By: Dave Baker
All we need in life is beer and gravy. I defy you to list anything better than beer and gravy. There’s a reason “anything else is just gravy,” made it’s way to cliché status. Gravy is just that good. And that’s why no holiday is quite as good as Thanksgiving, except maybe Victory Over Japan Day. My survivalist uncle Bob throws the best VJ Day parties. We go out to his cabin in Pittsburg, New Hampshire to pound moonshine, fish with 12-gauge shotguns, and listen to Uncle Bobby’s theory about an impending war with Canada. Last year, he showed us how to make beef jerky and dodge income tax – the man’s a born educator. But back to Thanksgiving. No pressure, no burning through checking accounts, and no spending obscene amounts of time with relatives you loathe – just beer, gravy, and football. No picks this week 1) because why sully this great American holiday with terrible predictions, and 2) I’m shot. Instead, I leave with a piece I had published last spring the literary journal In Bantam about a Thanksgiving Eve bar crawl that takes place in my town. Enjoy Thanksgiving, guys, and check back next week to talk some football.
You drive across town and pull up to your best friend’s parents’ house. It’s the house you spent high school at, sneaking beers in the basement and blunts in the backyard. It’s been months since you’ve seen these guys, but Thanksgiving brings everyone back to 8 Fox Run and their former selves. Here, Dan isn’t a young, hotshot financial analyst on Wall Street, just the same wannabe hustler you remember dealing Snapples from his locker and cheating his way through the Advanced Placement classes that landed him at Villanova. No matter how many girls Kyle banged at Quinnipiac, no one will let him forget that bitch he dated in high school or his signature XXL graphic tees and fitteds look, seen on every extra in You Got Served. Sure, DJ used to own the football field, but now his broken down body is the punch line for the bad joke his football career became – steroids have that effect. As for Danny, being captain of your Division III college basketball team is nice, but it doesn’t erase a 3-for-12 shooting night during a losing effort in state championship. Here, all you are is who you were, post-high school accomplishments be damned. So you stand around the table with your old friends, crack some beers, relentlessly break each other’s balls, reminisce, and liquor-up for a night of awkward reunions and hometown debauchery. Welcome to the Thanksgiving Eve Bar Crawl. Welcome home.
If you’re from Wallingford, Connecticut, college was hardly a crash course in substance abuse. You’ve been drinking with your friends on a weekly basis since freshman year of high school, mastering self-destruction while most just watched it on The Real World and Teen Mom. Could have something to do with the five package stores in a one mile radius, the 10 bars lining Center street and South Main, or maybe you were just really bored and all your friends were doing it.
Tonight, downtown Wallingford is overrun with wasted twenty-somethings. The dives you’d never set foot in after turning 21 are packed wall-to-wall, and the impromptu high school reunion begins. You run into that kid from Algebra II, the guy from senior English, and even that funny-but-fuckable girl from homeroom you never had the balls to make a move on – she looks great by the way. You flash that fake smile, dole out a half-assed hug and rattle off, “Oh school’s great. What are you up to lately?” all the while squirming for a quick out.
You make your way up Center Street and each ghost of high school’s past becomes all the more interesting with each Jameson. You lose yourself in the crawl, along with whatever money was in your wallet, and suddenly you’re everyone’s best friend. Cell phone numbers are exchanged and “Yeah, I’ll hit you up over break,” punctuates every conversation you’ll barely remember. The bouncers hustle you out of the bar at 1:00 AM and you half-stumble down South Main Street to your parents’ house, catching dirty looks from every cop counting the seconds until their shift-change and an end to the sloppiest night of the year.
You fumble your keys and fuck around with the lock, eventually finding your way inside. You snag one more beer from your Dad’s fridge in the basement, throw a Hot Pocket in the microwave, and collapse in a heap on your couch, praying that a rerun of South Park is on Comedy Central.
You blink and it’s suddenly 5:00 AM. You’re sprawled out on the couch with your shoes still on, the button and fly to your jeans undone. There’s a half empty Highlife on the coffee table, a Hot Pocket that’s been sitting in your microwave for hours, and paid programming blaring from your TV. You gather your hung-over self and head upstairs before your Dad wakes up to the hapless sonuvabitch passed out on his couch. You doze in your own bed for a few more hours before your forced to rehydrate, recaffeinate, and face the onslaught of relatives and family members – the only people you want to see less than former classmates. But take heart. You’ll overdose on carbohydrates, drown your meal in Mom’s gravy, and spend the afternoon enjoying America’s game; letting it all settle during what promises to be an epic nap.
Isn’t that what Thanksgiving’s all about? Because eventually you’ll graduate, the economy will improve, and this will all become another chapter in the ongoing book of nostalgia that hometown life lends itself to all too well. Chapters end, characters get shaken up, and one day it will all go down as a chance meeting, an awkward hug, another drink, and a hangover to think about it. That’s all it is. And for too many, that’s all it ever will be.