Congratulations. You survived Thanksgiving. Just a couple more weeks before the extended holiday. Since most of us gain weight this time of year to cope with the grim realities of family dinners, I decided not to write about food this week. Instead, I’m offering other suggestions for dealing with the inevitable awkwardness.
(Of course, I don’t have that problem. I gain weight because of the novelty of being home: A place where there is something other than two-week-old Chinese food and beer in the fridge. Why do you think I’m the food critic? That’s right. I don’t know how to cook. But for you food-addicted losers, here are my suggestions:)
n Substance abuse: My Uncle Les consistently sneaks outside for some Wild Turkey between dinner and dessert. And breakfast and lunch. And then there’s his … wife?
(Me and mom in the other room. I think I was around six:
“Which number wife is this for Uncle Les, mom?”
“Shhh … I don’t remember honey. Just go introduce yourself to your … aunt.”)
n Pot brownies split between friends can provide a number of tolerable dinners. I plan on extra fun trying to guess which of my relatives also baked before going over to grandma’s house.
n Start smoking. I’m going to spend most of my time excusing myself to take “walks” for cigarettes. Regardless of the weather.
n The key drawback of the substance abuse method is that deprivation of any of the above addictions can lead to the employment of less effective options, e.g.
n Football: I didn’t care on Thanksgiving. I still won’t care when team-I-don’t-care-about plays in bowl-I-don’t-care-about. A bunch of kids from some school will get the chance to riot in a different town than they normally do. But in the few days preceding the break, I’ll take some time to read about the upcoming games or watch “Sportscenter” until my eyes hurt. Then I have a tool for avoiding relatives who don’t like football and potentially embarrass the ones that do by spouting my newfound knowledge like gospel. I’ll award myself points when I catch any one of my family members quoting ” Sportscenter” verbatim and call them on it.
n The cell phone: Oh look! It’s an important call from one of my friends from school. She’s calling because she hates spending time with her family too!
“I’m going outside.”
“Can’t you call them back, honey? We’re looking at pictures of grandma’s Great Lakes cruise.”
“My hearing aid is making that noise again.” n Feeling relief when my family picks on my brother instead of me: It’s a guilty pleasure, but they’re focused on his girlfriend’s nose ring instead of the fact they all think I’m gay.
n Hanging out at the kids’ table: I can spill a little food without someone lamenting the death of a tablecloth. That takes most of the pressure off right there. Add to that a healthy mix of four-to-twelve-year-old conversation, and potential for relaxing family functions abounds. Now that I’ve established a rapport, I can tell my aunt after dinner that I’ll “hang out and play video games with the kids and make sure they’re taking turns.” The kids will be thrilled.
My aunt, powerless against the happy children, cannot admonish me for not playing Trivial Pursuit with the rest of the family. (There is a second brief pang of guilt for my brother and his girlfriend and her nose ring, but that is quickly washed away by a few games of “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ll admit later, with some admiration, that my nine-year-old cousin is much better at the game than I am.)
n Finding the dog: The dog gets taken for more walks during holidays than all the other days of the year combined. I always notice other people in the neighborhood doing the same thing. I usually let my dog sniff the other dog’s asses. C’mon. He’s on vacation too.
The dog is also indispensable during dinners. By placing it strategically under the table, I can feed him whatever I don’t want to eat, which is far easier than explaining to grandma that I’m a vegetarian. After the meal, when everyone is fighting over who gets to walk the dog, he usually goes to me because I was feeding him.
n Going to see an over-hyped movie: What better way to pretend we get along as a group than to make a trip to the local cinema, where we can sit in the dark and not talk to each other? This year I’m going to suggest “8 Mile.” Eminem is for the children (Just not the gay or female children).
n Hooking up with my old girlfriend: I don’t manage to sneak out while the adults are putting the kids to bed, “I’m going over to _____’s house” almost always works. My parents recognize there is weight attached to the name of the girl, and partly out of their embarrassment at not being able to remember which one she was -they’ve lumped together with the rest of the failures I don’t bring around anymore – they let me go. I always take her leftovers as a peace offering.
n Having a conversation with a relative in which neither of us mentions the food: It won’t happen. If it’s not good, I don’t say anything. Something vague, like “That was a great meal,” suffices. Or just nodding agreement when someone else says it.
n Returning to Ann Arbor early: Making up something about having a job or lots of work to do in preparation for the coming semester usually allows me to leave home the day after New Year’s. See you in the Deuce.