– KHJ – Sam Riddle – November 1968 – Mark Yurko Collection –
It’s hazy now but you remember parts – your first Thanksgiving away from home. You started going to UCLA and a bunch of your friends and classmates all moved in together – a big, ancient house somewhere in Hollywood – total freedom. About 10 of you. Pitching in – taking turns – food co-ops – tons of Lysol and endless streams of boyfriends and girlfriends – Magical Mystery Tour at all hours – he with the biggest stereo wins – smell of Acapulco Gold drifts in and out – banging walls and loud declarations and this is home. This is your tribe.
Thanksgiving – nobody wants to go to their parents house – this is freedom – this is an important holiday. You all decide it would be great to celebrate your first Thanksgiving without grief and “why do you look like that” fights.
So you all toss money into the pot and a 28 pound Turkey appears. It sits on the kitchen counter and you take turns staring at it. None of you have ever cooked a Turkey before – you all agree that was something Mom did and only did once a year. Everybody agrees you put it in a large pan – smear butter all over it and cram stuffing somewhere.
None of you have made stuffing before either. One of you has made biscuits and two of you know about mashed potatoes. It’s a start. You break into teams.
Four of the bravest tackle the issue of the Turkey – four heads are better than one, you conclude. If only . . .
The team in charge of Mashed Potatoes hasn’t figured out what to do with the peels, aside from jamming them down the sink and flicking on the garbage disposal. It’s an old house, but the kitchen was reasonably modern. Nope – the sink manages to overflow and send water cascading down on to the kitchen floor – and suddenly it’s a plumbing problem. A roommate with a wrench and an “I can handle this” attitude results in plaster, a hole in the wall under the sink and maybe a hundred dollar repair bill.
First the oven gets heated – nobody can agree on a temperature, but somebody chimes out that undercooked Turkey causes food poisoning. So everybody agrees to set the oven at 500 – not taking any chances.
The biscuits, looking oddly like volleyballs of dough go in first. The baking team are proud of their accomplishment – so proud, that someone in the group lights up a joint to celebrate. That’s quickly followed by opening the first jug of Red Mountain and the slugs and drags begin.
The Mashed potato team flings a giant pot on the stove, accompanying it with what appears to be 20 pounds of Potatoes.
People are starting to get a little clumsy now and the team in charge of the Stuffing randomly tosses anything that looks edible into a mixing bowl – getting advice on breadcrumbs, sausage, nuts and celery from the random people showing up; friends of friends and friends of friends of friends and people no one seems to know.
Someone figures out where the entrance is for the stuffing and the team approaches the task with wild eyed determination, jamming this semi-organic concoction until every last bit is bulging between the Turkey’s legs.
The bird is finally finished, looking oddly lumpy in its presentation. The team hoists the Turkey into the blast furnace of an oven and quickly slams to door, not paying any attention to the fact that the biscuits are on a lower rack, burning to a crisp, sending clouds of smoke into the kitchen. But the smoke from the oven mixes with smoke from the joints and nobody pays too much attention as the kitchen starts filling with friends, turning the otherwise productive kitchen into a loud and festive party where there are more people than plates and nobody seems to mind anyway. Thanksgiving is for celebrating.
And then it gets a little murky. You can’t put your finger on the time – nobody else can, except it’s gotten dark out and the bird has been in the oven for at least six hours by your hazy estimation.
There was a Turkey in there – someplace. The Biscuits, once the size of soccer balls are now the size of walnuts – charred black briquets of what was formerly dough. What used to be an oversized 28 pound bird is now very dark, shrivled and very crispy in a lot of places, and the odor of burned plastic is eye watering.
The Thanksgiving Turkey is the center of attention on the dining room table, but not how anyone imagined it, certainly not reminiscences of Thanksgivings past. The roommates, the guests and even the strangers are terrified to eat it and they all rely on the potluck that everyone else brought in the spirit of chipping in.
Thanksgiving – your first on your own. By all accounts, a disaster – but you are stoned and you are drunk and you are happy and you’ll do it again next year – only then there will be a cookbook.
And while mayhem took over the kitchen, someone plugged in a radio and the sound of KHJ with Sam Riddle makes for that soundtrack you’re not going to forget about . . .forever.
Sam Riddle and KHJ from November 1968 – hit play and go back.