5 Thanksgiving Disasters You're Probably Not Prepared For
When you're a kid, Thanksgiving is something Mom or Grandma takes care of, and "dinner parties" in general are things fancy people on TV do. But sooner than you think, you will reach an age where you'll be expected to host meals for other people. And there is never more pressure to get this right than on Thanksgiving. If dinner parties are like group sex, then Thanksgiving is like starring in porn -- the lights are on, the camera is recording, and everyone's good time rests entirely on your boner.
So the day has arrived. The food is bought. You've spent a full day cleaning up empty beer cans and strategically placing furniture over wine-colored vomit stains. You are ready to eat and thank the shit out of some shit.
Or are you? After all ...
If You Fuck Up The Turkey, People Will Die
Maybe you're in your 20s and are having to throw your first Thanksgiving away from home. Maybe you're older, and Mom finally got taken to jail for dog fighting. Either way, you've laid down the turkey gauntlet and decided to throw everybody a Thanksgiving that will make your Mom's look like a big pile of shit.
Before you read another word of this article, you need to go back in time about a week and have a frozen turkey in your possession. You don't need to be physically holding it right now while you're reading, though I'd prefer it if you were. At the very least, it needs to be in your freezer. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is that people tend to procrastinate on the holidays. Two days before Thanksgiving, you won't be able to enter a grocery store without having to cancel your plans for the evening, because every person in town will be making a last-minute mad dash for the same core ingredients that make up every Thanksgiving dinner in the country. And it doesn't matter how small your list is; the 15 people in front of you with full carts dictate your time spent in line.
But more importantly, most stores carry turkeys frozen because they go bad really fast. If they sell you a bacteria-contaminated turkey, that can put a motherfucker in a hospital bed as fast as an escaped dog-fighting champion, and that's generally frowned upon by most business owners. People in America consider it rude to sell poisoned meat. Turkeys are also pretty big, so they take a while to thaw. Setting one out on a counter at room temperature, thinking the warm air will help speed things along, is a pretty good way to make everyone at your party shoot liquid filth out of every orifice of their body for the next several days.
The safest way to thaw a turkey out is to put it in the refrigerator about four days before cooking it. Yes. Four fucking days. That's how long you have to plan ahead for just that part. To be more precise, it's 24 hours in the fridge for every four or five pounds of turkey.
You've done all of that. It's the night before, and you're now cooking your bird. Awesome. "Wait, what's that burning plastic smell," you ask? It's the fucking plastic bag full of guts they crammed inside the turkey. Yes, they do that. They bag up the extra parts -- the neck, gizzard, liver, testicles, etc. -- and cram it back into the body cavity. Most even come with a bag of concentrated gravy made out of the bird's tortured soul. And unless you pull the legs apart and cram your hand up inside, you'd never know they were there. [Note to Editor: I have done the research, and there is no joke that can be made about that last line.]
Oh shit, did you take into account any vegetarian guests? Those people are all over the place now. It's not just a matter of "Well, they can eat the sides and leave the turkey for us." Uh, you remember how the baked beans have bacon in them? And the noodles were made with chicken broth? And the green bean casserole has bacon in it? And how Grandma's cranberry sauce recipe has bacon fat in it? And how the bacon punch is nothing but ground-up bacon? You're going to have to take a moment to make sure those guests aren't sitting there with a roll and some corn. And you have to plan all this ahead, because you also have to ...
Stock Up On The Three B's: Beer, Butter And Toilet Paper
Let me give you a quick scenario. It's 8:00 p.m. Everyone is finished eating, and you're all gathered around the TV, screaming obscenities at a football game that doesn't involve your favorite team but which everyone watches out of tradition, because it's an excuse to not have to talk to each other.
Uncle Mitch walks into the room with an empty beer box, and he's pointing at it and crying. At the same time, four people stand outside of a closed bathroom door, clutching their stomachs and weighing the pros and cons of dropping a deuce into your sink. Grandma finally exits the bathroom and announces, "You're out of toilet paper. I had to wipe my ass on your shower curtain."
"Fuck!" you gasp. "Mitch drank the last beer!"
If you're lucky enough to live in a town that has a store that stays open on Thanksgiving, then awesome -- you just have to deal with the other thousand people in line who all forgot to stock up on shit and then get back to your party. If you live in a small town like mine, that means driving 30 minutes to the next town that does have an open store, spending another 30 minutes getting the stuff, waiting another 20 minutes in line at the register, and then driving another 30 minutes back. Those people outside the bathroom needed to go 20 minutes ago. The beer drinkers are now cooking something with leftover cranberries, yeast, and the copper pipes that they removed from your sink.
In a family of drinkers, things get ugly fast. At one of my family's gatherings years ago, my uncles and I found ourselves organizing a trip to the next state because it had the only place that sold booze on Thanksgiving. And they were only open for another two hours. We were like Jack Bauer in 24, racing across town to defuse a nuclear sobriety bomb.
What we learned that day is that you have to overstock everything. A case of beer in my family lasted about 40 minutes. Hell, back then, I could take care of a case all by myself. Plan out what you think you need, and then triple that order.
Especially butter. Yeah, it turns out that pretty much everything you cook on Thanksgiving requires butter. So by the time the rolls are passed around, you have no butter to put on them because you've used it all in cooking.
And toilet paper. Have I mentioned that? If you're male and you're in charge of shopping, this is something you'll overlook. ("Ah, we're fine, there's most of a roll left there.") We're used to needing it once, maybe twice a day (depending on our levels of Tabasco use in the previous week). We forget that women need it every time they go. And that kids use ten times too much. And that Uncle Mitch has chronic diarrhea from his constant drinking and eating all that butter.
You Don't Have Enough Dishes, And You Sure As Fuck Don't Have Enough Chairs
When you think of Thanksgiving, you always picture the eating part, not the preparation. So when you're going over the dish situation, you think, "OK, I have eight people coming over, so I'm going to need eight plates, eight forks, and I have a dozen glasses if you count the collectible Shrek glasses I got from McDonald's eight years ago ..." Nope. The cooking and serving parts of the meal mean you're off by about 50 percent.
My first Thanksgiving dinner I ever cooked was pretty ambitious. If you're going to do that shit, you do it right. That is, until I got about halfway through the preparation and realized that I didn't have nearly enough bowls and dishes to serve the food in. Of course, by the time I found that out, it was too late to go buy more, so I had to just start removing items from the menu instead. It was either that or piling green bean casserole and scalloped potatoes directly on the table.
Yeah, you probably have enough plates -- when you buy plates, you get like eight of them, and you probably have that many more odd mismatched ones you've wound up with on accident. But how many serving dishes do you have? This is something you literally never use in single life, because you're never going to serve an elaborate family style dinner for yourself, I don't care how fat you are.
In a panic, you'll think, "Well, I can just serve the food out of the pots and pans I cooked them in," but there's a problem with that. Putting a shitload of hot pans on a table isn't wise. Especially if there are kids around. Not to mention that you'll probably be short on pans and have to reuse some of them to make different sides. After all, how many sauce pans do you own? Enough to hold five different side dishes that all have to be heated at the same time?
And you can't carve a turkey and just drop the meat back into the disgusting disposable pan. The bottom of that thing is filled with grease and nasty-looking floaty things. So you'll need to find a big-ass plate to pile all of the meat up. No, you can't just leave the bird intact and let the guests carve their own. 90 percent of humans can't take a piece of meat apart without destroying either the meat or their own hands. There's a reason Uncle Mitch drinks so much and only needs one and a half gloves in December.
OK, so maybe you've taken care of all that. Once you have all of your food in its respective serving bowls/plates, you're going to find that you don't have enough big spoons to dip it all up. And before the meal is even served, you'll open your cabinet to find that every glass in the house is now dirty. People have been at your house for hours, the ones not pounding beers need something to drink, and they'll be damned if they'll actually keep track of their glass so they can use it at meal time. Kids especially have a tendency to use a glass once and then promptly lose it or put it in the dirty dishes pile.
The easy solution to this is to buy an assload of plastic cups. You can do the same with plates, but you have to be careful with what type you choose. Don't make the mistake of buying paper plates. Half of what you're eating is prepared in some sort of liquid, and that shit will soak right through. Styrofoam isn't much better, because any pressure you put on those things will crack them, and the time you saved by not doing dishes will instead be spent cleaning up the floor, which is now covered in meat juice. This is the one area in which you'll want to spend a little extra and buy the sturdy plastic disposables. It's Thanksgiving, people. Don't be afraid to get fancy.
Oh, and you don't have enough chairs. What do you have? Four chairs around your dining room or kitchen table? A rolling office chair at your computer ... and then what? You don't have ten goddamn dining room chairs. Why would you? But you better figure out something. You think people want to eat Thanksgiving dinner sitting ass-to-ass on your sofa, trying to balance that shit on their lap? What if all of the sofa people hate each other?
Speaking of which ...
If You Mix the Wrong People, Somebody Will Fucking Die
Let's rewind back to the stage when you were deciding who to invite. Sure, there are the people you love whom you'll automatically invite. But then there are the people at the fringes, the friends or family of those people who don't have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving, and who you feel sorry for. And then you have the people who would perceive the lack of an invitation as a slight against them. So you could have a complicated mix of people, is what I'm saying. And you need to make sure that none of those people want to stab any of the others.
For instance, in the past, I skipped a lot of my family's dinners. It's because I have some relatives who were ... uh ... troubled, and our relationships were beyond the point of just "gritting your teeth and sticking it out." Putting us together in the same room was guaranteed to start some shit*, and I don't need my kids around that. As an adult, I have that choice.
*Shit = knife fight.
That seems like a personal, one-off example, but I have never attended a Thanksgiving dinner (family or otherwise) that didn't have at least one disastrous combination of people. Two mutual friends who used to date and had a messy breakup. An aunt and uncle who are secretly preparing a divorce. The friend who starts screaming about politics when he gets drunk. An ex-alcoholic who's being tortured by all of the merry beer-drinking.
In 2009, I skipped Thanksgiving with my family, and I was honest with them about why. I had just quit drinking and couldn't be around the booze. For Christmas that year, they all decided to have a dry get-together for my benefit, but the entire night, I could just feel their resentment. I was the reason they couldn't drink. My hangup was ruining their fun. So now when I look back on that party, I don't think about the gifts or the jokes or the family I hadn't seen in a year; what I remember is the weight of that negativity looming about. Them just waiting for me to leave so they could bust out the booze and start the real party. Even if that's not what they were thinking, it's how I felt, and I couldn't relax because of it.
Are you setting up a situation like that for someone else? It's important that you consider not only who you're inviting, but what sort of atmosphere you're setting up. Is it appropriate for every guest? There's no shame in talking to someone in private before the party and telling them straight, "Hey, I know you've had problems with heroin in the past, so I wanted to give you a heads up before you accepted the invitation: We're all going to be freebasing that night. I completely understand if you don't want to be around it." Or letting them know about another guest whom they may not get along with. "Susan has already said she'll be there. Just wanted you to know because I remember she never really forgave you for fucking her grandma on her roof." And if there are going to be a lot of kids, it's probably best to just not invite her grandma at all, considering her inability to remain clothed after a few margaritas.
Oh, and speaking of which ...
The Children Will Destroy Everything You Love
Even if you don't have kids yourself, there's a good chance that someone you've invited does. And that means you're going to have to come up with shit for them to do. Depending on what part of the country you live, the weather, and the size of your yard, playing outside may not be an option. And even if it is, there's only so much you can do before they get bored and want to come in where all the other people are.
If you have multiple TVs, that's a quick fix. You can set up a video game system in another room. Or put on some cartoons or a movie. But even that can be tricky, because at my house, I let my kids play games that contain more graphic violence and hardcore fucking than a porno written by Quentin Tarantino. They've got that John Cheese gene that won't let them have fun until somebody bleeds. Not every kid has that gene, though, and other parents tend to be more restrictive. I guess they don't care about hardening up their children for the post-apocalypse.
That means you'll need to talk to their parents before the holiday and tell them to bring along something to keep the kids occupied. The last thing kids want to do is sit around in a room full of old people and watch football or a documentary on World War II fighter planes. Do they even air any other kind of TV on that day?
If everything is cleared through Mom and Dad and you do go the video game route, make sure to set up a couple of guest accounts on your console. Or if you're letting them use a computer, back up your game's save files. A few years ago, I let a couple of kids get on my computer -- the one I used to play my 60+ hours of Fallout: New Vegas. When I brought up the game the next day, they had used my character to slaughter every person in every faction I was trying to gain favor with. Their bodies were neatly placed in the desert to spell out "YOU ARE AN ENTERTAINMENT ABORTION -- A MALIGNANT TUMOR FESTERING DEEP WITHIN THE LUNGS OF OUR COMPLACENT GENERATION!"
If you have the ability, another thing to consider is putting your console or tower as close to the ceiling as humanly possible. Because kids = spills. It doesn't matter how old they are; something is getting spilled in your house, and the law of nature guarantees that it'll be directly on your most expensive piece of electronics.
Barring electronics, your floor is next on their list of "things to fuck up in someone else's house." If you can avoid putting them in a room with light-colored carpet, it would be a good idea. Actually, it would probably be easier to just remove all of the carpet in your house before they get there. And maybe lay down some plastic ...
Know what? You got this. I'm probably just making a big deal out of nothing. It's just dinner, after all. What could possibly go wrong?
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