A Brief Thanksgiving Respite from Insanity

Drawing by Oona
Starting with this drawing by Oona

Tonight on the McNeil News, Pinky the Poet read a poem by a woman whose name I didn’t hear because The Bombshell was on the phone and I was frying something good on the stove. I didn’t hear much of the poem either, but I did notice that it had something to do with a football game in Newton. I remembered, frying, that I had been to a football game in Newton, Massachussetts.

In the Fall of 1958 I was seventeen and a freshman at a little college in Maine, three thousand miles from California, and not a little lonely. A guy in my dorm – we’d hardly met – kindly invited me down to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. His name was Paul Riseman and he lived in Newtonmass, as everyone called it. (All towns in Massachussetts are called that: Concordmass, Bostonmass, Worcestermass. To a Westerner like me, it was as if the East assumed that it contained so many towns – and so many miniscule states – that each would naturally contain duplicates of all the others. I saw this as a tribute to a population density we in Fresno could barely imagine.) Practically the first thing we did upon arrival in Newtonmass was to attend the Big Game, the Newtonmass High School Homecomingorthanksgiving Game. It was huge, it was monumental, we played someone I can’t remember, maybe Brookline High, although Brookline was a long world away from Newton, as I was to learn. (Paul’s roomate, Pete Karofsky, was from Brookline and Pete was the second nicest guy at Bowdoin.) Anyway, there I was, the Oddity from California, cheering Newton on, bundled up, surrounded by new friends, the moon rising above the red and white of the frosty stadium, the game on the line, a big steaming turkey waiting back at the cutest house I’d ever been in, the world before me.

Today I spent the morning in the recording studio, readying the Firesign Theatre for its Thanksgiving broadcast on NPR. I updated the hoary FST classic that I wrote maybe thirty years ago called “Thanksgiving or Pass the Indian, Please,” and we cracked off the best performance of it I can remember. There was a guy in the control room I hadn’t met before, thin, gray-pony-tailed, cargo pants, filmaker kind of guy and he shook my hand and told me he’d laughed like a loon through the whole thing, but what had struck him was this: when he’d heard the line “This first one was different, why did the first one have to be different?” he’d momentarily thought he was next to hear “Why is this night different from all other nights.” For a moment, we both considered the Jewish place in the Great Harvest Plenty Festival and I didn’t think of my answer until tonight.

The Risemans are my answer, the whole 1958 family of Risemans. And Newton High kicked someone’s butt that night at the Homecoming Thanksgiving game at the high school, the red leaves falling, the big moon rising, the ball spinning high above the frosty field, over the imagined graves of all our imaginary ancestors.