Happy Thanksgiving

What I remember most about Thanksgiving is having a school assignment that was due the day after Thanksgiving break.  Why do they make things due the day after Thanksgiving break?

Like the time in fifth grade, I had to write an “report” on Ferdinand Magellan.  I’d done nothing for weeks, thinking, “Oh, December first, that’s like forever away.”  Then that Sunday after Thanksgiving, when I and my brother are still eating pumpkin pie for breakfast, I realize in a panic that the report is due, that I don’t have any books on the subject, and that our library branch is closed.  To appreciate this scene you have to know what it was like in the days before the internet.

Fortunately, my father served with someone on the synagogue ritual committee who worked for the library system, and by calling this person – during dinner, from what I could gather from my father’s side of the telephone call – discovered that there was one library branch that was open, and it was thirty minutes away by car.

It was an uncomfortable car ride.  My father waited while I got out the books, and then had to drive me to his office thirty minutes in the other direction from our home, just so I could type the essay because, I had meant to add, the teacher said that the essay had to be typed.

And there was eighth grade Thanksgiving break, for which I saved an assignment to pick ten Civil War battles and write a short poem about each one.  This was my first (but far from my last) experience with the “all-nighter,” as well as with the technique of using the same rhyming couplet (“In this battle of the Civil War/Twas hard to know who suffered more”) in every single poem to give some substance.  I recently reviewed the teacher’s comments in red – “Good technique but need something about the battle.” – and was insulted all over again.

In twelfth grade, I honored my Thanksgiving break with an assignment to memorize and recite lines from Hamlet.  As I could do this entirely by myself without need for rides or money or labor, I told no one, and stayed up all Sunday night and into Monday morning rehearsing the words “we fat ourselves for maggots.”

After dozing off and missing the bus and enduring a ride to school from a very angry and tired parent, I ran to English class, took a few deep breaths, got into character, and commenced my performance.  It was more exhilarating than I had ever imagined, at least until my teacher informed me that I had learned the wrong lines, and gave me an A-.

These days, the challenge on Thanksgiving is getting ready and out the door at near light speed without upending the pie or squishing the rolls.  This ritual is in its own class of torture.  But by Sunday I am worry free.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember When Black Friday Took Place on Friday?

The young nation was divided.  The Black Friday purists who insisted on Black Friday sales not starting until the morning of Black Friday had been unable—or unwilling—to reconcile with the block of states who insisted on starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving, no matter how much cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie still lay uneaten on the table, or how many relatives still passed out on the couch.

Abraham Lincoln had run for President on the Purist ticket, and his very election brought the dispute to a fevered pitch.  Shortly after his inauguration speech, in which the ol’ Turkey Splitter insisted that he had “no intention” of interfering with the institution of big box stores, the “Target” states, as they came to be known, declared their secession from the Purists and went back to greasing the wheels of their shopping carts.

Lincoln, seeing secession as unacceptable, and worrying that all the stove pipe hats would be gone from the shelves by the time Mary Todd hit the aisles at 5 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving, ordered the Union army to stop the Target States of America from seceding.  The Union had more ammunition, more railroads, and more coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond which were used to equip the soldiers with much needed towel warmers and memory foam slippers.  But the Target States had a passion for shopping and a general dislike of family events and an army of stock boys armed with box cutters ready to meet the Union forces.

The war dragged on and Lincoln needed a solution.  He had a meeting planned that morning with Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, and Lincoln paced his lanky frame about the Oval Office, preparing himself.  He tugged at his beard.  Mary Todd had wanted him to shave it for the holidays.  Said it was too scraggly.

“Over my dead body,” Lincoln said to himself, and double-checked the bowl of candy on his desk.  Yes, there were plenty of green apple Jolly Ranchers.

“I don’t think there’s any other way out of this war than to strengthen the blockade of the stores,” Stanton said, tugging at his own scraggly beard.  “They’ve pushed us to this point, and there’s no way I’m missing the Cowboys game to go shopping.”

Lincoln thought about it, tugging at his scraggly beard again.  The two men tugged at their scraggly beards.

“Violence is not the answer,” Lincoln said at once.  “I should know.  I used to hunt vampires.”

“But without violence, I won’t have a job,” Stanton said.  “How are you going to keep those Target States from being open on Thanksgiving without violence?”

Lincoln crossed his long legs, and leaned forward, and rested his chin in the crook between his thumb and forefinger.

“I’m going to make a speech,” he said, and, dismissing the Secretary of War, went to go sharpen his pencil.

The next day President Lincoln stood before a crowd in Leesburg, Virginia, known for its many outlet stores, and gave what would become known as the Leesburg Address.

“Four score and seven years ago,” he began, “I received a gift card to a well-known retailer, and now the retailer is telling me that the card has expired.

“But that is all past.  We are now engaged in a great civil war over whether it is proper that stores open for Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving.  It is not a question of whether a nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that it is never too early to start Christmas shopping, can long endure the helpings of turkey and inappropriate questions from distant relatives, like ‘When are you two getting married?’ or ‘Don’t you think it’s time to do something with your life?’ or ‘Why can’t you put that device down when I’m talking to you?’

“Rather, the question is whether one can really call it Black Friday if it starts on Thursday.”

The crowd stood stunned.  Abraham Lincoln had once again spoken an incontrovertible truth.  It was impossible to have Black Friday on Thanksgiving, which had always been a Thursday, and always would be a Thursday.  And until everyone recognized that truth, the civil war would never end.

So the name was changed to “Black Thursday,” and the stores offered turkey sandwiches and cranberry sauce at the register, and the States were once again United—now and forever, one and inseparable!

Remember When Cameras Used Film?

Remember when you had to put film in a camera to take pictures?

I do.

My first camera was plastic and gray and flat and had a picture of the Go-Bots emblazoned on the top.  The Go-Bots were fictional cartoon robots that were like a poor man’s Transformers and had nothing to do with the camera’s functioning.

My Go-Bots camera, like all cameras at the time, required film to take pictures.  The film was rolled up inside of a cartridge and contained a limited number of pictures. The number of pictures ranged from 12 to perhaps 48 at the outer limits.  There were no film cartridges that took 500 pictures, at least not at the film kiosks where I was getting ripped off.

The film cartridge that my camera required was in the shape of two small tubes connected by a flat plastic piece.  It looked like a little Torah scroll.  Taking a flash picture required buying a cartridge of flash bulbs, which looked like a miniature apartment building made of clear plastic.

One memory of using my Go-Bots camera stands above all others.  In 1989 my parents took me to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan.  I was not old enough to drink heavily so I really felt the cold.  The only thing that kept me from landing on Planet Whine was my Go-Bots camera and the promise it held for me of a Pulitzer Prize.

The problem was that my allowance afforded me only one roll of 27-shot film.  Even were there exactly 27 floats—and there were far more than that—I would have no chance to take different angles of a float I found particularly compelling.  So I would have to choose.  I could not take pictures of everything.

For each float that approached I employed a three-pronged analysis.  First, how many pictures do I have left?  Second, is this better than what I have already seen?  And third, given how many floats are likely to come by, is this particular float picture-worthy?  Some things, like the many marching bands that went marching by, were easy to pass up…unless there was something unique about it, like a particularly corpulent trumpeter.  Other things, however, were closer calls.

One such close call was a float of friendly dinosaurs in various colors.  “How cool,” I said to myself.  “I simply must preserve these dinosaurs.” And there went 1/27th of my film.

I regretted my decision as soon as the shutter closed.  Not even a giant blown-up Woody Woodpecker could free my mind from my bad decision.  “Why did I waste a picture on those stupid dinosaurs?” I asked myself.  “The dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.  Those were probably just people dressed up in dinosaur costumes.”

Still unable to accept my own mistake, I started taking pictures of things that were even less picture-worthy than the people dressed up as dinosaurs, as if to show the cosmos that my original decision was correct.  I wasted irreplaceable shots on blown-up cartoon characters that did not have their own show, washed-up celebrities whose last work had been when I was an embryo, and a funnel-cake that someone had obviously found disappointing and thrown in the gutter.  The funnel cake had been stepped on, but I could not even tell if the person who had bought the funnel cake was the same person who had stepped on it.

I was still in denial when the grand finale float approached.  The float that we were all waiting for.  The float that bridged an okay holiday to the only holiday that kids actually cared about.  The shouts of children and adults alike presaged the appearance of that greatest of floats…Santa!  Mommy, I see him!  It’s Santa!  Santa!  Santa!!

It is a well-known fact that Santa Claus is the final float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  That meant I had made it on my one roll of film.  Just one more picture and all my mistakes would be forgiven.  But when I pressed on the picture-taking button I got nothing.  I was out of pictures.  My hubris had cost me a picture of the most important float.  I had blundered at the critical moment.  During the long, long car ride home I kept replaying the events in my mind.  A hundred times I saved myself from clicking a picture of the dinosaurs and took pictures of Santa from many angles.

That would never happen today.  Had the year been 2009 instead of 1989 I would have had a digital camera with a 300 gigabyte SD flash whatever and could have taken as many pictures as I wanted, of anything, and still had plenty left over for the Big S.  I could have deleted those pictures of the dinosaurs the moment I realized I did not want them.

I now have a digital camera, and I have used that digital camera to take thousands of pictures, pictures that, along with the ones I took on film with my Go-Bots camera, allow me to relive the moments of my life, good and bad, happy and sad, again and again for as long as I live.  Pictures that I have not looked at once since I took them.

Thanks to Carly Kulig for the topic.