How to Not Spend Thanksgiving

There is nothing like Thanksgiving dinner. Our spirits rise as the mouth-watering smell of roasting turkey wafts through the house, invoking happy memories of Thanksgivings past. As we gather around the table with our family and dear friends, a sense of communion fills us as we toast our health and fortune with glasses of fine wine, then joyously and gratefully partake of our meal. That is why this year and every year for the rest of my life I will spend Thanksgiving by myself at McDonald's, eating hamburgers next to forlorn strangers who talk to themselves and swat at invisible black bats circling their heads. Let me explain." You know," Sylvia mused on a lazy Sunday last autumn, "it would be nice to have Thanksgiving at our house this year." I yawned as I put down the newspaper. "Fine by me. Who do you want to invite?" Together, we cobbled a list: "There's your parents, my parents... " "...Your brother and his girlfriend..." "...Doris and Ed..." In a few short minutes, the guest list had grown to 26 names, later revised to 28 after my friend Keesler said he would be bringing along his house guests. A sit-down dinner for 28 guests requires planning. Tables, dishes, and other stuff must be rented or borrowed. Responsibilities must also be delegated: some guests are to bring wine, while others prepare side dishes. It was decided that my job would be the turkey. "Let's see," I muttered to myself, pecking at a calculator. "Allow 1 1/2 pounds per guest... 28 times 1.5.... OK, I'll need to order a 42-pound turkey. Aw heck, let's make it 45 pounds; folks always like to take home leftovers." I called the store that had advertised "organic" turkeys and placed my order. The clerk was so nice; she even had her supervisor confirm the size I wanted. The day before Thanksgiving was devoted to errands, including picking up the turkey. Apparently nobody wanted inorganic turkeys that year: the store was filled with grumbling customers, swarming before the counter like angry bees. I joined the line and watched as the workers shuttled poultry from freezer to counter. Much, much later it was my turn, and I gave my name to a frazzled young woman. She disappeared into the huge frozen food locker at the back of the store, the font from which all turkeys flow. Minutes passed. Behind me, the ever-growing line of people were shuffled impatiently. Then, from the swirling mist of the freezer stepped one of the largest men I have ever seen, 6 feet tall and easily the same distance around. In his arms he carried a turkey-thing the size of a 5-year-old child. A hush fell over the surly mob. Good Lord, I shuddered, where did they get this monster? Jurassic Park? He dropped it on the countertop, slightly denting the stainless steel. "Forty-five-point-two pounds," he grunted. "Good luck." With that, he turned and lumbered back to the land of the frost giants. "How are you going to cook that?" asked the woman behindme. "Well, in the oven, I suppose," I replied kindly, wondering if it was a trick question. "But... but... " she stammered on while they bagged my purchase. Far too large for the flimsy plastic bags that the other turkeys had left in, the behemoth was wrestled by two women into nylon webbing, the same sort of net used to load cargo ships. The mesh dug into my fingers as I dragged the creature back to the car. Swinging the block of turkey-ice like a pendulum, I kept just enough momentum to lurch across the parking lot. Already, I had come to regard the beast more as a deadly weapon than asfood. There should be a federally mandated five-day "cooling-off" period before citizens are allowed to handle something of this size. After carefully setting the turkey on my kitchen counter -- which had seemed so roomy the night before while mincing garlic -- I fell into a chair, exhausted, and stared at the thing. Other than a dog, there had never been an animal this large in my house. How long would it take to cook this monster, anyway? I grabbed the calculator. Twenty minutes per pound, plus another half hour for stuffing... 45 pounds divided by 3... my God, that's over 15 hours! I had to start cooking at 3 a.m.! And that's after it's thawed! I lunged for the phone and dialed Sylvia's office. "Call your parents; call everyone. Tell them we won't be eating until midnight." As she calmed me down, I tried to wedge the giant into the sink to thaw. It was far too large: only the top of the headless corpse fit, the fat legs sticking up in the air like frozen turkey-sicles. The bathtub! Carrying the dripping bird in my arms, I waddled through the house toward the bathroom. That's where Sylvia later found me: sitting on the edge of the tub, lovingly scrubbing the creature's overblown backside with tepid water. Somehow, it thawed and appeared in the oven in the middle of the night. I am not exactly clear how this happened; I have only vague and groggy memories of regularly changing the bathwater, preparing the stuffing, then shoveling the glop into the turkey's gaping maw.Our first guest appeared late that afternoon. "I was too busy to make my famous corn pudding," Aunt Hattie apologized, "so I brought wine instead Soon it our became apparent that all our other guests had also had busy days: the table held a bowl of mixed nuts, a Beenie-Weenie casserole, and 50 bottles of wine. Sylvia answered the door when Keesler and his house guests rang the bell, the last to arrive. Except for their differently colored jackets, Keesler's friends looked almost identical, with olive complexions and black, scrubby mustaches. "I am meeting you very pleased," one of them announced in a thick, unidentifiable accent. "Do you have guns?" "I am meeting you very pleased also," Sylvia answered diplomatically, "No." Pulling me aside in the kitchen, she whispered nervously, "They asked if we had guns." I found Keesler in the crowed and noisy living room, grazing in the nut bowl. He explained: "They celebrate holidays by shooting guns in the air. Everybody does over there." "But where's 'there'?" I asked. "What country are they from?" "I'm not really sure; I think it's near Poland or Greece. One of those countries that broke away diplomatically from the Soviet Union. I met them when I was in Europe on my vacation. They showed up last month and won't leave. Hey, you've got a spare bedroom maybe -- "No." I did not notice his friends again until I found one peeking into the oven. "What is this animal?" His face paled when I showed him the picture on the box of stuffing mix. "In my country, we have such creatures in a zoo." He wandered way, shaking his head sadly. From the living room, I heard the sound of breaking glass, followed by boisterous laughter "What's going on?" I asked Sylvia, as she dashed past me for the mop. "Aunt Hattie was holding her wine glass in her mouth and belly-dancing. Belly-jiggling, actually. Anyway, her dentures fell out. Is that turkey done yet? Everybody's plowed." I dunno -- what do you think?" I asked, poking at the mountain of turkey flesh. "Crank the oven up higher," she suggested, spinning the dial to 550. Things were not going well. Two hours past dinnertime, the turkey was still blushing-pink and the last dregs of wine had been poured and guzzled. Dispatched with a fistful of dollars collected from our happy guests, Keesler and his friends left to buy more. They returned with a dozen bottles of tequila. One of his pals grinned and said, "Is American drink, yes?" Sylvia turned to me angrily." That does it -- we're eating whether the turkey's done or not." But if it's not cooked, they could get sick," I protested. "They're so pickled that a rattlesnake wouldn't hurt 'em. Let's eat." So we gathered around the table with our woozy family and dear drunken friends, toasting our good health and fortune with brimming wine glasses of tequila, our plates heaped with semi-raw poultry and soggy stuffing. My arm was sore from 15 hours of basting and my head ached from lack of sleep. Still, I thought gratefully, this Thanksgiving has turned out OK, after all. At least, that's what I believed until the fistfight began.

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