A few thoughts on grilling a steak ...
This rib-eye might be smarter than I am. I'm not even sure it is fully dead. Still, I'm the one with the tongs, and it's the one hissing at 500 degrees. That alone assures me of a certain superiority – physical if not moral.
There are two things you should know about grilling good beef:
1) Salt and pepper are all it really needs, not some bottled varnish or heavy rub.
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2) You can't really grill a steak too fast.
With a steak, the faster the better. The char is where most of the mojo resides, and there should remain within the meat a bright, taillight blush. Cooking a steak quickly achieves both of these important goals. (For charcoal, I prefer old baseball bats soaked in Cabernet. Yeah, they're impossible to find.)
Burgers, the great-nephews of steak, should also be cooked quickly.
There is a sport to this: Pack the burger gently (as if holding hands with Grandma). Then throw it on high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, flip the patty and let it linger for 3 to 4 more minutes. When complete, it will be firm as a queen of hearts but no firmer.
A good burger, properly pink, beats a great steak every time. But there is a 10-second window when it is neither too soon nor too late to take off. Steaks are far more forgiving.
I share these life skills as I turn 61 this week. I'm not sure how many more of these chats we will have. Sure, I am healthy as a bronco and still play touch football frequently with several other middle-aged morons who fear retiring and rotting on the couch.
I've experienced some scary things in my life – car crashes, hurricanes, William Shatner singing. But nothing prepares you for the sight of 10 Peter Pans, all running "go" patterns on a cool autumn Sunday. It's what San Marino would look like if it ever ran out of gin.
Meanwhile, at 61 I take just two tiny pills a day. I'm not even sure what they do; they might be sedatives, they might be laxatives, they might make me more charming – or even a little charming.
I remain under the distracted supervision of Dr. Steve, who told me he's team doctor to the Rolling Stones. I figure that if he can keep Keith Richards breathing for 100 years, just think what he can do for an active athlete like me.
Dr. Steve lies a lot, so take that into account. For years he insisted that he worked out of the trunk of an aging Eldorado, which is the only health plan I can afford. Turns out he has an office and a staff.
Don't you hate when people pretend to be less than what they really are?
Honestly, it's a lovely number, 61. Roger Maris famously clubbed 61 homers in 1961. Sixty-one is also the calling code for Australia. At 61, Gerald Ford issued a full and absolute pardon to Richard Nixon, who was also 61. Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver each had 61 career shutouts.
So there is much magic in 61.
These days, all my sixtysomething friends seem to be taking care of aging parents. Too many – most of them male – are fighting serious health issues of their own. They are tough old boots, all of them.
Eric dodged serious cancer and has rebounded well. Paul had a relapse of his cancer and with gallows humor kids about a Viking funeral on a flaming raft in Jennifer Aniston's pool.
"We'll sing the theme from 'Friends,'" I tell him.
"Please don't," he says.
Posh continues her fight, as does a family friend, LP, who used to coach with me long ago. Because what better way to ruin an otherwise glorious spring afternoon than by lugging around smelly old softball gear while all the other parents linger at the office, amassing their fortunes.
For LP and me, coaching softball was our windfall. The families paid us in box drinks and mumbled thank-yous.
I grill steaks now, contemplating 61 and Eric, Paul and LP. Not far from those thoughts are recollections of another great pal, Rhymer, who died five years ago. At 51, he was just a baby.
"Focus on the good," Rhymer always said, even in the times when we both had to squint to find the good.
So that's what I do. I flame that rib-eye; I focus on the good.
Even on days when I have to squint a little.
(Email Chris Erskine at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @erskinetimes.)