John Carlson: Another Burnin’ Ring of Fire

This hotdog cooked superbly in the flames from our new fire pit. Photo by Nancy CarlsonThis hotdog cooked superbly in the flames from our new fire pit. Photo by Nancy Carlson

By John Carlson—

The other day I put together our new fire pit.

“Honey!” I called out, alerting Nancy when I was finally finished. “I’m bleeding like a stuck pig out here!”

These days, that is how I often alert Nancy to the fact I am finished with any minor home improvement project I foolishly undertake. This is because I am both a monumental klutz, and suffer from a neurological disorder commonly known as “handyman dyslexia.”

Being a monumental klutz, I kept dropping nuts and washers down the cracks between the boards of our back deck while assembling our new fire pit.

The handyman dyslexia? That was even worse.

To my understanding it is sort of an offshoot of regular dyslexia, which among other things causes its sufferers to mix up their letters while reading. They might read the word “dog” but see “god,” for example. As for handyman dyslexia’s effect on me, I might start reading the simple instructions for putting together a new fire pit and suddenly wonder, “Why are these instructions written in Russian? And who drew these illustrations? Jose Feliciano?”

All those steps regarding exactly where and when to attach the bolts and stuff suddenly make no sense. So like an idiot, I proceed to figure it out on my own.

The end result of my affliction?

Any reasonably intelligent six-year-old could have put our new fire pit together in an hour. A gifted chimp? Thirty minutes, tops.

Me? It took all blessed morning. Of course, that was counting my bandage breaks. These began shortly after I started working. That’s when I drew first blood, stabbing myself in my left pointer finger with the razor-sharp blade of my Leatherman pocket tool while tackling a complicated step in our new fire pit’s assembly.

OK, that’s a lie.

It wasn’t a complicated step in its assembly. I stabbed myself in the finger while opening the plastic bag the parts came in. Here is one of the few things I know about falsely convincing yourself you are a handyman. When two minutes after you start a project you’re already bleeding profusely from stabbing yourself while opening the plastic bag the parts came in, it’s going to be a long morning. By the time I was finished assembling that sucker, I was bleeding from so many accidental nicks, gouges and slashes, it looked like Lizzie Borden had come over to the house to help me. My hands were bloody. My gym shorts were bloody. My socks were bloody. Even our brand new fire pit was bloody enough to remind me of Old Testament stories featuring sinners, sheep and altars.

But that’s OK, because I doggedly persevered. Why?

Partly because Nancy and I love a fire pit.

We’d bought our last one two houses ago out in Yorktown, a dinky little fire pit that by now had totally rusted and was falling apart. Still, we’d spent many a night contentedly watching its flames turn stout pieces of firewood into red, glowing embers. Our new fire pit is bigger, measuring almost a yard across, and holds the promise of many more nights spent under the stars while its flames cheer and warm us.

Regarding warming us, which seems pretty obvious for a fire pit, I mention it only because one cornerstone of my fire pit philosophy is this: Don’t use it in the summertime, when everybody from the bumblebees to your favorite pet goldfish are sweating their little butts off. Other fire pit aficionados will disagree, but when we fire that baby up in earnest, it’s going to be chilly outside, a night with maybe a visible hint of one’s breath escaping one’s mouth, and a nice bite in the air.

Speaking of “bite,” the other reason I doggedly persevered in its assembly was thinking about hotdogs. Frankly, this came as a surprise, not being a guy who thinks about hotdogs all that much. But before beginning its assembly, I was sitting in The Fickle Peach when I mentioned having bought it to a buddy who, looking up from his India Pale Ale, quickly observed, “Now you can (hiccup) cook hotdogs on it!”

Hmmmm, I thought. Guess I could at that! Then that very same evening while watching TV, a commercial informed me I hadn’t discovered true culinary giddiness until I cooked myself some Ballpark Angus all-beef franks. Just like that, I became obsessed with them. Shortly thereafter, Nancy returned from the grocery store with a fresh pack of these fabled wieners.

So yeah, it wasn’t chilly out yet, but we immediately cooked those wieners in a fire pit test run, just to make sure they were OK.

They were terrific.

So now more Ballpark Angus franks are in the fridge and our new fire pit is out back awaiting the arrival of those chilly nights. When they get here, we’ll grab the franks, the buns and the mustard, chop some onions and collect some firewood.

Then Nancy will find some matches and start the fire since, being a monumental klutz, if I try to light it I’ll probably fall in.

But first, we’ll also have to gather our fancy wiener-cooking poles.

Sure, I could grab my Leatherman and just sharpen some sticks, but I’ve already spilled more than enough blood on this project.


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A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.  John’s columns appear on every Friday.