“Orange turkey is delicious.”

—said no Chinese cook, ever.

I’m of two minds about Thanksgiving. (Of course my shrink says I’m of eight minds on everything. That’s for another column.) In my childhood, it was fun to go to relatives’ houses and swallow fun carbs and not have to consider glycemic and triglyceride levels, but as we grow older, visceral fat grows with us. No more about that.

Shuffling through old photos, I’m reminded of how many Thanksgivings I’ve spent in strange places: Hong Kong, Tokyo, New Orleans, San Francisco, and the band plays on. So as I’m committed to doing a Thanksgiving column, you’re going to have read about them, or just go lie down.

Wandering those streets on Thanksgiving Day as a young airman or actor was not that much fun. In Asia it was just another day. No, I’m told, the Japanese, who love to imitate everything we do, have taken up Thanksgiving and Christmas. Must be fun for them. I wonder if they have Black Friday ninja rushes like we do?

FUCHU, JAPAN 1952:

At our base there, the cooks pulled out all the stops and dropped all the trimmings on our tin trays: canned green beans, canned cranberry sauce, canned sweet potatoes. The white mashed we had every day. The celery was fresh, and the carrots were as large as baseball bats. The Japanese supplied us with their local produce, which of course was fertilized with human waste.

TOKYO, 1953:

Bored with canned food, this Thanksgiving three of us went into Tokyo to dine at a famous German restaurant where our officers took their wives. It was off the Ginza near the Diamond Hotel, down a long alley and in a cozy basement. During the war, we were told, it was the favorite hangout of the visiting Nazis. We all had a grand German Thanksgiving dinner of sauerbraten, sauerkraut, sausages, black bread and steins of beer, and no bar in Japan ever asked for I.D.

While dining, we were joined by four Japanese girls who sang Andrew Sisters hits, and had our pictures taken by a tall balding German guy who stayed on after the war. He wore a monocle and had a limp and a bad tic, and took our pictures with one of those old flashbulb cameras. Orson Welles would have loved him. It was a lot of fun for three young boys from the Midwest whose brothers, only nine years ago, had bombed the street where we were dining. I wish I had that photo now.

CLEVELAND, 1957

Thanksgiving of 1957 at the Cleveland Playhouse Academy of Drama, I shared a dumpy fifth floor apartment on Euclid Avenue with five other actors. Because we were full-time students, we had short cash flows. I was there on the G.I. Bill with monthly checks, and was everyone’s best friend on the first of the month. Three of our gang were from the east and went home for the holidays, leaving two of us six cans of tuna.

Luck smiled on us. Our down-the-hall neighbors, three fun, rowdy girls from Oberlin College, Case Tech and Western Reserve University, felt sorry for us and threw us a grand dinner. One of them had her father’s raccoon coat and played a ukulele. Her name was April. She was the academy’s lighting tech. We became terrific friends. I think I was in love with her. True story.

MANHATTAN, 1958:

When I fell under the spell of the pretty French girl from Maine, I thought my troubled Thanksgiving holidays were over. Not so fast. My strawberry blond beauty had kept our marriage secret from her very Republican family, so she was obligated to train home for the holiday and to repeat the trip for Christmas. So there I was, all alone in our tiny apartment with my best friend, a cowboy actor from North Dakota. Charlie and I bought a small turkey and popped it in the oven with two sweet potatoes, ran out for wine and burned it.

So the cowboy and I opened the windows wide to the New York City cold, and cabbed down to Times Square and the neon lit Lucky Dragon Chinese diner.

“Two orders of Gong Bao turkey, waiter, and don’t skimp on the fried rice.”

WATERVILLE, 2014:

Two survivors of the Let The Good Times Roll West Hollywood Disco club toast their 54th celebration of Thanksgiving. Life is good, the fortune cookies say.


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