Brotherhood of the backyard

I enter the backyard like the Cat in the Hat, hairy legged and bent on mischief. I carry a tray full of steaks and a pair of tongs longer than your arm. There is a splotch of what looks like dragon's blood on my shirt. It's marinade. Why? Because it makes me taste better.

At this time of year, how come so many men are so enamored with scorching meat over an open flame? Why does a smoky grill make us as happy as a cartoon character? It's not primal. It goes deeper than that.

Men like to grill because it doesn't matter if they spill. They like to grill because it reminds them of the bonfires of their youth. Men like to grill:

•  Because even middle-aged guys look good by firelight.

•  Because for days afterward, our fingers taste like baby-back ribs and our hair smells like Oktoberfest.

•  Because tongs are the only kitchen tool with an opposable thumb. With a good pair of tongs, most men could change a spark plug. Or put panties on an octopus.

•  Because grilling is best done with a cold drink in your left hand. And another one on deck.

•  Because grilling gets you out of the air-conditioning, which on long summer days leaves your leg muscles as chilled as grocery meat.

•  Because grilling gives us time for idle conversations, such as:

Wife: You know the house next to Chris and Debbie's?

Me: The one where the guy is always peeking over the fence?

Wife: Yes. Guess what they're asking?

Me: A billion-six?

Wife: More.

Me: Three trillion?

Wife: More.

•  Because a grill is like a jukebox of summer hits. The sound of a steak sizzling. A bratwurst zippering itself open. These sounds inspire us on every level. The way birdsong inspired Bach.

•  Because it's the only way men will eat vegetables.

•  Because the art of grilling runs through families like freckles, Roman noses or a taste for gin.