Los Angeles, CA
Despite my proclivities to wander around aimlessly, I have spent every Thanksgiving in New York City aside from three instances. That's a surprising stat as I approach four decades on this planet.
In the late 1990s, I spent a Turkey Day in Seattle and another in Texas. When I lived in Seattle, I couldn't get the time off from work and when I was in Texas, I was too broke to fly back to New York, so I stayed put. My Seattle Turkey Day was strange indeed, which is what happens when you're friends with hippies and vegan hipsters. My friends had a vegetarian Thanksgiving, which meant zero meat products. I woke up that morning, went to the front of my house, fired up the BBQ, and got strange looks from my neighbors as I grilled up burgers on the morning of Thanksgiving before I headed to my first and only veggie Thanksgiving.
I spent the last five or six years on the road for poker, but I still managed to return to New York in November, even if it was just for a day or two. But sometimes, you have to alter tradition. For the first time in 10+ years, I skipped a NYC Thanksgiving.
I'm not going to bullshit you -- last year was a disaster in NY because my mother flipped out around 1pm (after she polished off 2/3rds of a bottle of Amaretto) and accused me of ruining Thanksgiving (even though it had only just begun) and the rest of the evening (and holiday weekend) was bloody awful. I ended up eating painkillers to dull the excruciating silence as my mother shunned me the rest of the day/night.
The worst part? I paid big bucks for that misery because airlines rape their customers during peak holidays, then toss in a couple of pricey cabs to/from JFK, and when I see that number flashing in my head, I get pissed because I could have used those funds to travel elsewhere or to fund Phish adventures. In addition to the hit in the wallet, I flew on the worst day of the year to fly -- the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I'm an expert traveler but the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, brings out the worst in people. Airports are flooded with amateur travelers and cheapskates trying to buck the system and not pay for checked luggage and they lug oversized bags as their carry-ons. I kept telling myself that the money and arduous travel was a small price to pay to see my family -- more specifically -- my brother. But when I was absolutely shit on by my mother for no reason whatsoever, she brought me to an easy decision -- no more Thanksgivings.
2010 had the added stress of TSA cock checks and radiation scans. Luckily, I made my decision to remain in California before any of that stuff really blew up. But if I were traveling, it would just be another layer of bullshit that I'd have to endure just to see my family and be ridiculed by my mother.
At some point, you have to make a stand. If my family were paying my flight, then this would be a different story because I'm getting paid to get shit on. I have to do that with freelance work -- essentially I get paid to be abused by whoever my client happens to be at the time. Family misery is not a paid gig, unfortunately. I'm a whore for the buck and I understand that life is short, so I made the easy decision to skip Thanksgiving.
Here's the thing, my family is always crazy, but they get hyper crazy during the holidays. So, I knew that I was going back East to see Phish for Halloween, so I added a week or so in New York City to see my brother and watch a few Yankees playoff games. Derek is the only reason I head home for Thanksgiving, so I just moved up that time by a month. The rest of the family was not as stressed out, so they didn't give me too much guff when I was home in October. If anything -- the flights were cheaper and it was less stressful. Too bad we couldn't do Thanksgiving in October.
By the way, I put up with the bullshit for Christmas, mainly because you get gifts at Christmas and you get nothing but heartburn for Thanksgiving. Besides, nothing is quite like New York City during Christmas time. It sounds cheesy, but the song Silver Bells is somewhat accurate when describing NYC. And the more time I spend in Southern California, the more I can't wait to go back to NY in December to soak up the scent of pine needles and capitalism.
Here's what drives me crazy about LA at this time of year. It's sunny and 60+ degrees. It's only a few days after Thanksgiving, but the radio stations are cranking out Christmas music. If you go to the Grove, Beverly Center, or Century City -- all of those malls have been transformed into outdoor winter wonderlands -- except you're in Southern California so like so many things in Los Angeles, Christmas is plastic -- it looks nice, but just doesn't fit. Because the SoCal weather reminds you of the opposite of Christmas, vendors do everything possible to fabricate a cheery Christmas vibe, which is just utterly disgusting and disingenuous because no one wants to take a photo of their kid with a jaded and out-of-work-thespian in a Santa Claus outfit sporting sunglasses, a spray tan, and a guild card.
Fucking Hollywood, man.
I got way off topic. I wanted to write about the first ever California Turkey Day. It also marked the first holiday that I spent with Nicky. We've been going out for almost five years and we have always been apart during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nicky was well aware of the problems that I had back in NYC, but she was also hoping that I'd join her with her family's Turkey Day festivities mainly because (these are her numerical bullet points)... 1) they "love me" more than her, and 2) they won't ask her as many annoying questions.
It's true -- her parents like me, especially her mom (who was also born in New Jersey and migrated to the left coast) because she's a lifelong Yankees fan. I instantly won her over when she found out that I was from the Bronx and also a diehard Yankees fan. Yes, that was enough to make Nicky's father distrust me since he bleeds Dodger's blue, but he's taken a liking to me as well, mostly attributed to the ability to make him laugh with all the off-color jokes and random stories I tell them. At least I hope so; her family is mostly German, and they've taken all the Gestapo jokes in stride.
I spent many meals with Nicky's family (BBQs at her parent's house in Westwood or at the local Italian joint around the corner) and they have always been fun and not as stressful as most in-law experiences and horror stories that my friends shared with me over the years. At heart, Nicky's parents are good people. Nicky thinks that all of her personal issues stem from the darkside of parent-children relationships -- and that might be true for all of us -- however, some of the more endearing qualities that she and her sister share have origins in the fact that her parents are good people.
Luckily, I was able to share Turkey Day with them, and I wasn't lying when I said it was the best that I had in years. I know my brother is cringing as he reads this now because he knows how crazy my mother gets during the holidays when you toss it all the booze, it's a recipe for disaster. I hoped that my brother's Turkey Day back in NYC was a lot less stressful this year because my mere precense is a volatile chemical that causes an explosion whenever I'm withing a hundred foot radius of my mother. Without me in the equation, you would think that things would have gone much smoother.
But it's not me, because Nicky's family didn't go crazy because I showed up. We had a pleasant meal and they were more than accommodating to have multiple TVs on so I could sweat my bets on the different football games. Man, talk about getting the red carpet treatment. For any degen gambler like myself who paces constantly, that's as good as you're gonna get -- multiple places to watch a game and understanding people who won't give you shit for wanting to watch sports during a holiday. Shit, betting on the NFL on Thanksgiving is more American than watching the Macy's Turkey Day parade. If they start booking bets on which balloons deflate first, then I'll pay more attention to the parade. Until then, I'm betting the Cowboys game every fucking Thanksgiving. It's tradition -- Turkey, gravy, pumpkin pie, and a c-note on the Cowboys.
I used to think that I was a shitty person because my family didn't like me, but it had more to do with my choices to escape the shackles of Wall Street and pursue a career as writer which they took as an insult and indictment on their philosophy of life. I don't give them shit for living the way they do, so why should they give me shit? Alas, that's what happened over the years until I finally made a stand and broke away from the herd mentality.
So it's not me that's evil. It's just my mother's reaction to me. Maybe she really hates me, or maybe she sees my father in me which happens to be her least favorite person in the world. If anything, she's projecting that negativity of her failed relationship and marriage onto me. That shit happens all the time. It's unfair, but it's never going to change. That's why I opted out of my family's holiday gathering. No cock check at the airport. No kick in the junk at Thanksgiving.
Sometimes people just don't get along, and that's why the holidays are extremely stressful because you are forcing people to mix together who normally wouldn't speak to each other if they didn't have the same last names or shared a significant amount of DNA. Hollywood makes movies about it all the time. Books are written on the topic. Blog posts, Facebook updates, and tweets fill up the twitterverse about the stresses of the holidays. I suspect that we're all addicted to food because that seems to be the only reason people put up with the hectic travel, annoying relatives, and heartburn. They love food more then their loved ones.
My Turkey Day 2010 kicked off with rolling out of bed at 9am because I stayed up super late (past 5am) listening to old school rap videos on You Tube and playing StarFall on the iPad. Football was on at 9:30am because games started at 12:30ET on Thanksgiving. I wasn't even up an hour and was already sweating my first betting action of the day. Nicky woke up and whipped up two side dishes for the meal. One of those involved a corn dish with bacon, so Nicky cooked up an entire pan of bacon bits. Her dish got ruined by all the veggies she added to Emeril's corn/bacon recipe. When the first game was over and the side dishes were ready, we made our way to the West Side. LA is amazingly empty during Thanksgiving weekend because LA is a city where most people are transplants and the ones that are born and bred have bled to the burbs. The city is empty and a trip that could sometimes take 30 minutes to drive took less than ten.
The turkey, stuffing, gravy -- all top notch -- but it was the pie that stood out as the highlight. Nicky's mom bought me a special pie -- chocolate satin -- and I got to take it home with me. I ate most of it within 24 hours including a slice for breakfast on Friday and two slices for dinner later that night.
I watched the Jets game because Nicky's parents have a dish with the NFL network, so I was able to watch a rare instance when the Jets played on Thanksgiving. Once the game ended, we returned to our apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills to play online poker. I host a tournament every Thanksgiving and this year I actually hosted two. My brother played along with a lot of other friends seeking to wind down a long day with a little poker.
Who knows...maybe I can sneak my brother out to LA next year so he can experience a stress-free Turkey Day?
Thanksgiving is over. I survived. It's 60 degrees outside and sunny. Cue the puke-inducing Christmas music.