The Last Thanksgiving

I dread Thanksgiving dinner with my family. It’s so embarrassing. I’m well into my forties, single, no real career to speak of, so I feel pretty pathetic. For me, the idea of going to my parents’ house for a family Thanksgiving dinner makes me want to fall on a knife. Or a sword. Or a pitchfork.

Literally every year, the day after Thanksgiving, I swear to myself I won’t show up at my parents’ house the following year. It’s all too overwhelming. Call me a coward. I spend the entire year trying to stay committed to my plan of not attending. In August, I sit around pontificating as to what impact my absence will have on the rest of the family. September, October, November, I am steadfast on not going to the family gathering. I even find the right people at various twelve step groups who tell me what I need to hear. They are big on avoiding family gatherings.

But I am assaulted with the standard barrage of persuasion from my siblings. They’ll manipulate me with the usual propaganda. “This might be the last year our parents are alive.” I always fall for that one. And: “The kids really want to see you.” Which they don’t. Maybe they did when they were younger and I played the role of the likeable crazy uncle, but now they are at the age when they are figuring out that I am a colossal loser. I suspect their parents inform them of my loser status in the car ride. I can hear the conversation:

“Daddy, what’s wrong with Uncle Jeff? Why doesn’t he have a girlfriend?”

“Well, sweetie, Uncle Jeff did a lot of acid in college. And he might be a homosexual.”

Or worse, my brother’s wife chimes in: “Honey, some men are simply not good with women, that’s all.”

Back to my plan of avoiding Thanksgiving dinner. Everything is good up until about a week before when some hidden hand nudges me onto a bus or a train or into a deranged relative’s car and off I am to the lovely Carmel, New York for Thanksgiving dinner.

This upcoming Thanksgiving looks particularly bad. All the basic ingredients for torture are there—once again, I’m single and once again I’m bracing for the usual frustrations of trying to convince my family that I’m in show business and a “writer.” And not gay. One year, I almost brought a peg-legged Hungarian woman with me for help on that front, but even she stood me up. Makes me think that I really need a girlfriend, if just for some legitimacy. I mean, if some kid went missing in my neighborhood, I’d be the prime candidate for the abductor—a forty something, single man who rents a room at the local Y? C’mon, that’s a no-brainer. It’s why I never go near playgrounds and prefer places with lots of cameras like Wal-Mart.

Also, as of recently, my mom has been footing the bill for my account. Is there anything more pathetic? I am sure she will bring it up, if not publicly, then behind my back. Maybe with my gossipy cousin Allen before dessert. I suppose she picks up the tab for my Internet dating because she still feels she can get grandkids out of my weak drug addled sperm. It’s particularly embarrassing because it puts me in the horrific situation of having to report to my “investor” on my progress. “Well, mom, the date went well. I made out with a 55-year-old Ukrainian woman!” To which my mom will rip, “You only made out?! You could not get a tit out?! I pay for your sister’s and she got felt up last night—she is kicking your ass.”

At least my father has mellowed over the years. There used to be a rule banning gravy on Thanksgiving, because my father hates gravy. No gravy on Thanksgiving?! I don’t even know why the rest of us couldn’t have it, some kind of sacrilege or something. That was until one year I liberally coated my turkey with ketchup. Everyone looked at me in utter disgust, but I justified, “Look it is way too dry and it needs something!” Since then and with the help of my sister’s prodding we’re allowed to bring our own gravy.

Nowadays my parents are on their own. When I visit, I try to look around for things that need to be done. But being the metro fag that I am, I’m not handy enough to fix what needs to be fixed. Even basic stuff like putting up their Christmas tree. My parents know I’m not handy but can assess my abilities and utilize me. On my short visits, they see me less as their son and more of an apparatus to move things, which is fine with me because I like to move things. They say, “Hey Jeff, glad you’re here. Now go in the basement, strap on that old rusty boiler to your back and drag it out to the curb so the garbage men will take it.” They think the garbage men will take anything. Put the space shuttle out there. If you put a flag at the end “they” will take it.

Luckily for my parents, they have Mike the handyman. This depresses me, because, in a very real way, they love Mike the handyman, far more than they should and this is shown in tangible ways. For instance, they are paying for Mike’s kids to go to summer camp, Mike is always a guest at any party and, here is the kicker, they have a picture of Mike’s kids on their refrigerator. Pictures of Mike the handyman’s kids are on my parents’ f’n refrigerator! Not me or my sister or brother but the handyman’s kids. Though I can’t say I blame them. He does what we don’t—he fixes sh-t.

This year, there are more dangers to fear at Thanksgiving. My parents bought a pair of remarkably hostile little Chihuahuas. They rein over the house and my parents even sneak them into restaurants and let them walk on the dining room table—at other people’s houses, not just their own. These dogs are nasty, vicious, little things whose bites are way worse than their barks. When they bite, they bite hard, usually breaking the skin. And they’re calculating. They’ll sit, perched on a nice pillow, waiting patiently for someone, usually a kid or elderly person, to take the bait and come over to pat them on the head. They’ll let them get in two or three pats and next thing you know, there’s blood spilled and a kid screaming, and the dogs start barking and running around. After all this, my parents won’t even blame the dogs. They’ll say something like, “If you don’t move so fast the dog won’t bite.”

At least this year I am showing up in relatively good health. A few years ago, a doctor prescribed me Ritalin to help me stay focused, more organized, productive and cleaner. The same drug that kids take and often abuse. I ate the entire bottle in three days. It was delicious. And it did make me more organized. In fact, I barricaded myself in my room for three weeks, paranoid, not answering the phone, spending most of the time alphabetizing my sock drawer. I went off the drug a few weeks before Thanksgiving but the damage was done. My bones were showing through my skin like I just got out of a prisoner of war camp. My entire family (20 people) sat around the table in absolute silence staring at me. Finally, my brother broached the delicate subject. “Ah, Jeff, have you lost some weight?”

“Yes,” I gloated, “almost 100 pounds. Could you pass the potatoes?”