Thanksgiving and the Actor

Thanksgiving, as most holidays are, is about gathering kith and kin, eating lots of food, and generally being a bunch of pigs and maybe watching sports and having a nap. And I have a lot of warm, nostalgic memories of the Thanksgivings I’ve had both growing up and with the family I’ve created as an adult. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be quite the opposite of the classic Thanksgiving. And it may read to you as a bit sad, a bit lonely, but the truth is for me that it was quite wonderful.

I moved to Los Angeles in my twenties with my college roommate and good old buddy Andy Barth, a sweet and kind man who was never very good at cleaning up after himself. We drove across country in his VW Rabbit (it was a miracle the old jalopy made it all the way.) Neither of us had ever been to the city before, we knew only a handful of people, and the only thing we came with was our dreams of being actors and working in the entertainment industry. It’s a classic American story, really. The culture shock was almost immediate, in that we were coming from our college years in New York City, which is a proper city as opposed to the sprawling suburb of nothing that is Los Angeles. (We drove right past downtown thinking it was just the beginning of the city, and we became very confused when we were suddenly at the ocean and had seen nothing but apartment buildings and fast food chains. As opposed to the jungle of tall buildings we took to mean you were in a “city.”) We drove out at the end of October. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, we had an apartment that featured two plastic chairs and a television that got only one channel mounted gracefully on the top of a pile of cardboard boxes. We were both still sleeping on the floor. Needless to say, we certainly had no money to fly back home for a proper family Thanksgiving. But that was okay. It was a sacrifice we were more than willing to make in service of our burgeoning thespian careers.

So, what to do? We had a little money, and by a “little money” I mean we had some credit cards with intensely low spending limits. So how do two single guys celebrate their first Thanksgiving in the city of their dreams? Well, we had heard of this place called “Malibu” which was often prominently featured in eighties titty movies, and we like titties, so we thought we’d try to find a restaurant to serve us a small feast in the ultra-rich beach town where we were sure we might see some titties. We were still stumbling through figuring out the layout of the city, and leaving from out apartment in Studio City we meandered through freeway exchanges and canyon roads before we finally got to the legendary beachfront area known for its money and boobs. We drove up and down the PCH, trying to find a restaurant open for business. But because most rich towns have rich people with their rich mansions filled with their rich families, all of Malibu was closed. There was nothing open, not even a damn taco stand. So we kept moving south on the PCH, until we were in Santa Monica and suddenly turned toward Los Angeles proper. We drove and drove and drove, looking for a place to eat, and everything was either closed or a fast food chain (and fast food seemed just too sad for the holiday, even for us.)

We had no idea where we were, but over the years I’ve come to realize that we weren’t too far from the LAX airport. We were now both starving, and driving down some dusty boulevard filled with dilapidated apartment buildings and auto body shops. We both agreed that no matter what place we saw next that served food and was open for the holiday, we would go into, even if it was goddamn McDonald’s because holy shit, we needed to eat. Just as the agreement was met, we happened upon a tavern that boasted “Thanksgiving Dinner!” It was an old-looking place, with a dirty white stucco exterior framed by dark wood beams that supported nothing, but were there to make it look rustic. The inside of the place was something out of the Midwest, dim lighting and red carpets and booths made out of stained wood. The waitresses were all career servers, most looking to be well into their sixties. It was perfect.

So we sat at a small booth, ordered some beers and our Thanksgiving dinners. And there we sat and ate and drank, with minimal conversation because when you have been roommates with someone for several years and driven across country together, there is very little left to talk about anymore. The food was pretty bland, but it at least has all the nostalgic Thanksgiving dishes, turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and of course bread stuffing. We pretty much wolfed it down we were so hungry from our failed expedition to titty town. And while the whole ordeal, two delusional broke guys putting a lousy dinner on credit cards because they couldn’t get to their families, might seem sad, it actually wasn’t.

Sure, we were a bit lonely and certainly nervous about the future and whether or not we had made a good choice in running down our dreams. But there was something coloring the whole day, the whole strange series of events, that made it very homey and exciting. Hope. Faith. Belief in ourselves, belief in our dreams, belief in the country that has always promised better lives for all. I know now that we were certainly young and foolish, as the old and wise might say. But if I could go back and relive that Thanksgiving in that dim place with my old buddy, I would and I wouldn’t change a thing. Because we weren’t just dining on bland food. We were dining out on the Technicolor wonder of an adventure which at the time, reality be damned, could only have a happy ending.

And that day is certainly worth giving thanks for. Happy November, folks. Over and out.

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