As coronavirus cases surge and talks of shutdowns across the country resume, Americans are realizing traditional Thanksgiving get-togethers are largely off the table.
It’s a bummer for many, I know. But when you think about it, Thanksgiving gatherings always have the potential to be disasters.
Rather than feel sad about our pandemic-induced holiday limitations, perhaps we should view them as a Thanksgiving Day disaster-tunity — a chance to have an entirely different kind of turkey-centric experience.
Consider this normal scenario:
It’s 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and the turkey went in the oven later than planned, so the feast will be hours late and people are already complaining that they’re hungry. The relatives are already here, including Uncle Tim and Aunt Mirna, who everyone agrees are dreadful to have around. Tim drinks too much and starts making sexist comments and Mirna never stops complaining about her sciatica.
There are children running about, yelling and intermittently breaking things, and you honestly aren’t sure who all the children are — they just blur into one loud, destructive, knee-high force that isn’t helping the headache you have from making small talk with people you, for good reason, only see once a year.
There are adults in the living room yelling about something, a teen in the corner moping and composing awful poetry in his head and other teens in the backyard, either vaping or reflexively rolling their eyes.
The cousin who promised to bring the pies doesn’t show up, a grandparent starts to feel “a bit wobbly” for no particular reason, the stuffing is missing something (and you just know Aunt Mirna’s going to point that out at the dinner table) and another blur-kid just shot you in the eye with a Nerf gun, causing the mopey teen in the corner to briefly smirk.
Finally, dinner is served. Everyone eats too fast and talks too loud, then there are a ton of dishes and the house is a mess and everyone either leaves or sleeps over and snores loudly.
Sounds fun, right?
Now consider a quarantined Thanksgiving:
You and the family members who live with you (you know, the ones you actually like) wake up whenever you want. You cook whatever you want and don’t worry about Aunt Mirna’s opinion. You eat dinner with a laptop on the table and your extended family members spaced out in tidy little “Brady-Bunch”-style boxes on Zoom, your finger never far from the mute button.
Then you close the laptop, do a few dishes, watch some television and go to bed.
Sure, you miss seeing some of your relatives. We’ll call them “the good ones.” But a virtual Thanksgiving dinner will allow you to separate the wheat from the chaff, family-wise.
All you need is the right mindset and, hopefully, a few improvements from Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms.
To get your mind right, repeat my Thanksgiving Day mantra: “All that matters is the food, all that matters is the food, all that matters is the food …” Say that approximately a thousand times, unless you’re already a believer, and then have someone you don’t like spill red wine on your carpet while a child you don’t know yells in your ear. Then, and only then, will you be emotionally prepared to embrace Quarantinesgiving.
The next step requires the help of the aforementioned videoconferencing platforms.
We have the technology to mute people, which is a blessing. But we need more tools to properly handle a virtual family get-together of this magnitude.
I encourage Zoom and the other less-awesomely named companies to immediately consider adding the following options:
1) An emoji that indicates someone should stop saying things that are racist. I imagine this as a red slash over a cartoon caricature of an uncle holding a bottle of whiskey.
2) An off-screen isolation chamber for relatives you dislike. This function would allow the user to remove people from the Zoom meeting without them knowing it. Those removed would be placed in a video game-like space on another screen that contains any number of the following: murder hornets, a hungry lion with dull teeth, an evil-looking Pac-Man or Pennywise the clown. You would be able to occasionally toggle to this screen to see how things are working out for the people who have wronged you on past Thanksgivings.
3) An algorithm that filters out any person’s mention of the names “Donald Trump” or “Joe Biden” and replaces it with something more mundane. For example, if Grandpa Herbert says, “I like that Joe Biden,” others in the Zoom meeting would hear, “I like milk.” If your sister-in-law says, “I stand with Donald Trump and think the election was rigged,” others would hear, “I enjoy calm walks along a creek in autumn.”
With those simple changes, and with your own Zen-like focus on delicious food and not spending most of the day angry, there’s no reason Thanksgiving 2020 can’t be a delight.
In fact, even if the pandemic is over this time next year, we might want to stick with Quarantinesgiving.
Enjoy the snakes, Aunt Mirna!
Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.