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Charming friends

Saturday 11/27/21

"Merry" is a word that gets attached to Christmas, but if you think about it, most of the people who say "Merry Christmas" probably never say the word "merry" at any other point in their lives. They don't describe someone as merry. In most cases, I'd wager that they go their entire lifetimes without saying that word anywhere else, or certainly not conversationally.

I had an exchange on Twitter with someone about Thanksgiving TV episodes. They think the 1978 "Turkey Drop" episode of WKRP in Cincinnati is the best Thanksgiving episode. I like that one, but to me, too much of the notoriety is freighted in the ending. The episode builds to that big punchline of the turkeys getting tossed from the sky. If something is going to be the best in representing a holiday, my feeling is that it has to both encapsulate and transcend that holiday. It must be suffused with the spirit of the holiday, but not limited to the holiday. That's why I think the 1975 "Over the River and Through the Woods" episode of The Bob Newhart Show is better, and why the 1986 Cheers "Thanksgiving Orphans" episode is best.

The Cheers episode also has the big gag at the end--the food fight. But it's not the food fight that makes it great. The Thanksgiving realities are what make the episode tell. Make it resound as it does. To me, Thanksgiving is about a gathering up. Sometimes--often--we gather loose ends. People become loose ends. They drift, they know hard times. Lonely times, certainly. I think on Thanksgiving we often feel a guilt for not feeling thankful. For instance, I don't feel thankful. Could you imagine living this hell I am living right now? If I had to say I was thankful for anything, it'd be that I am able to keep fighting in this war which I have faith I will win. I'm thankful for being able to do something at a higher level than anyone has ever done anything else, because I retain a faith that that will matter in immeasurable ways for the world. I'm thankful that other people have made great art, too, because art is all that can engage my mind on the level I need it to be engaged. I realize I give thanks as a man does who lives in hell, with an aim, a faith, in leaving hell. That's not really Thanksgiving. I was talking to someone yesterday about me and Job, and how I've been tasked with having to have more faith than he did and how hard that is. In some ways, the situations are similar. Is God asking me what he asked of Job? Why? And haven't we done enough, if there even if a God, and he works that way? What have I renounced? I have only tried more every day, gotten better ever day, become a better person, too, every day. And every day I am made to pay more, hurt more, as if there's this countermove to increase my suffering the better I get, like I'm not supposed to get better, and should have died a long time ago.

Thanksgiving is transitory. I think of the first Thanksgiving, and how there was need, and loose ends, and a rounding-up; relationships were temporary. But they still counted. The temporary, real relationship is something that interests me increasingly in my own work. The relationship of the moment, rather than the lifetime, that can exceed a relationship of lifetimes. That's also what Cheers was--Cheers the haven. On that Thanksgiving, we have the orphans of the title. These emotional drifters. People who know loneliness. They also know friendship, but it's not what we think of as traditional friendship, in that they all seem to know that they'd not have these relationships without this place they happen to hang out at. So to move them away from that place, to have this field trip of sorts, is a powerful device. They go to Carla's house, and it's just real Thanksgiving to me. The touches, the details. People in old sweatshirts. Jostling for position around the TV. Those annoyances that make people feel like family to each other--note, for instance, how the characters turn the TV. The way Clavin tussles Woody's hair. Clavin is alone, can't score a date, has never had a relationship, and that's him being paternal. He's feeling good--or better--on that day, and maybe that's his father moment in life, and all he'll have in that area.

The characters all have those kinds of needs, and they all meet each other's needs on that Thanksgiving. For that day. Some of their needs are bickering and being a wise ass, but that's okay, too. And that's what I think Thanksgiving really is. It sends you back into your world and maybe things look a little different, or you extend yourself a bit more. And then of course we have the appearance of Norm's wife Vera at the end, which is well done, and her phrase of "Charming friends, dear." I also like Diane's gratitude toast (after she'd come by because an English professor had treated her like shit), which has always made me laugh when she mentions Gide. I think it's a special episode.

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