Clippings: A Thanksgiving ‘right on the money’

It seems like one guaranteed topic of conversation around the Thanksgiving table is who has had the worst Thanksgiving experience. Before this year’s meal is up, tales will be told about overdone or underdone birds, friends throwing up in the bushes, travel nightmares, dogs making off with turkey legs or even whole turkeys, dropped food and smoke-filled kitchens. But to me there is no such thing as a bad Thanksgiving. If I can steal a line from Woody Allen (about a completely different topic), even my worst Thanksgiving has been right on the money.
During my sophomore year in college I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. The year was 1983 and I was going to school in Ohio, 900 miles from my family in Minnesota. Flying home was not in my budget and the 24-hour bus ride, while cheap, was not something I was willing to do again. My freshman year I took the bus home for Christmas break and let’s just say it took heavy doses of holiday cheer to shake me out of the funk induced by that trip. It probably didn’t help that during the ride I decided to read — I kid you not — Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” The book is about a guy who turns into a cockroach. After the 12th hour I started to hallucinate I had cockroaches crawling up my legs. And after the 18th hour I actually did have cockroaches crawling up my legs.
The highlight of the trip was a two-hour layover in Chicago. The waiting area in the Chicago bus terminal is subterranean but is open to the street level two floors above. It was sort of like the coliseum. I was a drowsy, pudgy version of a gladiator and those with lives on the street level concourse above were dropping their cigarette butts on me and wagering on when I would get eaten by my fellow travelers.
Needless to say I was not interested in reliving the experience, and since my dorm had been chosen as the one that would remain open during the 1983 Thanksgiving break I decided to stick it out. By Wednesday afternoon the campus was nearly deserted and the four or five other Thanksgiving orphans had settled into the rooms they sublet in my dorm for the break. I didn’t know any of them and their vacant stares as I passed them in the halls was not very inviting. They may have just been dazed, as I was, by our unfortunate holiday situation, but my shy Midwestern wallflower persona may also be to blame. I was, in fact, such a wallflower that my senior year I was introduced to a classmate who, upon shaking my hand, commented on how incredible it was that as a senior she was not only still meeting new people, she was meeting someone she had never even seen before. I smiled and fought the urge to tell her, truthfully, that just two hours before I had lent her a pencil in computer science class.
By Thanksgiving morning 1983 I was feeling a little out of sorts. If I had been at home the day would begin by inhaling deeply the smell of my mom’s turkey, which she began roasting at about three in the morning. But in ’83 the only thing I smelled was the dirty laundry bag my roommate forgot when he left for home. Things were not getting off to a good start, but then I peeked into my dorm’s T.V. lounge later that morning and recognized a familiar face.
I wish I could remember his name, but I didn’t know him very well. He was a fraternity brother of a good friend of mine and he explained that his home was about 40 miles away and he had driven back to campus that morning to avoid the drama that was his family Thanksgiving. The thought of being with his family bummed him out and the thought of being away from my family bummed me out, so we decided to make our own little Thanksgiving feast by raiding his fraternity’s kitchen.
It turns out the words “fraternity” and “kitchen” are like oil and water. Or more like oil and oil because all we found was a working fry-o-lator, some frozen chicken patties and a big bag of pizza rolls. We fried those chicken patties up real good until the “skin” was nice and crispy, just like on a Thanksgiving turkey, and we praised Jeno Palucci for inventing the pizza roll. Then we dug in with gusto.
The chicken patties were very tough and the pizza rolls were very greasy. As a Thanksgiving meal it did lack a little something. Like gravy. And turkey. And mashed potatoes and stuffing. And cranberries and green bean casserole. And pie. But somehow it satisfied. I would have liked to have tasted my mom’s meal that day and to have sat with my family. But my Thanksgiving in 1983 is still a wonderful memory. It was my worst Thanksgiving meal, but it was still right on the money.

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