We all end up the same. We spend our entire lives trying to individuate. We’re climbing the ladder, separating ourselves from the pack, moving on up, but then we’re old and broken down, clinging to memories of what once was while the Big C or some other health issue grabs our ankles while we’re least expecting it to and we fall down into an underworld of people we thought were different but now find out are exactly the same.
I ate too many chips. Thanksgiving is the Bermuda Triangle of holidays. Since you’re good the rest of the week, the rest of the year, you feel anything you eat on this holiday will have no effect, especially since everybody else is overeating. But it does. I can testify to a sugar high right now. Come on, you’ve got to taste all the desserts. I’m the Fielding Mellish of life, I want to do everything once, want to partake of everything once, sure, home can feel like an old worn out shoe, there’s virtue in familiarity, but there’s excitement in the new and different. Hell, I went to this conference in Ojai last week and didn’t know a soul, and what it reminded me most of was the first week of college. Do you remember that? You’d worked so hard to get in, and you showed up and felt like a fish out of water. Everybody was equal, you had no preconceptions. The ones you talked to at first you never talked to again. And the ones who were your true friends took six months to meet. But first you were anxious. Was this all gonna work out? And then you went for your first holiday back home and couldn’t wait to get back to school, your life had changed just that fast.
I remember that first Thanksgiving. We went to my relatives’ in Stamford. It was raining. Just above freezing. And I was wearing a blue turtleneck my mother had bought me, it was more of a sweater than a shirt, and it itched and I felt internalized. No one was talking to me and I was making conversation with others before I got worn out and pooped out, thought of college.
Thanksgiving was at our house growing up. Remember the jello molds? Actually, I hate them. But they were always there. And who decided to mix sweet potatoes with marshmallows, was that handed down from the Pilgrims?
And entertainment was provided by Big Al, the electronics dealer, the richest person we knew, before all the wealth went to techies and financiers. He would sit on the couch and testify, riff, pontificate and be sarcastic, and talk about the games, since he had money riding on them. And I felt solidarity with Big Al, he’d escaped, he had an apartment in the city, he was no longer tied down to the suburbs. I wanted to escape. Now if you live in L.A. you don’t. Seemingly no one grows up in Los Angeles and leaves, the weather and lifestyle are just too good. They might go away for school, but they come back. Whereas when you grow up in the suburbs…I wanted to live the life I saw on TV, read about in newspapers and books, I wanted to feel alive.
And when I moved out west the first year my leg was broken and I was stranded in L.A. and went to a friend of my sister’s apartment for turkey. My sister doesn’t talk to that woman anymore. Strange how life is, you come together, then you come apart. Although I think you then come back together again, because what tore you apart is no longer relevant, not that big a deal, and you share those memories.
Then there was that Thanksgiving in Utah, at that couple’s house who I can’t remember the names of right now, they were the only ones who were married, I came after getting a stitch in my lip after a freak accident at Alta. Banging the bumps in the powder, when you can’t really see them, during a storm, my skis came up when my head was coming down and my lip landed with such force on the top of my pole that I broke it open. I didn’t fall, but I was spitting blood into the snow, so I went to the clinic. I still have a bump in my lip today, this was before everybody went to the plastic surgeon to ensure perfection. But what I remember was this was the first Thanksgiving of my friends, my people, not the adults.
And from there the holiday rotated houses until it ended up at Robert and Kate’s. We always stayed late. I’m the last to leave. I love being with people, I don’t want to be left out. And after the food was served, there’d always be an activity, I remember the year we watched “Thin Man” movies, lying on the floor. They don’t live in that house anymore and Robert is no longer with us and my wife is long gone, but it feels like yesterday.
And then it became a family holiday once again. My mother and little sister would fly out from back east but after dinner we’d go to Kate’s house, and recently Lisa’s, where we played charades. Those seemingly dumb games, they’re the essence of life.
But like I said, so many people have fallen by the wayside. And the older I get the less I want to service people. Why am I always making others feel good at the expense of myself?
So today we drove deep into Orange County, for a huge affair at my nephew’s house. My family was there, sans my dear departed dad, who left the planet twenty five years ago, he used to cut the bird with an electric knife, and my mother is gonna be ninety one in a couple of weeks and a new generation is just starting, my nephew’s daughter is two, and I wonder how I fit into all this.
And then I go to Kate’s new abode with a new husband and it fits like a glove.
But on the way there, between affairs, I quizzed Felice on where she spent Thanksgiving, and then I recited where I’d been every year and realized how much I’d been through.
And at Kate’s it was my friends, I felt comfortable, I was telling my story, and then an old acquaintance told his.
Now the thing about stories is most people don’t volunteer the good ones, they hold them back until they believe they’re going to be heard, understood, there’s nothing worse than baring your soul and having the listener get up, or switch conversations, or lose context. We wall want to be listened to! Of course there are others who are blaring it out 24/7, but we start to tune them out. Everything they say they believe is important, it’s overbearing. But then there’s the person who is quiet and then drops a bomb.
We were talking about our health. Well, I was. I’m sick of having to say I’m great every time someone asks me how I’m doing, so I told this man the truth…
And then he told me his.
It’s a quid quo pro world.
He had cancer. Came on when I saw him last. He waited too long to go to the doctor. It spread. The treatment had side effects. He’d prayed to God.
And I realized I’d had the same experience. Which is a lonely one. You want someone to tell the story to but you don’t want to be disappointed. But I’ll tell you this, the ones you expect to come through in a crisis don’t, and the ones you don’t do. Funny how that works. It’s got less to do with assets than good breeding.
And thereafter Kate and Elizabeth and I caught up, on everybody who used to come to Thanksgiving, who we used to know and in some cases still do.
There are quirks. The beautiful one is dumped. The mismatched ones stay together. And you marvel at life, how does it happen, how do we end up where we do? Hell, I wouldn’t even know these people if I hadn’t talked to Robert at UCLA Extension. Life is full of these random moments. You don’t know someone and then you do.
And to be honest, I’ve shirked so many grown-up responsibilities. Sure, I got married, but as she said after, she “tricked me into it.” And I won’t bother you with that long story but I will say I’ve never owned real estate and I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving. Never felt up to it. Or maybe my OCD made me too uptight about my stuff. Or maybe I thought no one would come. And I certainly didn’t want to be Broadway Danny Rose.
And now it’s almost too late. Traditions are set in stone. The wheel turns faster, the meals are less satisfying, even though you still overeat, and you start to ask yourself, is that all there is?
We’re hounded by our parents to do well in school.
We push ahead in careers.
And then we all end up in the same place. Unable to work anymore because the industry’s passed us by, we no longer care about being hip.
We’re left with our memories.
Which make up a life.
They’re all that’s left us.