When I moved to Santa Fe to live with my boyfriend, I already knew he was eccentric. That's one of the things I liked best about him. We were both on the verge of turning 28 and, while we thought of ourselves and our friends as realists, actually we were jaded, black-humored, world-weary ex-hippies. The year was 1981. We'd lost one of our most original, iconoclastic icons, John Lennon, that past December; now a B-movie actor none of us had voted for reigned as president and, in short, all hope seemed virtually dead in the water.
Michael was the only child of German Jewish refugees who'd escaped just before the war. Now exiled in Queens, his parents were supremely disdainful of this crass, inferior country. Once inside their house, you'd swear you'd just been transported back to the Old Country. Everything from the coffee kuchen served on his grandmother's dishes to the little whisk brush and pan used for sweeping the tablecloth of crumbs was ***image1***from Germany. How his family dealt with all things American, including holidays, was by simply ignoring them.
Nothing for Michael was sacred. Even his own history. Especially his own history. Thanksgiving didn't even register on his radar screen-he'd just get take-out at Colonel Sanders-and when I brought it up that first fall, he initially balked. Thanksgiving was bourgeois! It was phony! It was for white people!
Aww, calm down, I'd like to report that I said, although, in reality, I couldn't even argue, I just broke down and bawled. Missing out, pretending a holiday is just another old humdrum day, is my personal idea of hell.
After pacing up and down the room, gesticulating and ranting, he collapsed in a chair, saying, "Well. Maybe we could just have some friends over." I said, "Oh, yeah-I didn't mean some big formal deal." "OK," he said. "I guess I could hack that." "It might even be fun," I added. He shot me a dark look and I knew I was pushing my luck.
But as the time grew near, he actually warmed to the idea and, like any recent convert, Michael took the concept and went way overboard with it. He cashed the birthday check his parents sent him, went to Albertson's and bought not one turkey but two, the biggest he could find. Then, everywhere he went for the next few days, he cavalierly tossed out verbal invitations to everybody he ran into, even the merest of acquaintances ("and bring a friend!"), even people who already had other plans ("So come before. Or after!").
My mother gave me turkey instructions over the phone. Our friend Joel volunteered to cook the second one and, every few hours, we'd have "turkey consultation" calls, anxiously peering into our respective ovens.
We had no idea how many people would actually show up-Michael lost track of who he'd asked after around 50-so we shoved our two desks-made-from-doors together to make one giant plank table down the middle of the living room, which (showing a little German in spite of himself) Michael covered with white sheets. Initially, the guests arrived a few at a time (Joel, proudly bearing his turkey; Kevin, his homemade chestnut soup; Norm and Cindy, bringing huge bagsful of potatoes that we all hunkered together in the kitchen to peel, with the help of recreational drugs they'd also thoughtfully provided). Then it was a giant, seemingly endless deluge, a mob, everyone presenting something-salads big and small, pearled onions, three varieties of cranberry sauce, that foil-wrapped Albertson's French bread, red chile enchiladas, pumpkin and mincemeat pies, every kind of beverage ever invented.
We ate whatever anyone brought in no particular order-Gimme some more of that pie, hogboy, before there's none left. Quit bogartin' that turkey. It was mass chaos-when the table filled up, people camped against kitchen counters or on the bed, Bruce Springsteen blaring from the corner, my cats hiding under the back porch. And, as each new person showed up at the door, some a little tentative, maybe not knowing everybody there, maybe just a bit intimidated by the sheer numbers of us spilling out the sides of the tiny apartment, Michael, our exuberant host, threw his arm around them and found friends for them to hang with. Some just politely nibbled a couple of things and beat a hasty retreat. Most of us, though, were reluctant to call it quits. We hung on till long after midnight.
And the next morning, standing rapturously in the light of the open refrigerator, Michael was introduced to another reason for celebrating Thanksgiving: leftovers.