I sat in a parking lot with a sleeve of crackers and free packs of hot sauce. It was Thanksgiving and this was my dinner. I parked my ass on a log and laid out the spread. Saltines and sauce. The latter a late night nab from Taco Bell. I frequented the one on campus as it stayed open late. I’d amble in drunk, order off the dollar menu, then load up on freebies: sporks, napkins, and sauce to adorn my food for days. I was homeless by choice and preferred non perishables.
My Thanksgiving parking lot was that of a little league field just steps from the lot I lived in. My living lot had another field used by older players. Each night I parked there and went to bed. At night the cold woke me. Bitter licks from an ice devil’s tongue. Morning meant construction. Loud joggers. Players readying for practice. Fridays meant softball games. I’d sit in the stands to watch them. I hoped the game wasn’t canceled on account of the holiday. The holiday that gave me crackers and hot sauce. I plugged in my phone, started a podcast, and dived into dinner.
Parents with kids and picnic supplies ambled en route to the park across the creek. I sat alone on my log in Texas. Over a thousand miles from home. From where I knew anybody. In North Dakota my extended family gathered at an aunt and uncle’s out in the country. Each year thirty or so assemble to hang out and hog down. I’m not much of a meat eater so Thanksgiving has never meant food for me. I like the camaraderie with cousins I only see a few times a year. People I’ve known my entire life.
I’m 31 and banished to the kid table in the basement. The upstairs is for those who’ve married or spawned copies of themselves. My adult cousins and I, the unmarried dregs, hang with the offspring of others. The kids of cousins who sit upstairs. We go up for our slop then return to the dungeon. They crack into slabs of ham, myself green beans and potatoes. At the end of the night my aunt arrives with ice cream and pie. She ladles it thick ’til your plate holds six days of calories.
In the basement our Thanksgiving tradition is to watch Home Alone. I bring a burnt DVD. My cousins an old VHS for backup. We watch the movie each year, devising our own backstories and motivations for characters. The old man with the salt bucket is a kid fucking serial killer. The Wet Bandits a pair of kid fucking cannibals. Etc. Etc. Our running commentary is informed by years prior. We pick up where we left off, revisiting old jokes, re-envisioning the action onscreen. We know the beats by heart and laugh so much the movie might as well be on mute. It’s my favorite part of the holiday. It makes it Thanksgiving.
In the parking lot I assembled hot sauce and cracker sandwiches. Washed them down with water. The weather was fine. Better than the snow and bitter cold of North Dakota. My phone charged and families passed me. I planned to take a long walk then finish the night with a movie on my laptop. Not Home Alone. Just some shit I downloaded at the library. I’d sit in my car and eat crackers like popcorn. Crawl to the trunk for a cold night of sleep. But for now I ate dinner. Let the salt and sauce stick to my tongue. I liked my food and enjoyed the afternoon. But this wasn’t Thanksgiving. It was just another day in the parking lot.