WILSON: Chatting by the fireside

My circle of friends regularly assembles with the intentions of bending an elbow (or four — or seven) and discussing the world’s problems.

In our youth, idealistic dorm room posters proclaimed “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” As time and temperament wore on, our focus migrated from searching for solutions to deciding who should be blamed. Our reward for decades of being “part of the solution” was to trade in our industrial strength antacids and solution-seeking sleepless nights, for Metamucil and sleep-interrupting bathroom visits. Now, we find great pleasure in pointing out the problems of the world and making sure the next generation knows what they are doing wrong.

This time of year usually means our assemblies are held around the fire ring in the backyard of my very good friend, Esquire. There are several theories as to how Esquire acquired the moniker of “Esquire,” but they are inconsequential to the rest of this essay… so, I’m not going to bother you with them.

There was a time when such bonfire gatherings would begin at dusk and carry on until the wee hours of the morning. Now, we assemble promptly at 3:30 in the afternoon, carry on spirited deliberations spiked by spirit infused libations, and make our way back to our respective homes by 9:30.

However, not all of our discussions revolve around the problems of the world (or even, just our small corner of the world). Quite often, our focus shifts to fond memories of bygone years (and we are all of an age where we have plenty of bygone years).

“Remember John’s barber shop, on Main Street, next to the Salvation Army?” Esquire’s reminiscences can be very specific. “You could go in on a Saturday at 8 o’clock, get a haircut for a dollar, and spend all day reading comic books.”

“Had to get there early, though. By noon that dollar haircut was only worth about 87 cents.” My memories tend to be more pragmatic — on any given Saturday, John, the barber, could run the table with “butch” style haircuts at a buck a piece. However, on Monday morning, everyone in school knew who got to the barbershop early and who got there late.

“Toss another log on the fire, Esquire.” Firewalker is our self-appointed Backyard Fire Quality Director. “While you’re at it, do something about the wind. I’m getting smoke in my eyes.”

How Firewalker acquired his nickname is also inconsequential to this essay — but, suffice to say, it involves one of the early fireside gatherings (the dusk to wee hours of the morning variety) walking barefoot through the fire (several times), while under the influence of a hydroxyl functional group, bound to a saturated carbon atom (fancy way of saying “alcohol”).

Without hesitation, Esquire’s customary response is, “If you don’t like the fire, go sit in someone else’s backyard.” Esquire considers himself to be an expert at backyard fires and Firewalker considers it to be his job to point out the flaws in Esquire’s expertise.

“See that raccoon, sneaking out from under the back shed?” Esquire is even better at changing the subject. “I think he’s in the Witness Protection Program.”

This is the kind of statement for which Esquire is best known — say something outlandish and wait for a response.

“Witness what?” Usually, I take the bait and ask the dumb question — which is the desired response.

“Look at him — sneaks out at night, wears a mask, runs around taking things from people, and tomorrow morning he’ll be hunkered down under someone else’s shed. The law won’t let me shoot him, since this is a residential neighborhood — it’s protected criminal activity. Gotta be some kind of witness protection program.”

“You’re better at making fires than explaining animal physiognomies.” Sometimes, I try to elevate the quality of the discussions — but usually to no avail.

Typically, this is the point in the evening when the clock strikes the hour of “go home.” A long afternoon of pinpointing all the things piling up in this huge hell-bound hand basket can be very tiring.