Be Grateful You Weren’t Invited

Talk about bad.  If the Pilgrims had shown up to the first Thanksgiving dinner we cooked, they would have taken the first ship back to the Old Country.  They would have swum, if necessary, and we native Americans could have kept the whole continent to ourselves.It was 1972.  My then-boyfriend, now-husband and I were living in an apartment complex in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The place had all the charm of a 1950s Soviet-bloc tenement.  We weren’t very popular.  All the other residents were at least 105 and they suspected us of 1) being hippies and 2) being unmarried, both of which were true.

The apartment’s managers, a seethingly hostile couple in their later years, especially disliked us.  They suspected that we were behind the posted note in the elevator that read: “Are you fat?  Do you live on the second floor?  If so, you may be ineligible to ride this elevator!  Please see me immediately.”  Then we’d signed the apartment manager’s name.

It was a harmless prank, we figured.  Something we’d all get together and laugh about — except for the small problem that the apartment manager wasn’t speaking to us, as usual.  This, we suspected, was because he had just posted a new rule on the trash chute outside our fourth-floor apartment.  “Don’t put glass bottles in this chute!”

When we were bored, when we were feeling rebellious (which happened rather frequently), we occasionally left one of our gallon-size Cribari jugs dangling on a string secured by the trash chute’s door.  The next person who opened the chute unloosed the bottle and it hurtled four floors downward, landing with a splintering, satisfying crash a few seconds later.

But, anyway, that’s just background.  It was Thanksgiving and we were far away from our families and we weren’t very popular in our Soviet-bloc neighborhood.  If we were going to cook a proper meal, we needed to rustle up some guests.

We found them on the second floor, a young Japanese couple who spoke almost no English.  They’d never heard of Thanksgiving before, but they were elated to be invited anywhere for dinner.  They said they could come.

So, we went into action.  We bought a turkey.  We bought packaged dressing.  We bought canned green beans and a pre-made pie and a gallon jug of Cribari.

By the time our guests arrived, we’d already shoved our still-frozen turkey into the oven (with the little package of gizzards still intact in the interior).  Being charitable, it might have smelled good, but who could tell?  The Japanese couple turned out to be complete nicotine junkies who sat and chain-smoked the entire time.  They also repeatedly tried out what appeared to be their entire English vocabulary on us:  “Smoke like a chimney!”

Which was just as well, I suppose.  They sat and smoked and we began to panic, prodding a turkey that still had crystals of frost on it.  We managed to successfully heat the green beans and deplete the Cribari bottle, growing more and more panicked as the hours began to pass and beginning to snipe at each other.

“I thought you knew how to cook Thanksgiving dinner!”

“You know I can’t cook!”

“Smoke like a chimney!”

Finally, we hauled the turkey out of the oven.  It was barely warm.  We managed to peel off a few not-entirely-raw pieces and cover them liberally with a brown runny substance we called gravy.  In fact, we covered as many things as possible with the “gravy.”

When we served them their plates, the Japanese couple stared with a combination of horror and extreme politeness.  “This is a traditional American meal,” we told them — one of the biggest lies and most unadulterated slanders I’ve ever uttered in my life.

They put out their cigarettes and somehow managed to eat everything we’d served them, which is more than I could say of my boyfriend and me.  (I seem to recall we slipped out for a hamburger after the meal was over.)

At any rate, owing to our guests’ enormous tact and diplomacy, we avoided an international incident that day.  We toasted a lot with the Cribari, planning to leave the bottle hanging by a string if we managed to finish it off.  The Japanese couple smoked even more — presumably to clear their palates — and drunkenly screamed, “Smoke like a chimeny!” every chance they could get.

If they got salmonella or food poisoning, they never let us know.

(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)

10 comments… add one
  • As always, Ruth, you gave me a good chuckle. I’ll think of you this Thanksgiving when I carefully (with the emphasis on removing the innards) prepare my (defrosted) turkey-hold-the-gravy.

  • I have yet to host a Thanksgiving dinner and, thanks to stories like this one and movies like <i>Pieces of April,</i> I’m terrified at the prospect.  Which I suppose is ridiculous. I’m a competent cook any other day of the year!
    Thanks for the fun post. Hilarious. 🙂

  • Definitely sounds like a Thanksgiving to remember!

  • I think the first Thanksgiving we cooked in our home went something like that too. Who knew it took so long to cook a turkey?! We didn’t. So by the time our bird was done–about 4 hours after we’d planned–the mashed potatoes, stuffing and everything else was cold. I think the next year we got pizza.

  • I’m grateful I wasn’t invited. This story is hilarious. Poor Japanese people. Poor you! Thanksgiving. Now my question: do you both STILL not know how to cook?!

  • Great detail – and fun (funny, too!).

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    My husband learned to cook.  I’m the self-appointed clean-up person.  I’m not very good at that — but I am a lot better at cleaning than cooking.

  • Winston Link

    What a crazy place– and dinner.
    Did you recook the turkey and perform an encore for Christmas?
    My brother and sister-in-law were both professionals in Atlanta and both were wonderful cooks. They alternated weeks, he shopping for groceries and cooking one week, and she the next.  But she had a strict rule– she always did the washing-up after meals– by hand. Their well-appointed kitchen was equipped with a state-of-the-art dishwasher– which was never once used!  My sister-in-law was a perfectionist about dishwashing.  However, a holiday was a holiday, and having no children, they always took Thanksgiving dinner at the nearby Colony Restaurant.
    As an aside, my sister-in-law and I had birthdays and much else in common.  Whenever I visited Atlanta, she would kidnap me for an afternoon downtown and we would spend part of our time riding all the hotel elevators.  One had glass elevators which glided up and down a vast interior atrium.  Another had crystal elevators whizzing up and down its 70-story exterior.  From the top one could see Stone Mountain 30 miles away.  At yet another, the elevators arrived at a revolving restaurant atop the builging.  We’d dodge the maitre’d and steal matchbooks from the tables.  A good time was had by all!

  • This has got to be the funniest thing I’ve read all week. I love that you were such a troublemaker. 😉

    Smoke like a chimney!

  • Still a very humorous post!

    I’ve been thinking… perhaps that Japanese couple thought Thanksgiving was an American tradition originating in WWII– torture the Japanese. Their filling your apartment with smoke could be viewed as a form of retaliation. I’m surprised your Soviet cell-bloc wasn’t visited by U.N. officials. Perhaps it was put under surveillance.

Leave a Comment