(Dylan Brody is a writer and performer.)
Thanksgiving is always a difficult time for me because I am, by nature and by habit, an ingrate. For years I avoided Thanksgiving get-togethers and I believed it was because I did not like turkey. It was only well into adulthood that I realized I just didn't like what my grandmother used to do to turkey.
Every year my family would pile into the station wagon and drive to Lakewood New Jersey where my grandmother would turn a Butterball into bird-shaped particle board. I remember hours of chewing and I remember thinking that holiday food was supposed to make one salivate, not absorb all the moisture from one's mouth. A slab of my grandmother's turkey could have been used to dehumidify the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
At the end of the holiday weekend, we'd all get back into the car and as we pulled away my father would say, "Well. That was relatively painless." Halfway home we would stop somewhere for lunch and, after days of politely rejecting Grandma's offers of left-over turkey shard sandwiches, I would have a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. It was my favorite meal of the year.
A few years ago, I went to a holiday gathering I thought it might be good for my career to attend. That's right. I'm that guy. While everyone else is hip-deep in holiday spirit, I'm just hoping to book some gigs for after the New Year. In any case, there was turkey at this party and in an attempt to look like a civilized human, I ate some and found out that I don't hate it. I had seconds.
Just as I was beginning to think I was getting the hang of the whole Thanksgiving deal, my host introduced the highlight of his evening. Everybody present would take a moment to state what he or she was thankful for. I hate audience participation. I don't sing-along. I don't clap on two and four. When I was a kid and we went to a State Theater production of Peter Pan, I wouldn't pretend my applause could help save Tinkerbell's cloying, shimmery, fictitious life. I was perfectly happy to let her darken and die.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter. I just don't believe in artificial sweeteners. There are things in the world I feel thankful for, but they are personal things that I don't feel like telling a roomful of acquaintances just because somebody's turned basic human gratitude into a holiday-specific party game. So after a few people shared their saccharine feelings about health and the love of their families or whatever idiocy they spouted, it got to be my turn; I said, "I'm thankful that at that very first Thanksgiving everybody ignored the one wise, old Native American woman who kept saying, 'don't feed them. If you feed them, they'll never leave.'"
Everybody at the party glared at me. Apparently the gratitude game, when played properly, is utterly humorless. My wife squeezed my hand reassuringly and I knew that none of these people was going to be calling to offer a job over the next couple of months.
Yesterday I got an e-mail invitation to a big Thanksgiving dinner party in the Hollywood hills. I asked my wife if she wanted to go eat turkey with some Network and Studio executives this year. She said she'd rather just stay in, watch a movie and have grilled cheese. I nearly wept with gratitude.