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#16

Thanks for Something



 
           In two days it will be Thanksgiving and Lucy’s editor wants a photograph that, in his words, “captures the essence of Thanksgiving” for the front page of tomorrow’s Style and Culture section. At the morning assignments meeting, when Lucy had asked her editor to elaborate on what he meant by “the essence of Thanksgiving,” he had merely defined the word “essence” for her and sent her on her way.

Now she drives her rusty hatchback up and down the serene streets of town, her digital camera and several lenses piled on the passenger’s seat, and wonders why she can’t come up with any ideas. She drives very slowly so as not to cruise right past an image that captures the essence of Thanksgiving without noticing it. Will she even know such an image when she sees it? She doesn’t know if she’ll know. She’s lucky to have this job. She dropped out of college last year because of exhaustion and boredom and several better reasons that she can no longer recall, but now she’s a photographer, which is what she wanted to be anyway, although she’d prefer to not be living with her parents and she definitely doesn’t want to work for her hometown paper forever, but she figures it’s as good a place as any to start, and the work is fun when it’s clearly explained. But this assignment is hazy and vague and Lucy is starting to feel stressed out.

 

She drives to the park, hoping that the bare trees and fallen leaves and whoever happens to be there will all come together into the kind of image her editor wants. She strikes gold. In the big, open field at the center of the park, a bunch of guys, from teenagers to middle-aged men with bad knees, are playing a noisy game of tackle football. There’s even a girl playing! The thing that really gets Lucy excited, though, is that one team is dressed in elaborate Indian costumes and the other team is dressed in equally elaborate Pilgrim costumes complete with caved-in Pilgrim hats affixed to their sweaty heads with chinstraps, which seems dangerous to Lucy.

The guys ham it up for the camera, high-stepping and performing choreographed end zone dances. Lucy gets one great shot of the quarterback for the Indians breaking containment and sprinting through the Pilgrims’ secondary with his headdress streaming out behind him, shedding brightly colored feathers in his wake.

Breathless and happy, Lucy calls her editor to give him the good news when she gets back to her car.

“That doesn’t sound historically accurate,” says her editor.

“Suspension of disbelief,” says Lucy. “We have to trust our readers.”

“I don’t know,” says her editor. “Who was winning?”

“The Pilgrims were up 35 to 14 when I left,” says Lucy.

“That concerns me,” says her editor.

“Well, the Indians had no pass rush,” says Lucy.

“That may be, but I still think we might look culturally insensitive if we run a picture of Pilgrims defeating Indians in anything. Better keep looking, Lucy.”

 

Lucy drives to the soup kitchen downtown, hoping to work the inspirational angle. She chats with a fat, bearded man named Brett who seems to be in charge. “We give a real turkey dinner on Thanksgiving,” says Brett. “Today it’s three kinds of casserole.”

“That’s OK,” says Lucy. “I’m just trying to capture the essence of Thanksgiving. Know what I mean?”

“I know exactly what you mean,” says Brett.

Lucy takes pictures of smiling volunteers in aprons using big shiny spoons to serve casserole to the needy. She takes pictures of a homeless man buttering a roll. She takes a picture of Brett hugging three needy people at once.

Touched by Brett and the other volunteers’ big hearts, Lucy checks in with her editor again.

“The pictures sound nice,” says her editor. “But Thanksgiving is more about gratitude than generosity. Did the needy look exceptionally grateful?”

“Not really,” admits Lucy. “They looked tired.”

“Mmm,” says her editor. “Did you get a picture of a smiling volunteer cutting the turkey?”

“There wasn’t any turkey,” says Lucy. “It was casserole.”

Giving away casserole is not the essence of Thanksgiving, Lucy. Keep looking.”

 

Lucy hires a wildlife guide and drives to the game preserve to photograph wild turkeys in their natural habitat.

“I can tell you’re not prepared,” says the guide around his cigar as he and Lucy tramp through the woods on a rapidly fading deer trail. Lucy’s jeans and shoelaces are covered in prickly burs.

“Prepared for what?” asks Lucy.

“For the beauty,” says the guide. “The beauty of the turkeys.” He exhales a cloud of sweet, fragrant smoke.

Lucy rolls her eyes.

“Shh,” says the guide, holding up one finger and narrowing his eyes.

“I didn’t say anything,” says Lucy.

“There,” says the guide. “Wild turkeys. Oh, just look at them, look at the arrogance, the sense of entitlement. Exquisite.”

Lucy looks where the guide is pointing and sure enough, there are five massive turkeys strutting around in a small clearing, emitting low gobbles and displaying their plumage. Lucy gasps. “They are beautiful.”

Lucy waits until after she drops off the guide back at his trailer before she calls her editor.

Her editor sounds irritated. “Lucy, get real. Our readers don’t want to see how beautiful turkeys are one day before they all sit down and eat turkeys. They’ll feel sad and guilty. I don’t know about you, but some of us would prefer that the Style and Culture section not be a huge downer.”  

 

Lucy drives through a residential neighborhood as the day turns to evening and tries to concentrate on her job through mounting anger. She turns the radio on, it’s a commercial, and she stabs it off again with her index finger and breaks her nail on the power button. Her mood darkens further. She stops her car in the middle of the street and takes a picture of two houses next door to one another: one covered in drooping Halloween decorations and the other covered in bright, fresh Christmas decorations. The focal point of the shot is a dark, undecorated strip of lawn between the two houses.

            Lucy describes the picture to her editor and says, “Do you get it?”

            “Of course I get it,” says her editor. “It’s cynical. It’s preachy. It has nothing to do with family. You’re running out of time.”

 

            Lucy sneaks across the damp, chilly yards of the neighborhood, her camera swinging from the strap around her neck as she darts from tree to tree. She peers into the front windows of every house with a light on, hoping for a clear shot of a family in a dining room holding hands and praying over a home-cooked meal. It isn’t working out. Most dining rooms aren’t visible through the front windows, and those that are don’t have families in them.

            At a house with a front window that looks in on yet another empty, tasteful living room, Lucy decides to go around the house to see if there’s a view into the dining room from the back yard. As she holds her breath and peeks around the corner of the house to make sure the coast is clear, a voice says, “Can I help you?” and Lucy screams. She whirls around and there’s a tall man with glasses and a bald head glinting in the moonlight standing behind her with his hands in his pants pockets.

            “I’m sorry,” says Lucy, her initial fright turning to shame.

            “What are you doing in my yard?” asks the man.

            “I’m a photographer for the paper. I’ve been taking pictures all day and I don’t have anything I can use.”

            Lucy’s phone rings in her pocket. “Hello?”

            “You missed your deadline,” says her editor. “We had to steal a picture of a cornucopia off the internet.”

            Lucy hangs up and feels like crying.

            “Can I see your pictures?” asks the man. “I like photography.”

            Lucy shrugs. The man stands behind her and looks over her shoulder as she holds the camera up and cycles through the pictures on the screen on the back of the camera.

            “Ha ha,” says the man. “Maybe people don’t decorate for Thanksgiving because it’s so difficult to commodify. Thought provoking!”

            “Thank you,” says Lucy.

            “Mmm, beautiful,” says the man. “Who knew turkeys could be beautiful?”

            “I know,” says Lucy. “Thank you.”

            “I should volunteer down there sometime,” says the man. “Anybody can spoon food onto a plate, right? Inspiring pictures.”

            “Thank you,” says Lucy.

            “Ha ha! Those costumes are in rough shape!” says the man. “Wow, how’d you get these action shots without any blurring? They’re so sharp.”

            “Thank you,” says Lucy. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”