Barbecue Getty Images Entertainment/Brad Barket
By Chris Vespoli

AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.

Alas, summertime is finally here. And don’t let those egghead scientists tell you that summer doesn’t officially start until the equinox on June 21 — it’s after Memorial Day and you’ve already had to fire up the A/C unit that’s blocking the one window in your alley-locked, POW prison cell of an apartment. And what’s that familiar stench on every street corner? Hot garbage? Yep, smells like summer in the City to me.

Summer sun means summer fun, and it doesn’t get much more fun than a good ol’ American barbecue. From the very first drip of genitalia sweat running down the length of your thigh as you wait for the L train, you’ll be dreaming of sitting in a park somewhere with a burger and a beer (and if you’re vegan, telling people you’re vegan).

But as with everything, there is a downside: making conversation at these gatherings. When a chatty Cathy or Cal insists on stealing your attention away from meat and alcohol, try lobbing a few of these awkward conversation enders their way:


1. “You should come to my improv comedy show!”

Nothing sends someone whom you just met running quite like inviting them to watch you and five other strangers unfunny-ly flitter around on a stage in some dank black box theater at 11 p.m. on a weeknight. Take it from me, amateur comedy is social Kryptonite rivaled only by spoken-word poetry in terms of discomfort and futility. If for some reason they’re actually interested in going, tell them it’s in The Bronx, and watch them politely exit the conversation.

2. “Say what you will about Hitler, but…”

Finding any silver lining in the life of history’s most reviled perpetrator of mass genocide is always a guaranteed turn-off, even if you’re just remarking about his skills as a competent golfer. Now, I have no idea if Hitler was actually good at golfing, and neither do you in order for this particular conversation ender to work. You can literally say anything “positive” about Hitler; no person’s going to hang around long enough to challenge you on it.

3. “Those [name of minority group]…”

Keeping things in the wheelhouse of race, try putting the word “those” in front of names of minority groups when talking about them. The great thing about this is that you don’t actually have to say something racist for it to come off as very uncomfortable: “Let me tell ya, those blacks have some really great restaurants in this neighborhood.” … “You know, those Asians are some of the most loyal people I know.” Doesn’t sit well with you, does it? I guarantee it won’t sit well with the person with whom you’re speaking either.

4. “So, when did you accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and savior?”

Religion is one of those things that even the most pious of people sometimes feel weird talking about. After telling the person how much of an impact Jesus Christ has had on your life (true or not), just assume that they’re Christian and invite them to share their own experiences communing with the Lord. Then invite them to pray with you for good measure.

5. “Here’s something interesting I just learned about the human colon…”

Everyone hates “weird facts guy.” You know, the person who loves to expound on whatever nugget they heard on NPR or saw on a TED Talk or read under a fucking Snapple cap. The odder and less useful the information is, the better in this situation. I suggest going to barbecues having already researched a handful of pointless topics. And feel free to whip out your phone and fire up the Wikipedia app mid-conversation if you run out of material. The silence will give the other person the perfect opportunity to excuse themselves and grab another drink.

6. “A few more of these beers and these pants are coming right off.”

Speaking of booze, no one wants to risk being associated with the party guest who will most probably be a drunk mess by the end of the evening. They’ll become paranoid that they’ll be perceived as a shit show too by proxy, or perhaps fear they’ll inherit the responsibility of making sure your turnt-up ass gets home alright. The threat of unwanted nudity is a nice awkward touch, too. Please note, this might not be a turn-off to straight males if you’re a woman. In that case, make it clear that you’re looking for a serious relationship and throw out some clingy vibes.

7. [Point to the burger they’re eating] “Tell me, how long have you been satiating your blood lust by dining on the flesh of innocent creatures?”

As I alluded to before, there’s no bigger party pooper than a vocal vegan or vegetarian. Everyone is entitled to live how they want to live, until they start proselytizing about the inherent cruelty of carnivore culture. And don’t worry — masquerading as a veggie-hugger doesn’t mean you can’t eat meat at the barbecue. The only thing people hate more than a scenester is a hypocrite.

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