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Host story

Tell me now, you Muses who have your homes on Olympos.
For you, who are goddesses, are there, and you know all things,
and we have heard only the rumour of it and know nothing.
Who then were the guests who came to my house for Thanksgiving?
I could not tell over the multitude of them nor name them,
not if I had ten tongues and ten mouths, not if I had
a voice never to be broken and a heart of bronze within me,
not unless the Muses of Olympia, daughters
of Zeus of the aegis, remembered all those who came to Pennsylvania.
I will tell the drivers of the automobiles, and their passengers.

Oh, to hell with the dactylic hexameter.  It doesn’t work in English, anyway.  The point is that we had seventeen people in this house for Thanksgiving, starting with the first arrival last Tuesday and ending with the final departure Sunday afternoon.  It was the March of the Lyons.  Janet’s mother, three sisters, one brother, and many Significant Others, along with Janet’s best friend Gail, her brother-in-law, and two teenage children.  And, of course, Nick came home from college.  I used to tell people I’d married into a large and powerful family, sort of like the Habsburgs.  Now, for two Thanksgivings in a row, I’ve hosted the Habsburgs in my humble abode.  Not everyone stayed in our house—just ten of our guests, plus the four of us.

How do we do it?  Volume!

Seriously, if you’ve ever had fourteen people living in a medium-sized house for four days, you know what it’s like.  And if you haven’t, you’re about to find out! 

The most critical thing, of course, is plumbing.  Our house is about eighty years old, and its plumbing leaves something to be desired—like, for example, water pressure.  Water doesn’t flow out of our shower heads so much as ooze, and that can be a problem when large families want to take showers one person at a time.  The “indoor plumbing” thing was further complicated, this year, by the fact that one toilet had come loose from its moorings (oh, don’t ask), one shower stall was leaking to the floor below, and another shower/ bathtub had lost much of its caulking.  Fortunately, Todd’s boyfriend Hayward knows everything in the world about How Things Work, and better still, everything in the world about How to Fix Them.  So while Hayward replaced the toilet, recaulked two showers, weatherstripped a doorway and repaired a door, fixed an air vent behind the stove, and placed a jack under our bowing porch, I did what I do best, namely, sitting around making remarks about stuff.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I also distinguished myself in the Eating and Drinking department, as the Lyons and Corbins arrived with chili, bacon, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, salads, cakes, cookies, more cakes, and forty-five cases of wine, to which we added the stuffing, potatoes, and pair of turkeys we’d ordered from Wegmans, along with twenty more cases of wine.  Through fortitude and perseverance, I managed to gain thirty-five pounds in four days, while making salient contributions to the nightly games of “names,” poker, and charades.  (In Texas Hold ‘Em, Nick, with three of a kind, saw me and raised a couple of times, believing that (a) I was bluffing and (b) no one could make anything of the Q-2-8-A-4 on the table.  Imagine his surprise when I turned over a 3 and a 5!  On the very next hand, Gail’s son Brendan kept raising me with a flush, not realizing that I was capable of complementing the 9-9-4 on the board with a 9 and a 4 of my own.  Thanks, kids!)

At one point during the food preparation rituals on Thursday, I realized that there were nine or ten people in the kitchen, and at least five things being baked, boiled, or warmed.  So I decided to go on a garbage/ recycling run, filling the Subaru with bags and bottles.  That’s right: I couldn’t stand the heat, so I got out of the kitchen! Who knew that could really happen?  I always thought it was a metaphor of some kind.  Next thing you know, I’ll be lying down with dogs and getting up with fleas!  But the garbage/ recycling run was great, because the recycling bin required me to take the bottles one by one and sort them into clear, brown, and green before tossing them into a nearly-empty dumpster.  Much noise, and much fun!  I love the sound of breaking clear, brown, and green glass.

Then on Friday and Saturday, it was off to the movies with Jamie and the crew.  I’ll file my review of Walk the Line tomorrow; today I have to add to my long-running Harry Potter commentary.  By the way, did you know that there are only two functioning sectors of the American economy now?  Housing sales and Harry Potter films.  That’s it.

But the Potter bubble won’t burst anytime soon, at least, because Goblet of Fire is the best of the series so far, better even than Azkaban.  Brendan Gleeson is inspired as Mad-Eye Moody, and we approve of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort (though I know that some people say Voldemort should be more heavy-set and sclerotic).  The Triwizard competition is terrific, and—most unexpectedly—the moments of humor are brilliant.  The first time through, I didn’t care for the maze scene, thinking I’d already seen it in The Shining, except with less fog.  But on second viewing, it was . . . adequate.  Though still too foggy, in a couple of ways.

It’s a shame, though, that Mike Newell ran out of film at the very end.  How else to explain Dumbledore’s incomprehensible scene at Harry’s bedside, and then the flubbed final exchange among Harry, Hermione, and Ron?  Yes, I know the movie couldn’t have ended with ten minutes of “As you know, Harry” exposition from Dumbledore, but honestly, when Michael Gambon mutters “prior incantatem” and then tells Harry that no spell can reawaken the dead, that’s not a useful gloss on Harry’s duel with Voldemort—it’s just muttering.  If you’re not going to explain the “prior incantatem” phenomenon, then don’t bother mentioning it.  It’s like the moment earlier in the film when Barty Crouch is discovered unconscious in the forest—it simply doesn’t work in the film, because everything that explains it in the book has been excised; it winds up looking like a stray visual footnote to the book and nothing else.  (Though David Tennant’s snakelike tongue thing worked well as a tipoff to Crouch’s reaction to Mad-Eye.) And what’s with Dumbledore’s line about how we must choose between what’s easy and what’s right?  That makes no damn sense at all.  As if Voldemort and the Death Eaters represent the “easy” path?  Finally, who advised Emma Watson to laugh through her closing line about how everything will be different now?  That was just weird.

Probably most important, however, is the scene of the Quidditch World Cup.  I didn’t notice this on first viewing, but the second time it was unmistakable: when the Irish National Team swoops onto the field, there is no hint of orange in their jerseys. The same is true of Fred and George Weasley: they have painted their bodies and faces green and white for Ireland, and there’s no orange to be seen.  The obvious question poses itself: WHY DOES HOLLYWOOD HATE PROTESTANTS? As if it’s not bad enough that Hollywood has banned all mention of Christmas in the United States and the ACLU is putting fluoride in our eggnog!! Now we have to deal with Harry Potter rewriting history?!?

I hope Michael Medved says something about this, and soon.  Because you sure can’t expect the MSM to sit up and take notice.  They’re completely in the tank with the Papists, and have been ever since JFK = Joe For King stole the Presidency in 1960.

Posted by on 11/28 at 11:42 AM
  1. Wow, Michael. Sounds like a great Thanksgiving on your end. Lucky you having guests that actually fix things. I desperately need a Hayward to come visiting. Around our table I remembered your blog as something for which I am thankful. Then we commenced to carve the Turducken (Don’t ask). I’m still too bloated to move. I’ll just sit here and wait until you tell me something about how Harry downed too many pills, smashed the stage lights, and got himself kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry. Theory Tuesday with one of the greatest, Johnny Cash. Be sure to consult your album notes to Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline.”

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  01:26 PM
  2. To hell with the jerseys—how come we didn’t get to see the match?

    All I can say is, the DVD had better have the post-game highlights, at the very least.

    Posted by David Moles  on  11/28  at  01:33 PM
  3. David, they have to be saving the match and the post-game highlights and interviews for the DVD.  I imagine Newell and company figured there was just no way to explain how and why Krum went and caught the Snitch while Ireland was up by 170 points.  In fact, I don’t think a Critical Companion to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire could explain that one.  It’s one of those unfathomable sports things, almost as strange as Herman Edwards sending a kicker out onto Heinz Field to win a playoff game with a long FG in arctic temperatures.

    And Chris, we did pay Hayward for his many labors.  Dang!  That reminds me—I forgot to mention that he also slew, or slayed, or maybe sleighed, the Hydra in our backyard. 

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  01:42 PM
  4. When you said you married into a large and powerful family, I thought not of the overbite-challenged Habsburgs, but the Corleones.

    Now there’s a family who knew How to Fix Things.

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  03:25 PM
  5. What were you doing playing a 3,5 and a 9,4?

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  03:27 PM
  6. I had 38 hungry Mexicans to my place for Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.  (My Mexican bosses were not swayed my arguments and passionate hand-as-turkey drawing to give me Thursday off.) My favorite question was, “Is it traditional in the United States to dance for Thanksgiving?” I said no, but we could turn up the salsa music anyway.  Everyone danced ‘til 2 am.  I had hoped that a love for dressing was an American thing, but no; they sucked it down.  It’s a passion that unites cultures, apparently.

    Posted by Caro  on  11/28  at  03:47 PM
  7. What were you doing playing a 3,5 and a 9,4?

    Why, taking all the chips in the pot, Ryan.

    And Caro, that’s a very important observation about dressing.  Post-postmodern philosophers have convincingly argued that a love for dressing is, in fact, a “human universal,” thus mounting a powerful challenge to postmodern Thanksgiving theorists who insist on the incommensurability of allegedly “cultural” differences.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/28  at  03:56 PM
  8. and then you all gathered around the table and gave fervent thanks for Hayward.

    I was annoyed by the same things you were about the Potter movie - I had to do a lot of explaining to coworkers who hadn’t read the books.

    Also, dressing has buddha-nature, not just because of the epidemiological risks of stuffing and how you can’t fill the cavity of the bird with white wine and dried mushrooms if there’s stuffing in there, but because it’s a really lot easier and you can make more of it for the all-important next day turkey and stuffing sandwiches. Stuffing is for deboned birds, which are far too much trouble.

    Posted by julia  on  11/28  at  04:11 PM
  9. We’re lucky we only have one christmas as opposed to you who have two (sort of) And our turkeys taste of cardboard packing even with wine mushrooms onion garlic and lemon in it’s bowels. Thank darwin for geese! But even at christmas anyone who dares to bring brussels sprouts to our house will be “shown the door with no mistake, guv” said in a Dick Van Dyke cockney accent.
    I was told luck came in three so with Hayward, 3 & 5,you could have bet ya chips on 9 9 4! Oh you did!
    By the way our butcher bones our turkeys!

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  04:24 PM
  10. 65 cases of wine but still sober enough to make an elliptical Nick Lowe allusion.

    You have much to give thanks for, Michael. You are the true Jesus of cool.

    Posted by George  on  11/28  at  05:00 PM
  11. I’m with Ryan.  With 3,5, I sure hope you were in the blinds.  If not, let me know the next time you’re in Chicago, we’ll have to get a game going.

    Posted by Sean  on  11/28  at  05:08 PM
  12. Brussels Sprouts, for the love of God! Oh, the humanity, Oh the horror!

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  05:19 PM
  13. for cooking purposes, brussel sprouts are functionally equivalent to collard greens.

    I grant you that for most people, that doesn’t help a bit.

    Posted by julia  on  11/28  at  05:24 PM
  14. Presumably quidditch, like rugby (and unlike football), is played on an all-Ireland basis and thus the use of the tricolour would be inappropriate.

    Posted by Mrs Tilton  on  11/28  at  05:27 PM
  15. Damn. I see everyone else has beat me in saying “Congrats for winning the pot there, but what the hell were you doing staying in it for that long with those crappy cards???” Even if you were in the blinds with 3,5, why were you drawing to an inside straight? I hope you were getting outstanding pot odds for that that made it no other choice.

    This is spoken like a true poker player. In that I’ve watched a couple of games on TV and, ummm, read an article or two.

    Congrats on cleaning out the next generation, though. You’re teaching my competition that inside straights can be hit.

    Posted by Stu  on  11/28  at  05:29 PM
  16. I’m disappointed in you, Michael.  Granted, all cultures may indeed be united by the eating of dressing.  It may even be impossible to have such things as cultures without dressing.  But--and you should know this already--we can only speak of dressings, not dressing, for different versions can be, and invariably are, sublimely, dizzyingly different.  Oysters, sausage, giblets, even water chestnuts?  It’s just a wonder we haven’t gone to war over it yet.

    Posted by  on  11/28  at  05:34 PM
  17. Presumably quidditch, like rugby (and unlike football), is played on an all-Ireland basis and thus the use of the tricolour would be inappropriate.

    Oh.  Yeah.  Um, OK.  Never mind.

    I still blame the godless ACLU.

    And Stu, Sean, I assure you that my fellow players made it very easy, very inexpensive to stick around with a 3, 5.  The betting only got serious and adventurous after I’d gotten my straight, heh heh heh (I kept raising Nick in return, of course).  As for the 9, 4:  I had myself a full boat of 9s and 4s after only six cards were dealt, and knew that unless Brendan was hiding two nines, (one stolen from another deck), the pot was mine.

    Isn’t anyone going to ask me how Janet acted out “Brain Salad Surgery” in charades?

    Posted by Michael  on  11/28  at  06:26 PM
  18. The obvious question poses itself: WHY DOES HOLLYWOOD HATE PROTESTANTS?

    They more than deserve it, but it’s sort of the proverbial pot calling the kettle blick, er, black. Though both afflicted with that sort of in- born yankee irrationality, protestants--especially that most persistent hysterical beast, Fundamentali Dixiecus--are far more nauseating than even the most gothic-noir Cali scenester gnoshin’ away with his Weekly and a cup a capp.  After ya get accustomed to it, as it were, Pottersville is not half as bad as Bedford Falls. 

    Hail Scroogemas, and this holiday shopping season, don’t forget to stock up on extra xanax and Wild Turkey, and then trim ye olde Tannenbomb with the traditional chrome skull.

    Posted by Mister Toad  on  11/28  at  07:52 PM
  19. Hey O’Reilly!  Check it out—there really is a war on Christmas! 

    Direct all further inquiries to Mister Toad himself.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/28  at  09:34 PM
  20. Ho-wood has, however, certainly cashed in on the lightweight holiday season cynicism. Old SNL hacks such as Chevy Chase have probably bought Malibu pleasure palaces on the profits from their suburban X-mas yukfests.
    Some snooty postmod type would most likely have the right term for this exploitation of the exploitative--the commodification of the process of commodification. But the Ho-wood cynicism is more addressed to the plop plop fizz fizz comsumerism than about poking fun, say, at the absurdities of the virgin birth and the contradictory accounts of this event in Screepture. But then I’m one waiting for Ho-wood to grow some real skeptical spine and mock not only the consumerism and familial sentimentality but the entire miserable Judeo-Christian holiday spectacle. (The artist Grosz depicted some wickedly satirical scenes of the German bourgeois holiday season apres-WWI). That said I still think Big Chas. Dickens did about the most authentic Christmas tale as of yet, however sentimental and embellished it may have been.

    Posted by Mister Toad  on  11/28  at  11:16 PM
  21. Hope your Hapsburgs aren’t like the real Hapsburgs: massively inbred!

    Posted by Bourgeoise Nerd  on  11/28  at  11:56 PM
  22. If Voldemort had been played by Johnny Cash, then maybe I would walk the line and actually see the god damned movie.

    Posted by Anatole  on  11/29  at  07:52 AM
  23. You’re right, Michael. You really are good at making remarks about stuff. Do you perform standup comedy in your classes?

    Posted by Orange  on  11/29  at  10:52 AM
  24. Voldemort is pretty damn sclerotic and way too fleshy in the IMAX version.  And like the one whose name seems to be able to be mentioned so much more, it is sad that this fairly good film leave so much to be desired given the detailed subplots in the book.  oh well.

    Okay, i’ll take the bait, no bet, no raise: how did Janet charade “Brain Salad Surgery?”

    Posted by  on  11/29  at  04:44 PM
  25. Thanks, Orange—I often need to tell myself that what the world needs is people who sit around making comments about stuff.  And I only occasionally do standup in class, even though I teach standing up!  A paradox?  Only apparently.

    spyder, I should have indicated that the real feat in getting “Brain Salad Surgery” isn’t so much in the acting-out—Janet started by pointing to her skull and then making salad-tossing and surgical motions—but in remembering that there was indeed an album by that name, long ago.  That task fell to her sister Todd, with whom Janet has an intellectual and empathic connection surpassing that of identical twins.  Or, as in The Patty Duke Show, identical cousins.  (What comedian was it who speculated on the size of the gene pool necessary for the production of identical cousins. . . ?)

    Posted by Michael  on  11/29  at  05:01 PM
  26. I think the “wet bread with seasonings” debate comes down not to whether it rocks but to ingredients and also nomenclature.  Where I come from--which, weirdly enough, is right near where you come from, Michael--we called it stuffing.  Dressing is for salads.  And oysters in stuffing, or cornbread stuffing, still seem vaguely menacing to me, even though I have enjoyed the latter, at least.

    Posted by  on  11/29  at  07:03 PM
  27. L’esprit d’escalier:  “Brain Salad Surgery” is kind of obvious, but how does one act out “Tarkus”?

    Posted by Sean  on  11/30  at  12:37 AM
  28. A houseful of friends and family, a kitchen full of food, and a trip to the recycling depot on Thanksgiving—is this “Alice’s Restaurant” updated?

    I can’t tell if I’m experiencing nostalgia or a flashback.

    Posted by Ereshkigal  on  11/30  at  02:07 AM
  29. For your incisive comment, Ereshkigal, you have earned yourself a trip to the Group W bench.  And Betsy, the forces of dressing hereby declare war on the forces of stuffing.  Screw that “universalist” bullshit up there in comment 7.  I don’t know what Habermasian fantasyland I was living in back then.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/30  at  02:11 AM
  30. “Brain Salad Surgery” was a particularly gruesome English crap-pop-group euphemism for oral sex. Also referred to by Dr John in “Right Place Wrong Time”. I wish I didn’t know that. Now you can all wish it.

    Posted by dave heasman  on  11/30  at  07:14 AM
  31. Hm, Michael, does it help me or hurt me that I’ve got the Stove Top stuffing-industrial complex on my side?

    Posted by  on  11/30  at  12:24 PM
  32. Doesn’t matter to me, Betsy.  I’m not calling the dressing home until it has achieved victory.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/30  at  12:38 PM
  33. C’mon now, y’all (linguistic clue as to my origins, ergo we have “dressing.") Everyone knows butter is the thing that lets cultures rub along together at the dinner table.  I tossed a couple of sticks in the mix and you never saw a happier cross-cultural moment.  Like a frickin’ Coke commercial--except better since Coke’s none too popular around here at the moment.

    Posted by Caro  on  11/30  at  01:33 PM
  34. Oho, an intervention!  Hey, Betsy, what you say you and I call a temporary truce and gang up on this neo-dairyist Caro here?

    Butter, indeed.  Next thing you know someone’s going to suggest that sugar makes the world go round.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/30  at  02:17 PM
  35. "an elliptical Nick Lowe allusion”?
    They give credit for that these days? Kids today....

    On the other hand, give him the pot for
    “Like many of the upper class
    He loved the sound of breaking glass..."*

    A triple status claim, Michael, in that it avers
    1) you’re upper class,
    2) you’re well-read, and
    3) you’re ecological with it. Points.

    “*A line I stole, with subtle daring,
    From Wing-Commander Maurice Baring.”

    Posted by Chris B  on  11/30  at  08:05 PM
  36. Yes, we do give credit for that these days!  Thanks for the Hilaire Belloc backup, Chris B.  That’s what I liked about the recycling story—it works on so many levels! We got your Jesus of Cool, we got your Cautionary Verses, we got anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/30  at  08:42 PM
  37. Despite my highly-decorated career in the kitchen (two Thanksgiving tours), I just don’t have enough bullet points to fight you, Michael.  Your bullet points prove your courage and resolve.  I will have to acquiesce and let you declare that the dressing has been accomplished, and it will be accomplished because it has been accomplished, or something like that.

    Posted by  on  12/01  at  12:27 AM
  38. “Brain Salad Surgery” was a particularly gruesome English crap-pop-group euphemism for oral sex

    Pop groupP That’s not pop, man, that’s trog-rock. ELP’s a bit unappealing in spots, though they did (or maybe E did) a fairly dread arrangement of a Bach Toccata, and Mussorsky’s Pictures of An Exhibition as well.

    I’d ruther listen to that sort of occasionally entertaining bombast then the rustic-wino noise of Alice’s Restaurant. (Plus ELP features that not half-bad Giger album ahht too).  And what about ELP’s rendition of Blake’s Jerusalem? Damn near hymn-like there. Better Keith Emerson than the “product” --whether pop, rock, rap, “smooth” jazz--that passes for music these days.

    Posted by Mister Toad  on  12/01  at  12:38 AM
  39. I thank you for the unconditional (or is it unimperative?) surrender, Betsy, and I think now is the time to disclose the fact that I have always called stuffing “stuffing.” Seriously, I’m from the Northeast—what’s with this “dressing” business?  Dressing is what people put on salads.  And the salads come after the meal.  Last but not least, oyster stuffing is to die for.

    And Oceania has always been at war with Dressing!

    Posted by Michael  on  12/01  at  01:46 AM
  40. Ah, but you see I have opened the new horizon.  After the blissful eye-rolling and calls to the Virgin were over, everyone wanted to know what to call that wonderful concoction.  I went to each of my guests (even the kids, getting that important growth market) and made all of them repeat “dressing.” They wanted “relleno” but I refused second helpings until they spoke kerrectedly.  And now the word dressing will spread from my point in the center of nothing and soon take over the world!  Damn. I love be the only American in a two-hour radius.  No one ever gives me sass about stuffing vs. dressing.

    Posted by Caro  on  12/01  at  03:22 PM
  41. Hollywood hates protestants!! But, Michael, for what it’s worth you’re actually wrong on the facts here, an all Ireland or Northern Ireland team will generally play in Green and White, a Republic of Ireland only team will include some orange in line with the Irish Flag. 

    And as for pots calling kettle’s black, Prods are actually called black as well as orange (it’s to do with weird Mason like organisations) A while ago in a bid to get more Catholics to support the Northern Ireland football team (rather than the Republic - the ones with the Orange bits in their Shirts) they started to discourage Northern Ireland flags and Union Jacks at the matches. Instead they developed their own tricolour that was… Green, White and Black!

    When it comes to weirdeness and illogicality and an ability to take offence none of your Wingbat conservative crazies Stateside will ever beat Norn Iron if you dont believe me check out http://www.sluggerotoole.com and see.

    Posted by  on  12/07  at  11:04 AM
  42. Despite my highly-decorated career in the kitchen (two Thanksgiving tours), I just don’t have enough bullet points to fight you, Michael.  Your bullet points prove your courage and resolve.  I will have to acquiesce and let you declare that the dressing has been accomplished, and it will be accomplished because it has been accomplished, or something like that.

    Posted by Reviews maker  on  12/02  at  01:03 PM





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