Thanksgiving Survival Guide

When novelist Thomas Wolfe first uttered that pithy little catch-phrase, "You can't go home again," bet the ranch he had yams and giblets on his breath.Most likely he just went postal from the verbal pelting he took about his personal life all through Thanksgiving dinner -- when are you going to buy a decent suit, get a haircut, find a girl, settle down, raise a family, get an honest job -- on and on until finally, with half a slice of mincemeat pie still in front of him, he slams down his fork and stomps out the door into the yard for a smoke, all the while wondering how in the name of everything that's holy he can be related to these jabbering nutjobs.Family friction is a cherished Thanksgiving tradition, just like the ritualized unbuttoning of the post-dinner pants. It was always thus. At that very first sumptuous feast, no doubt some pilgrim harangued his kid about the sinful habit of lying abed even as the sun doth rise in the east, while Indian parents grunted their agreement.Family and food, hearth and home, it all looks super swell in a Norman Rockwell painting or in one of those fuzzy holiday Hallmark/Folgers/Chevy/Summer's Eve commercials. But in the real world we're all just trying to catch the last chopper out of Dysfunction Junction, with a few shards of sanity left. When returning home this Thanksgiving, follow these simple steps to reduce your stress to a tolerable level. Clumps of hair may still fall out, but perhaps the capillaries in your eyeballs won't burst like last year, which is what convinced Gramma that you were shooting up the reefer, like those hooligans she saw on Rikki Lake.Don't try to fight the past. Accept that your role in the family pecking order was defined long ago, probably by some humiliating childhood incident. Just because you're a rising star in a major software design company with a Benz, a summer home on the lake and a stock portfolio that would make Donald Trump slobber with lust, cuts no ice in the cozy familial confines. Here you'll always be affectionately known as 'Barky' because you got busted eating out of the dog bowl when you were three. Deal with it.And don't squawk when you're ushered to your usual seat at the card table in the kitchen, where you battle some pre-pubescent Spice Girl cousin for elbow space. Dining room slots with mahogany straight back chairs, the good china, a gravy boat, real silverware instead of chopsticks and a plastic spork, glasses without cartoon characters, the whole magilla, are as coveted as getting to ride shotgun in the Popemobile. The only time seating assignments get shuffled is after a rash of births or deaths. It's the circle of life. Hakuna matata. Steer clear of controversial topics, like stuffing. If you compliment Aunt Patty's, by inference, you are implying that Aunt JoJo's was a tad dry last Thanksgiving. Now you've torn the scab off a seething blood feud that erupted in 1956 when someone didn't return someone's charm bracelet even though someone swears she never touched the darn thing. You're better off trying to guide the conversation into less sensitive areas. Legalized prostitution, lowering the driving age to five, and a taxpayer funded program to resurrect and clone Hitler leap to mind. Use a little common sense. Don't engage in a no holds barred bout of Truth or Dare with your parents in the room. Don't feel compelled to show off any new piercings, tats, brandings, or other hipster accouterments no matter how well they were received at your last rave. Don't suggest that the volume of the football game be turned down so that you can give your new Marilyn Manson CD a spin. Most importantly, if you're returning to the fold, 30ish and still single, be prepared. Under these dire circumstances you're doomed to a lengthy and scathing interrogation. And not the straight forward Good Cop/Bad Cop scene familiar to all Starsky and Hutch aficionados. Alert and sober, maybe you can bob and weave your way through that kind of ordeal. Your particular case, which has been headline fodder in the Christmas newsletter for years, will energize the whole precinct. Everybody is going to want a piece of you. You'll be fending off questions and accusations from all corners; Good Cop, Bad Cop-in-Law, Just Want You to be Happy Cop, Would Never Dream of Prying Cop, This is All My Fault Cop, You're Breaking Your Mother's Heart Cop, I Wash My Hands of You Cop, Don't Turn Out Like Your Cousin Sidney, I Mean Sylvia, Cop, What Have I Done to Make You Hate Me Cop, etc.That's why you should not walk through the door without qualified legal representation. A seasoned attorney can keep you from incriminating yourself. They can object to a line of questioning as irrelevant, limit the scope of the inquiry, ask for a postponement till next Thanksgiving, and even help out with the dishes. Of course, top lawyers can cost $400 an hour. If you can't afford an attorney, ask your family. They'll loan you the dough. After all, that's what families are for.


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