23.11.11

T-day Revisited: A True Tale of Thanksgiving Horror That Actually Wasn't That Horrific, But Everyone Laughed and Scratched Their Heads

Oh, you're gonna feel that tomorrow.

This is longish, but well worth it, so stop griping.

Most holidays are taken for granted, their meanings lost to the currents. When Da-da was a kid, Thanksgiving was a time filled with sloth, food, football, overweight relatives, general unconsciousness... your basic Senate subcommittee meeting. These harbingers presaged the coming of winter, the endless chopping and stacking and hauling of wood, and the prospect of bless├ęd snow days.

For the longest time, Da-da saw T-day as just another day to goof off. He’d read the skewed pilgrim stories, laugh at their funny hats and square-buckled shoes, make turkey noises until something was thrown at me -- usu. one of the deadly ninja cats -- and revel not only in the way jellied cranberry sauce mystically took the shape of the can, but also in how far and how fast a puck of this material could defeat a feline ninja before centripetal force or ninja cat claws tore it apart. However, the true nature of the event wasn’t brought into clear relief until Da-da was a junior in college.

Picture a blustery, leaf-strewn Wednesday before T-Day on a college campus. A younger, thinner version of Da-da with infinitely more hair and energy and sex appeal... and about 10,000 other positive things that have since vanished... schlepped across campus, enjoying the relaxed solitude of emptiness. Da-da was literally one of ten people left at school, the rest of the student population having the presence of mind to respectfully DITCH and head home for the holidays. Da-da stayed, as he had a Spanish exam the next Monday, and was still pronouncing virtually all the L’s in “tortilla.” Besides that, Da-da's Spanish class was an educational anomaly he simply couldn’t miss.

No one believes Da-da when he tells this story, but it's 100% true.

The instructor of Da-da's Spanish class, Dr. Liu, was Chinese and spoke no English, only Mandarin and Cantonese and Spanish (only!).  He’d never been to the U.S. before and was hired through the mail. When he was delayed for three weeks at the beginning of the semester (with visa troubles), the class was warned about his untested nature and offered seats in other classes, as the administration had no idea what to expect. Da-da stuck around because he was certain it would be entertaining. Da-da was so right.

Dr. Liu had no clue what the United States was like (hello? we're not that united), any more than Da-da would about China from books and TV (Da-da's since been to Asia several times), so poor Dr. Liu was thoroughly unprepared to find a whopping THREE students in a class of 200 that pre-Thanksgiving Day Wednesday. The faithful few sat staring at each other while the wind howled outside.

Flabbergasted at the dearth of student bodies, Dr. Liu queried us in his very broken English (it was all he could do, as we spoke no useful Spanish): “Ah, where... ever-body... go?”

He pointed at all the empty desks, to the cold world outside.

Da-da and his classmates shrugged, assuming everyone else took the day off before Thanksgiving. To Dr. Liu, we must’ve seemed like survivors of some horrible plague.

The one hardcore surfer-dude in the class (the LAST person Da-da expected to show up), shrugged and answered: “It’s Thanksgiving, dude. They ditched.” This meant nothing to Dr. Liu, as he could barely understand us anyway, slang notwithstanding.

He nodded in mock comprehension, “Ah, bitched." he said and got a small giggle. "What ‘Thanksgiving’?” he asked.

We stared at each another. Da-da drew a blank and suddenly felt like an idiot. At that stage of his student career, he was still a simple assemblage of 3rd-order differential equations and chaos theory. Thanksgiving? No idea.

The other person in the class, a dopey girl (who later went on to win a Pulitzer, go figure) answered: “Thanksgiving! You know, that’s when we get together and stuff things up the turkey’s butt!”

Da-da goggled at her. Pulitzer, indeed. Before Da-da could say anything, poor Dr. Liu nodded.

“Ahhhh, up turkey’s buutt,” he said, as if that settled everything.

“Yeah, and I ride my skateboard, dude!” surfer-dude added, following some phantom conversation somewhere south of comprehension.

Dr. Liu nodded: “Ahhh, skaebordoood.”

Da-da was feeling pretty skaebordood himself at that point, so he approached Dr. Liu and asked for his Spanish dictionary. He conjured the only word for turkey he could find -- “Turquia,” which really means the COUNTRY of Turkey. Da-da then proudly stated in Spanish that we eat the country of Turkey once a year. Dr. Liu stared at me.

Da-da then looked up “Pilgrim,” and blurted out “Peregrino!” More staring. Yeah, that’s it. We eat the Turkish people who are making pilgrimages. Bueno, tonto.

Pulitzer-girl chimed in: “It’s when we give thanks. Muchas gracias!” This led to an enthusiatic chorus of “muchas gracias” from the gringoes assembled.

Surfer-dude clarified: “Dude. It’s when we EAT... COMER... the turkey’s butt. RUMPO! Comida! Valle con Dios!”

Dr. Liu puzzled all this, and finally came to the disturbing realization that he was knee-deep in a weird, depopulated American zombie ritual where the dumb are left behind while the rest eat the flesh of the living. So we did, venturing to the cafeteria to snag the last helpings of corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, canned cranberry sauce, maple-syrup-laced pumpkin pie -- and, of course, the roasted country of Turkey (which we all pointed to excitedly). Dr. Liu had never seen a turkey, let alone any of the other strange food.

It occurred to Da-da then that this was probably what happened to the out-of-the-box Native Americans as they tried to communicate with the stuck-in-the-box Pilgrims. They simply showed them what was good to eat in the area: corn, cranberries, maple syrup, pumpkins -- and the ubiquitous wild turkey. (Potatoes came from South America, Gertrude.)

And like Da-da's forefathers and the Native Americans, at the end of the meal we all gave thanks, just as they did... that is, for the day being over, and the joy of living through it. Happy T-day, everyone.

Here kitty kitty... cranberry blob is hungry.

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