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Good wine, good friends and a flaming turkey dinner

by Jenn Jacobsen
At the beginning of the personal computer era in the early ’80s, I was working in the very birthplace of much of the technology we use today. Despite the frenzied pace of Silicon Valley and the computer industry, I still managed to take some well-deserved time off and enjoy the holidays. I especially like Thanksgiving. The holiday’s focus on friends, family, food, and being thankful for what we have set it apart from all the other consumer-driven days of celebration.

Rarely would I go and have a dinner with my family, so I would always ask all of my friends if they were spending Thanksgiving with their families. Those that weren’t, I would invite over for a Thanksgiving party. Our Thanksgiving parties were not the typical family dinners. Everyone brought wine and beer, the music was loud, and there ended up being lots of drunk friends destined to spend the night on my couch. It must have been some kind of Orwellian thing, but in 1984 my party only had 4 people instead of the usual 10-20.

I could always count on my best friend Jim to make our parties. Jim was a very talented technical writer for a computer company. His stuttering masked his intellect and his thick glasses and magnified eyes covered his good looks. Being a very thrifty person, his apartment was furnished sparsely with second-hand furniture from Goodwill and he drove a classic Volkswagen Beetle.

The other two at the party were a couple in love and engaged to be married. Brian and Monica were both good-looking with great careers in the high-tech industry. Brian was a well-known designer with his own consulting company. He always dressed in high fashion clothes, complimenting his slicked back, well-styled haircuts. In huge contrast to Jim’s apartment, Brian’s place had imported designer furniture and beautiful artwork covering the walls that were painted in multicolor, contemporary patterns. It was obvious that his business was very successful because Monica loved being the passenger in Brian’s red convertible Corvette. Monica was required to dress conservative in her marketing job at a computer main frame company. When she got home, it was a different story. She would transform into a completely different person with wild hair, short mini skirt, and very high heels.

The Thanksgiving party was scheduled to start about 3 p.m. Being in the holiday spirit, I started with a glass of wine in the morning before making the feast. I was surprised when Jim showed up at about 11 that morning. He brought two bottles of cheap wine and an apple pie he bought from a day-old bread store. As I let him in he announced enthusiastically that he was going help with the cooking.

I was thrilled to have the help and the company. Ready to get in the spirit, too, he promptly poured himself a glass of wine and topped off mine.

Needless to say we neglected making dinner as we sat at the table drinking wine and talking about our next sailing adventure. After a time I looked at my watch and realized that we needed to get started with the meal if we were going to make our 3 p.m. deadline. Jim volunteered to peel the potatoes while I made the stuffing. We finally finished the meal preparation and stuffed the turkey, then realized it was already 2 p.m. In case you haven’t noticed, a peculiar property of wine is that it tends to change one’s perception of time. At least mine, anyway, and it had certainly had that effect on both of us that day.

I had forgotten to buy a turkey roasting pan and I didn’t have any other pan for baking, so I just used a cookie sheet. My parties are notoriously late to get going and this party was going to be very late. I had to make up some time, so I came up with what I thought was the brilliant idea of cranking up the oven temperature to 450.

Brian and Monica arrived right on time. They brought two bottles of nice Chardonnay and a much more traditional pumpkin pie. “Your turkey smells wonderful,” Monica remarked, as we all settled in at the dining room table. Suddenly Brian’s eyes grew amazingly wide as he pointed at the oven, screaming. Smoke billowed from the oven as I jumped up to check it. As soon as I opened the door, a huge flame shot out and singed most of the hair off of my arms.

The fat from the cooking turkey had overflowed the cookie sheet and spilled all over the bottom of the oven. As soon as the smoldering fat got some oxygen, it burst into flames. Luckily, I had a halon fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink, so I grabbed it, aimed it below the turkey, and put out the fire. Everyone was so relieved we didn’t burn the house down we had to have a few more glasses of wine. Afterwards we ate the charred turkey, which actually turned out to be quite good, though I don’t recommend you try this method yourself.

Just before our meal, we all raised our glasses and gave thanks to fire extinguishers.

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