Outside magazine, June 1995
Most of my favorite outdoor parties have been interrupted by visits from the police, but these were mainly when I was in high school and evoke memories of trying to drink beer from kegs that had rolled down hills and trying to come up with enough money to bail our ride home out of jail. Today, somewhat wizened and sadly wiser, my alfresco fetes still have the same carefree spirit--they're just a little less likely to end with screeching sirens. So, for those whose carefully planned events haven't come off as hoped, I offer some advice on site, refreshment, and entertainment selection guaranteed to turn this summer's celebration into a happening.
"The raisins in the fruit salad are delicious."
"I didn't put any raisins in the fruit salad."
Food & Beverages
The meal that quickens the pulse (and thickens the arteries) of a true carnivore is the pig roast. You can rent pig roasters for $50-$75, while a full-size 160- to 180-pound pig feeds 100 people, costs about $2 a pound, and takes eight to ten hours. I once attended a pig roast on an Iowa farm where the porcine friends and family of the main course looked on through a barbed-wire fence not 30 feet away, the expression on their faces a combination of envy and dismay. I felt like I was trapped in a Gary Larson cartoon but took solace in knowing that the pigs would do the same to me but for the lack of opposable thumbs and ready cash.
If a pig roast is too much of a bother, dig a coal pit and make it BYOM. Corn on the cob should be cooked in the husk. Sponsor a barbecue sauce competition and give first prize to whichever guy's splattered apron makes him most resemble a Mafia hit victim. For authenticity, beer and pop should be stored either in old tin livestock water troughs or in the ice-filled back of a pickup truck.
Invite, in no particular order, a Dobro player, a banjo player, and an accordionist. Dobros, or resonator guitars, were designed in the twenties to be loud enough to play with big-band orchestras and were useful for about ten years, until electronic amplifiers were invented, after which Dobros were just loud. Banjos also carry over the roar of campfires and make interesting blue-and-green flames when tossed into them. Accordions melt rather nastily in a campfire, but they do keep wolves away--in recorded history, at any rate, no accordion player has ever been ripped apart by wolves, which some argue is proof that there is no God.
Fun & Games
7. Deep-woods golf. Pitch your shots over roots, under branches, into streams, and so on--in other words, the kind of golf most of us play on regulation courses.
6. Lawn darts. This sport was clearly invented by nine-year-old boys, but it's certainly a cut above knife-throwing. Be careful, though, or you'll exocculate yourself.
5. Bowling. Not English lawn bowling--use regulation balls and water-filled, quart-size soda bottles for pins. You can't put an eye out playing this game, though you can crush a skull.
4. Volleyball. Play until one side scores 21 points or until the first woman gets mad at a man for hogging the ball.
3. Bocce. First you throw out a little ball, and then you try to make a bigger ball land near it. It doesn't sound like much, but it's been amusing elderly Europeans for hundreds of years, perhaps because it's the only sport you can play with a glass of wine in one hand.
2. Croquet. A perfectly paced sport for a summer evening. Grandparents and grandchildren are evenly matched, and you get to feel like a character in an Edith Wharton novel to boot.
1. Fire gazing. After the coals have died down, throw on some scrap lumber, add charcoal starter and maybe a banjo, and kick back. It's no accident that, since the beginning of time, clans and tribes have finished their celebrations with a ritual fire. Grab a log to sit on, put your arms around your sweet one, and get Zoroastrian.
Pete Nelson, a devoted bacchanalian and longtime contributor to Outside, is the author of Marry Like a Man: An Essential Guide for Bridegrooms (Plume).