Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, or as my family likes to refer to the end of the year holiday lineup, “One down, one to go.”
I needed a little heat and insanity for this one and so I flew to Bedford Falls, Florida for the weekend to see my folks. For those unfamiliar with Bedford Falls, let me explain that it is on the gulf coast, below Alabama, above Cuba, near saltwater, lined with palm trees, and possessed, as many of the westside seaports are, with a balmy, lazy eccentricity that mingles inextricably with the warm air. It’s on your skin and up your nose and in your mouth and down into your lungs and in your bloodstream. There is no way around it. You inhale it and you exhale it.
I am an only child, thus our immediate family unit, if we choose, can be quite small. There are aunts, uncles, and cousins abound, but, like a Russian doll, we can collapse ourselves into a tiny little seedling of our full potential. We decided this year that Christmas was going to be the big get-together. Thanksgiving would be only us. The smallest “us” possible. I even got permission to bring my dog with me. She is a pug. She rarely complains, will eat any leftovers, and snores slightly less than the average drunkard. My mom picked us up at the airport, happy to have avoided, at least for the time being, the usual holiday headaches that go along with big groups of people. Little did we know that my mom was going to get our tight little family unit into big trouble, accidentally, with a text message that she said was only meant to be funny.
Although my mom can manage the occasional quip, she doesn’t have the chops for written humor. She tends to forget the most important rule…Know Your Audience. She had sent a silly Thanksgiving text blast to the old girls from her weekly card game that went something like this…
“Happy Thanksgiving. What time is dinner? LOL.”
Most everyone had taken the message for a joke. Everyone, that is, except Bonnie. Now Bonnie is an entirely maladjusted screwball, sun-drenched, with an impressive collection of ex-husbands, prescription psychotropic drugs, debt, big houses, errant children, paranoid beliefs, and sensitivities toward her friends and her enemies, both of which are interchangeable and constantly shifting in an effort to control her own image and influence. My mom describes Bonnie as “small doses.”
Wrong message for the wrong person as it turns out, since Bonnie misinterpreted the “LOL” as “Lots Of Love,” misinterpreted the question “What time is dinner?” as a formal declaration of our imminent arrival and insisted, in a string of strongly worded texts back, that we HAD to stop by. Just HAD to. We HAD to. There were already plates set out for us, not the finery of her normal soirees, but this was short notice, after all, a minor imposition but she would make do, she always did, and she wouldn’t hear another word of it… we HAD to show up. We had had the audacity to invite ourselves to dinner. Now we had to be there. That was it. Even my pug grumbled.
We arrived to a teeming house filled with a dozen loosely connected families, overlapping circles of clan, brood, and kin. The first thing I noticed as we pulled into a crowded driveway was a droopy man who looked to be about eighty years old, shirtless, in cut-off jeans, sandals and black socks, walking along the clay tiled roof above, a roof three stories high and of such a steep pitch that it defied all physical laws for him not to be in the middle of a fatal fall that would break every rickety bone in his body. Then I figured that the whole stunt was so dangerous and insane that the man had to know what he was doing, right down to his black socks and sandals. He inched his way toward the highest gable to where a big satellite was mounted.
Inside the house tiny children squealed through the rooms. My pug ran for her life as the kids tried to catch her by her curled tail. Teenagers were draped everywhere, staring into the eternity of their phones. The adults were heavy into the wine and liquor as they set about piling food on a stretch of table more suited for some medieval banquet during the reign of King Arthur. I was introduced around. I learned and forgot names in an instant. “Who are you? Where do you live?” they asked me in a tone that was partially friendly and partially accusatory.
I mentioned the old man on the roof but they just waved me off, told me it was Grandpa Ned, and that he was always up to something, the kook.
Everybody ate fast. The food was devoured. Thanksgiving dinners, in this modern age and for some modern people, seem to be more a necessary preparation for battle in the arena of dangerous missions known as Black Friday shopping, which now apparently starts Thursday afternoon. And so it went with this household as they cleaned their plates, put on their war paint and armed themselves with mace, tasers, potato launchers and stun guns to go find serious deals on obscure Christmas gifts, of which the most valuable this year, I was to find out, were “hatch-imals.” A “hatch-imal,” one kid explained to me, is a big egg that contains a surprise animal, although I’m not sure if it is relegated to animals that actually produce eggs like birds, reptiles and fish. It didn’t matter. They were heading out for big savings and rare deals and failure was not an option! They would capture a hatch-imal like it was the head of Chiang Kai-shek. One of the intolerant uncles demanded to know where everybody was going.
“It’s Black Friday.”
“It’s Thanksgiving!” he bellowed.
“It’s Black Thursday Afternoon.”
The man threw his hands in the air and said, “Geez, they’ve got the whole month of February. Now they are taking over Thanksgiving.” He stalked away, grumbling.
The first convoy of shoppers left. The house was like an army outpost dispatching units of highly trained soldiers to scout and engage. I found a decent bottle of wine and waved off invitations to go along on the shopping trip. This was war, they said, but I could come along as a journalist or war correspondent.
“It used to be that journalists were off limits,” I said. “Nowadays they cut your head off.”
While we were waiting for the first wave to arrive back a woman staggered up to me, bleary-eyed. She marveled at how tall I had gotten and how long it had been. She gave me a strangely intimate kiss on the lips and whispered things hadn’t been going so well between her and my uncle. My mom gave me a look from across the room like who was that? I gave her a look like I think her name is get me the fuck out of here.
We watched as the first convoy arrived back. There were many wounded. They had been to one store where the prices were slashed, the tires were slashed, the arms and faces were slashed, a stampede had erupted, and luckily it had all been caught on video phone, so years from now aliens could watch how stupid we had all been in the lead-up to destruction. One woman with her leg bent to the side in an unnatural position was clutching a “hatch-imal” box as we dragged her to safety.
“A broken bone is temporary. A hatch-imal is forever,” she gasped before slipping into unconsciousness. While the rest of the household tended to the wounded I sat back down and poured more wine. I added some to a bowl and gave a little to my pug, who was pretty fed up at trying to avoid a huge gang of rabid children. I realized I hadn’t even met Bonnie. Or maybe I had. It didn’t matter. Somewhere a smoke alarm went off. Another busload of wounded arrived. Something that looked like Grandpa Ned dropped past a nearby window. Both of us, dog and human, didn’t feel completely safe until our plane had departed. I ordered four screwdrivers for an hour-long flight. I offered some to my furry travel companion but she wanted no part of it. If this was Thanksgiving, her look suggested, I could stuff Christmas.
Here is a picture of a hungover pug.
More Alembics to come