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The Tong Master

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Anthony Galloway's picture
Joined: 17-Dec-08
Posts: 2317

Rob Jago was at the barbecue and Chris Berger was at the barbecue and I was at the barbecue; three men standing around a barbecue, sipping beer, staring at sausages, rolling them backwards and forwards, never leaving them alone.

We didn't know why we were at the barbecue; we were just drawn there like moths to a flame. The barbecue was a powerful gravitational force, a man-magnet. Chris said the thin ones could use a turn, I said, "yeah I reckon the thin ones could use a turn", Rob said, "yeah they really need a turn" - it was a unanimous turning decision.

Rob was the Tong-master, a true artist, he gave a couple of practice snaps of his long silver tongs, SNAP, SNAP, before moving in, prodding, teasing, and with an elegant flick of his wrist, rolling them onto their little backs. A lesser tong-man would've flicked too hard; the sausages would've gone full circle, back to where they started.
Nice, I remarked. The others nodded. Brian Heseltine was passing us, he heard the siren song sizzle of the snags, the barbecue was calling, beckoning, Briannnnn ...come. He stuck his head in and said, "any room?" We nodded and began the barbecue shuffle; Rob shuffled to the left, Chris shuffled to the left, I shuffled to the left, Brian slipped in beside me, we sipped our beer.

Now there were four of us staring at sausages, and Rob gave me the nod, my cue. I was second-in-command, and I had to take the raw sausages out of the plastic bag and lay them on the barbecue; not too close together, not too far apart, curl them into each other's bodies like lovers -fat ones, thin ones, herbed and continental.
Paul Redfurn came along, he said, "looking good, looking good" -the irresistible lure of the barbecue had pulled him in too. We nodded and did the BBQ shuffle, left, left, left, left, he slipped in beside Brian, we sipped our beer.

Five men, lots of sausages. Chris was the Fork-pronger; he had the fork that pronged the tough hides of the Bavarian bratwursts and he showed lots of promise. Stabbing away eagerly, leaving perfect little vampire holes up and down the casing. Paul was shaking his head, he said, "I reckon they cook better if you don't poke them". There was a long silence, you could have heard a chipolata drop; this newcomer was a rabble-rouser, bringing in his crazy ideas from outside. He didn't understand the hierarchy; first the Tong-master, then the sausage-layer, then the Fork-pronger -and everyone below was just a watcher. Maybe eventually they'll move up the ladder, but for now - don't rock the Weber.

Rattana popped her head in; hmmm, smells good, she said. She was trying to jostle into the circle; we closed ranks, pulling our heads down and our shoulders in, mumbling yeah yeah yeah, but making no room for her. She was keen, going round to the far side of the barbecue, heading for the only available space . . . the gap in the circle where all the smoke and ashes blew. Nobody could survive the gap; Rattana was going to try. She stood there stubbornly, smoke blinding her eyes, ashes filling her nostrils, sausage fat spattering all over her arms and face. Until she couldn’t take it any more, she gave up, backed off. Rob waited till she was gone and sipped his beer. We sipped our beer, yeah.

Rob handed me his tongs. I looked at him and he nodded. I knew what was happening, I'd waited a long time for this moment - the abdication.
The tongs weighed heavy in my hands, firm in my grip - was I ready for the responsibility? I snapped them twice, before moving in, prodding, teasing, and with an elegant flick of my wrist, rolling them back onto their little bellies. I was a natural, I was the TONG-MASTER

Thanks to Glen for the inspiration.

The story first appeared in The Age newspaper, Melbourne Australia, on the 9th October 1998, and in Danny's book Dork Geek Jew (Allen & Unwin, 2002), a compilation of his newspaper columns.



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