parents’ sides or clustered around our table, staring at Lonnie and smothering giggles.
He did look pretty funny, like a googley-eyed flamingo with the sunburn, and I grinned, too.
Then – as Lon said that time he blew up his shed – BLAMMY!
The lid to Lon’s grill flew into the street, mercifully missing anybody, hit the asphalt at an angle, and slid all the way across to my and Mary Lee’s side of the street, hit the curb, and flipped end over end, finally tipping gently to cover our lawn sprinkler.
Lonnie looked at it. He looked at the rib in his hand. He looked at his grill.
He said, “Good thing that didn’t happen while all that crowd was here. I better dial that sauce back a little.”
It didn’t take long for the kids, who were as impressed as they were scared by what had happened, to finger Blaine Maclemore as the genius behind it. He’d turned up an old, forgotten Super Cherry Bomb in his parents’ garage, and the kids had closed it into Lonnie’s grill while nobody was paying attention. They’d expected a boom, but not a blammy. I imagine there was a wide array of discipline going on all up and down the block.
Lonnie said, “If that’d been you or me, our daddys would have tanned our bottoms. We wouldn’t of been able to sit down for a week. Somebody ought to take a hickory switch to that little skunk.”
“Now, Lonnie,” Leona said, “he’s only a child.”
“That’s what worries me.”
Me, I was just glad he’d found a Super Cherry Bomb and not, say, a stick of dynamite. One shed-sized explosion was enough for any neighborhood.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: travel, cooking, crime