It was “Bros-giving” 2010, sometime in the late afternoon before dinner but after butternut squash soup and cornbread. Also after an unknown but formidable amount of whiskey. Vince produced a raw turkey neck from the refrigerator, where he’d been keeping it, which was certainly in his purview as chef of Thanksgiving dinner. I saw that he wasn’t heading in the direction of the stovetop to make gravy so I clicked record on my Kodak PlaySport ZX3 and followed him to the couch, where Jake was slumped over because he always drank more than everyone else. Vince started slapping him across the face, left side right side, with a totally raw and cold turkey neck until Jake woke up, not really surprised by what was going on but bummed that he missed the second half of Mission: Impossible III.
It was the first Thanksgiving since I’d moved to New York three years before that I wasn’t spending with my family. Marooned in the city because of work, I accepted an invite from a group of close friends who hailed from the West Coast and didn’t head home until Christmas and the New Year. I missed my parents and New Hampshire in the fall, but tossing a football and watching Tom Cruise movies with buds was a pretty damn good alternative. By the time we finished dinner that night, which couldn’t have been any later than 7 p.m., there were bodies strewn across the floor. (Jake was actually splayed out and sleeping face down on the hardwood.) Dessert hour looked like an episode of The Walking Dead. Kevin took a lot of heat for the weird cranberry pie he made (and still makes).
I’ve had Thanksgiving with this crew every year since then. There’s no formal invite, just an implicit code: if you’re in town it’s expected that you’ll be there, and you’re welcome to bring anyone else without a good place to spend the holiday, provided they bring something to eat. The day is structured basically the same way, with action movies either starring Tom Cruise or directed by Tony Scott, or both, in the morning, a leisurely lunch of soups and breads and beer in the afternoon, Vince yelling at Kevin for allegedly not knowing how to baste a turkey throughout the early evening, followed by a feast of incredible bounty. But other things have changed. The table is longer, filled with fewer bros and more significant others. There’s a lot less alcohol. The dishes have become more eclectic: gratins of fennel, banana pudding, rumors of capon. People shake hands and embrace and take taxis. I walk home because even though we’ve all moved to new apartments over the past four years, I still live close enough to walk.
The leaves have mostly turned, the food is hearty and there are no gifts or expectations beyond cooking a juicy bird and wearing a decent sweater.
Everyone enjoys holidays or other annual occasions for different reasons. People who really love their birthdays are usually megalomaniacs. Easter is for the pious and those who feel most comfortable among pastel colors. Halloween is adored by children and adults without children. Thanksgiving, though — if we can set aside for a moment the rather grim bit of violence that accompanied our arrival in the New World — is the greatest and most agreeable holiday of the year, a celebration of being together and hoping for good fortune. The leaves have mostly turned, the food is hearty and there are no gifts or expectations beyond cooking a juicy bird and wearing a decent sweater.
This year we’ve been talking about Thanksgiving since early October. We know we’ll be short one of the original crew, and the head chef has a broken wrist; some relationships have ended, some loans have come due, and we’ve all come to terms with the fact that being an adult is generally harder work than we expected. But we know that Thanksgiving will be a good day because we’ve been practicing it each year, and the formula couldn’t be simpler.