Friday, November 28, 2008

Of Cioppino Over Turkey, Long Hikes, Solitude, and Movie Dates with Oneself

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- I'm not a Thanksgiving guy. Haven't been for some time.

The simple truth of it is, well, I quit looking at the holiday as anything more than a day off long ago because, well, when your family has spent so many years spread out all over one gigantic continent, it ceases to hold any other importance.

Back on the ol' family farm, back when I was a kid, the day meant something: mornings full of deer and squirrel hunting, afternoon meals with every second- and third-cousin within 200 miles, afternoon football games in the apple grove. But I'm no longer a kid, the farm's long gone, and the bastard we sold it to cut down the grove to make room for his Arabians...

My family, for the most part, quit celebrating the holiday a few years ago. My mother, in fact, had a monumental revelation: she's never liked spending all day cooking while everyone else lounges around, doing nothing and waiting to gorge.

This year, she and my father went to Denny's. Gotta love 24-7 roadside dining. Instead of some overblown feast, they went on a short vacation, just the two of them.

As for me, well, dating a few members of indigenous tribal organizations over the years, and a few foreigners to this country curious about why Americans drape themselves in ancient English Puritanism in the guise of Native American feast, probably hasn't helped, either.

* * * *

I do give thanks on Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong here.

I just prefer spending the day doing my own thing, alone.

This year, for instance, for my feast, I went for a culinary form of gratitude to the numerous immigrants who helped build this country, who've helped feed the world by coming to this often hostile land to raise fruit of the chaff and vine, pull fish from our coasts, and who helped better diversify America for the better - as opposed to those pesky religious nuts near Plymouth Rock, who came here to conquer for a damning White God as British exiles.

Rather than turkey - not being able to eat beef, well, turkey's already a staple of my diet - I went with a meal more fitting to a John Steinbeck novel than to a Cotton Mather sermon. Cioppino, a seafood stew originally developed by Italian fishermen along the wharves of 1800s San Francisco, seemed way more satisfying and spectacularly American to me than the usual dead bird and stuffing.

I put the seafood, broth, and veggies on to simmer over low heat shortly after breakfast, turned on the stereo, and cleaned the kitchen table to the sounds of The Knux and Positive K.

Trust me. My spending a family holiday in solitude is a good thing. Spares folks the embarrassment of having to watch me attempt to dance in a bathrobe.

* * * *

People often ask me if I ever, well, just shut up. I do, offline, tend to talk a lot. But in truth, I can go days without saying anything to another human being, without speaking a word. And I'm one of those people who revels in days like that, the solitude, the alone time...

Hell, I'm a loner.

While the immigrant stew simmered, I went for a seven-mile hike, watched all sorts of wonderful subtitles - for - my - uniligual - ass films I'd been meaning to see for years (from Srđan Dragojević's Bosnian War classic, Lepa Sela Lepo Gore, to Volker Schlöndorff's exploration of Nazism, Der Unhold, to Bruno Barreto's Brazilian political thriller, O Que É Isso, Companheiro?), before, finally, dining in workout sweats, in perfect, contemplative silence whilst reading last month's Harper's Magazine.

Completely alone.

Reminded me of those chilly November mornings as a kid on the farm, sitting in a tree stand, shotgun in hand, meditating on all sorts of adolescent things (mostly girls) and listening for the sounds of broken twigs and crunching leaves.

It was a perfect Thanksgiving, really.

At least by my standards.


"How do you do it?" she asked. "How the hell do you cope with being alone on Thanksgiving?"

This was her first holiday away from her family and, despite spending Turkey Day with a friend's family, she felt so horribly, miserably alone. She couldn't afford the plane ticket home, couldn't afford to miss what could be the biggest opportunity of her life.

Her first big photo shoot in two years, scheduled the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Fate is sometimes nothing more than a tiny plate of food during someone else's feast. Not that she needs to lose weight.

"Well," I typed back, "I kinda like the peace and quiet. Life's too hectic not to have some downtime from the world."

"You're one of the strangest people I've ever met, you know that? It's kinda cute but, dude, hella freaky sometimes to read about."

She told me she still had my cell number in her phone, that she'd been trying to call me all day. It was then that I realized that, yes, indeed my phone was off and there were quite a few missed calls logged in the damnable thing.

Without missing a beat, I cleared my throat and waited for an incoming call. I guess I am a strange dude - for a moment I'm actually annoyed that a hot (chica, you know you are) fashion model is bothering my solitude, wanting to call and chat and have somebody other than her roommate's cat to keep her company...

"Happy Thanksgiving, Jason! Haha, thought you wouldn't really answer."

Call me an asshole, but I almost didn't.

- # # # -


Dan said...

When I was younger and living outside the friendly of New England, I spent a couple of Thanksgivings in solitude. Never bothered me - I looked at it as an opportunity to recover from a hangover and do some reading.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that Thanksgiving with my family is rather on its way out. The people (somewhat relativish) we visit are all rather aged (between 85 and 92), my sister has her own little family and they had her husband's family over this year, and I'm contemplating moving to a coast (don't ask me which), which would make travel back here to the middle of nowhere more than once per year almost impossible.

Everyone talks about the food at Thanksgiving, and while it is good, it isn't anything particularly special. I prefer just to see the people. Which made last year's Christmas (on Dad's side) so nice . . . we all went to a nice restaurant and bribed the chef into making us non-menu food :)

Anonymous said...

My Thanksgiving was punctuated by members of my extended family getting into an alcohol fueled argument that sent pieces of their dinner flying.

... I'm thinking a dinner for two is the way to go.