I am acquainted with a big-city newspaper columnist who, every Thanksgiving, announces that many readers have written and e-mailed asking for his adorable, heart-tugging Thanksgiving column...the one he wrote in 1988, the one he replays every year, the one that brings a smiley tear to the face of every mom and dad, and a wonderment, like first snowfall, to every tousle-haired nipper. This annual tribute to self gives the columnist another day off and paints one more layer of hack sentimentality on the national common wall.
I am not a Thanksgiving enthusiast. I regard Thanksgiving as that repulsive occasion when you spend the best part of a day with people you've successfully avoided all year.
I wrote the foregoing paragraph seven years ago and have not received a single request for a reprint since then. Silence can hurt, people. Nonetheless, because this will be good for you, I have completely updated my ancient column with fresh turkey news, a new finish featuring a kindly sports icon, several scientific-sounding words, all put in historical perspective and buffed to a jaunty sports shine. I'm hoping you'll want to keep this treasure as a part of your annual Thanksgiving ritual.
Now, the centerpiece of Thanksgiving is the requirement that one acquire, cook, and eat a turkey. I trust you understand this is reckless, unsafe behavior. A Thanksgiving turkey is a chemically engineered, disease-ridden bird whose short, torturous life is spent within the space of three square feet.
These pathetic, man-made oviparous vertebrates may never see the sun or leave their turkey prison cell. They are pumped up with antibodies in order to stimulate growth and in order keep them alive in their tiny shithouse. These creatures are so deformed they cannot breed on their own, could not walk if they were ever allowed outside, and have been made to be so top-heavy they might break their legs if ever one attempts to stand. At the end of their 15-week trail of tears on earth, they're hauled to a slaughterhouse, throats are cut, and dead Tom and Tomette Butterballs are rushed to supermarkets under the protective, professional care of long-haul truck drivers.
This is how elephantine turkeys have become. Lancaster Farming, a Pennsylvania farm journal, says, "If a seven-pound baby grew at the same rate that today's turkey grows, when the baby reaches 18 weeks of age, it would weigh 1500 pounds."
This might cause worry to some, but you'll be relieved to know that the United States Department of Agriculture, the frontline federal agency overseeing food inspections, chartered to make sure commercially grown birds are safe for human consumption, approved a set of rules way back in 2000 that I like to call, "A helping hand for healthful turkeys." Carcasses with open sores, cancer, intestinal worms, infectious arthritis, glandular swellings, and a pneumonia called airsacculitis were declared safe for human consumption. Hey, we eat 263 million turkeys every year. You want to pay somebody to look at that?
But what has this to do with sports?
Since 1934, the NFL has made innocent Americans listen and then watch the Detroit Lions play football on Thanksgiving Day. Few people still living know why. Fewer yet can remember the last time Detroit fielded a team worth watching. Still, this annual demonstration of how boring football can be continues like a conveyer belt carrying 263 million dead turkeys.
But, that's nothing; this year, like last year and the year before, seven billion chickens will be slaughtered for use in gumbo or whatever it is Americans do with seven billion dead chickens. Chickens are debeaked and live in cages so small as to guarantee that every chicken will never spread his wings, not once in his doomed life. Since breeding is usually done by artificial insemination, male chicks are tossed into containers as soon as they hatch and left to smother. Lucky ones are ground up alive for fertilizer. Chickens shipped to live-poultry markets are hung upside down, have their throats sliced and then are thrown, dead or alive, into a scald tank to loosen their feathers. It's worse for turkeys.
Turkeys are drugged and made to watch videotapes of the Detroit Lions. They watch every game that wretched, useless, star-crossed franchise has ever played -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- until every last one begs to be killed.
And this Thanksgiving, like every Thanksgiving since 1934 (except for during World War II) Detroit (2-8) will play, in this instance, Miami (4-6) in what will likely be another relentlessly boring contest entitled, "Who's Going to Lose First?" Martyball gone bad.
I promised you a kindly sports icon. All right, here is a holiday quote from coach John Heisman, name-bearer of the Heisman Trophy: "Gentlemen," Heisman said, "it is better to have died as a young boy than to fumble this football."
Follow that one rule and you can play for the Lions.