November 27, 2017

Let us now tell of sucky Thanksgivings Past

Thanksgiving Feast, 1973. Not pictured: yogurt

How was your Thanksgiving? Killer? Hope so. Mine was fine, if you don't count two 14-hour drives in the space of five days: Virginia to Illinois and back again. But the food was great, including a bunch of miniature pies in four different varieties.

I love pie. (Pro tip on whipped cream: a bit of confectioner's sugar and a dollop of rye whiskey added to the cream during whipping results in something AMAZING.)

Oh, and always spatchcock your turkey, people. It comes out moist and the cooking time is reduced to a fraction of what your parents experienced.

HOWEVER: don't we all have sad little stories of truly lame & sucky holidays in our pasts? Of course we do. So I will now relate two of mine for your, um, amusement. (One hopes.) They're both from my long-ago student days.

My undergraduate years were spent in Bloomington Indiana, where I majored in piano at what is now called the Jacobs School of Music at IU. Normally I'd have be-bopped up I-65 to my home in Evanston IL for Thanksgiving, but this particular year I had a junior recital looming; I really needed to stay and get some good practicing done.

That wasn't too dreary from my point of view; I'm a classic introvert anyway, so I was sort of looking forward to an empty apartment sans three roommates and a nearly-deserted Music Building. My folks had made sure I had the funds to see me through the break. "Ah!" I thought, "I can go to one of the town's really nice restaurants and order anything I want! Woo-hoo!"

Thanksgiving Thursday arrived. I hiked the few blocks from my apartment to the town square that is Bloomington's "downtown". The dining establishment I had in mind was Sully's Oaken Bucket. In the 70's it was one of those places a young man might take a co-ed on a fancy date. (I looked it up just now - it no longer exists.)

It was closed.

EVERY RESTAURANT IN TOWN WAS CLOSED. Even the burger joints. Geez, Bloomington, don't the actual residents ever eat out? This struck me then as infuriatingly irrational. It still does!

I walked and walked. Bloomington was suddenly a forbidding ghost town. No fancy dinner for me!

Well, the grocery store was open for business. Okay; I would head there then, and get ANYTHING I WANTED.... woo-hoo...

By now, however, the combination of hunger, frustration, disappointment and growing fatigue had put me in a bit of a mood. A little sour, a little impatient. (In my family, we refer to this state of mind as "the can't-help-its".)

I wandered up and down the aisles. Nothing looked good. Back in those now-distant days, grocery stores didn't have the artisanal gourmet items or the assortment of hot convenience foods that are commonplace today in our Age of the Foodie. No rotisserie chickens, no salad bar, and so on.

What to get, what to buy, what to eat?
Canned beef stew? Yuck
A "Swanson frozen TV dinner"? Yuck (Marie Callender and her ilk were unknown.)
Baloney and bread? How festive.
Ground beef? Oh sure, let me whip up a meatloaf. NOPE.

I'll tell you what my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of in the end.
Two cartons of cherry yogurt and a box of Mrs. Paul's frozen onion rings.


Jump forward in time to 1978. I had left Indiana with a Bachelor's and a Master's in my pocket to begin another academic adventure in pursuit of the D.M. in piano at Northwestern in my hometown of Evanston. Also, I was a newlywed, in such financial straits that we couldn't afford to take the holiday off. So on a frigid Thanksgiving morning I left our tiny apartment in Rogers Park, hopped on the El and made my way to the Burger King across the street from the Music Building.

During my employment there, I did a little of everything:
I worked the fries and drinks station;
I was in charge of the milkshake machine (we shall not speak of the time I filled it, turned it on, and forgot to attach the turning blades, resulting in a giant frozen block instead of a creamy liquid...)
I made the burgers. NOTE: in case you didn't know, at Burger King ketchup and mayonnaise are required as a matter of policy to be applied in neat little spirals, starting from the center of the burger and working outward. The trouble comes during the lunch rush, when making neat little spirals takes too long, in which case the worker splootches the crap on the meat like an assassin spraying bullets into a crowd.
I even drove all over Evanston one day buying hamburger buns at supermarkets because we ran out. The manager had forgotten to re-order them.
And I worked as cashier.

On this holiday, I was up front, taking orders from the public. I was expecting a slow, easy day with little traffic. So it was surprising and, yes, a little depressing that all my regulars came in as usual.

If you've ever worked in a fast-food joint, you know that you see the same faces popping up on a consistent basis. Surely, I thought, they're all at Grandma's house watching football, right?

Mais non, mes amis.

In they came, one after another, right at the usual time. I especially remember a tall dude with a crew cut and a pasty white complexion. Every SINGLE day he came in and ordered the SAME thing: two double Whoppers, plain (OMG) with two cartons of milk.

Up to the counter he came, his pale unshaven face betraying no holiday cheer. He ordered two double Whoppers, plain, and two cartons of milk.

As I made change, I was thinking, "Dude - put some cheese and onions on it! Get some onion rings! GET A DAMN APPLE PIE, IT'S FREAKING THANKSGIVING!"

But the customer is always right, so I held my peace. I guess he enjoyed them; I mean, he wouldn't keep getting them if he didn't enjoy them, right?

And I hope you enjoyed whatever you ate, even if you're only now crawling out of that food coma.

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