Red Beans, Rice, and Teenage Stupidity

Parents of teenagers, it’s midsummer and there’s a decent chance your teenage children might be on the edge of driving you mad. Teenagers have a knack for that. However, I’m here to tell you it’s perfectly normal not only for you to feel like blowing your lid but for teenagers to act with head-scratching stupidity. This is particularly true in the summertime. School’s out, no need to use all the brain at any given time, right? 

This will pass. Teenagers and the inherent behavior that defies all logic passes. Trust me. Despite being considered an average, well-adjusted adult of almost 58 years by most of society’s standards, I was once deeply entrenched in the world of teenage stupidity.

I was reminded of this tonight when I opened the pantry door. Staring at me from eye level was a can of red beans next to a box of rice. It immediately took me back to the winter of 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school. I went out one Saturday night with two senior linemen from the football team, Bruce and Ivan. These two guys, along with the other offensive linemen from that previous fall, were my idols. Man, those guys could block like SOBs. I tried to emulate what they did and how they went about their business. They were big, athletic, smart, and ornery as hell. My kind of people.

On this particular Saturday night, there was nothing to do. It was one of those dark and cold Kansas winter nights where there’s not a whole hell of a lot going on. We drove around and hit all the hangout spots which, just a few months ago, would have been packed with high school kids celebrating beautiful autumn nights. Each hangout was abandoned to the frigid elements. Bruce said, “You know what we should do?” I looked at him skeptically. Ivan shook his head expecting something which may or may not end up getting us in trouble. “We should make red beans and rice.”

Ivan looked at him sideways and said with his Polish accent, “You mean like the New Orleans red beans and rice? Cajun food?”

“That’s the one.”

I had no clue what they were talking about. I’m from a large Irish/Croatian Catholic family and my dad was a meat and potatoes guy by nature. Italian food and tacos were about as exotic as the Hays family went.  Red beans and rice could have been from Mars and I wouldn’t have known any better. Being the youngest member of the trio, though, I was allowed to ask stupid questions. “Bruce, do you know how to make these red beans and rice?”

“Of course I do. How hard can it be? Red beans and rice. The recipe is right there in the name.”

I shrugged. Ivan shrugged. Sounded logical enough.

Bruce pulled into the nearest grocery store, hopped out of the car, and jogged through the frigid air to the front door. In a few minutes, the automatic door opened, and out he came carrying one brown paper grocery sack with a huge smile on his face. He tossed the sack onto my lap in the back seat. I looked inside. One box of rice and two cans of red beans. Bruce put the car in reverse. “I hope you boys are hungry.”

Now, when you’re hanging out with Bubbas, hunger level never needs to be asked or addressed. With Bubbas, hunger is assumed. With visions of a Cajun delicacy dancing through my head, we drove to Ivan’s house for culinary magic. A boring Saturday night just took a 180° turn for the better.

Bruce carefully measured the water to boil and Ivan took care of prepping the proper amounts of rice from the box. I was in charge of the red beans. Two cans. No problem. My can opener skills were well-honed from years of kitchen duty and the red beans were soon ready. The rice cooked on the stove as we talked with lame, southern Louisianan accents while watching puffs of steam occasionally rise from under the pot lid. 

Images of Mardi Gras, one of the few things I knew about New Orleans or Cajun life, danced in my head. A subzero winter night in Kansas City morphed into a parade down Bourbon Street. Now all we needed to complete the vibe was just about ready. Red beans and rice.

Bruce’s watch timer dinged and he dumped the red beans into the rice pot. He stirred and covered the pot again. “Ivan, get out the plates while these beans warm up.” 

With everything ready, healthy portions were dished out. Bruce took a bite. Ivan took a bite. I took a bite. There were no colorful dancers, no jazz bands, no beads being tossed. Instead of a Cajun flavor explosion, our red beans and rice tasted like a chunk of Bourbon Street pavement. Ugh. Not good. 

Our red beans and rice tasted exactly like red beans and white rice. Duh. Who knew a spicy, Cajun dish would actually need…spices? Idiots. 

I still enjoy a good laugh forty-plus years later thinking about this act of teenage stupidity. In the ensuing years, I’ve discovered how awesome authentic red beans and rice are, especially the red beans and rice they used to serve at the Hibachi Hut in Manhattan’s Aggieville. As far as making further attempts to cook red beans and rice, I’ll leave that to my wife, Zatarain’s, or professionals for now. Maybe one of these days, I’ll recover from youthful stupidity and give homemade red beans and rice a shot. With spices this time, for damn sure!

Parents with teenagers who are currently doing ridiculous things, take a deep breath. Count to ten. Smile at your teenage offspring and envision a day when they too will be productive adults. All things must pass. And remember, it’s perfectly normal to laugh hysterically on the inside as you visualize the possibility the ridiculous teenager standing in front of you attempting to explain some recent head-scratching behavior may one day have teenagers of their own. 

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