HEY MR. BUSH, I FOUND THE W.M.D.
| I know a secret; I know where the Weapons of Mass Destruction are hidden. I should have guessed the answer the moment that big box came into my house. I should have known that little good could come of it. Big cardboard boxes have always marked my road to perdition. The last arrival, four years ago, brought the lawn mower and with it the knowledge that the internal combustion engine and I came from different planets. This new one, I'm sure, will hold no better news.
It's supposed to have a gas grill inside. Every self-respecting man should have a gas grill on his deck, or so I am told. Why it even says that on the instructions; "Nothing should come between a man and his flame." I guess they mean even thirty inches of snow. Bill and Carol, who live in tropical New Jersey, have assured me that they cook outside all winter. I have this vision of mushing out to the deck come next January to put on steaks to entertain the Donner party, whose wagons are stuck in a drift on the Taconic Parkway.
Those poor pioneers, they don't know that 98% of my recipes begin by having me boil five quarts of water. If I have enough eggs and Parmesan, pasta carbonara for forty-seven would be the fare of my mid-winter banquet. This assumes Donner and company are not squeamish about the eggs being cooked by the hot pasta after I take it out of the colander. And if they want their pancetta grilled, they can send one of their own out into the blizzard.
The snow would bury my old charcoal grill. That tiny apparatus, which could hold several hot dogs, a hamburger or two or a chicken breast, spent last winter in the garage and then migrated south in the back of my car to Pam's house. It sits out front near her bed of flowers, and is tended usually by her expert hands. When it resided here, it was only used when she visited. I was too great a danger to the house and nearby trees to allow me to play with fire.
Pam forgot this precept one recent night, handing me the tongs while she went inside her house to fix the side dishes. "Watch the hot dogs, don't let them burn." They didn't, and I considered it a small victory that I emerged with my eyebrows intact, heading home the next morning to the huge box that sits next to my dining room table. It is thirty by thirty by forty-two, inches that is, and on its side it reads “No Tools Required for Assembly.” Believe that and I have a bridge to sell you
If it is so simple, possibly my cat can put it together. She spends most of her day sitting on the box anyway. When I lugged it into the house, I stood it upright, but at that height, Fatty Feline could make flying leaps to my table to sample my handiwork if my meal looked appetizing. Now it is on its side and she has to levitate her fourteen pounds to reach me. That being difficult, she spends much of her time slipping a paw inside the box.
There is a small opening in the side facing upward, a slit through which I can see metal tubing. I created this aperture one Saturday morning when the sun was out and the birds were singing. As I breakfasted, I said aloud, “Today I will put together the grill.” “Put the grill together,” the cat corrected me. I often invert my direct objects with their modifiers; it must be a speech impediment. She was stretched out on the box and would not move until I unfurled my box cutter.
I opened a slit and pulled a booklet out to read and closed the flap on the metal tubes that could be glimpsed inside. I should have known something was amiss when I found these directions for assembly right off the bat. Any person that has put together a piece of equipment that used to come pre-assembled in days of yore knows that the directions must be hidden under or inside the parts. At this point I should have called "Rummy" or Tommy Franks and told them of my find.
That thought went through my mind for a second, but I realized they would see the box cutter and I would be hauled off to another tropical paradise. I was confident that another patriot who had purchased the same gas grill at the Walmart in Greenport would sound the alert. The store had shelves filled with these boxes. I have to hand it to Mr. Saddam. What better place to conceal ‘WMD,’ as the newscasters say? It is an extension of the old bromide that the best place to hide a dead body is on a battlefield.
Instead of doing the right thing, I sat down on the couch and opened the booklet. It spread itself out in front of me like a road map. There were twelve panels, labeled in sequence one through twelve. Each had a drawing, next to which were numbered lists of the parts to be assembled, with the process lettered “A” through the last step. I rued not taking a stiff drink of cooking wine before setting my eyes on this technical torture chamber.
“Tee knobs,” Vaporizer Bars” and “Carriage Bolts,” what were they? What was a “Crown Fastener?” Was it different from a carriage bolt? “Hinge Pin” or “Hitch Pin?” Which was it? The drawings brought back memories of Eighth Grade Mechanical Drawing class with its tee squares and graph paper. I began to sweat and my knuckles turned white as I gripped the paper. No man on this planet is worse at converting two dimensions into three than I.
My head began to spin. A vision of cars arriving for the first cookout appeared before my eyes. I had invited Pam, her children and grandchildren, to my country estate. I had even convinced her that for the safety of all, it would be better if she cooked the meal on my new grill that was sitting in a corner of the deck. We walked proudly to the sliding door. I opened it and bade her come outside. She looked at my creation.
“David, why do the legs point up to the sky? Why is the grill on the deck?”
“At least it’s not upside down, Pam. Maybe I can call this guy I know in Baghdad.”
“How am I supposed to cook on it?”
“Picky, picky, picky. Hope your boys like carbonara?”
Valatie June 6, 2003