Garry Winogrand: San Marcos, Texas, 1964
Is there, really, anything sadder to ponder than Thanksgiving dinner alone? Alone, at a restaurant, therefore alone among others? Alone, at a restaurant like Odessa on Avenue A?
It's one week till Thanksgiving, the one holiday that so far has escaped total cooptation by pop-up stores and cynical commercial grabs; I'm not even sure they make Thanksgiving-themed Peeps, but I'm sure to be proved wrong about that. Still, it retains a certain old-time purity, although I make it a point during the usual public grace lauding friendships and blood ties to say a silent thanks to the Indians for letting us kill them and steal their land.
I wait for my salmon burger in this place that has long meant home to me (although, truth be told, I was more of a Veselka girl myself, venturing to the Second Avenue Ukrainian coffee shop for three-dollar pierogies and potato pancakes once or twice a week). Who can't love New York City: at the table next to me, a Jew and an Irishman talk, in a Ukrainian restaurant; then in walk four fellows who look nothing if not Mongolian.
Courtesy of the window onto the street in front of me, I practice my backward reading. We really don't do enough of that, you know, after age ten.
A poster taped there, advertising its come-on to passersby on the sidewalk, can be read from the back:
glass of wine*
cup of cream of turkey soup
Turkey with stuffing
& fresh mix vegetables
tea or coffee
*as I can attest, this is more likely to be a "thimbleful" of "wine"
It takes a lot to be alone for Thanksgiving, the quintessential family meal (which I haven't shared with my actual family for decades; until recently I celebrated it with my misfit friends, which meant we were more firmly cemented than by genetics, being the chosen rather than the pressed upon). One year, and one year only, I made the bright and bad suggestion to go traveling for Thanksgiving, and we spent the meal, two of us, in an otherwise empty hotel dining room. I've never felt quite so suicidal while still wearing a brave and utterly false smile for two hours.
My heart breaks for the people who will come, alone, to buy the Odessa special. I wish I could invite them all to my home. I won't serve cream of turkey soup, though.
Non ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco. "Familiar with misfortune, I learned to assist the unfortunate": Virgil's Aeneid. That sounds bigger than I mean it to. But it is a small reminder to myself, a future job. And a wish that around every table in the Odessa there is more than one chair.