As Thanksgiving advances upon us with the subtlety of a concussed turkey, so too does the inescapable prospect of the Big Family Meal. Everybody assembles around the table, hands gripping the silverware like fighting daggers, eyes darting like panicked birds. It's like the standoff in Reservoir Dogs, only instead of handguns, everybody has mouths loaded with bullets like "Did anybody hear about the politics lately?" and "So when are you going to have children, and will you name them after my Pomeranian? Only the best for young Mr. Zoozle." There's a pecking order in your family, sometimes unspoken, sometimes made clear by a family member yelling "There is a pecking order in this family." So how does everyone stack up?
This might seem like an upset, but let there be no mistake -- nobody's paying attention to your dad when he starts monologuing about [Politician] or [News Thing] or [Mortgage Necktie Taxes]. He considers himself the biggest dog in the yard, but misses out on key concepts like "you think of yourself as a dog who lives out in a yard, and should maybe want better things for yourself." If anybody so much as looks at the electric carving knife askance, your dad bursts eight million blood vessels in his face and says, in a voice like a super-soaker full of lava, "Only the large dog gets to make the turkey die with the magic shaky knife. I'm the biggest. I'm the biggest dog."
You, specifically. You graduated college a few years ago, you got a job, but everyone in your family is still convinced that you're constantly huffing paint in the basement with that kid whose parents named their dog Whiskey. You may be smuggling arms to Iran, you may be the ringleader of a theatre troupe dedicated to dramatizations of Jack Chick tracts -- it's anyone's guess, because when your family asks what you've been up to lately, they're secretly praying that you won't actually tell them. When you say "Oh, you know. Working. I go to the farmers' market sometimes," they're all thinking "Yessss, lie to me. Lie about your wicked activities, you prodigal rat. The only fruit you reap from the market is the bloom of your own transgressions." Like they're not gonna say that, but they've got that expression. You know the one.
#3. Uncle Rick
Ohhh, your Uncle Rick. He would describe himself as "Rough around the edges, but with a good heart." Everybody else would describe him as a dumpster fire in shoes. You're not supposed to like your Uncle Rick, but he has a certain scruffy charm. He might drink a few too many or drive too fast or field-dress all of the neighborhood raccoons and leave them for the neighbors in a ghastly death tableau, but he's fun! He's fun. He could steal all of the silverware throughout the meal or verbally abuse the turkey -- unpredictability is the heart and soul of Thanksgiving dinner, and Uncle Rick is about as stable as a three-wheeled wagon full of yogurt. You'll need years of therapy once you see what he does with the gravy boat.
She's the quiet svengali of the whole operation, is your grandma, and she pulls the strings like a virtuoso puppeteer in an ugly sweater. Her thin fingers are in everything. You can't prove it, and it drives you mad, and attempting to prove her unholy influence is like trying to throw smoke through a basketball hoop. Why is the cat acting so strangely? Why is the cranberry sauce whispering to you in a voice like a swarm of cicadas? Why can't anybody find the meat thermometer? Grandma knows. Her eyes shine with grim victory every time she asks Uncle Rick to pass the pepper. She's like a vengeful god -- unknowable, ever-shifting, omniscient. She is the end of all things.
Look at that dog. Look at those mouthflaps, those fancy paws. Nobody even has to question Dog's leadership of this house. Have you been eaten by possums while you sleep? Negative. How many times would you say your life was threatened by ambulance sirens wailing their terrible song from the road? The answer's a big fat zero, because Dog has unfailingly howled along with them, keeping the Loud Scary Noises at bay and keeping your family safe. You should be down on your knees thanking the universe every time they eat too much grass and ralph it up on the carpet, because you're witnessing pure joy and sunshine. Look at that dog.
Once you've endured the trial of the Communal Family Feedfest, you're going to want to hole up in your compound and refuse to talk to anybody for days as you process the things you've seen and heard. Best Buy is going to have some amazing deals going for Black Friday, and there's nothing like the comfort of an electronic cocoon. Grandma can't find you within your wall of static. You're almost sure she can't. Her eyes are everywhere.