Sunday, June 29, 2008


An afternoon with author T. Lynn Ocean...
Summertime means spending lots of time outdoors, whether swinging in a hammock with a great book (like Southern Fatality!) or socializing at a neighborhood cookout. But summertime can also bring that dreaded message: Assembly Required.

My husband was walking stiffly, a look of fierce determination on his face, taking much longer than normal steps.

"Are you okay?" I asked, figuring he must have hurt his back.

He stopped in mid-stride. "Hmmm?"

"Can I get you some Advil or something? You're walking funny."

He was stepping off the distance of the deck to determine the best place to put our new gas grill, he explained, slightly annoyed that I'd broken his concentration. He went back to the far side of the deck, did the stiff-legged march thing again, and made a mental calculation. I imagined the new grill would end up in the same spot as the old charcoal one, but with my husband, some things are a process.

Once he decided where our new outdoor addition would go, he hauled the giant cardboard box to the deck and spread out its contents, telling me to get the chicken breasts ready to grill. He'd be done in half an hour, he predicted. Twenty minutes later, I brought him a Coke. Several crumpled pieces of paper—what I assumed to be diagrams and directions—lay scattered next to a variety of tools. The contraption in front of him resembled a grill, minus the tank and wheels, and little knobby things that turn it on.

"That side burner for pots," I said. "Shouldn't it be attached? And, uh, grate side up?"

"What?" he said, lying on his side to get a better look at the underside of the contraption.

"Never mind." I decided that I could always pan fry the chicken in the kitchen. "What's the deal with that baggie of parts over there."

"What parts? I've used all the parts."

"Oh. Probably, they're just extra parts. But that valve looks sort of important." I decided to hang out and offer moral support. Five minutes later, bored, I got the idea to measure the back yard. Starting in one corner with a straight back, I stepped it off to the other side. "Hey," I called to him. "How many feet are in one big step-off type step?"

"About three," he said, looking at me like I'd gone weird on him. "And they're called strides. Not steps. But your stride is shorter. Maybe two and a half feet. Why are you measuring our yard?"

"Did you figure out where that valve thingie goes?" I asked, counting my strides from the corner of the yard back to the deck.

He told me that if I wanted something measured, to let him know. Apparently, only men are allowed to step things off. And then he instructed me that our new grill was ready to be christened. I returned with a plate of marinated chicken breasts and skewered veggies to find hubby staring at the massive grill like the proud father of a newborn. When he tried to light it, I instinctively backed away several steps (two and a half strides, actually).

We heard clicking sounds, but no flames appeared. Frowning, he studied the grill, the extra parts, and smoothed out a crumpled instruction sheet. I left and returned with beers. Nearly an hour and a half after the assembly effort began, we finally had fire. Nothing blew up. Hubby smiled in victory. We ate outside, admiring our new grill, enjoying the evening sounds. The dinner was delicious.

"Would this be a bad time to mention that I bought a new teakwood patio set?" I said. "It was on sale."

He agreed that we needed some new outdoor furniture.

"It's uh, sort of in boxes," I mumbled. "Assembly required."

CHECK OUT T. LYNN OCEAN'S NEW MYSTERY SERIES. The first in the Jersey Barnes mysteries, Southern Fatality, is being reprinted in mass market paperback this July. Southern Poison, second in the series, comes out Sept. 2. For more info, visit the website at

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