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Yeah, some year in my early twenties when I couldn’t scrape together airfare to fly home for Turkey Day, I had been hanging out with a crew of maybe four people, evenly split between guys and girls, because we all did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu together.
None of us had plans for Thanksgiving morning, being neither football watchers, Turkey Trotters, or Thanksgiving day chefs.
We had all kind of drifted in shouting distance of each other on the different lifeboats of our young adult lives. One guy slept on the mat of the gym, to give you an idea of our rootless and fleeting circumstances at that time.
Personally, I was renting some dim, roach-eaten Craigslist room in walking distance of the dojo.
We agreed to meet for a Thanksgiving morning roll, which is a sparring or grappling session.
The temperature had dropped to what counts as very cold in South Florida. The dojo was this dim, really beat down kind of place. I was new to the sport with all the tapping out and choking that comes with being a beginner.
Still, it was something to do, and we did it almost religiously. The guy teaching us spent two hours creating different grappling matchups and we all rolled ourselves to exhaustion.
Then came a small social poker game in which nobody wanted to show is or her cards.
“What are you doing for Thanksgiving dinner?”
“Me? Chilling. Eating. Probably going to call home. You?”
“You buy a turkey?”
“No,” I said. “To roast in what kitchen?” I didn’t have one back then.
“So what are you going to eat?”
“Um. Not sure yet. How about you, did you get a turkey?”
“A whole big turkey? For one person? Nah.”
Sensing the circumstances, I decided to tip my hand of cards first.
“Yeah, I don’t have any plans if you guys want to get something to eat after this.”
And the other three, in their drenched and dripping BJJ gis, kind of glanced up, then around at each other.
“You guys can come too, if you’re free, I know you probably have family plans.”
“No. We don’t,” said one, speaking for all.
“What place serves turkey dinner?”
“Nah, nowhere does. Let’s get Chinese”
But somebody was allergic to MSG, and she suggested Italian, which was met with major enthusiasm and agreement.
That’s how, two hours later, showered, Tiger Balmed, and thickly sweatered we all met up again in the outdoor garden of an Italian restaurant that I have never quite been able to find again. We chat about BJJ.
“When you’re being choked, you got to look towards the guy. Your natural instinct is to turn away, but that just deepens his grip.”
“Don’t let that knee sit on your stomach. Buck sideways, sharp as you can, early as you can. You’re just losing oxygen and energy if you don’t.”
Calamari arrived soon after red wines and winter cocktails.
“Just like the pilgrims had,” I said. Small laughter.
“And don’t push the other guy too far when you’ve got the arm bar, it’s just a rolling session, you’re not trying to break bones here. Expect that tap to come really soon.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about consistency. People think they’re good or going to be good, or supposed to be good at it right on day one, but no. Nobody is.”
Think I ordered the chicken parm at entree time.
“Just like the pilgrims had!” and the second time around, the line got a bigger laugh. Even from the waitress.
And then, came a second social poker game. See, we all probably wanted desert, but who wants to be the first so-called “warrior” to admit yeah, they wouldn’t mind wrapping up with a little cannoli or lava cake.
“Are we thinking about desert,” asked the waitress.
We look around. Who gave out first? Someone said yeah, and relief spread around the table. Yeah, we’ve been training hard.
“Could I please get the tiramisu?” I asked. “Just like the pilgrims ate.”
And the third time around, the line got the biggest laugh of all.
“It’s that special kind of joke,” I said. “The more you make it, the funnier it gets.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure about part,” said one girl.
But her girlfriend recently dumped her, so you have to factor that into her point of view.
My tiramisu arrived. Phenomenal stuff. They went heavy on the rum. House made mascarpone. We all ordered coffees, too.
I wonder where those people all wound up, I wonder where they all went. We didn’t stay in touch. I wonder if anybody but me ever thinks about our weird Italian food Thanksgiving dinner at that mostly empty restaurant after a long morning of trying to choke each other out. Hope they’re all doing well.