Saturday, January 24, 2015

Festivities. Yes, Festivities. (A month too late, I might add)

You see, my mother is a vegetarian most days. But two days before Thanksgiving, she decides that family comes first - family must always come first, always - and adjustments must be made. But to buy just any turkey would be too big of a step, and so maybe it will be organic? Farm raised? Pesticide and preservative free? No, no, that's much too common. Kosher, then. She goes to Whole foods, but alas, there's a whole aisle of kosher turkeys. No, no, much too common. Halal, she decides. Ah, even Whole Foods doesn't carry halal turkeys. Yelp says there's a small shop close by, and so she drives over. The shop is small, musty, and smells of Indian spices. Cardamom? The man at the cash register is the only man in the store. When he sees her heading for the back meat department, he runs over and puts on his apron. "A turkey, please," she says. There are seven turkeys sitting behind the glass, and with a flourish, he presents them, as if beckoning her to choose. "I'm not sure which one. I'm a vegetarian." The man doesn't bat an eye. He's seen much worse than this lady, and so he merely picks up the center turkey, wraps it in paper, sticks the price sticker on, takes off his apron, and runs to the front cash register. My mother is now back in her car, redoing her bun. The wrapped turkey sits in the seat next to her, and together they start driving home. Half a mile from out house, my mother remembers the stuffing. Turkeys are always stuffed - how silly of her to forget. It must be the vegetarianism getting to her. She leaves the turkey in the passenger seat, and runs into Safeway. There are so many boxes of stuffing, row upon row, and once again, everything is much too common. Bottom shelf, to the right, she spots it: Vegan, 100% organic, garlic flavored stuffing. She figures the vegan stuffing and the turkey will cancel each other out (meat + vegan = vegetarian, simple math, she thinks), and her conscience is pleased that she'll be enjoying a vegetarian meal. The stuffing box shows a stuffed turkey surrounded by plates and plates of sides. She flies through the store, using the stuffing box as a template. Cranberry sauce. Pie. Mashed potatoes. Cream cheese. Garlic bread. Her cart is now full, and she is confidant that this is going to be the best meal of her life. Because family comes first. She gets back to the car and is overwhelmed by an odd stench. It seems to be coming - oh yes, it most certainly is coming from the turkey. It's still sitting in the passenger seat, and the brown paper it is wrapped in is now soaked through. It's as if the turkey is sweating. She touches it, and it's quite warm. Ah, she'll pop it in the freezer as soon as she gets home.

My father's at work, but he's not really there. His mind is on the sales. Amazon has some early deals out, and he's regularly uploading the page. Costco's website say they have a $500 Armani watch on sale in stores, and in half an hour, he's off from work. He just hopes he can get there before they're sold out because these black Friday deals are selling out like hotcakes if the Amazon deals are any indication. Score! He gets to Costco on time and gets the watch. He puts it on immediately, and it's a lot heavier than he expected. That's what comes with good value. He reads a few articles on how stores will be opening tomorrow -Thanksgiving - for early sales. There's a lot of controversy, and he sees that some people are even boycotting stores that open on Thanksgiving. He's not sure if he will boycott. Family comes first, the comments say. My wife's vegetarian, he thinks. I'll go catch the sales.

My brother gets off school at 3:30, and so I drive over to pick him up. I get there fifteen minutes early, and smirk at all the cars that drive around and around the parking lot, hoping that a spot will free up. Suckers. He comes running, holding an art project in his hand. It's a hand turkey, but he messed up and drew the turkey face on the pinky, instead of on the thumb. He opens the back door and dumps all his stuff on the seat, and then climbs in to sit next to me. He's too young to sit in the front, and we both know it, so I pretend to be disappointed. I figure since I'm already breaking one law, I might as well break another, and I speed on the way home. He catches it though, and points out that I certainly shouldn't be going over the speed limit if he's sitting up front - imagine how much the ticket would cost then, double infraction. Kid's smarter than I thought.

My mother's on the phone when we get home. It's on speaker, and it sounds like the woman from Best Buy customer service. Nasally voice and all. I sneak a look at the number, and it's 1-800-BUTTERBALL. No joke - butterball. My mother's really worried about the turkey. She's not sure how exactly to put it together. It's still smelly, even after she put it in the the freezer for two hours. The lady on the phone is nice, though, and is trying to figure out just how smelly the turkey is. "I'm a vegetarian. I don't know how turkeys are supposed to smell". The lady asks if the smell was like that from the moment she bought the turkey, and my mother explains that it only started smelling after she left it in the car. The lady is now suggesting that she buy another turkey, but she just looked up the Halal shop and it closed half an hour ago. She's not sure what to do, but there must be a family dinner. She sets everything on the table: the pie, the potatoes, everything she bought this morning. She figures she'll wait for her husband to some home, and see what he thinks of the turkey. Maybe it doesn't really smell bad. She hopes it doesn't smell bad. In fact, she's kind of sure that she became a vegetarian because meats always smelled bad, and no she's positive that the turkey is fine. The recipe online says the turkey should slow cook in the oven for about 12 hours, so she'll marinate it now, and stick it in the oven right before she goes to bed.

My father comes home a little early. He stations himself at the Mac, sets his cup of coffee in front of him, lays out all his credit cards on the computer table, and opens up the tabs to all of the online stores he expects good deals from. His iPhone is in his left hand, and he keeps on pressing the home button. He brings the phone up to his face, presses the home button, the screen lights up, he checks the time, and then he puts his arm down. He repeats the process every few seconds, and every time he brings his arm up, the watch on his wrist slides down a little, and when he puts it down, the watch slides back up. It's starting to irritate him, so he takes it off. It's now nine o'clock, but the sale prices aren't updated yet. Refresh. Refresh. Is he on the right page? Is he sure 12 AM EST is 9 PM PST? Refresh. Refresh. Nine o' one. The prices are updated. Nobody talk to my father.

As the turkey cooks, the smell wafts upstairs. The heating system is central, so the smell wafts through the air vents into my room before it can waft its way up the stairs. It smells bad. Really bad. I'm sure a turkey is supposed to smell relatively good, so I go downstairs to check if it smells any better at the source. The oven smells even worse. My mom is taking a nap in her room, so I turn to the butterball hotline. The lady says the turkey has gone bad, and that I should just throw it in the trash. It's even bad for compost. I take the turkey out of the oven and throw the whole thing in the bin, pan and all. My brother comes down, sees what I've done, attempts to clap me on the shoulder but instead smacks my tailbone, then sneaks out of the kitchen with a finger to his lip. Good kid.

My mother comes down to the kitchen. She wants to check on the turkey, but when she opens the oven, there's nothing there. She's not sure how to feel. Not quite dismayed, almost reluctantly glad that the turkey is gone. She'll decide what to cook tomorrow.

My brother wakes me up. There's a bad scent in the air, he says. I sniff, but I don't pick up anything. He rolls his eyes, and then throws my covers off me. I'm pissed, but I'm even more lazy to get up and chase him, so I close my eyes and attempt to fall asleep again. Well, I'm leaving, he says. I crack open an eye. Something bad is going to happen today, he says. Mom's not in a good mood, neither is dad, and we're not very helpful. Mom will probably try to use you as her Thanksgiving taste tester. Take me to the park. You see, the problem with this kid is that he's smart. He's going to be a lawyer one day, and everyone is going to hate him. I sigh and roll out of bed. He does have a point. I give him a light smack as I walk out, for waking me up.

Mother wakes up with a jolt. It's Thanksgiving. Her husband is snoring besides her, and so she pokes him, right on the hip bone. She figures since she's getting up early, 'for family', he might as well suffer with her. She vaguely remembers saying something like that in her wedding vows - in sickness or in death, in grief or in misery, they shall suffer together. She gives him another sharp jab, and this time she almost feels like it's her duty. He said the wedding vows, too, after all. He rolls around, and he almost falls off the bed, his right arm and right leg hanging off the edge. She gently nudges him, and smiles as he falls on the floor. Then she gets up. Thanksgiving, she says to him. Rise and shine, 1800-BUTTERBALL. And then she remembers there is no turkey. She rushes to the car as he's still getting up off the floor.

My brother plays on the swings. Then he runs to the slides. Back to the swings. Now it's the monkey-bars. Back to the slide. The playground is completely empty, and it's cold enough that his puffs make clouds in the air. I think I see my mother's car pass by, and it's the only car I see all morning. I sit and watch my brother run around until I can no longer feel my legs or arms, and then tell him it's time to go home. His nose is red and runny, and he says he can't feel his fingers. I put his hand inside my coat pocket as we start to cross the road, but just then, a car just like my mother's whizzes past, in the same direction we're going. I didn't see the driver, but I'm not risking going back to my mother before she's done cooking. Let's stay a little more, I say to my brother. I'll play with you. He removes his freezing fingers from my pocket, passes it over his nose, and then takes off running. Tag, you're it, he yells. I give him a ten second head start.

My mother finds my note on the table. At the park, it says. My father is asleep upstairs - he climbed back into bed right after she left. There were no turkey at Safeway. She went to Sprout's. She wet to Whole Foods. She even went to Lucky. At first, she asked for a Halal turkey. Then she asked for Kosher. At Lucky's, she was just looking for artificial turkey meat. All gone, they said. She was surprised people even bought artificial turkey meat. She asked to speak with the store manager, and he recommend buying a few cod fish fillets. Layer them on top of each other, rub a little glaze, but some turkey stuffing between the two layers, and it tastes exactly like turkey, he said. So she bought the cod fish fillets. She followed his suggestions, and used the breadcrumb stuffing. She had overestimated the time it took for cod to cook, and she had to take it out of the oven at 1 PM. She figured they would just have the Thanksgiving dinner for lunch, so she prepped the side dishes. At 2:30, the table was set. She called her husband down and they ate. Where are the kids, he asked. The thought flashed across her mind - family comes first - but she shook it away. She smiled at him, shrugged, and said, they didn't want food now. And then she ate her cod.

The kids came home late. The lights were all out. Someone was snoring upstairs. They trudged into the kitchen, looking for the turkey. There was nothing there. They looked in the fridge, and found something. It looked odd, and it smelled like fish. They each ate a bowl of cereal, and went upstairs to sleep. 

The father, in his dreams, was trying to buy a dog. It was on sale, a Black Friday special, and it came with a dog house and a year's supply of food. He bought it, but when he got home, he found it was a cat. He went back to the store, and the attendance clerk just shrugged. Cat, dog, animal, they're all the same, she said. He looked at the cat in his arms, but it was a fish. It was flopping around, trying to find water. It's called an Atlantic Cod, she said. In the back of his dream, he heard his daughter say good night. He heard his son say good night. Besides him, his wife turned around, and her elbow dug into his stomach.

*Disclaimer: 75% is made up and bears no resemblance to my family/any people I know. The other 25% is collective knowledge - stuff that I've seen happen in our family, or I have heard stories of, etc. Also, I'm sorry if anything in the story is offensive. I promise, for example, that I in no way am making fun of vegans/vegetarians/anyone. It's just my joke-style.