Better to Give Than to Receive

It all starts out so well. The gift radar turns on in October and by Thanksgiving I've got a great start.

I’ve made a list, checked it several times and even placed a few online orders. But I’m still feeling the pressure of getting the right gifts. Some people just have a question mark next to their name, meaning I can’t make any progress until I figure out what to give. Other people are so easy to buy for that I have to hold myself back.

The way the holiday issues of magazines push last-minute, homemade and inexpensive gifts, you wouldn't think anyone planned ahead, drove to a store and paid retail. They're filled with quick and easy "crafts" that would give Martha Stewart the dry heaves and plenty of ideas for "Great Gifts for Under $10." Yes, it is possible to do all your Christmas shopping at 7-11! But then how will you look those recipients in the eye when you know all their friends have heard the uproarious story of your Doritos gift basket?

I'm all for bargain hunting. Heck, I saved an amazing $74.59 at the supermarket last week using the Club Card and coupons. Of course, they were having a wine promotion that skewed the results. (Hey, I need to stock up for the holidays!) But when it comes to family and friends, it's time to bite the bullet and get something that they can return without being told, "That didn't come from here" or "This item was discontinued in the '90s. Hey, Myrna, come and take a look at this!"

Even if the gifts you receive are obvious pass-alongs, or come from thrift shops, rummage sales or the back of the giver's own junk closet, you can still take the moral high ground with a well-thought-out gift from a real store (on- or off-line) with a gift receipt. Unless you know that the recipient of your gift is into "vintage," you can knit like Monica Lewinsky, or you really can craft with flair, better to skip the homemade approach and do the right thing.

Originally published November 7, 2007

Who Loves You?

During the summer between high school and college, back in the '70s, I got caught up with a dysfunctional group that hung out at a bar in Scarsdale called Tommy's Tavern. My friend Gaynor and I, although teenagers, tried to shoehorn ourselves in with a cast of 30-something drunks. They played in a softball league on a team they named the Cunning Linguists. We were young and stupid enough to be amused by their hilarious way with words and flattered by their attention. We actually fought over the most dysfunctional of them all, Vincent (not his real name).

Vincent had lived with a girlfriend for many years but they were forever breaking up. That summer, she had moved out, leaving him with his black velvet paintings, naked lady shower curtain and Bob Dylan LP collection. What a catch!

Gaynor and I attempted to one-up each other with our closeness to Vincent, in a "he likes me better/no, he likes me better" way that I now shudder when I recall. Ultimately, we both had some wins and some losses. My high points included his installing some shelves in my mother's living room and taking me to see "The Man Who Fell to Earth." There were plenty of low points as well, as there will be for those who hang out in bars.

In the fall I left for NYU and forgot about Vincent. But I went home for Thanksgiving and the Wednesday before the holiday (traditional returning student celebration night) headed out to a bar to catch up with everyone. Before I even made it inside, I ran into Vincent. He seemed glad to see me and insisted that we should get together while I was home. He asked for my phone number and promised to call. I was skeptical, given his track record. He sloughed off my skepticism, saying, "Who loves you, baby?"

I'm not sure whether he was quoting the Four Seasons, who'd just had a hit song by that title, or Kojak, a then-current TV show starring Telly Savalas as a bald detective with that catch phrase. Either way, it seemed like a phony line, delivered ironically. I responded in kind: "I don't know. Who loves me, Vincent?" Taken aback, he paused just a moment before saying, "You know I do, babe."

In fact, I knew he didn't. I knew it absolutely, in a grown-up, scales-fallen-from-the-eyes kind of way. I turned and went into the bar. He didn't call and I never saw him again. I later heard he'd married the long-time girlfriend and had several kids. Happy Thanksgiving to them all!

Alternative Turkey Preparations

Turkey in a Trashcan

This how-to video gives you step-by-step instructions on how to cook a full-size turkey in your backyard using, yes, a metal trashcan. That "lovely assistant" sure is a downer!

Kinky Turkey Flogging

This guy insists on only the tenderest and most submissive of turkeys.

Fire in the Hole

The oven is on fire, the alarm is blaring--and the turkey is raw. Think Martha Stewart could pull that off?

Turkey Drop

A 14-pound turkey with is dropped into turkey fryer filled with boiling oil causing - no surprise here! - a fireball. Don't try this at home. Or anywhere. Any time. Ever.

Thanksgiving Politicking

Guest blogger Jillian Ashley Blair Ivey shares her Bush II-era Thanksgiving memories.

During my freshman year of college I was 2000 miles away from my hometown and completely without any family in the area. My Thanksgiving plans entailed going to New York and spending the holiday weekend with a friend and her relatives. When a combination of laryngitis and acute homesickness put me on a last-minute flight to Texas instead, my friend promised that the invitation for Thanksgiving dinner would still be open the following year. I took her up on it.

At the time, New York still held a bit of mystique for me. I’d been living in Philadelphia for a little over a year by that point, making frequent weekend trips up to the Big Apple. I’d shopped on Fifth Avenue; I’d seen shows on Broadway; I’d been in a rowboat in Central Park; I’d hailed my own taxi. But I hadn’t quite figured out how people could actually live in New York. I felt small and slow and quiet. I needed to take a breath before emerging from Penn Station. This Thanksgiving would give me an opportunity to see how real New York life was lived.

I did not know until I got to my friend’s parents’ apartment, just a few blocks off of Lincoln Center, that I would not actually be experiencing a real New York Thanksgiving, but rather a real North Jersey Thanksgiving. We traveled just over the bridge to a town filled with ex-Manhattanites who’d decided they needed lawns or bigger closets. This is where my friend’s parents’ oldest friends now lived. And on the surface, it was an idyllic setting for a real, old-fashioned Thanksgiving. I wouldn’t get my cramped, Manhattan meal, but maybe I could hope for a slice of Norman Rockwell.


I may not have been in New York, but I was still amongst New Yorkers. As a Texan, I was regarded as a bit of a novelty at the dinner table. There are no Bloomingdale’s in El Paso, Texas. No Neiman Marcuses or Saks Fifth Avenues. We had a Macy’s but it was brand new. Theater tended to be of the community variety, with the occasional touring company coming through. I love my hometown, but suddenly it felt so … pedestrian. But still, I knew the questions I was asked were borne of curiosity and not rudeness. I was a guest, and made to feel welcome. At least until the conversation turned to politics.

Although New York City had, by that point, had Republican mayors for almost a decade, the city is generally regarded as a Democratic one. My friend’s family and their friends certainly voted blue. It was 2003, two years and change after September 11. While possibly popular with New Yorkers for five minutes after visiting Ground Zero, the second President Bush was doubtless amongst New Yorkers’ least-beloved public figures by this dinner. And he had served as governor in my home state for five years before becoming president. General consensus at the table was that Bush was a bad president; this was expressed in ways varying from a call for impeachment to a call for his head. Suddenly, I felt all eyes on me: “Jill, you’re from Texas. What do you think of the president?”

There was absolutely no correct way to answer that question, so I answered around it: “I think that I spend too much time studying to pay much attention to politics.”

“Don’t you have an opinion?”

“Not one I feel qualified to share.”

The room was quiet, but I was raised not to discuss politics in polite company, whether I agreed with them or not (and I did, in some regards) and so I wasn’t going to be the one to break the silence. I think everyone at the table finished eating as quickly as possible, just to get away from the awkwardness.

The next Thanksgiving, I had dinner with friends in Philadelphia.

The Thanksgiving Concert Disaster

In 1982 I worked for Billboard Magazine. I loved it, and I loved the perks. Free records! Free concerts! Going backstage. Getting on "the list." Bringing a "plus one." For one who had been turned away from Studio 54 in its heyday, it was heaven.

Over Thanksgiving weekend 1982, Peter Gabriel played the Palladium, a wonderful old venue on 14th Street in Manhattan. I scored comp tickets to the Saturday performance, the second of Gabriel's two nights there. I was going with my boyfriend, Danny, who was a big fan. But first, I had to take a quick trip to Washington with my family for Thanksgiving, to visit my grandmother, Mimi. Mimi didn't like Danny - or anyone else, for that matter - so he wasn't going.

The trip, with my mom and younger sister Lisa, was in my 5-speed Celica that I was the only one capable of driving. I told them that we had to come back on Saturday so I wouldn't miss the show. That worked for everyone because, after all, the traffic on Sunday would be much worse on the NY-DC corridor.

I'll skip the details about our time in Washington. You're welcome. 

Saturday we set out for the return to New York. Although we thought we'd left plenty of time, the Saturday traffic was Sunday-quality and the trip took hours more than we'd anticipated. Instead of dropping my mom and Lisa at their place, we had to go straight to the Palladium, park the car in an expensive lot (since neither of them could drive stick) and have them take the subway home. This, naturally, upped the crankiness level for all concerned.

I can still see mobbed East 14th Street vividly as we pulled up next to a fire hydrant. In those pre-cell phone days I'm not sure how Danny and I coordinated meeting on a street corner, but we pulled it off. He got in, we secured the car, escorted my family to the subway and headed to the Palladium. We arrived just as the music was beginning, and I was thinking the drive from hell might have been worth it.

Then we got to the doors. I handed over the tickets, which had been in my wallet all week. The ticket-taker handed them back to me. "These are for last night," he said, turning to the next patron.

I begged. I squeezed out a few tears. I flashed my Billboard business card. None of it had any impact. We were asked to step aside and, in shock, we did.

Danny was very understanding. We had to accept what had happened, he said. We'd do something else fun, maybe see a movie. I staggered down the street, the embodiment of denial. This couldn't be happening. I was responsible for a heinous error that would deprive my boyfriend of the chance to see Peter Gabriel. No "Shock the Monkey"! No "Games Without Frontiers"! Even I liked those, and I had despised Genesis. Why hadn't I entrusted him with the tickets? He surely would have noticed the date and could have gone without me the previous night.

But life goes on. We picked a movie starring Sting, Brimstone and Treacle. At least there would be a British rock star involved in our evening's entertainment. We settled in.

Well, this was one twisted movie, involving Sting's deceiving the parents of an invalid young woman, earning their trust and becoming her caregiver. He violates her in a particularly erotic scene that left me veering between shock and awe, but coming down firmly on the side of awe. It was sexy, and I said so to Danny. He was horrified.

I had been a lifelong feminist, but that night Danny essentially accused me of being brainless and submissive. The girl had been abused, didn't I see that? Sure I did, but Sting was so hot! I told him if I ever ended up in a coma, he had permission to do to me what Sting had done to that girl.

Danny was disgusted. It might have been residual resentment over missing Peter Gabriel, it might have been bitterness about my lust for Sting. It might even have been righteous indignation at what I now agree was an appalling act. But come on, it was only a movie. Some guys would have run with it when their girlfriend said she was turned on.

The night ended with a huge fight in puffy coats on University Place. I got my feminist mojo back, and remember fighting the urge to pummel him and yell that he was a stubborn Sta-Puft. And I went home alone. But at least I didn't have to take the subway.


A side note about the Palladium: Like so much else, it's gone now. Originally the Academy of Music, built in 1927 and renamed the Palladium in 1976, in 1985 it was remade as the ultimate club by Studio 54 alumni and parolees Ian Shrager and Steve Rubell. Decorations were by Basquiat, Haring, Clemente and Scharf and the music, video and patrons were up to those same standards. The club outlived Rubell, who died in 1989. But in 1997 the building was acquired by New York University, demolished and replaced by a dorm and Trader Joe's. I've seen the line at Trader Joe's rival the line to get into previous versions of the Palladium. But of course it's not the same.

Thanksgiving in the Olden Days (Videos)

Home Movie: Thanksgiving 1957

Ah, the old days. Everyone dresses in their nicest clothes for Thanksgiving. They start with a prayer, then it's time to chow down, followed by dancing. So nice and quiet, too.

A Rootie Tootie Thanksgiving Special

A time capsule from the early days of TV: a 1950 Thanksgiving special. Check out those credits! Aging Baby Boomer Ira Gallen has spent more than 30 years collecting and restoring old 16mm & 35mm films and Kinescopes.

Thanksgiving Dinner 1962

Breaking out a movie camera was a lot bigger deal in 1962 than it is now. It also involved a blinding light, developing the film and a whole production with a very loud projector and a screen to play it back.

1985 Flashback

Thanksgiving 1985: From back in the day when the kids lined up and stood still for the video and only the camera moved.

A Day of Thanksgiving

A classic old black-and-white short film (although it feels v e r y long) about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. And acting lessons. And cinematography.