To the best of my recollection, this was Thanksgiving 1993.
I was 21 and living in Chicago. I'd moved there a few months earlier, under the promise of a job at the Second City, a famed comedy club, that evaporated before I'd ever set foot in the door. Being young and refusing to give up, I stayed for the adventure. My apartment was incredibly cheap, and I was performing a lot more than I had been in LA. I thought I'd make this my new home.
My two roommates had left town to visit family. Greg, a fellow improvisational comedian who'd suffered the same retracted job offer as I, was off to Massachusetts. Marko, a 6'6" pre-frontally lobotomized hoarder who suffered from homophobia, anti-semitism, and only experienced joy while performing as a children's party clown, was someplace I did not care.
Over the many years, I have come to recognize that homophobic, anti-semitic, hoarder, children's party clown roommates come with an increased incidence of violent death. The rent was really cheap.
My friend Kevin came into town from Los Angeles, we didn't even think about dinner. Mostly, we liked to drink. We were 21 and it was cold.
It was Thursday, everything was closed and we were hungry. We realized it was Thanksgiving. I am absolutely certain this very-good-idea-were-we-not-broke-as-fuck was Kevin's and not mine: we would go to the Chicago Ritz-Carlton and join their Thanksgiving dinner.
We decided that appearances would matter and that we should look nice if we intended to have dinner with rich and fancy people at a rich and fancy place. We put on our very nicest clothes. We still looked like shit.
Moments after arriving at the Ritz, while I marveled at the lovely reception area, Kevin asked the Concierge for directions to the Thanksgiving Dinner. There is no finer magician than a five-star hotel's Concierge. He had a better idea! If we'd give him just a moment the hotel limousine would deliver us to a theater for dinner and a show! The tickets were going to go to waste, he'd feel great if we used them!
The driver was super friendly and happy to give us a ride as well. People at the Ritz-Carlton were very cool. We couldn't believe our good fortune and hopped in the black stretch. We were bound for a theater neither of us had heard of, about 15 minutes away, called The Admiral.
Not all theaters have the same sort of show. Once, when serving as the COO of an advertising start-up, one of my finance folk brought an expense to my attention. I needed to see a large charge on a salesperson's company card attributed to the "O'Farrell Theater" in San Francisco. Due to my Thanksgiving experience at The Admiral Theater, I knew immediately why this accountant was concerned. Salespeople shouldn't expense strip clubs.
After presenting our tickets, and clearing a brief weapons check, we entered a room full of smoke, enlisted Navy guys, strippers and a full Thanksgiving buffet dinner. We each had two complimentary drink tickets. Tips were not included.
The turkey was like cardboard. The gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes were as one. The cranberry sauce was strangely made from fresh whole cranberries, and the headlining dancer was billed as "Sacajawea the Apache Princess of Fire."
I knew this was culturally inappropriate long before I thought of things as culturally inappropriate. It was just wrong. I was mildly horrified. It was free dinner. I was 21.
Sacajawea ate fire and juggled fire with her boobs out. We ate cardboard turkey. The Navy guys were thrilled. I paid the $20 for a Polaroid with Sacajawea. I regret having lost it.
We did not finish our two drinks. The night ended at the Old Town Ale House. Every night in Chicago should.