Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving revisited...



Excerpted From:

     As the holidays approach, I tend to get a little retrospective.  Or maybe introspective, or even overly inspected by potential in-laws who figure they can avoid a messy divorce by killing one of the potential nuptials.  A few cold nights spent staring into the hypnotic flames of a fireplace converts quiet solitude into a stupid quest for the meaning of life.  The cat’s already figured it out anyway:  eat, drink and shred things.  Me, I think it’s carbon-monoxide poisoning precipitated by a wood stove left over by the Pilgrims.  Either way, the two of us sit and gawk at the flames, enamored by the warmth and all those unanswered questions the millennium have produced.  Eventually, he lays a claw into my thigh clarifying the whole situation.  This cat has connections that I don’t even want to think about.

     Fall is tough because it launches itself midway between summer’s last exhale and the cryogenic handshake of Ol’ Man Winter, so successful in this state that he was able to take early retirement.  Some genius also fooled around with the clocks and I have it on good authority that it was a cartel of Candy Corn producers in Georgia and the American Dental Association.  It’s no accident that the meddling starts the day before Halloween.  An extra hour of sugar extortion is worth about $14 billion in annual profits, a third of which is funneled directly into the cavity industry.

    Even so, we don’t get too many trick-or-treater's visiting the farm.  The driveway is about a half mile long and runs through a primordial forest.  It is full of all kinds of lurking creatures and strange shadows, most created by our gang of wolves on a chicken hunt.  The dogs don’t normally collect children, but they might go for the Hershey bars.  Since Doc was a veterinarian, post-assault stomach pumping is readily available if their natural tendency toward bulimia fails them.  Still, only the bravest pirate, ghost or ballerina-bat-girl would ever make it to the front door.  Those that overcame the forest and the boogey man earned a cab ride back to the street.

      On a farm, molesting a clock causes dinner to be late.  Horses respond by immediately forming a revolutionary council, donning berets and storming the nearest radio station.  Since nobody knows what the hell they are talking about, the government remains secure.  Peace is restored by reverting back to Daylight Savings Time, which, unbeknownst to my gang of outlaws, means that I get to sleep in while they wonder what in the hell happened to their waiter.  One more piece of evidence as to why we’re at the top of the food chain.  We control time.

      In spite of the clock, projectile hairballs, and carbon monoxide poisoning, I do dwell on esoteric principles when they pop to the surface right before I finish my second beer.  Yeah, I’m kind of a lightweight, so the beer buzz arrives before the first bathroom trip.  Reincarnation is one of my favorites.  It’s the perfect compromise.  Golf every Sunday morning, prime rib instead of tofu and those trips to the beach that have more to do with blood pressure than a good tan.  Well, someone else’s tan.  It’s the perfect arrangement:  no guilt!  You don’t get it quite right in this life, then you get to come back and screw it up all over again!  No fifteen-yard penalties, no stern lectures from the big guy and no vacationing in purgatory.  Most importantly, no regrets about going to heaven and finding out that most of your friends took the second option.

      I have given reincarnation a lot of thought lately.  Two reasons really.  The first is that with my kind of résumé, a future career of any kind seems unlikely.  The second is how this job has aged me over the past year.  I’m pretty sure it is a mid-life crisis even though my doctor insists I’m only 24 years old.  I tell him I'm a Thoroughbred farm a manager and all he does is grunt and make copious amounts of notes during the appointment.  Finally, he tilts his glasses a little further down his nose and asks, "So...what do you think about the third race at Hialeah?  I'm thinkin' Twinkleears. She's 30-1 in the morning line."  Yeah, more Prozac.   

      Meanwhile, I’m deluged with television commercials for calcium tablets and oat bran while the salesman from Modern Maturity camps out at my mailbox.  Suddenly I see a crinkled old man, humped over one of those aluminum four-legged walkers, trapped in the middle of a crosswalk while the LA riot police battle with a horde of latte-crazed commuters with no air-conditioning.  I’m trapped there with an artificial hip, nitro tablets in the left shirt pocket and a few bored paramedics taking bets on when the old fart will drop.  Just the other day, while shaving, I was positive I saw one of those age spots – right next to a gray hair.  It turned out to be leftover gravy, but the image in the mirror wasn't lying.  The big thirty was just around the corner; another old stallion about to be driven from the herd and I hadn’t even decided on burial or cremation.  Old, flatulent, decrepit – forced to eat day-old bread and cat food.  Cat food?  Next thing would be that dreaded magazine subscription.  Ever thought about that title?  It’s the life-support-system-of-the-month club.  With each subscription, you get an oxygen tent, 50% off on colostomy bags and a video on four-way bypasses.  Never mind the special on sex toys.  Nobody ever orders them because dementia has set in – we’ve heard the word ‘sex’ somewhere, but can’t remember why or if we had that for dinner last night.  Hell, we can’t even find our teeth because we can’t see without our glasses and if help arrives we can’t hear the doorbell because we can’t find our glasses in order to locate our hearing aid which we’re pretty sure is sitting next to our teeth.  The closest thing to sex is the Pekingese down the hall that humps an orderly’s leg, or maybe it’s just a large rat eating Mrs. Eddington’s left foot.  Hard to tell with cataracts in both eyes.  A doctor finally shows up.  “Good news Mr. Reynolds, it’s not Alzheimer’s, just senility!  Mr. Reynolds?  I’m over here, Mr. Reynolds.”

      I skipped the third beer and got on the phone.  “Hey Jess.  Got a question for you.”


     “It doesn’t involve horses, just a quick question.”

     “It better be quick.  I’m in bed.”

      “Are you sick -- you need something?  It’s like 6:30.”

      “I’ve got horrible cramps.  You know.”

      Great!!  There is hope!  It’s not menopause!  “Geez, I’m sorry, anything I can get you?”

      “No.  My doctor said I should go on the pill.  She said it would reduce the severity of them.”

      “Really?”  I was suddenly somewhere between heaven and a transmission problem.  “Listen, do you think I look older, or like getting decrepit or something?”  I didn’t dare explore the ramifications of birth control.  I’d write Ann Landers in the morning.  Wow, her doctor was a her.  Every doctor I had ever seen was an old fat dude that always said, “Cough.”  I knew it was a hernia test, but shit?  Even if I had pneumonia…?


      “I found some gray hair.  I was starting to think that life is kinda skipping away.  Maybe it’s the job, I don’t know.”

     “You’re twenty-four, sometimes going on twelve.  You look fine.  You could even look cute if you wanted to...I mean...never mind.  And it’s slipping away, not skipping.  What’s this about?”

     “I could look...cute?”

     “I want to take a nap...please?”


     “Polo shirts.  Good-bye!”

     Back to reincarnation.  Most days, I’d like to come back as a rock.  Sort of sit around the Himalayas and watch mountain climbers run out of oxygen.  Other times I have a certain desire to be an opossum.  It’s such a simple existence – you are born, make a beeline for a busy highway and boom!  Off to life number three.  Not even enough time to develop a bad habit or two.  But, given my experience, I think the best option is to come back as a broodmare:  a fat, expensive one.  Oh, you were thinking maybe Nijinsky?

     Some folks might question such a choice, opting for something like Julia Robert’s mirror or Tom Cruise’s lips – maybe the obvious, a stallion, but just maybe they are missing the point.  Most broodmares live a pretty corrupt life.  They start by being born a female, which I guess is a prerequisite for the job.  Once that part is finalized, they go through the usual pre-puberty junk; make-up, frustrating boys, getting their ears pierced or some other part of their anatomy.  Then, it is off to college, the equivalent of two semesters at Vassar, only sweatier.  You know, twice around the track and then fall back on your upscale family connections.  Or, in the odd case, actually win a big race named after a governor that managed to die before the grand jury got hold of him.  That really seals the deal.  Five minutes after the photo shoot, the mare develops a walk like Matt Dillon’s sidekick – and no, not Miss Kitty, but off to the farm just the same.  Either way, that forces everybody in upper management to do the sensible thing:  they pack her bags, cancel the Mint Julep party and try to get the broad married off before American Express figures out why the payment is late.  Miss Potential has a brief and fiery romance (not the kind the Surgeon-General had in mind), and is plopped, with somewhat glowing hormones, into a forty-acre field with her name on it.  And she doesn’t even have to come up with a damage deposit.  There she sits for eleven months, sigma delta whoopee as a graduate of the Peter Principle – the severance package already tucked safely in the bank.  If I could sprout an ovary, I’d get in line, but I think I’m stuck with the rock request.

     Oh, the stallion choice?  Two problems.  First, you spend most of your life being led around with a stud chain under your upper lip by a guy holding a baseball bat designed to curb your enthusiasm.  Secondly, if your first crop of foals are duds, then you get demoted to a ‘teaser.’  I’m already in that kind of a relationship so turning it into a career doesn’t seem like a smart choice.

     Now I know that Shirley MacLaine has her own ideas on reincarnation.  Working out past conflicts, traveling up and down the existential ladder, really complicated stuff.  She could be right, but then again, she could be wrong.  And as much as I’d like to come back as General Patton’s favorite jeep, it might be a lot safer in that forty-acre field.  I’ll get back to you on the labor pain thing.


     November concludes with something called Thanksgiving.  It’s a holiday that supposedly focuses on positive thoughts, copious amounts of cardiac-flawed food and the death of 280,000-odd birds that as a group, are far too stupid to figure out that an oven is a bad place to hide.  “Hi, this is Foster Farms, wondering if you guys could drop by for cocktails?  Great!  Hey, could you pick up some stuffing?”  The snickering comes later, not to mention the cranberry sauce.

     We all have this image of the Pilgrims – overdressed, somewhat plump people that seemed to get their clothes at K-Mart.  They always had a few Indians standing around looking passive, but intent on butchering the whole bunch after dessert.  The Indians weren’t stupid.  Quaint perhaps, but they had already met the Vikings so they had a fair idea of what to expect from tourists.  They also knew that this bunch of idiots didn’t seem to know the difference between an ear of corn and a parakeet.  Sadly, the Pilgrims persevered through that first winter, quite contrary to what the Indians had hoped.  Next thing they knew, the place had been renamed Manhattan and sold to Donald Trump.  The Indians never could fathom the real estate business.  It was like selling the sky.  The land had no intention of going anywhere, so why would someone need to own it?  Or build a fence around it.  Was the land going to escape?  Run away perhaps?

     Chief Joseph of Idaho’s Nez Perce described it best:  “The white man comes to my house and wants to buy my horses.  I say, ‘No, I need my horses.’  So he goes to my neighbor and buys my horses from him.”

     Dynasties do come and go.  Most don’t go quietly.  The quiet departures are those accomplished through population transfers.  They get less media attention than outright genocide and manage to accomplish about the same thing.  It is how a majority becomes a minority without ever leaving home.  Goes a long way to explain why Tibet has a 54% Han Chinese majority.  Beijing’s response?  “Oh, they’re just migratory labor.”
     So, the problem is not enough buses.
     One day the great American dynasty will join the ashes of the long dead pharaohs of Egypt’s great kingdoms.  Archaeologists and anthropologists will be left to pick through the rubble, noting with astonishment that this civilization had 187 different kinds of cars.  Nothing else, just the cars.  And nobody knew where they drove off to.

     The only bright spot in American expansionism was when Custer scratched his head and said, “I think we have a problem here.”  Well, it was probably more like using the ‘F’ word as a noun, verb and adjective in the same sentence, but I’m trying to keep my ratings intact.  “Holy something!” is quite likely a more accurate declaration of the situation at hand.  I’m pretty sure a lot of turkeys can relate to that image especially if they hang around Wal-Mart the week before the big day.  But that’s the bewildering part about American culture – we seem to be always celebrating somebody’s bad luck, even our own.  What’s the difference between Thanksgiving and Pearl Harbor Day?  And who honestly believes that George Armstrong Custer got a bad deal?


     Jesse was still working at shotgun Earl’s down the road, no doubt plotting my embarrassment at some future sale.  That in itself was almost a given, since the owners of her place of employment didn’t have to invest large sums of money preventing a divorce that had no likelihood of happening anyway.  Doc was into preventative medicine:  a few Cadillac’s, the revolving account at an upscale jewelers and gassing up the old 727.  Cheaper than three guys with briefcases.  Ah, but there was more.  An affirmation that odd couples seem to make the best couples.  Depending of course on just what kind of odd you find appealing.  So given that…

      …I decided to ask Jesse over for Thanksgiving dinner.  By phone.  They’re safer.

      “You’re going to actually cook something?”

     “Yeah, four or five rats, those green beans in the freezer, maybe pheasant if the cat comes through.  I’m thinkin’ of something traditional, you know, forage around the old farm and see what I can catch.”

     “The green beans?  They were in the freezer when I met you.  What’s this foraging stuff?  Safeway’s right down the road.”

     “Well, I thought Thanksgiving should be about giving thanks, enjoying the bounty of the land.”

      “You’ve been watching the Discovery Channel again.”

     “Actually, Walt Disney World.  You know, I only get a couple of channels.  What about that turkey farm over the hill?  We could pick out a bird, whop its head off – like the old days.  Sounds kinda like something people do on a farm.”

     “Sounds kind of sick.  Besides, who’s going to eat the thing?  And you’ve got way too much of this farm thing going.  ‘Ol’ MacDonald’ raises racehorses.  We’re in the entertainment business in case you haven’t noticed.  Is your family coming?”

     “No, I’m saving them for Christmas.  ‘Sides, I don’t do family stuff.  We’ll eat it.”

     “I’m a vegetarian.  What about your sister?  Seems I heard somewhere you had a sister.  And that trip to eastern Oregon?  The old lady in the shoe?”

     “Since when?  And I might point out that honesty and Oregon aren’t mutually inclusive.”  Only good comeback I’d had in months.

     “Which when?  And I don’t want to rehash that.”

     “The vegetarian when.”  First signs of crinkling here.  The nose.  I can actually hear it over the phone.  It’s a male skill – one of the few.

     “Since my cramps got so bad.  The doctor said too much protein might be a problem.”

     Oh God, the cramp thing again.  Why couldn’t it be a bicep?  She uses this menstrual process like a turn signal.  “Okay, so Emily and I’ll eat it.”

     “She’s on a diet!”

     “She’s a shark for God’s sake!  She eats bugs!  What about Diet-Coke Sue’s Pit bull?”

     “Shot by the Humane Society last month.”

     “Oh yeah.  Sad deal.  What about your mother?”  Damn.  I hate it when anger and enthusiasm get together.  Makes the line go dead.

     “Let’s not go there.  You want to murder a turkey, be my guest.  I’m going to cook some eggplant.  You can come over if you want.”  Click.

     Eggplant?  One of those purple footballs with a bunch of Kleenex inside?  No giblet gravy, no wishbone to break, no quart of Pepto-Bismol afterwards?  That’s not a holiday, it’s sacrilege!  Besides, what’s the turkey going to think?  Last rites, halfway to the gallows, at peace with the world – then boom, the rug gets pulled out!  The poor bugger will be in therapy until next November.  It’s not fair!

     Over the years, I have gathered up a lot of stuff to be thankful about.  Skipping the eggplant has just been added to the list.  Most have involved physical carnage and a severe lack of personal discretion.  Okay, so it’s a 50/50 split between women, power tools and horses, but I’m still pretty relieved about the results, just a bit confused about who’s grading the exams.  I’ve been hit by a train, fallen off a motorcycle a few times, out of a car at 45mph (that was in the ‘woman’ category – a 70/30 split of opinion on whether I got to stay), a minor thing with a roll-over accident involving a ’57 Chevy, a console TV (first one that had color) and an Irish Setter.  The dog was driving.  Then there were the ‘tree falling’ episodes, a couple of minor drowning’s and a small problem with plugging my transistor radio into the dryer outlet.  Still a little confused about drowning twice.  Not sure if it’s legal since drowning is normally a fatal activity.  I think the confusion lies in the fact that they invented CPR and didn’t bother to check with the English department at Yale for a new adjective.  Something like, ‘nigh upon drowning,’ but saved.

     I also discussed Paulette, so the only remaining question is why I am sharing this.  I guess it’s Jesse.  She has a way of dragging confessions out of people.  She missed her calling.  She should have gotten a job as either Father O’Malley, or lead fingernail puller on a federal interrogation team.  Or, maybe both – get to the truth and then confirm the confession with a pair of pliers.  I guess that explains the look in her eye sometimes.  I’m dating a mercenary who eats eggplant.

     A lot of my recent near-death experiences have naturally been associated with horses.  Or caffeine.  Most are well documented by the hospital up the road.  A few went unreported since they would have led to prolonged incarceration.  Like the yearling with its head caught in the gate.  He was the one with the motorcycle gang attributes.  I first pictured him as the ‘Flying Nun,’ racing toward heaven with me in tow, but he merely backed up, depositing the gate on my head.  I could picture the headlines the next day:  “Horse Kills Man with Gate, Then Itself.”  Pictures at eleven.

     I guess, given the state of the world, I should be thankful.  War, famine, genocide, dislocation.  The very fiber of life ripped away whether it happens to be a holiday or not.  And here I’m having a conflict over turkey versus eggplant.  I guess I could try the purple stuff, but I’m going to keep some Tabasco sauce handy.  Or maybe hide a ham sandwich in the truck.  And the turkey?  Okay, I’ll get him a bus ticket to Canada.  Maybe he can ask for asylum.
     ‘Tree falling episodes?’  When I was pretty young, I tended to fall out of trees a lot.  Usually around nine or ten o’clock at night.  We were pretty lucky in that there were at least seven different emergency rooms around the area to deal with tree fallers.  Mother liked to share our business I guess, since we never went to the same one twice.  Usually it was minor stuff – a broken arm, maybe a rib, a few stitches or something.  I was a sleepwalker, she told them.  Fooled her.  I was awake the whole time.

     Eggplant?  God.