Every year we receive so many unbelievable stories, tall tales and arguments about one particular black family’s barbecue. In an effort to dismiss all of these fantastical claims, this year we sent our own reporter undercover to get to the bottom of the facts about the Harris family’s cookout. Although we still haven’t heard from him, we found his reporter’s notebook. The following is a compiled timeline from the notes he took.
10 a.m.: I arrive. No one is here yet. The invitation to the cookout* says they will start eating around 2 p.m., but I decided to get here early. When I say “invitation,” I mean I finagled an invite to the cookout by asking someone in the Harris family what they were doing this weekend and they replied, “You know we have our big Fourth of July cookout around 2. Come through.”
That was it. I’d like to attribute my invitation to my fabulous undercover skills, but it seems that these people genuinely just want people to share a good time.
*Reporter’s note: I have been instructed to always refer to it as a “cookout” and never a “barbecue.” Apparently—and this is what I was told—white people “barbecue.” Black people “cook out.”
11:30 a.m.: I was sitting in my car waiting for others to arrive when Aunt Jannie Mae asked me to help her take “some grocery” into the house. She stated that she arrives early every year because—as the family’s maker of both the potato salad and macaroni and cheese—she is one of the most important members of the national cookout community. There are rumors that in 2010, President Barack Obama offered Aunt Jannie Mae Secret Service protection after tasting her macaroni and cheese, but she refused.
By the way, Aunt Jannie Mae is not related to me. Apparently that’s her entire name. First name “Aunt.” Middle name “Jannie.” Last name “Mae.” Seriously, I saw her ID. But then again, if she gave the people at the DMV some of that macaroni, they’d probably be willing to let her put “Jesus” on her license.
12 noon: More people arrive, along with more bags and more food. A lot of food. For too long we have tried to cure Third World hunger with food drops, international monetary aid and teaching them agriculture. If we could find a way to get all the starving nations to the Harris family’s Fourth of July cookout, we could solve this problem.
And they’d sill have leftovers.
1 p.m.: There was a crowd gathered in the backyard, but then everything got quiet, everyone stopped what they were doing and I swear I heard harps playing. I felt a chill in the air, and a palpable reverence filled the backyard. I asked what was happening, and someone whispered back to me, “Uncle Junior’s here. Bow your head, n—ga.”
I lowered my head, and then, through the crowd, came an approximately 50-year-old man with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, one behind his ear, and a pack of Benson & Hedges in his front pocket. He wasn’t walking, he was floating—as if he were carried by angels. He carried a pair of barbecu—I mean cookout—tongs and a fork in his hands, and when he reached the grill—a huge, black, cast-iron monstrosity—he lifted the lid and …
I know you won’t believe this, but I am one of the most reputable reporters in this organization, and even though I know I was sent here to dispel these rumors, I saw this with my own eyes.
I swear to dark-skinned Jesus, on my mama, and on all of Aunt Jannie Mae’s macaroni and tater salad: Uncle Junior looked at the grill and it lit up by itself. I swear. He didn’t have charcoal, lighter fluid, matches, gas or anything.
2 p.m.: Everyone is here, Uncle Junior is on the grill, they are laying out the food, but no one has eaten yet. I am beginning to feel bad because, of all the people here, I am the only one so far who arrived empty-handed. I’m sure they can tell this is my first time here because I am also the only one who didn’t know that the Harris-family cookout is BYOC: “Bring your own chair.” My feet were hurting earlier from standing up, but now I feel like I’ve gotten a good workout because I sat on the worst place to sit in all of black-cookout history: the cooler. So far I think I’ve done the equivalent of 1,943 squats. My glutes are going to be poppin’!
3 p.m.: I decide to play a game of spades against James and Jamaal. They call themselves the “Spades Kings,” and they seem very into the game. They don’t know that in college I was quite the occasional spades player myself.
3:18 p.m.: James and Jamaal ran a Boston on us.
To be fair, I wasn’t very familiar with my partner’s playing style, and I didn’t know which card was the Big Joker. James didn’t have to call me a “bitch,” though.
4 p.m.: Everyone is eating, and Uncle Junior takes a break from the grill, grabs two red Solo cups and invites me to walk to his car with him. I wonder why, but when we get there he pops the trunk and pulls out a bottle of Paul Masson brandy. I try to refuse, but by that time he has poured so much liquor in my cup, my hands start to shake. I tell him it’s too much, but he tells me to just sip it. “It’s going to be a long day,” he says.
Just before we return to the festivities, Uncle Junior gives me the three most important cookout rules:
- Fix your plate early if you want some macaroni.
- Don’t look his niece, Lakeisha, in the eyes. She can hypnotize you.
- Have a good time.
5 p.m.: I’m not that drunk. Sure, I wolfed down about 21 burned hot dogs and approximately 43 servings of macaroni and cheese, but I hadn’t eaten all day. Plus, Uncle Junior’s ribs taste like he put a little brown sugar, paprika, and the essence of love, freedom and truth in the sauce. I’ve licked my fingers so much, I’m pretty sure I no longer have fingerprints.
I still got my cup, though. I didn’t even drop it when I was doing the Electric Slide, and it’s not easy to do the Electric Slide on grass. Especially when you’re the only one doing it … because they’re playing “Wobble.”
This cookout is fun as hell! I’ll never miss this again! I think I’m gonna go play some dominoes. James thinks he’s a domino wizard, but he doesn’t know I was quite the domino player in my college years.
5:14 p.m.: The domino game is over. I think something is wrong with those dominoes. It turns out, James is pretty good at bones, too. He didn’t have to call me a bitch, though.
6 p.m.: I just met Lakeisha, but—as Uncle Junior warned me—I didn’t look her in the eyes, which wasn’t that hard, with those shorts she was wearing. She is fine, though. Rumor has it that every year she meets a new boyfriend at the Fourth of July cookout and breaks his heart by Labor Day. Not me, though.
My cup is getting empty; let me go find Uncle Junior.
7 p.m.: I think I’m gonna sit here and play with the kids for a while. James’ son wants to play Uno. That sounds like fun. When I was his age I was quite the Uno player.
7:12 p.m.: I didn’t know you could stack Draw Twos like that. Plus, I’m pretty sure James Jr. had all the Draw Fours. Oh, well. It's just a kids game and I still have my cup. He didn’t have to call me a bitch, though.
8 p.m.: I think Lakeisha is giving me the eye. Wait—does that mean I looked her in the eyes? Man, I don’t believe in Uncle Junior’s silly superstitions anyway. Except, I did see him start a fire with his eyes.
I know I’ve had quite a few drinks, but I think I just listened to a heated argument between all the cousins about who would win in an MMA match between Serena Williams and Steph Curry. They were serious about it, too. They even went to the internet to find out who would have the reach advantage.
My money is on Serena. She’s so thick that every time Steph got her in a jujitsu move, his mind would start to wander and she would punch him in his light-skinned.
9 p.m.: Man, this has been the greatest cookout ever! Uncle Junior is dancing with Aunt Jannie Mae. James is trying to get me to play Connect Four, but I’m about to go get my plate of tater salad and leave. Plus, I don’t feel like being called a bitch again.
Oh, don’t worry about me being too drunk to drive.
My girlfriend Lakeisha will take me home.