Thursday, November 28 2019
Today the four of us would be driving down to Brooklyn to attend Justin & Erica's annual vegan mega-Thanksgiving. First, though, Gretchen had to make a noodle bake and a berry strudle. Gretchen's parents had already made a bunch of carrot kugel yesterday. As usual, I wouldn't be doing any food prep at all, but I did go down the Stick Trail with my wood-hauling backpack and a splitting maul. I split a couple enormous chunks of wood and hauled them home. They were a bit damp, so the fact that they were brutally heavy meant less than I would've preferred. Gretchen and her father looked on in amazement as I marched the load directly into the living room and carefully landed it on the floor, getting on my knees and setting it down behind me.
At around 1:30pm, we began our drive in our Prius with me behind the wheel. We don't normally have humans in our backseat, so the car seemed to handle differently, though not radically so. Gretchen's father tends to drive at about the speed limit, but my average speed was about 73 miles per hour. As usual, Gretchen took over driving just north of the George Washington Bridge.
We arrived at Erica and Justin's brownstone at about 4:00pm, which was a little before most of the people had begun to arrive. An early casualty of the cheese and crackers table was a puff pastry containing an expensive amount of Miyoko's cheese. While nobody was looking, Luke the Dog went briefly bipedal and managed to pull it all down to the floor. Such a bad boy! He would be seen doing similar things all evening, particularly after the meal itself.
During the part of the afternoon that happens before the meal at this place, I never really know what to do with myself. The apartment is narrow, meaning it's often hard to get from one end to the other due to knots of chatting people. Sometimes I try to sit myself on the couches in the end farthest from the front door. I've had good conversations there in the past with people I haven't known well, though today it was dominated by the kids, who are now of an age where the only thing they appear to do is play videogames on tiny devices. Supposedly they find adults "incredibly boring," but from appearances they were contributing about as much to the party as they would've been had they been cacti. I pulled out my phone as a way to look like I wasn't just a sad lonely old man staring off into the middle distance, but that only worked until Gretchen came over and accused me of being "that guy." Not long after that, it was time to sit down and have dinner.
I've probably mentioned in the past that there is nothing particularly exciting about Thanksgiving food except that it is provided more or less in unlimited quantities. The great thing about Thanksgivings at the Erica-Justin abode is that there are usually at least a hundred dishes to choose between. Some hit notes that are resonant with my preferences and others do not. It's best not to load up my plate using only the appearance of things, but I always do anyway. The only bad note on my plate this evening was the cauliflower, which had some flavor that seemed to poison even the unrelated foods it sat next to. As always, Gretchen's noodle bake was probably the best thing, though there were a number of stuffings that were excellent, and even the faux-bird seitan loafs (which always look better than they turn out to be) were pretty good.
Ashley showed up late, about half way into the meal. She was carrying a big bag with the word FUR with a circle and slash drawn over it. She's a walking spectacle, putting out a crazy fun vibe, the sort of thing that reminds me of the fun days of Oberlin, Charlottesville, and Bathtub Girl. At some point we she and I had one of those long absurdist converations we have when we see each other at these sorts of things. She told me about a pet caiman she had as youth in Florida, a creature who eventually grew to five feet in length before he or she had to be gotten rid of (she didn't tell me how). One of her mother's boyfriends in Florida was named Randy and he was into raising alligators, and Ashley remembers playing with the baby ones in defiance of Randy's warnings about how when they bite they do not let go. Ashley also told the story of the time (back during the George W. Bush administration) when she was with Gene B. (the guy who started Farm Sanctuary) at the White House being shown around by Matthew Scully, the conservative Christian speechwriter who was famously into animal rights (he wrote a book about Christian animal rights advocacy entitled Dominion). I've actually heard Gene tell this story from his perspective as well, but Ashley said they were there well after business hours and got to see things pretty much without restriction, including the Oval Office, where, Ashley says, she sat on the floor in order to better connect with her great grandfather, Schuyler Colfax, who was Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant. (Though, given when he lived, he was more likely to have been her great-great grandfather.) Later, Scully took Gene and Ashley to some sort of Washington-area party, probably one with lots of douchebags in attendance. At that point, Ashley took off her sweater, exposing the tattoos on her arms. Once Scully saw those, he never said another word to her. Evidently that was back in the days when tattoos were still shocking in mainstream social circles.
One of the amusing things about my conversations with Ashley is that they have repetitive tics that almost serve the function that lines of chorus serve in music. In tonight's case, one of those was references to "unhinging" ones "jaw." Ashley first used this expression when describing how she'd just taken a sip of wine, but then it kept popping up in other contexts (not, interestingly enough, in reference to caimans and, later, alligators). Throughout this whole conversation, Gretchen's parents were nearby watching the whole thing in wonder. They don't have a lot of this sort of thing in their social network.
Another conversation I had was with a woman named Erin who works as a system architect for Amazon Web Services. She said she didn't much like her job and wanted to strike out on her own, perhaps joining forces with me to build some sort of killer app with the hope of better funding animal rights causes. I suggested she join the Slack group found by my old colleague Dan, the system the MFA diaspora uses to remain connected across space and time.
As people began to leave, people busted out their Tupperware and other containers to harvest what they liked of all the vats of comfort food. This always happens at the end of an Erica & Justin Thanksgiving, but this time people were so well-prepared to take stuff home that, by the end, there weren't all that many leftovers for Erica and Justin.
We didn't get back to Hurley until 12:30am.
Gretchen and others tonight at Thanksgiving.
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