Rising: Eric Reads the Week, #48

Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?

This week: a Thanksgiving essay about food; a turkey pardons a turkey; and Obama learns to meme. But first, TV!

I'm working on a second draft of this play about sitcoms, specifically sitcom families. I didn't realize it was about sitcom families until last week, actually. I thought it was about not having any money. It's probably about that, too. Who can say? That's the thing with plays for me, sometimes, I'll write them and then give them to someone else--usually my friends Jarrod and Kristen--and say "Tell me what I'm really talking about!" I need a Rosetta Stone for my own thoughts. It's exhausting.

I think I really like revising, which is weird because I literally have to be dragged kicking and screaming to do it. I'm very interested in all writing processes that involve me writing a first draft, turning it in, and then receiving an email that reads "This is the best thing that anyone has ever written. No edits needed. We'll even keep your rampant typos. It's all just so perfect." A confetti cannon would be good here.

That never happens, which is fine, I guess. Usually, I just throw confetti at myself while reading emails. It has a similar effect. You should try this. Throw confetti at yourself this week. It's a mess, but you'll feel better. (That's also the slogan for my new lifestyle blog.)

Anyway, someone whose opinion I trust pointed out that references to TV families kept popping up in the play and asked what I was doing with that. Most of the time I have no idea what I'm doing with anything but I just assume it's brilliant. But I had thought a bit about TV. Sitcoms, for a lot of people, act as myth-makers for the American dream. You watch a TV family--the Bradys, the Huxtables, the Huangs--and you see what life is supposed to be. Sitcoms are built on conflict mild enough to be solved in half an hour. Everything is always getting better on sitcoms, even sitcoms about people experiencing hardship like Good Times, The Middle or Roseanne. I think that's fascinating. I wonder how that idea of everything always getting better plays out in real life.

I probably think about The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show more than any other sitcom. Everyone knows that a whole generation of people, particularly black people, were shaped by the myth of the Huxtables, a family full of black smart alecks who sang together, feuded amiably, and modeled a kind of life that seemed at once totally fantastical and yet attainable. If you asked me now, as an adult, how to get a Huxtable life, I'd tell you you had to buy that Ellis Wilson painting, find a house with like 7 bedrooms in Brooklyn (GOOD LUCK, BISH), constantly be in a great mood despite your bickering kids and the very demanding jobs you and your spouse have, and be really into social dancing. The how and the why and the how much remain a mystery.

The Jeffersons, created by Norman Lear, who also created Maude and All in the Family, was a bit more rooted in reality, though it, too, offered a vision of mythological possibility. George and Weezy were rich enough to live in utopia, with an interracial couple, a maid, and a white doorman. This building did not exist in America, honey. And yes, I know that there were actually buildings and situations like this but the basic premise was that their good fortune in the dry cleaning business catapulted them out of the social circumstances of their time.

I love the theme song to The Jeffersons so much, of course. And even that seems to exists freed of context. An empowerment anthem sung by a gospel choir about two people for whom religious expression never really came up. I think that's interesting. In this couple, the black experience in America was loosened from the weights of context and allowed to rise like steam, changing shape, taking on new dimensions.

(Click to watch)

Sometimes I watch the opening credits with the sound off. It plays like a short film. And in it you can see the tension of leaving reality and stepping into this new myth. It's so simple, but it really does a number on me. You watch George and Weezy in a cab, following a moving truck that darts through surprisingly clear New York streets. Weezy wipes a tear from her eye; that's the first glimpse of a person that we see. I think that's important. Isabel Sanford is a wonder in this series, an icon, and it's clear that the performance started from the first moment. She hangs her head out of the window, her face a mix of expectation and fear. George grabs her hand and shakes it, reassuringly. That always kills me.

He laughs. He points at something; she looks. They arrive. They tumble out of the cab, her in front of him. He, strutting--the strut was really everything wasn't it?--her, arms out, thrust toward a destiny in the form of an elevator. All energy, all possibility, loosed from the bounds of time and circumstance. Rising.

Anyway, I think about that a lot. It taught me almost everything I believe about money and family and hope.

This week's columns, as befits a holiday week, were largely about that second thing--family--whether it was stories of my own family, the First Family, brother Joe Biden and Barack (who is America's real dad), or television families in the best Thanksgiving episodes of all time.

Barack Obama Celebrated Joe Biden's Birthday With a Perfect Meme

Honestly, I don't think I can handle this. This is like the first time your parent uses an emoji correctly and you're like "Who taught you that? Who you been hanging out with?" If Joe responds with a bunch of fire emojis like Kim Kardashian on Instagram, I'm going to lose it. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

“Orange Stuff” & Patti Labelle’s Mac & Cheese: My Thanksgiving Story in Sides

My mother approaches Thanksgiving planning with the level of precision and passion that one might otherwise give to an Inauguration or a faked moon landing. This is a meal that takes days to put together, multiple shopping trips, and two kitchens.

For someone like my mother who, with my father, fills the home with family photographs stretching back to the slave cabin in which my great-grandfather was born, the Thanksgiving menu is another historical document. The table is a griot and out of every dish stories rise with the steam. I’ve come to understand our overflowing table with its seemingly random assortment of sides as an integral part of our narrative. [READ THE FULL ESSAY]

More Holiday Dinner Tips From Ivanka Trump HQ

Lure your unsuspecting guests into the home with the delightful aroma of a fireplace. Here at Ivanka HQ we have discovered that one, five, and 50 dollar bills burn best. But use your judgement. Sometimes, we splash a little vanilla on the dollars before tossing them in the fire to give them that special holiday smell. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

This Turkey Is the Only Innocent Creature In the White House

Today, in keeping with White House tradition, Donald Trump pardoned Drumstick, a turkey who won an online poll. Just so you're aware, arbitrary public polls is how we'll be doing pardons in 2018. Text "Save Kushner" to 1-888-IDOLS-45 to make your voice heard. [READ THE FULL COLUMN]

A Definitive List of Perfect Thanksgiving TV Episodes

Master of None, A Different World, and The West Wing top my list... [READ]

Random thing from the internet...

Tiffany Haddish had dinner at Barbra Streisand's house and I'm just over the moon about it.

James Brolin is in the background going in on that buffet.

I'm just so proud of everyone in this photo.