Even in the face of economic woes, family strife and airport molestation, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving still supplies the raw ingredients of gratitude.
by Scott Daniel // November 24, 2010
Tomorrow will be one of two things for you. It will either be a time of festive joy and merriment or a time of deep sorrow and self-loathing. Irrespective of your circumstances, the choice is ultimately yours. You alone cast the deciding vote on the quality of your Thanksgiving.
This is true even for the two classes of people who can stake the greatest claim to gloom this holiday season: those who have been sexually jostled for the sake of national security, and fans of the Dallas Cowboys. I know this because the most miserable wretch in pop cultural history managed to pull off a Happy Thanksgiving in spite of the indelicate thanklessness of his closest friends.
Charlie Brown has little to be thankful for. At eight years old, he has succumbed completely to male pattern baldness. He is remarkably unathletic: hitters regularly send his patented straight ball into the Peanuts equivalent of McCovey Cove, and his placekicking prowess is on par with that of Ray Finkle. He can’t get a date or even a cheap valentine, his pet beagle is a Germanophilic World War I re-enactor and all the adults in his life speak nothing but gibberish.
You should thank God every day that you aren’t Charlie Brown. Hell, the kid can’t even prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, relying on Snoopy to supply his friends with hearty helpings of toast, jelly beans and popcorn. Yet for all of Peppermint Patty’s grousing about the eclectic and informal spread, these three delicacies are more than food. They are metaphors for the sort of gratitude we ought to express every day.
Gratitude is good for your brain. That’s what the experts say, anyway. According to Dr. Cynthia Miller, an attitude of thankfulness can, over time, transform the physical structure of your brain to eliminate old negative thoughts and replace them with new ones. Another smart person, Dr. Daniel Amen, has actually scanned the brains of people before and after expressions of gratitude, noting remarkable improvements in cerebral blood flow in regions of the brain responsible for mental clarity and focus.
What’s that, you say? You say you don’t have anything to be thankful for? Poppycock. Balderdash. If you have a pulse, there are at least three things in your life that you can (and should) be thankful for:
Toast: The Strength to Power Through the Joyless, Melancholic Grind
Toast is universally considered a boring and bland food. There is nothing inspiring or enthusiastic about it. Toast is nothing more than sliced bread hardened and browned through the application of varying degrees of heat, a process that actually has a scientific name: the Maillard reaction.
I have learned recently that some people are so restive over the stale repetition of their lives that they have resorted to tattooing their toast. During a recent browsing session at a local Modell’s Sporting Goods store, I stumbled upon a product titled ProToast: an electric toaster that brands your slices with the team logo of your choice.
I swear to the gods of carbohydrates that I did not conjure this out of thin air:
The problem with this gimmick is that toast doesn’t need to be aestheticized. It is not food of form, but of function. Toast is a symbol of the daily grind; that slow, plodding grind we all endure by nervously glancing at the wall clock hoping beyond all hope that we will soon be struck at high speed by an Audi A6 so we can land a healthy tort settlement and retire. Toast represents those endless hours spent crunching numbers or mining coal or coddling obnoxious clients or building widgets in a factory on less than a livable wage.
We need that grind like we need toast. Toast may be one of a handful of foods for which Wikipedia actually cites a specific purpose:
Toasting warms the bread and makes it firmer, so it holds toppings more securely. Toasting is a common method of making stale bread more palatable.
Do an experiment. Take two slices of stale sandwich bread. Toast one and leave the other at room temperature. Spread the toasted and untoasted slices with the condiment of your choice. Tell yourself with a straight face that the toast doesn’t have more backbone, more strength and more resilience in handling the weight of life’s peanut butter. Convince yourself that the toasted slice isn’t easier to swallow than the softer stale bread.
Be thankful for your grind, for all your trials and troubles. They put steel in your soul. They are life’s toaster, applying enough heat to make you firmer and stronger, a more palatable human being able to hold life’s toppings more securely.
Jelly Beans: The Constant Variety of Small-But-Sweet Surprises
During my fairly frequent visits to New York, I on occasion have the opportunity to stop by one of the two great anti-dentite centers of the universe to prepare for Type II Diabetes. The first is M&M’s World, where I load up on Peanut M&M’s. Unfortunately, it’s at Times Square on Broadway, and wading through a sea of neck-craning tourists has a way of triggering my fight-or-flight response. Thankfully, I have a secondary protocol.
Dylan’s Candy Bar on the corner of Third Avenue and East 60th Street is a nutritionist’s nightmare. Think Willy Wonka without the eccentric billionaire or miniature singing John Boehner clones. Taffy, chocolate, licorice, ice cream, lollipops…and jelly beans. An endless supply of every variety of jelly bean you can possibly imagine.
Cherry, grape, lime, chocolate, lemonade, mint, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, orange and, my guiltiest pleasure, black licorice.
There is a flavor of jelly bean for every sweet tooth just as there is a variety and vintage of grape for every wine connoisseur. The thing is, we can’t always find the jelly beans in our lives. The jelly beans often stay buried in the grass of our Easter baskets, if you’ll forgive the holiday miscegenation.
They won’t always surface on their own. Sometimes you have to dig through the grass and find them.
Until recently I endured a major jelly bean famine. More than a year out of law school, I and scores of my classmates still have had difficulty landing even the most menial paid quasi-legal work. Perhaps the most difficult jelly bean near-miss came this summer, when I narrowly finished in second place for a legal recruitment job that dozens of people applied for.
No legal-flavored jelly beans, even with effort.
It wasn’t until I decided to pursue other flavors of jelly bean that I began to taste sweetness again. After enduring an awful lot of financial and vocational toast, I have started to uncover new-to-me flavors of jelly bean. I decided to throw all of my eggs (or jelly beans) into the freelance writing basket. I snagged a recurring gig writing online content, joined a growing opinion blog as a regular contributor and launched Two Cents Richer on a wing and a prayer.
After two months, my checking account has re-discovered the deposit button, my writing network is expanding and, as of this writing, Two Cents Richer has had 1,752 page views in 54 days.
I am thankful for these jelly bean flavors that I only barely knew existed. I suppose there’s a reason the students of Hogwarts call them “Every Flavor Beans.”
Go find the hidden jelly beans in your life, and be thankful that you have them.
Popcorn: The Miracle of Human Potential
When asked to name Val Kilmer’s best film, most would offer a variety of responses like Tombstone, Heat, or The Doors, assuming that they’ve stopped laughing. I offer something more obscure: the 1985 cult classic Real Genius. Here, Kilmer plays Chris Knight, an aberrant senior at fictional Pacific Tech who has unwittingly assisted in the development of a Reagan-era space assassination laser. In order to get back at the insidious Professor Hathaway (the insufferable William Atherton), Knight and his sci-fi geek friends sabotage the laser’s test run, directing the laser fire into Professor Hathaway’s house – which Knight loaded with an oversized aluminum foil ball of corn kernels.
The laser strikes the house. The popcorn ball erupts. The house bursts at the seems like an overcooked bag of Orville Redenbacher.
All it takes for tiny kernels to explode into radiant clouds of fluff is a little heat and a little time. It’s interesting, really. Recall from earlier in this post, if not from experience, that heat is also an essential ingredient in toast. We can consider the heat that makes toast a symbol of pressure and stress. When it comes to popcorn, perhaps we should reframe that pressure and stress as inspiration.
No human being in history has ever maximized potential. You won’t, and I won’t either. That’s okay with me, as long as I know there are still kernels left in my bag. The most depressing thought one can have, and a thought one should avoid, is that we have no more potential left in the tank.
Be thankful that you do have potential, and enjoy your popcorn.
Two Cents Richer will be on vacation this weekend, enjoying a feast of toast, jelly beans and popcorn while Scott’s MacBook is in the Apple Store for repairs. We’ll be back early next week with more new content. Happy Thanksgiving, and for all our readers in the Sierra Nevada, Go Wolf Pack!
Photo credits: Warner Home Video, Pangea, IGN, Flickr (anderspace), Jelly Beans Inline Hockey, TriStar Pictures
More reading to be thankful for…
- Move Over Turkey, We’re Having Popcorn and Jelly Beans (Mineola Patch)
- ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’: Something to Be Thankful For (Zap2it)
- ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Should Eat It (The Stir)