Popped Culture #6: Thanksgiving Edition

ONCE A MONTH or so, The Weeklings editors are each required to respond to a single cultural question in this wildly popular parlor game. Music, movies, television, books, dance, sex, sports, art, and death are all up for grabs. There are no correct answers, no political correctness allowed, and only one rule: sheer, brute honesty.

As always, please, no wagering.


What was your most embarrassing Thanksgiving moment ever?



There are two ways to learn a lesson — “the easy way and the stupid way,” a friend once told me. Although I had gone gaga over a certain curly-haired siren from Detroit, for the better part of a year, she had provided me with a bright, polychromatic panoply of signs that she did not feel the same way. To be fair, she did occasionally dangle the odd carrot, which would prove more than sufficient to distract me from the face-palming hopelessness of my folly. And so when she asked if I’d like to join her and her family for Thanksgiving dinner, I agreed, speculating that perhaps the tides were turning in my favor. The fact that she needed a ride and I had a car failed to raise any red flags. When we arrived at their home on Thanksgiving day, she quickly introduced me to her parents and as her brother walked into the room, she grabbed his arm and led him upstairs for a chat that took the better part of an hour and which undoubtedly centered on her own unrequited passions for a certain ex-boyfriend. I sat alone on the couch, watching the Detroit Lions kick the ever-loving shit out of my beloved Patriots (this was circa 2000, when they were still Super Bowl-free). My friend and her brother eventually emerged and the two proceeded to help with dinner, while I continued to sit on the couch, alone and unbothered. Mind you, we’re all essentially in the same room, but her brother — whom I’d never met — ignored me entirely. Finally, after another half hour or so, he walked over and extended his hand, muttered an introduction and hastily retreated. I was embarrassed and livid, stewing in putrid envy of everybody who got to spend Thanksgiving by themselves. The next day, my friend decided to stay another day in Michigan and simply take the train home, and so I threw on the Hank Williams 3-CD boxed set into my car stereo, pointed the car west, and got my ass back to Chicago as fast as my little Saturn would take me. It was not just the most embarrassing Thanksgiving, but possibly the worst holiday ever.



The time I bet on the Lions.



Aren’t all holidays basically embarrassing? Or certainly awkward? So I’ll share my best instead. Freshman year, high school. My entire family loaded into a van to drive six hundred miles to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving week. Did I want to come? I was shocked my mother even asked. I had a choice? The answer came like an epiphany: No, I think I’ll just stay here. Was this somehow blasphemous? Sad and lonesome? Like that episode where the Fonz made a sandwich in the garage on Christmas Day? Really, I assured my mother, I’ll be fine. I spent the week staying up half the night, sleeping til noon and blowing our stereo speakers blasting Iron Fist. On Thanksgiving Day I wolfed down two Totino’s Crisp Crust Three Cheese Party Pizzas, a family-sized sack of tater tots, four strawberry pop-tarts, half a box of Cocoa Pebbles and a six pack and a half of Dr. Pepper while watching all three Smokey & the Bandits back to back on HBO. Somewhere around the time Buford T. Justice chased the Fake Bandit through the transvestite motel, I mixed two shots of Dr. Tichenor’s into the Dr. Pepper. I’m not sure whether it was the 140 proof caffeine sugar cocktail or the sheer True Meaning & Spirit of the Holidays that overtook me but I stood on top of the snack bar and shouted This is the Greatest Thanksgiving Ever! Which I suppose was kinda my way of saying grace. My family? They returned two days later looking like they’d been shot out of a cannon and forced to march home through Somalia. Suddenly I felt wise, as if one of life’s grand secrets had been revealed. And very very thankful.





I moved to San Francisco in October 0f ’90 and the one person I knew I pretty much immediately stopped speaking to. My roommates all had family in the area but none thought to invite me for the holiday. Fair enough. We’d just met and I would have rolled my eyes and said no anyway, even though I secretly wanted to go. The apartment was a true shit-hole of the sort that no longer exists; orange carpet, linoleum, broken heater, appliances older than Jackie Gleason’s misogyny. It was on Capp Street at 24th, a corner known for Mexican gangs and affordable prostitutes. The price started at $10, which was quoted every time I left the house, with a backbeat like Hustle and Flow, tendollasuck tendollasuck tendollasuck. I woke up Thanksgiving morning, had a bowl of cereal, then bought a suitcase of Budweiser from the corner bodega. Popped the first one at kickoff, which on the West Coast is 10 a.m. Sometime later I found a yam in the fridge and made a yam sandwich. Two pieces of bread with yam smashed between. Then I rode my bike to the video arcade on Market Street and played Tempest for several hours. The New Century Theater was next door, a notoriously seedy peep show. There’s something about holiday flesh–turkeys soaked in gravy, pheasants suspended in aspic, hams glazed and punctured with cloves–that should never be associated with rolls of singles or a jaded reveal. I bummed a cigarette off a guy who also wasn’t going in, then went home, curled under the sleeping bag that doubled as my blanket, and played Meet The Residents over and over so insanely loud that the Rottweilers chained in the alley below became confused and actually stopped barking.





Where do I start? All Kabat Thanksgivings have the potential for ending up as the Ice Storm, given that the parent Kabats reside in a glass house in a ‘burb that looks like key parties should be happening there. In fact I’m sure key parties did happen in their burb (if not my parents’ home). So yeah… But the most embarrassing? I think when I nearly clobbered my nephew (18 years younger than me, mind) for his mindless support of Republicans. Everyone kept looking at my sisters expecting them to fight. Instead it was me and the neph. I think he was bating me saying John Kerry was pussy-whipped. I suppose you can insert your own punchline here. Or else your own punches…





Me and Turkey Day never really gelled. Especially where there’s in-laws involved. Always bad. But the absolutely most embarrassing, like whenever I think about them I still get a hot flash kind of embarrassing Thanksgivings I ever had were at my former in-laws’ funky old mansion in Massachusetts. Theirs was an extended family of serious showfolk, living together in one big fun compound. Every Thanksgiving they staged a variety show known as Thanksgiving Theater. This was no lark and a tap dance: after the kids wheedled their obligatory Annie songs, the adults got to it and the real show began. Then it became a total competition: the most outrageous skit won the night. Thanksgiving Idol. People came from all over to take part, rehearsed for weeks, dreaming of victory. My boyfriend, raised on this wacky tradition, was always a serious contender, and now I became his straight man. One year he staged a surprise marriage in front of everyone (including me), only it was to his ex-girlfriend so she wouldn’t be deported back to Japan. The audience roared. The next year he brought me on stage, got down on his knees (for theatrical effect), pulled out a spotlight-sized play ring and proposed to me in front of 75 people. Would have sucked to say No and I’m showfolk too, so I said yes. The audience cheered. Later I thought, did that just happen? A few years later he improvised a skit about censorship that involved lighting a just-published book of mine on fire, yelling Burn this evil tome! And the audience all just — stared — at me, genuinely concerned, because that was my book he just burned. I couldn’t exactly pitch a fit right there, so Showfolk me laughed it off. Then I ran to the bathroom and threw up my pumpkin pie.


Hmm. This is actually pretty tough. I don’t have the traditional family but I suppose I had traditional family Thanksgiving events. When I was younger it was a matter of traveling to someone’s house, eating, and pretending to give a shit about football. All that mattered to me (and still does) is seeing how many deviled eggs I could scarf down. That has pretty much been it, year in and year out. That is also a day for my M*A*S*H* marathons. Does that count as embarrassing?





I’ve got nothing here. I mean, I was raised in an Irish-Italian Catholic household so there were two things we could always count on: church every Sunday and a family meltdown on every major holiday. I can’t think of a Thanksgiving, at least from adolescence on, where someone wasn’t screaming at someone. Here’s the thing: it was always about something trivial, like a movie or book or that day’s political scandal. We saved the serious shit for more mundane occasions, family fights being nothing if not mundane (All happy families are alike, et cetera). Of course, it could be said that these ostensibly trivial flare-ups were tardy detonations of slights and angers that built up over time, maudlin librettos in search of an approving audience. I guess there was also the time, when I was seven or eight, that I made the mistake of having second helpings of my (Irish) grandmother’s Lemon Meringue pie (the first mistake was having the first helping) and puked all over the table. To this day everyone swears I had the flu. There was also the time I drank too much wine and passed out on the couch while everyone else was having coffee. And arguing. Oh wait, that’s every year. I guess what I should be most embarrassed about is that, as we’ve mellowed or grown or lost the edge that kept us younger, and Italian, and Irish, and Catholic, we no longer fight. Our family meals have become almost amicable; so much so that I kind of look forward to my sister’s grandkids puking up the pie I make in twenty or thirty years. That is, after all, tradition.




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