I. Intro to Friendsgiving
As my millennial generation finds new ways to dodge the old paradigm of early marriage, a house in the suburbs, one job till the grave and 2.5 kids, we put new spins on the signifiers of the old ways. One of these is the tradition of Thanksgiving. This immaculate family holiday, second perhaps only to Christmas,[i] is an American touchstone, with a magnetic pull all its own. Commercialism and divorce have lessened the pull however, as many of my friends and peers have related to me that Thanksgiving has become a harrowing time of stepfamilies and compromise, overscheduling and face-saving. The act of giving thanks has become too politicized, too decentralized and chaotic. Hence an alternative new-age spinoff – Friendsgiving.
Friendsgiving is a time when friends can come together and enjoy the warm wood grains, cinnamon and chocolate aromas and autumnal reds and browns of the fall holiday. They can drink alcoholic ciders, fill and refill their plates, pretend pumpkin has flavor[ii] and sit blearily on couches – all without the stress, formality and awkwardness of a forced family gathering. It’s a tradition that allows young strivers to feel the contentment of food, fat times and camaraderie without having to worry about racist grandpa Jim or weird lonely Aunt Maude.
I have taken part in the Friendsgiving tradition a few times over the years. There is usually some sort of potluck involved, perhaps a viewing of a sporting event and lots of alcohol. I find Friendsgiving fascinating in the way that it represents a middle stage between childhood and adulthood. There is an inevitable play-acting of maturity that happens every time, as the host or hosts scramble to find a table on which to array the food, hustle to create enough seating for the guests, and jump to take coats and point out refreshments at the door. Even in the grimiest of college apartments, there’s a mood of earnest reflection and celebration in the air, a thankfulness of being young and beautiful, of being intelligent and capable and mobile, of having the whole world in front of us.[iii]
II. Friendsgiving Day
So when a member of the Providence fam – we’ll call him Flores – suggested a Friendsgiving at my rented house on Sunday the 17th, I reluctantly agreed. After all, what better way to ingratiate myself with my new posse, after availing myself their companionship and hospitality in Providence so many times? It was time to pay it back a little bit. And indeed, apart from a few mild snafus, Friendsgiving proceeded well enough. The house I’m renting has more than adequate facilities, with two kitchens, lots of chairs, long folding tables and many kitchen implements. The first car arrived in the late morning. I showed the guests around the house, then gave them a tasting of two of my recent beers. We sat on the deck, grumbled harmlessly about the lateness of the other group[iv] and enjoyed the unseasonably warm weather until a rain sent us inside.
The other group arrived with the ingredients and the kitchen hummed into action. I set up some speakers and “Trap Music”[v] began to blare out atop the sounds of turnip chopping and ricotta-whipping. I did not assist in the preparation or procuring of the food, believing that hosting was a reasonable contribution. This may have been a fatal mistake. There was an intermittent dance party in the kitchen, accompanied by very frequent cigarette breaks on the deck and front porch.
Perhaps the most notable activity I undertook during the Friendsgiving was receive creative drafting, editing and proofreading assistance for a series of texts with a girl who had given me her number on Friday. I recently read “The Game” by Neil Strauss, which struck a very resonant chord with me. Though I have not yet learned the pickup arts, I am still pretty decent on the dance floor, which has been getting me some attention lately. However, I have no knowledge or sense of the rules of second contact – I needed the wisdom of the group. It takes a village to text a girl. Consulting the fellowship of the Friendsgiving, I was able to come up with iron-clad, focus-grouped texts that struck an elegant balance between assertion and coolness. My tendencies toward bookishness and passivity were squashed. It was a good exercise. I was opening up, getting different perspectives, becoming invested in positive outcomes and becoming closer to the group. By the time I got a positive response to my proposal[vi], it felt like we had built something together.
However, I also have to mention the ‘introvert vs. people’ battle that was silently taking place in my head. I’m an introvert through and through. I like people in small doses, and to have nine guests in my monastery was difficult at times. Sneaking away to take care of some task or other was essential. I rarely host parties. There’s some part of my personality that’s very particular and very private, and having people messing with my things, undoing my arrangements – or worse, fooling with things I am renting – can make me standoffish and indecisive.
But for the most part I was trying to go with the flow and trust the functionality of the group, another potentially fatal mistake. Flores deep fried the turkey outside under the deck, using the propane from my rented grill. Once it was complete, dinner was served! The meal was delicious, but the eating was marred when a member of the fellowship – we’ll call him Souleymane – was too drunk. He literally fell out of his chair, got into a pseudo-food fight with one of the girls – Wilma – then engaged in a disgusting, too-long, too-much-food-in-mouth slapstick comedy routine. I had to look away to save my appetite, then take my plate of seconds outside when the vulgarity failed to abate.
At the end of the evening I received a bizarre compliment from another guest – we’ll call him Quintavious – which I appreciated as much as one can. It was something along the lines of “I’m supposed to fuck this girl on Friday, but I’d rather be on the dance floor with you.” If I wasn’t dark-skinned I might have blushed.
So generally Friendsgiving was a success. At the end, there was a vagueness about cleanup, the third and final fatal omen. Flores and his girlfriend Wilma promised to come back the next morning to pick up some things. Cleaning assistance may or may not have been implied.[vii] Flores was the one who had suggested my house as the venue. The others piled in cars and left. When everyone was gone, I surveyed the damage. I covered some of the food with foil and refrigerated as much as I could. Cleanup would begin Monday. I felt socially exhausted, but I had had a good time, and the hosting had gone well enough, right? I was also excited in some primordial sense by the prospect of leftovers, that sweetest of Thankgiving side-consequences. The actual consequences of Friendsgiving 2013 would be very different, and much less sweet.
III. The Aftermath, or Black Monday
Getting up on Monday, I realized the sheer weight of the cleanup ahead of me. As I re-surveyed the damage, the mess began to leer and smack of a certain drunken disregard. There were cigarette butts on the porch and my deck table. Smokers had stubbed out their butts on the porch, grinding ash into the cement. There were empty, full and half-full beers everywhere. A full plate of food sat uneaten at the table. Basically the place was a mess. I turned on Worse Than Alone and got to work.
Flores called me and said that he and Wilma were on the way. The small actions that followed managed to enrage me in a profound way. It’s two days later and I’m still seething. I realize that I may be being a small man, or perhaps whiny and “butthurt” as the kids like to say. And yet there was some subtle cocktail of disrespect and inconsideration that got mixed up and thrown in my face that morning, angering me in a deep and very real way.
Flores and Wilma came over, took all of the unused ingredients, leftover food and cooking equipment that they had brought, and left. They did not help me clean up. They did not offer to help me clean up. Flores wanted to funnel his turkey oil back into the containers, but did not bring a funnel. He asked to borrow mine, which I use for beer and thus don’t use on nasty stuff like day-old turkey-frying oil.
“I can’t let you use that funnel, I use it for beer” I said.
“I’ll buy you a new one?” Flores said, disingenuously.
As they drove off I hurled a dish towel at my refrigerator.
“What the Fuck!?” I screamed. They didn’t even leave me a ‘thanks for hosting’ plate of leftovers. All they left me was a house full of mess and a sink full of dirty dishes. I looked out onto the deck. Flores hadn’t even hooked the propane tank back up the grill, he had just left the tank there next to it. I went downstairs and saw that there was oil sprinkled all over the bricks outside my back door, leaving unsightly dark stains that I would have to explain to the landlord.
I felt like I had been used and insulted. I went back to the kitchen and had my first Car Bomb-fueled scream-therapy rage session since I quit my engineering job in Chicago. I was fucking livid.
And as I cleaned, it didn’t get much better. I finally texted my friend – we’ll call him Mustafa – to say how disrespected I felt. He took a defensive position, saying he had asked about cleanup before leaving the night before. I realized I was attempting to drive a wedge between roommates (Mustafa lives with Flores in Providence) so I backed off. Apparently he passed my message though. Soon I received a text from Wilma.
“You’re not seriously upset that [Flores] and I didn’t ‘clean up’, right…” she snarled. “Im sorry, but you really have no right to be mad.”
Wilma is a chef by schooling and profession. I thought bitterly of the Johnson & Wales coat of arms. It has a picture of the two titular chefs standing back-to-back, arms crossed, holding knives and rolling pins. Inscribed beneath these venerable gourmands are the words “Alius quispiam facit lances”, Latin for “Someone else does the dishes”.
I realized that by only being the venue, I had put myself at a major disadvantage. I had little ammunition for protest, as I had not been an active force in the event. Had I contributed in some significant way to the meal and hosted, I could have gone on a skull-cracking rampage if no one had cleaned up. I probably would not have let anyone leave without cleaning, had I done any work during prep time. Mistakes were made, fatal mistakes.
I called upon Saint Dale Carnegie and decided with his help that if I argued I would go too hard, with too few resources and make things worse. I disingenuously texted back “You’re correct. I was being a small man.”
“I apologize if I came off rude, I was just hearing things through the grapevine.” Was Wilma’s reply. I should have been happy about this. Saint Carnegie was smiling and pushing me along toward reconciliation, but my reply had been too false. All I wanted to text back was “yeah yeah, FUCK YOU”, but I couldn’t very well write that.[viii] After all, these are the people I’m friends with now, the people who took me in when I moved to Rhode Island and showed me the good times and hospitality, generosity and kindness…
My landlord – Amos Carcetti for now – came over that afternoon to rake leaves. After the formalities, I shamefacedly told him about the oil on the bricks. This was a blow to my pride and another reason to be pissed. I am in a pseudo-housesitting arrangement, and any disrespect I show to the house reflects badly on me, and sours the relationship between myself and Mr. Carcetti. Flores had made me look like an asshole and I didn’t appreciate it. At Amos’ behest, I scrubbed Dawn dish detergent into the bricks like a colonial servant in the dying light. “Happy Friendsgiving you fucking assholes” ran over and over through my head.
I made my own dinner Monday night like a schmuck. I didn’t finish cleaning until late in the evening, at which point I started writing this.
It’s Tuesday and I’m still bitter and still holding a grudge. I am still dealing with the oiled bricks. When Flores threw out the idea of using my place, I naively thought he might take some ownership of and responsibility for the event. Instead he was many hours late, did semi-permanent damage to the bricks Mr. Carcetti had laid down himself, and did nothing to keep the venue – i.e. me – happy or reassured.
If Flores had asked, a week or two ago, “Can we have Friendsgiving dinner at your place? We’ll leave cigarette butts all over your porch and deck, won’t leave you any leftovers, won’t lift a finger to help you clean, and bequeath you with both short and long-term messes to deal with.” I would have known what to say right then.
I suppose there is a silver lining to the whole fiasco. The feeling of being exploited by my so-called friends awakened the old misanthropic and competitive instincts that kept me burrowing into culture and hobbies whenever I felt lonely and out-of-place. A composite creature made up of Henry Rollins, Don Juan and Ayn Rand materialized and whispered reassuring things into my ear.
“You’ll show them.” it said. “Your ‘friends’ might know and like you, but in the end they’ll never understand you. If you want people to understand you, you have to get to work understanding yourself”. It felt not like a push toward bitterness and paralysis, but a call to renew my work ethic and sense of self. Instead of resting on the laurels of friendship, I should be really drilling down on the creative projects that I quit my job and rented this house to do. There has been too much socializing and not enough finished product. Too much fitting in and not enough standing out.
And yet, I’m not turning my back on the idea of social life, after all, I tentatively have a date on Friday. I only hate people sometimes. I’ll ask for advice. Should I just get over it? Should I air my grievances in a mannered and thorough way? Should I air my grievances in a belligerent and physical way? Should I pretend the whole thing never happened? Should I trim back on the socializing and dive deeper into solitude?
I have a feeling this might blow over, I can’t hold grudges for too long, but I also feel like one wrong comment could make me blow up inappropriately with rage in the future. There might be a closing window here in which I must speak soon or hold my peace. The fact is that on the whole I feel slightly negative about the whole event, like the fun Friendsgiving times on Sunday were not worth seeing red all Monday and into Tuesday. One thing is for sure though, unless someone makes an overture to me, there will be no more gatherings at Carcetti house. Now I just need to get enough balls to state why I feel the need for an overture in the first place.
[i] In fact now inextricably linked to Christmas due to the dread tradition of Black Friday, which has infected the holiday itself, creating a sort of Dark Brown Thursday Night.
[ii] This is a fight for another day, but I firmly believe that pumpkin itself has negligible to no flavor. People just associate pumpkin with the spices that are always added to it, like clothing on a mannequin, or sulfur on natural gas. This is why it’s impossible to find a really good pumpkin beer, because pumpkin is just a flavorless gourd that enjoys popularity by association.
[iii] As you can tell, I’ve been hanging with the privileged, educated or striving classes. I have yet to experience a working-class Friendsgiving, and don’t know if I ever will.
[iv] I had actually gone out with the other group the night before, but slipped away after the last bar closed, eschewing the afterparty. Apparently the imbibements continued long into the night, resulting in the lateness the next day.
[v] I thought “Trap Music” referred to those slamming Lex Luger beats that everyone loved a few years ago, with rappers shamelessly spitting drugs and violence over them. Apparently I was wrong, and “Trap Music” is just a certain kind of EDM now. “Lex Luger” drew a blank – “You mean the Superman villain? No wait, the wrestler” was one reply. EDM is like a musical Galactus, consuming and decontextualizing everything. Jamaican-style Dub and Hip-Hop-style Trap are now obscure and distant memories, cryptic and uncool as the Dead Sea scrolls. I wonder what unsuspecting genre will be overtaken next.
[vi] Drinks and dancing on Friday. This complicates things, because I promised I would bring friends. If we are at an impasse or I’m still feeling super sour, the arrangement might not go through.
[vii] I really should have got this in writing.
[viii] I imagine “Wilma” might read this at some point. Just know that I have to strike a balance between the truth and writerly ethics on this blog. I’m not out to defame or ridicule anyone, but if I was only out for affirmation and sunshine, I would have stayed on facebook.