I am thankful for the tree that stands outside my Westwood apartment complex.
It's a reminder of the authentic autumns I left behind on the East Coast. Its orange leaves have fallen onto our driveway like rose petals carefully strewn across the pathway, welcoming us home every night and sending us off into the unknowns of every smog-tinged morning.
It gives me hope that Los Angeles is capable of a real autumn during which layers can be worn, actual foliage can be enjoyed, and pumpkin scones can be eaten during morning commutes.
My first Thanksgiving in Los Angeles had been a depressing one. During the November of 2002 I had been a barista at Starbucks. It was around the corner from my Spanish-tiled one-bedroom on 7th Avenue in Venice. It was the first time in my 22 years that I had woken up in an empty house, to no delicious smells coming from the kitchen, no turkey roasting in the oven. I had to go to work. Scarfing down a bowl of Cheerios, I had caught ten minutes of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC (my usual tradition up until then had involved a more lavish breakfast and sitting through the corny production in its entirety). Katie Couric and Matt Lauer's chatter and comments on the damp weather, no longer broadcast live for me, reminded me of what I had left behind. Had this been one of the first signs of homesickness?
The remainder of the day was spent brewing Venti decaf, non-fat, soy lattes for the mirthless few who walked in and drove through on their day off. However, the holiday wasn't as hopeless as it had started. I ended my day with a few college acquaintances in a Burbank apartment, sitting at a fold-out table, eating off of Dixie plates and enjoying our first post-collegiate Orphans Thanksgiving.
My second Thanksgiving in Los Angeles was an improvement. I dined with some co-workers and their respective friends in the Los Feliz home of a production assistant who had worked on That 70s Show. I brought my signature candied yam dish for all to share; unfortunately, Atkins was the diet du jour that year, and my potluck contribution barely made it to everyone's plate.
Thanksgiving 2004 saw me return to New York and to the homey goodness of my family's recipes. I realized how much I had missed our signature stuffing...and a good rainstorm. I welcomed the cold and damp weather as my parents and I trekked to my aunt's house for a sinful smorgasboard of sweets after dinner.
One year later, when I had worked for the wonderful Jack Kenny on The Book of Daniel, I temporarily lived in his beautiful home in the hills, looking after his Great Dane, the lovable, snuggable Razzie, and his two cats. It was my first time playing host for the holiday, and it was my most lavish one. Ten of us had gathered in the dining room, noshing on garlic mashed potatoes, rosemary-garnished hen and sauteed vegetables while Razzie slept in the corner, perhaps waiting for a rogue piece of turkey to land on the hardwood floor.
Last year had been the first time I held the dinner in my small townhouse apartment on Bedford. I became a half-Asian Emeril Lagasse and marinated a 10-pound turkey in a beer brine for 24 hours in my fridge. Dessert later followed during a screening of Mean Girls and an attempt to play a round of Trivial Pursuit.
T-Day 2007 was possibly my most fabulous one to date. The always welcoming Michael and Corey hosted their own dinner and invited the members of their L.A. family who chose to avoid the chaotic airports and clogged freeways. Bottles of wine waited for us on the candlelit table, our names written on leaf nametags. Pumpkintinis were served shortly before the turkey made its debut among the horseradish-garlic potatoes, noodle kugel, and string bean casserole on the serving table which was draped in golds and reds. Cups of whipped pumpkin butter were planted next to trays of salt and pepper and jugs of unsweetened iced tea and apple cider. In the background, the soft sounds of John Legend and Jason Mraz contributed to the casual-chic ambience. I found myself dining inside a Crate and Barrel catalog.
"This is how we rock Thanksgiving in the City of Angels," I noted during a teary-eyed toast from our host.
Within a half hour all twelve of us were in food comas, shifting in our seats, rubbing our stomachs, asking why do we do this to ourselves year after year. Yet we still sought after the apple and pecan pies, fulfilling our basic human need to get our dessert on.
The night ended shortly after eight, and I didn't know if my exhaustion was due to the overeating or the lack of sleep from earlier in the week (Tryptophan, my fellow Thanksgivers concluded, is just a myth). I drove home with the defroster on (it be chilly) and crashed on my couch while watching a TiVoed Pushing Daisies. I was in bed by ten, the alarm set for an early start on Black Friday. For those of you wondering, I did manage to finish half of my Christmas shopping the next morning. God bless Target and its express lanes; the checkout lines and parking lots weren't as painful as predicted. My helpful tip: read the ads beforehand to see what is exactly on sale, make the necessary adjustments on your list, and go alone (I was back home by 8am).
And so it begins, the hectic holiday season, a time when parties are planned, gifts are purchased, and schedules overflow with shit to do. I am mentally bracing myself as needed.
And through it all, I'll still have that tree standing outside my Westwood apartment, its orange leaves still reminding me of what I have left behind on the East Coast. But, at the same time, it will also remind me of what I have gained over the past several years during the past several holidays - a second family.
Happy Shopping (If I can brave Best Buy at 6am, anyone can).