I ALMOST BURNED my homemade cranberry sauce because I was so anxious the strangers my parents had invited from Craigslist to our Thanksgiving dinner would turn out to be mass murderers. My artist/social worker father and neuropsychologist mom had been eccentric pioneers in the Lower East Side before it became a stomping ground for fey fashionistas. I’d been raised a rare young Jew there in the early 1990s, surviving crackheads, hookers and streets littered with hypodermic needles. Now, at 23, it seemed my hippie folks were intent on being obliterated on Turkey Day by an interweb wacko.
“Why can’t it just be family?” I asked Dad, as he checked on the stuffing. “Aren’t we crazy enough?” “No, we’re boring. Besides, remember the year we invited the Nigerian prince Mom met on the street? That was so much fun,” he enthused.
“Besides,” Mom chimed in from the dining room, where she was polishing unmatched wineglasses. “It’s Jewish tradition to invite those less fortunate into your home on even an American holiday. It’s a mitzvah.”
“It’s not a mitzvah,” I replied, “if the mystery guests you invited massacre us.”
“That’s not a very positive attitude.
They’re probably just as frightened as you are. They probably think we’re a bunch of weirdos who will poison the yams,” Dad said, “Try to think of it from their point of view.”
“I don’t know who they are,” I reminded him, burning my tongue on scalding sauce.
Yet, I couldn’t stop obsessing over the cyber guests. My parents wouldn’t allow me to see their Craigslist post, or the emails they’d received in response. Thanksgiving was one of the only days in the year my father sat down with Babbi and Zayde, my beloved grandparents and his patronizing parents-in-law. I wanted us to laugh together over a 20-pound bird and give thanks our dysfunctional Hebrew clan was gathering in my parents’ living room surrounded by papiermché masks and antique furniture Dad rescued from Dumpsters. Instead, I worried the Internet—which had caused me enough stress already (Why had someone from my clothingoptional college days stolen my profile picture and made it his own?)—would ruin any chance at family redemption. Even if our mystery guests weren’t mass murderers out to slaughter a bunch of neurotic New York Jews, I reasoned no well-balanced person would attend a Thanksgiving dinner from an Internet ad on a notoriously nefarious website.
“Oh, you’re not the Craigslist people,” Dad said, disappointed, when he opened the door for my friend Lauren. She had just moved to Brooklyn from Orange County and I’d invited her so
I could have someone to get drunk with when the carving knives became deadly weapons.
“Nice to meet you,” she laughed. “I’m serious,” Dad said. “Where are the people from Craigslist? I’m going to go email them.”
“He’s not joking?” Lauren asked me. Babbi and Zayde showed up five minutes later with a crateful of Zinfandel and gin. Mom rushed around putting out cheese and crackers. My younger brother drank wine in his room. My uncle, Mom’s 54-year-old bachelor brother, rang the bell with six packs of beer, inappropriately smooched Lauren near the mouth, but didn’t mention anything about me blocking him on Facebook.The basset hounds barked, running circles around people’s feet and my parent’s house filled with the smells of roasted vegetables and cinnamon; Billie Holiday on the old record player; ice clinking in my grandparent’s gin and tonics. Just as I was setting the table, the doorbell rang.
“That must be them!” Dad shouted, running to get it.
He pressed the buzzer long and hard, grinning with excitement. Two stunning girls walked in.They both had dark pixie cuts and stylish pea coats. I never imagined hot people used Craigslist.
“Thank you so much for hafing us. We from Spain, so muchas gracias, we had nowhere else to go,” lisped one, her beautiful green eyes sweeping the room.
“Come in, have a drink, sit next to my sons,” Dad pushed the girls towards me.
“Who are those ladies?” Babbi asked Lauren.
“They’re from the Internet,” Lauren told her.
“I’ll have another gin and tonic,” Babbi decided.
All through dinner, I couldn’t help staring at our sexy cyber strangers, now sitting and laughing, passing stuffing around the table. By the end of the meal, my uncle had Green Eyes cornered and was drunkenly flirting, talking about his latest windsurfing trip to Maui. Babbi and Dad were avoiding each other at opposite ends of the table. My brother was heaping his plate for the fifth time and Mom was making coffee. I pulled Lauren onto the couch, spilling my Merlot.
“Thanks for having me,” she grinned. “No problem, you fit right in with my fucked-up family,” I said.
Royal Young just completed his debut memoir Fame Shark.