Tongmaster Written by Danny Katz
Steve was at the barbecue and Jeff 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. Jeff said the thin ones could use a turn, I said, "yeah I reckon the thin ones could use a turn", Steve said, "yeah they really need a turn" - it was a unanimous turning decision.

Steve 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. Kevin was passing us, he heard the siren song sizzle of the snags, the barbecue was calling, beckoning, Kevinmmm ...come. He stuck his head in and said, "any room?" We nodded and began the barbecue shuffle; Steve shuffled to the left, Jeff shuffled to the left, I shuffled to the left, Kevin slipped in beside me, we sipped our beer.

Now there were four of us staring at sausages, and Steve 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.

Gary 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 Kevin, we sipped our beer.

Five men, lots of sausages. Jeff 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. Gary 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.

Steve 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

... Until Steve got back from the toilet....

Thanks to the author of The Tong Master, Danny Katz, giving us permission to use the story on this web site.

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.

More articles and stories by Danny Katz can be found by clicking here.