Let’s Talk Turkey (nonfiction)

Let’s Talk Turkey (nonfiction) by Michael Lacare

Ever since the Butterball hotline was first introduced in 1981, the incoming calls have been primarily handled by women. There are an estimated sixty inbound call-takers, who handle more than one hundred thousand calls between November and December. This year, Butterball announced that they have started actively recruiting men as well.

I thought about the variety of calls that must come into the call center, and how fascinating it would be to work the phones, talking to frantic newbies cooking their way through their first Thanksgiving meal with the pressure of having their in-laws in the other room, just waiting for them to make an error. Talk about a pressure cooker. The one meal they’d be forever judged on.

It reminded me of the time when Lori and I had attempted our first Thanksgiving and, halfway through cooking the turkey, our oven had broken. I’d wondered if Fung Lee Crazy Buffet would be open. “Table for twenty, please.”

Then, today, I read that the reason that Butterball is finally allowing men on their hotlines is because 1 out of 4 callers is a man – the “changing Thanksgiving table”, where men are not just carving turkeys, but also, increasingly, cooking them.

Slipping into my best Mitty-esque fantasy mode, I wondered what it would be like to be one of the first male graduates of the Turkey Talk Line and heroically save a man-in-distress from a dinner disaster. I imagined the conversation going something like this:

Me: Thank you for calling the Butterball hotline, this is Mike. How may I help you today?

Caller: I promised my wife that this year I’d be the one to make Thanksgiving dinner.

Me: That’s wonderful.

Caller: Not really. If I’d known it was going to be this difficult, I wouldn’t have volunteered.

Me: Sometimes, it’s not easy, but it can be extremely rewarding. Now tell me, what is it that you’re having trouble with?

Caller: Everything. The turkey looks undercooked. I’m not even sure I thawed it out in time. Also, I can’t seem to get those green lumps out of the mashed potatoes.

Me: Let’s begin with your turkey. How much does it weigh?

Caller: I’m pretty sure it was nineteen pounds, but it looks like it might have lost some weight in the cooking process.

Me: Turkeys don’t lose their weight in the cooking process.

Caller: Are you sure?

Me: Yes.

Caller: Okay… if you say so.

Me: Assuming it weighs nineteen pounds and it’s stuffed, the usual cook time is around four and a half to five hours at about three hundred twenty-five degrees.

Caller: That long?

Me: Yes. Give or take.

Caller: At this rate, it’ll be ready to eat by the time we get back from doing our Black Friday shopping.

Me: I don’t think it’s that bad.

Caller: Are you kidding me? My wife keeps coming into the kitchen and asking me whether I need help. (Whispering): I think she’s starting to get suspicious that I’m up to no good.

Me: It’ll be fine (calm as ever).

Caller: My in-laws are here. I really can’t afford to screw this one up. I know they think I’m below their league. Do you know what I mean?

Me: Uh…

Caller: I’ve got a lot riding on this dinner.

Me: I really wouldn’t –

Caller: What about the mashed potatoes?

Me: Did you say they contained green lumps?

Caller: Oh no!

Me: What happened?

Caller: The cranberries….!

Me: Yes?

Caller: They just…

Me: Just what?

Caller: Just exploded out of the pan and all over the ceiling.

Me: How in the world…?

Caller: This is too much. How does my wife do this every year?

Me: Don’t you worry. I’m here to help.

Caller: Dear God, it’s running down the walls too.

Me: Is that right? Nothing that couldn’t get cleaned up, I’m sure.

Caller: Hold on, I have to get a fire extinguisher.

Me: Fire extinguisher?

Caller: We keep it here underneath the sink. The green bean casserole caught fire.

Me: Did you manage to put it out?

Caller: Barely. Does Butterball offer a therapy number to call as well? I have a feeling this is going to lead to PTSD when it’s all said and done.

I’d patiently talk the caller off the ledge so that I could offer many other helpful tips like: “How not to use a hair dryer to thaw out a turkey”, or “One hundred and one other uses for a turkey baster”. I’d give exclusive advice on ingenious side dishes like: sautéed red cabbage with raisins and Brussels sprouts with lemon and walnuts. Why should they be left out? While we’re at it, tip-lines would be added for Thanksgiving vegetarians as well as vegans. They’d eventually make it a requirement to have a 1-800 number on all food items.

“Sir, you did what with a kumquat?”

Michael Lacare