When Paul, a 39-year-old marketing executive living outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, heads out to his backyard on the weekends to grill, do yard work, or relax in his double-wide hammock, he always wears the same outfit: cut-off jean shorts, sneakers, high socks, aviators, a yellow headband, and a white tank top that features the crazy-eyed face and oiled-up physique of Jean-Claude Van Damme from the 1988 classic punch ’em up Bloodsport. The outfit, Paul explains, helps him “sink into that summer feeling.” It reminds him of being a 25-year-old dipshit on the beaches of his native Long Island. He wears it for the laughs, but there’s something sincere about the sartorial choice.
“I started wearing it a few years ago as a joke. It made me and the kids laugh, made my wife cringe sarcastically, and, since we’d only recently moved in, initiated some friendly conversations with the neighbors,” explains Paul, who has two kids. “I love my yard and like being a bit weird in it.”
Paul gets two weeks of vacation time and even that gets eaten into by sick and, this being Michigan, snow days. Access to that summer feeling — the shades on, windows down, classic rock/rap turned up vibe — is limited. The yard uniform isn’t a dad joke. It’s a hat tip toward irresponsibility. For a matrix of hard to understand cultural reasons, Paul and many men like him get something resembling their groove back within the fenced confines of their own backyards.
We call it Big Deck Energy. It’s a thing of a beauty.
Big Deck Energy can and should be understood as a sub-genre of Big Dick Energy, the swag that has helped Pete Davidson date some of the world’s most eligible women and novelist Salman Rushdie date the rest. If big dick energy describes a sort of self-assurance typified by the confident eccentric, Big Deck Energy describes the confidence of a man in full control of his lawn. Big Deck Energy is the non-performative giving of zero shits beyond the dog turds near the bushes. Big Deck Energy is man boobs and 90’s rap and Narragansett for their own sake rather than as a performance. Big Deck Energy is nostalgia as activity and activity as awaiting the heat death of the Universe. It’s pointless and stupid and profoundly meaningful to many men, who feel it in their bones.
That dude in your neighborhood taking running leaps onto the slip n’ slide with his kids? He’s got Big Deck Energy. So, does that guy who throws the neighborhood pig roast. And the guy who suns himself on a towel in his backyard. But Big Deck Energy doesn’t always need to swing so visibly. The quieter guy who low-key has the best perennials on the block? Big Deck Energy. That dude who loves playing cornhole and the one who eats dinner in the back every summer night, regardless of the weather? Yep. Them, too.
Anyone can have Big Deck Energy. It’s not exclusively a guy thing, but it’s most common among suburban dads, who have the yards and a natural aptitude for self-indulgence. The very best of these men will volunteer, shirtless and unprompted, where to get the good mulch. Is this a fraternity? Perhaps, but one of care and conscience. You can’t yell at kids to get off the lawn and maintain Big Deck Energy.
“Sometimes I wear a pith helmet shorts when I’m cutting the grass, not to draw attention or for any other reason than that it makes me feel free — and it keeps the sun out of my eyes,” says Patrick, a father of two in suburban Ohio.
“It took me a few years to really get used to the idea of a backyard, honestly,” says Carlos, a born and bred New Yorker now living with his wife and two daughters in Connecticut. ”But it finally sunk in that this is our space. Now, I can go out in the back and inflate the goddamn pool, watch the kids splash around for hours, grill up dinner, find a private corner and take a whiz when I need to or whatever.”
Much like Paul, Carlos also has a preferred getup. It’s a tank top emblazoned with an image of Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, shorts, and, if he can help it, no shoes. “I’m not over the top or anything and I want to be a good neighbor but I also don’t care if anyone thinks I’m weird,” Carlos explains. “It’s mine. I love to grill. I love to play with my kids there. Sometimes, when my kids are napping, I lay in the kiddie pool, arms and legs over the sides, and drink a beer.”
As Carlos talks about this, his voice waivers a bit like he’s talking about falling in love or his grandmother’s cooking. He didn’t have a backyard growing up, only a fire escape. He’s happy his kids have a yard. He’s happy he has one, too.
There’s something intensely personal about Big Deck Energy, which offers men access to things lost and allows them to savor moments found. In essence, Carlos is describing stepping outside while dressed like an unsuccessful bike messenger, but there’s something much bigger there.
“I work hard. My wife works hard,” he says. “I seriously do not care about what anyone else thinks. If anyone has a problem with me half-naked in my swimsuit in my backyard, fuck ‘em.”