Everybody wanted to be the authority on lust. At first, we voted for a guy about 15 minutes younger than the Roman Empire, but he confessed the honor didn't befit him these days. Billy Wright is as generous and loyal as a well-fed puppy, and in ordinary times he believes politicians are a type of tree lice. His exceptions are politicians who do him favors or promise to. He is defending one of these now. ...

"Now, now, now! He changed the zoning on that building because of what? You ever seen the beams in there? They don't make that kinda wood anymore. ..."

"Did God just decide he was tired of making that sorta tree?" someone asked.

"I don't know about that," Billy said. "I only know he promised to get my street fixed so he got my vote."

Some are thinking about voting because this is election night. But most folks are thinking about barbecue ribs because we are all outside eating without knives or forks and it seldom gets better than that. There are Michael and Al and Jerry and Chris and Tracey and a young woman who owned legs thick with promise and a skirt so short you had to make an oath to yourself not to stare plenty when she sat down. Plus a couple of other names lost to the night. ...

All were slurping Amstel and taking on these rib bones like Rhodesian Ridgebacks. On one corner of the deck sat a muted TV turned to the election results.

"I don't need any sound on the TV," claimed Michael. "I watch every night after my wife goes to sleep with no sound. I've learned how to read lips. Say, anybody watch CHEATERS?"

"Read my lips," urged Billy before mouthing a popular expletive. "Didja know God offered Michael's ancestor the chance to be Father of Mankind before Adam? But he wouldn't give up a rib."

Michael ignored him in favor of an Amstel, so Billy shifted gears. "Say, remember the Seven Deadly Sins. They in the Bible somewhere or they used to be. Anyways, I'll bet around this table we have experts in each of the Seven. Why don't we each take turns defending our sin? Or describe why it's the toughest sin to overcome."

Around the table, people started perking up to the possibility that the evening might actually turn interesting at least for a short while. They pushed their bones to the center of the table, where they piled up like a major archaeological site.

"Let's start with gluttony," suggested Billy Wright. "In honor of all the ribs who have perished here tonight."

(From now on, I will refer to everyone by an alphabetical letter. I do this out of friendship and also because several friends threatened me with maiming.)

"Gluttony is hard to overcome," declared X. "Because everything in life is tied in with the conquest of hunger. And we gotta do it every few hours. You might be horny, but you ain't gonna be tempted five or six times a day or however many times you eat."

"Speak for yourself, fat stuff," urged a lusty sort.

"Anyhow, I think gluttony's only a sin where there is a shortage of food," X went on patiently. "But in a world of all-you-can-eat buffets, is not anorexia the greater sin?"

"OK, let's move on. What about the sister sin to gluttony, drunkenness? Now we got plenty of contenders for this one. But only one champion. I'd have to say that anyone who brings a flask of mojitos to their first mandatory class after a DWI arrest is the champ," quipped Short Skirt.

"Guilty," admitted Y. "But quitting booze is a snap. I done it hundreds of times. Know how I could do it for good? I met this federal judge at a suite in the Superdome. I begged him to bring back Quaaludes. I told him I'd quit drinking tomorrow if I could get 'ludes. My poor liver begs you for a simple switch! Ah, mamma mia! Two Quaaludes'd make Mother Theresa visit a strip club."

"If you had got in pharmaceutical sales, you'd been a rich man," guessed a bystander.

"For true?" asked Y. "Well, I probably shouldna talked to the federal judge. But you know, the suite had an open bar and my mouth got fulla words."

Talk next moved to the sin of cheapness. There was first a brief theological dispute over whether this was one of the Seven Deadly Sins or even a sin at all, but Billy insisted there was and the fancy name was "avarice." Finally, we all agreed that if cheapness wasn't a sin, it should be and the "expert" had left the party early.

"He had a Dorignac bag with him, fulla ribs and four beers. Something for Sunday," someone reported.

"He pulls his clothes out of a St. Vincent de Paul box," someone else chipped in.

"He's got this big ole pest strip, it's been up since the storm. It's got flies, hundreds of 'em stuck on the damn thing. I say something about it, he says it's still good, they good for a year," a third witness chimed in. "And he's fruit for them coupons, he clips coupons all day long. Remember that red coat he usta wear all the time? That was coupons. But he got junk he never used. He got this big ole tent and he don't even go camping. He talked his kid's Scout troop into putting it up in his yard, and he spends the night sometimes."

Pride was then discussed, favorite of the Devil Hisself. The popular choice was a young brunette, who quickly took umbrage.

"You people are crazy," the brunette pouted. "Why, humility's one of my strong suits and always has been. Ask my parents." Her husband laughed and the brunette kicked him in the lower leg and kept kicking him. "I think we have the early favorite for the sin of anger," said Billy,

Everybody wanted to be the authority on lust. At first, we voted for a guy about 15 minutes younger than the Roman Empire, but he confessed the honor didn't befit him these days. The eventual winner said, "There are people -- you have met them even if you don't realize it yet -- who insist love is particular while lust is general, but I'm not at all certain. I think that lust can be pretty damn specific, at least the way I practice it."

Around then, the Amstels and the hour began to slow things down. Someone said that we hadn't discussed murder as one of the Seven Deadly Sins and someone else mentioned bestiality. The Short Skirt woman said in our little group, surely no one had an experience with such a deviant.

Billy Wright picked up a discarded bone and began a close reinspection. After a while, he set it down and asked sweetly:

"Do cousins count?"