No matter who you are or where you are from, everyone from your high school goes to the same bar on the night before Thanksgiving. At this bar, dismayed townies look on in bewilderment at the faces of their peers who long ago moved as far away as they could from the village that raised them. New bodies are shown off, new buns in ovens are shown off, new boyfriends and girlfriends are shown off. And in many cases, unbeknownst to most patrons in attendance, people are watching their former flames enter through the bar doors in slow motion as Sting plays in their heads.
I've been going to the pre-Thanksgiving "Turkeyunion" bar night in my hometown for years, well before I was of legal drinking age and well after it was age-appropriate for me to be there. At my Turkeyunion there is usually a fist fight between people -- nay, adults -- who went to rival high schools and have impeccable memory of whatever happened while they were there. It is a once-a-year phenomenon: a small room filled with people who are helplessly looking for others they actually want to run in to and avoiding most everyone else. I've noticed that with that many old acquaintances combined with that many years spent apart, there are many, many situations that provide fodder for one to partake in gossiping and judging. This is a habit that grows legs and carries you right into New Year's where you have to then make a resolution to stop talking completely, especially to anyone who may or may not have had work done.
The Turkeyunion is always full of drama and awkward situations, kind of like high school itself. We go because it is a refreshing reminder of where we came from and whom we get to go back to being the very next day. It is for this reason I keep going back, if not to confuse myself as to who I have become but more so to guess who has a Sting song playing in their heads when I walk through those bar doors.
Whether you are attending your own Turkeyunion for the first time or are on year five of trying to prove to your former flame that you don't care who they date anymore, this is the year you keep your dignity. No heart breaking, no gossiping, and no judgement; the universe will return your favor. Here are a few people you will meet and some advice on how to talk to them so that everyone remembers how nice and polite you are, just like you were in high school. Yes, even if you weren't.
1) Your Ex Boyfriend or Girlfriend: There they are. They look fat. No, they look good. Oh, that smile. That smile was supposed to be mine. Excuse me while I go to the bathroom and cry for 10 minutes as the cheer squad stares at me from the condom and lip balm dispenser. Does this sound like you? Or does this sound like your ex who always seems to ruin your Turkeyunion by dredging up the past? Look, I don't have to tell you to get over it, move on, it was almost a decade ago and you guys only went out for a month, I will let your friends drill this into your head. I believe it is very hard to let a high school fling go considering it's probably going to be the most emotional relationship you've ever had with someone. Well friend, that was hormones. This is real life.
How to Talk to It: My best advice here -- whether you are the emotional one or he or she is -- is don't. Be nice, say hello, introduce the new person on your arm, but move on to other parts of the bar and don't look back. This means trying your best not to place yourselves in corners across from one another so you can keep exchanging glances. If you guys are totally cool, ask how his or her family is and keep things simple. No one, especially the date you brought, will benefit from the two of you catching up on old times and reliving inside jokes. Keep it casual and whatever you do, do not bring up anything physical, like the time the two of you were making out and your braces got stuck together, causing everyone in that theater showing "The Ring" to be forced to evacuate while the fire department pulled you apart. Some things are hard to let go.
2) Your Ex Nothing-But-We-Always-Liked-Each-Other Person: You almost went to Prom together but then he broke his leg! You were about to kiss and then Tiffany came in to the Jacuzzi! You used to IM each other for hours but never spoke at school! You had "math" together! You may have never sealed the deal, but there are some people you were supposed to be with and didn't got the chance. And now...now is that chance... nope. Definitely not. Now is not that chance and it probably won't ever be. Don't make a fool of yourself by trying to make it happen at Turkeyunion.
How to Talk to It: Know that people appreciate a good Facebook-stalking these days, so being that you probably know where this person went to college and what they are cooking for Thanksgiving (thanks, Instagram!), mention that you've been keeping up with their life through social media and it looks like they are doing well. If they are actually doing terribly, you can just talk about how much you loved Wreck-It Ralph because that is extremely interesting.
Flirting is fine, but the fact of the matter is that you probably don't know this person anymore, so if you're looking to score for one night and requite that love, do not think it's a shoe-in until after putting in the same effort you would with someone you met at a bar in real life. And remember, after you do hook up, it's officially real life. You won't have that fantasy anymore, and if Nick on New Girl regretted it, you might too.
3) The Wildly Successful Classmate: I'm really sorry if you went to high school with someone innovative and genius like Bill Gates, and I'm even more sorry if you went to high school with any Kardashian ever. You all came from the same place, had the same opportunities, and now they have a swimming pool full of gold and you have a leased Kia. How can you even carry on a conversation when that diamond watch keeps blinding you?
How to Talk to It: Being from Orange County, California I know a thing or two about talking to people who have done very little to attain their wealth (fine, and also those who have done a lot), and the only conclusion I have drawn is that it is times like these where you can put your Turkeyunion dignity on hold and get them to buy you a drink.
4)Someone Who Got Fat: For some, it is schadenfreude to see your school's best athlete with an epic gut or the meanest girl in school with flappy arms that could propel her into the atmosphere, but for many it is just a reminder of what old age can do to a human. It can happen to you.
How to Talk to It: Don't go out of your way to walk over and say "You look great!" then run to your friend and talk about how much the specimen's face-blubber rippled when you shook their hand. That is mean, and that is high school, and you are neither of those things. Stop focusing on the roll of skin creeping over their wrist and look straight into their eyes and ask any question other than "What do you eat on Thanksgiving?" Ask about their job, ask about their kids, ask about their tax return for all I care. If you can't stop yourself from thinking about their girth, know that by asking great questions you are at least journalistically building a case for how they got fat. And who knows? Maybe they are a competitive eater now, or they are just full on pregnant. Mazel tov!
5) Someone Who Got Hot: What's worse, the nicest girl in school having balloon arms, or the nicest girl in school with a rock-hard Pilates-cum-Rihanna body? And what do you do when the person you had "math" with is now an Anderson Cooper-like Adonis? What do you do when the person you had "math" with is Anderson Cooper? That is a different ball-game, honey.
When people get hot, you can either mourn that you never took the chance with said person when you could, or relentlessly hit on him or her and risk your integrity; because when someone gets hot, they usually know it. And what did we learn in high school? Knowing you are hot can make you pretty awful.
How to Talk to It: If you are drawn to the person that got hot, you are allowed to say, "You look great!" and then run back to your friends and exclaim, "Wow, they look great." That is neither mean nor high school. You cannot say, "How did you get so hot?" because -- if you're from my town - that may mean plastic surgery and a person's medical history is none of your newly dignified business. The subject of their looks should last less than four seconds, then be a normal person and talk about Wreck-it-Ralph.
6) Your Former Teacher: First of all, I think it should be written into some legislature that teachers should never venture to places where they can run into former students, even if the age difference was only five years. I know that pretty much bans them from anywhere, but it's just always weird. Obama, are you listening? This stuff is important.
How to Talk to It: If it were I, this would be the first person I would run to. It's like a fish out of water, a fish out of water who remembers what you were like when you were going through the rage blackout known as puberty. What was I like? Did you hate me? This Turkeyunion is bringing back painful memories, so since you were a neutral party during my youth let's talk about me, me, me! This is a bad idea. Asking someone about yourself is actually a worse form of talking about yourself. Do this teacher a favor and ask how they are and not what it's like to be an adult, or any question that could make someone feel old (this includes inquiring about Prom themes so you can rightfully claim that the theme choosing has gone downhill since you were student body president).
If they tell you they are no longer a teacher and are awaiting trial, you might want to switch bars.
7) Your Younger Sibling Who You Never Thought Would Turn 21: The holidays -- an all encompassing term that essentially means "enclosed space with people skilled in the art of pressing your buttons otherwise known as family" -- are hard enough. Turkeyunion should be your night to get away from those soul-sucking demons that share your facial features, but then your little sister had to turn 21 and now it's all "You two look alike!" instead of "You look great!" Whatever drama happens tonight, she will know about it, and can remind you about it tomorrow at dinner instead of forgetting the whole night until next year.
How to Talk to it: This is tricky, because though you don't want to spend your Turkeyunion talking to your siblings because you can see them whenever you want, they are also a safe home base to return to when caught in conversation with the aforementioned teacher who is now dating a former student and she, despite being nine months pregnant, is drinking more than you. Try to talk to your sibling as a fellow drinker rather than as someone you will likely be arguing with about the relevance of the Peace Corps the next day.
Another option is to act as a wingman or wingwoman for them. Since they are younger, the Sting song in their head might be extra loud and extra action-inducing. You can choose to intervene with their bad decisions or better yet, watch.
8) Bewildered New Boyfriends and Girlfriends: Whether they've been brought to be shown off or forced themselves upon this place to put out any and all old flames, it is your holiday mitzvot duty to be kind to the new boyfriend and new girlfriend. They know absolutely no one and would rather be at their own Turkeyunion back home.
How to Talk to It: Try to refrain from talking to the new boyfriend or girlfriend to try and judge if they are marriage material. You are not going to marry them, so it's none of your business. Do, however, ask them where they are from and what their family is doing for the holiday. This is the only time where that question is remotely interesting in both response and in the asking. They will appreciate the attention and this can segue perfectly into them gossiping about how weird their new spouse's Thanksgiving traditions/foods are, which is the conversation that you really came to this bar to have. What! I never said you couldn't get other people to gossip. Have at it!
9) Freshmen: I have news: the freshmen that were younger classmen when you were a senior (and whose lack of respect for paddleboarding traditions were making your school go to hell in your wake) are not freshman anymore. They turned into adults after you graduated, and maybe even went to college and got a job. Just. Like. You.
How to Talk to It: Giving up a social hierarchy is actually painful and I suggest skipping this specimen so you don't have to deal with that extra emotional sacrifice. But, they are young, they've probably all seen Wreck-It-Ralph. So, you've got that.
10) Babies:This is actually more of a speculation, but in the Turkeyunions in baby-bar-run Brooklyn, are there babies in attendance?
How to Talk to It: If the baby is sleeping, you can always point and say "that baby's wasted!" and it usually gets a laugh. Also, you're drunk. Stay away from the child.
Bonus 11) Channing Tatum: Sigh. If only this was real life.
Remember that this is not a night for you to make up for the past, and it is not a night that will define your future. No one tells you and your classmates upon graduating that you will see one another year after year until the need to see one another fades away. This is a rite of passage that will quickly be gone. Tonight, just like high school, nothing counts, and it is for that reason you should be the great person you have become.
If all else fails, the easiest way to keep your dignity is to drink responsibly. Happy Thanksgiving!
Follow Sarah Shanfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shansar