Holding Forth

Published on December 1st, 2015 | by Richard Black

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Fear and Loathing on the Holidays: A Tale of Thanksgiving Lost

UF_BlackFriday_113015The real atrocity of the holidays these days is that my favorite one, Thanksgiving, is nothing more than a precursor to Black Friday. Thanksgiving is a time for unbridled gluttony, a holiday that encompasses the spirit of the American people and its hallowed tradition of morbid obesity.

I’m being sarcastic of course. Thanksgiving is a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate the things for which we are thankful. It’s a time to remember the native peoples of this land who welcomed the starving European settlers with open arms and were subsequently relocated and largely exterminated for their kindness.

Politics aside I used to like Thanksgiving. I can’t blame corporate America or our government for ruining the holiday. Instead my extended family takes that particular honor. Don’t get me wrong I love the Klopeks but it’s more of a theoretical “it’s nice to know you’re there in case I need a kidney” sort of love rather than the “please come over to my house, have dinner and make awkward conversation” kind of love. If I wanted to talk about hemorrhoids over a case of wine for three hours I’d have my wife’s friends over. I’m kidding of course. I wouldn’t even think of inviting my wife’s friends over to my house.

The Klopeks really are lovely people. They’re even tolerable in small doses. Being largely of Germanic decent however they tend to cling to certain Teutonic traditions we don’t much see these days. The Klopeks are, for example, quite adept at fixing large amounts of bland food specifically tailored to cause heartburn on an epic scale. You’ve never truly experienced gastrointestinal distress until you’ve eaten homemade sauerkraut that’s made an 800 mile journey in the trunk of a 1988 Chevy Impala with a leaky exhaust.

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It’s a little insensitive but Uncle Gunnar’s tiny little “Heil Hitler” finger routine always kills at Thanksgiving.

In addition to their love of food that’s only edible in a theoretical sense the Klopeks embrace a few other traditions of the Fatherland some of which include a penchant for ill fitting baggy pants, tight boots, short mustaches, parades, book burnings, fascism and, last but not least, a deep seated hatred for one’s self.

Sadly the consumption of alcohol does not number among these customs. It’s a pity really because it’s one of the few traditions the Klopeks haven’t brought over from the Old Country. One would imagine that a few dozen beers would pair well with a discussion on how to best persecute those of other faiths and one might even be right. Unfortunately I’ll never know. The vast majority of the Klopek’s don’t drink. Whether they’re teetotalers for ideological reasons or just seriously devoted to making the evening as unpleasant as possible is a mystery for the ages.

The Klopeks are a notoriously tight lipped bunch. They don’t talk much. I only learned my Uncle Gustavo’s first name a few years ago. It turns out that Uncle Gustavo is really Aunt Gustavo or Hilda as she prefers to be known. I’ve known Aunt Hilda for well over forty years and it never occurred to me that she wasn’t a man. Whether Gustavo became Hilda over the past twenty years through a lot of therapy and surgery or was simply just an incredibly hairy woman with small breasts is a something I shall never know.

On the rare occasion conversation manages to break out it tends to move in fits and starts like a car with a new driver at the wheel. Popular subjects, for discourse during the few times it arises include the weather, crops, the weather, Ohio football, the weather, creationism, medical conditions, children, raising children in a Godless world and that old standby, the weather.

It makes for a remarkably awkward evening. Aside from their medical conditions I’ve never met a group of people with so little in common. You really couldn’t put together a group of people more uncomfortable with each other, with more differing views on any particular subject they choose not to discuss, if you tried. Alcohol, as I may have mentioned, would go quite a ways to making the evening a bit more tolerable.

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Uncle Gunnar takes smoking a turkey to a new more carcinogenic level.

Fortunately my uncle Gunnar, our host, breaks with tradition and drinks heavily while smoking a turkey as well as a carton of cigarettes in his garage. If you’ve never had a turkey liberally basted in the butts of 200 Marlboro Reds you’re really missing out on an experience as well as quite a few tumors.

Despite his sophisticated airs Uncle Gunnar is, at heart, a simple man. A few years ago while we all sat around the table he asked the group if we thought, and I quote, “that black people were as smart as white people”.

Now neither Uncle Gunnar, nor the rest of the Klopeks are people I’d describe as being overtly racist. I’m quite certain that a few of them have even allowed a person of African decent to cut their hair when they’re in a hurry and their preferred stylist at Great Clips isn’t available. Rumor has it that my Aunt Hilda also used, and I shudder as I quote, a “negro”, to arrange her taxes. It’s a naive brand of racism but one that the Klopeks, and really one most people over sixty in the rural Midwest, cling to because anything that isn’t pasty and white or differs from the norm in any way is “scary”.

It was around the time Gunnar began defending his stance on race relations by pointing out that he’d never heard of an African explorer who discovered America that I excused myself from the table. I hurried to the bathroom feigning a horrible bout of diarrhea and proceeded to ransack the medicine cabinet for Quaaludes, ruffies or even a bottle of cough syrup. I would’ve even cheerfully downed a few dozen Prozacs in the hope that they’d render me unconscious but nary a prescription strength pharmaceutical was to be found.

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Even when consumed in large quantities Tums do not render one even remotely unconscious.

In my desperation I ate an entire bottle of Tums. I don’t know how many Tums come in a bottle but it’s not enough to relieve one’s heartburn or consciousness after a large meal with the Klopeks. The upside is that I now have enough calcium in my bones to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The downside is that I’m currently expecting to give birth to a kidney stone the size of a clementine orange.

When I finally ventured out I found the right wing Lutheran faction of the family showing a slideshow, with real slides and a projector, about their trip to Costa Rica. The four hour documentary I dubbed “Ostensible Aid” covered my aunt Hilda’s efforts to build a church for the indigenous population in return for antibiotics and medical care. I made it through precisely fifteen slides before I heard the words “the Spirit moved these people to build a house for God” before I excused myself to the garage in search of industrial grade inhalants or something heavy with which to bludgeon myself.

Instead I found Uncle Gunnar hotboxing a smoke and bonging a beer.

“Is it over?” he asked while tossing me an Old Milwaukee. I shook my head in response.

“Some people don’t know when to shut up,” Gunnar concluded his thoughts on the evening, tossed me another beer and we proceeded to spend the next ten minutes in glorious silence splitting the remains of a 12 pack and a box of cigarettes. In retrospect it was the most pleasant portion of the evening.

The two of us staggered back in the house just as Aunt Hilda was winding up her presentation and thanks to Uncle Gunnar I don’t remember any of it. That’s what family is for.

We don’t talk much, agree on much else or even really care for each other for the most part but we’re there for one another when it really counts, when one of us needs to get really, really drunk instead of causing a scene…or looking for a blood match when our kidneys or livers inevitably crap out.

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