If you watched sitcom television in the 1980s, you probably remember that on Thanksgiving you’re supposed to go around the dinner table and say what you’re thankful for. You probably also remember that, ultimately, the only acceptable thing for which you can be thankful is “family.”
Yet, saying you’re “thankful for family” is kind of like saying you enjoy eating pizza or that you’re attracted to Megan Fox—it goes without saying. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with eating pizza or desiring Megan Fox in moderation. But if you spend all your time eating pizza in fantasyland, you’ll never make it to the new Hawaiian restaurant down the street, which is particularly unfortunate for you, seeing as the cute server who works there just broke up with her boyfriend.
This analogy carries over. When you say you’re “thankful for family” every Thanksgiving, your gratitude muscle atrophies. So earlier this week I ventured out into this uncertain city to find a new person, a new place and a new thing for which I could be thankful.
A NEW PERSON
“I want to meet the guy who cuts up the pineapples.”
That’s me, talking to the manager at Trader Joe’s. See, Trader Joe’s sells these precut, packaged pineapples, and I’ve been eating them for breakfast every day for the past couple of months.
“The guy who cuts the pineapples? Seriously?”
“Yeah,” I said, “I want to thank him. Thanksgiving, you know?”
Judging by the manager’s face, he didn’t. But it was a moot point:
“I don’t know who cuts the pineapples,” the manager told me. “We get them precut. They come from a warehouse in California. I always figured a machine cut ’em up.”
“Did you want me to try to find out about the machine for you? I can make some calls and let you know in a week or two.”
“Great,” I muttered. And then I walked out the door.
A NEW THING
I drove west on Lake Mead Boulevard, and after a mile or so, I came across a Family Dollar store. Here’s something to be thankful for, I thought, a Mom & Pop store at which you can still find a bargain for a buck.
The first item I came across was a generic “Controller for Wii/GameCube” that cost $10. Ten dollars! At the dollar store! That wasn’t even the most expensive item there—far from it. I found an “Interiors Design 7-Piece Comforter Set” that cost $46. Forty-six bucks! There’s no way I could be thankful for any item in a store that used such deceptive sales tactics, let alone be thankful for the store itself.
“Can I help you with something?” the clerk asked.
“What were you looking for?”
“Something to be thankful for,” if you must know.
“You could be thankful for that comforter set you’re holding. You’d probably pay a hundred bucks for it anywhere else.”
“I’ll pass,” I said, “But do you mind if I take a picture of it for this story I’m writing?”
“I really shouldn’t … if my manager found out ... Oh, go ahead. You don’t seem like a troublemaker to me.”
I snapped the picture and walked out.
A NEW PLACE
I stayed west on Lake Mead, and eventually I arrived at the Bettye Wilson Soccer Complex, a giant park connected to some high school. I got out of my car, and nodded at the security guys, as if I were the new biology teacher.
I walked toward the vast open field, looking forward to getting some space from the city’s noises and neon … but the park’s gate was padlocked shut.
I yanked the lock to make sure it’d been closed properly. It had. And then one of the sprinklers got me.
Damp and disappointed, I continued west. I resolved to keep driving until 1) I found at least one new person or place or thing for which to be thankful, or 2) I hit a mountain. Neither happened; Lake Mead Boulevard came to an end, and so did my Thanksgiving pilgrimage.
So I called my mom to complain:
“I was supposed to go out and find some things to be thankful for,” I said, “but the park was closed, and the Dollar Store was too expensive, and the pineapple guy was a machine in a warehouse in California.”
“What are you talking about?” my mom asked.
“Never mind. I don’t want to explain. I’m in a bad mood.”
“What about being thankful for the basic stuff?” my mom suggested. “Like family or kindness ...”
“Oh, real original, Carl Winslow.”
“Never mind,” I said.
“Call me back when you’re feeling better,” my mom said, “and I’ll try to have some ideas for you by then.”
On the way home, I thought about what my mom had said—“the basic stuff … like kindness.” And next I thought about the Family Dollar worker who was willing to bend the store rules for an odd stranger and the Trader Joe’s manager who was willing to investigate the workings of a warehouse in California. And then I realized how atrophied my gratitude muscle had truly become.
So I drove back to Family Dollar to thank the clerk, and then back Trader Joe’s to thank the manager.
And then I called my mom again and thanked her. You gotta be thankful for family.