You Think That's Depressing?

Bloggified by Jake on Thursday, November 27, 2008

The most depressing part of the holidays is driving from my house to my parents' and back. People sitting at bus stops always strike me as particularly sad. They seem like lone survivors of some kind of apocalypse.

Further depressing--though it's my one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving--is the final half hour or so of "Talk of the Nation." Unlike other hosts who force someone lower on the totem pole to take the reins for the holiday or recycle old interviews (Terry Gross, I'm looking in your direction) to fill the time so they can spend Thanksgiving with family, honorary X-Man Neal Conan comes in and hosts his show himself.

The grand finale is always a segment officially titled, "Who's Not At Your Dinner Table?" I prefer to call it "Neal Conan takes horribly depressing phone calls from lonely people who all try to one-up each other for whose tale of woe is most wrist-slashingly tragic."

You have to stop and think about who is going to call in when Neal puts out the request for anyone who is "missing someone this holiday" to share their stories. First, this person has to be sitting alone listening to NPR on Thanksgiving afternoon. Second, he or she has to have lost someone and have the impact of that loss still strong enough to prompt calling a national radio show. Third, the caller has to have no one else with whom he or she can share this anguish, either because there simply is no one else around or--perhaps worse--everyone around has grown so tired of hearing this sad sack's never-ending laments about his great aunt who died in 1977 that he's desperate for a new audience.

What starts as sad become hilariously outrageous, not only as callers try to outdo one another--"That guy who called and said his mom got blown up in a boiler explosion on Easter morning? Well, my mom and dad were burned alive in their beds on Christmas!"--but also as Neal tightropes the line between congenial, upbeat host and grief counselor. The offer to "think of your father" when Neal raises his annual toast to friends who have been lost seems little relief for either the caller or Neal himself.

A few people slip through trying to be reasonably mournful about "my husband's grandma" who died in the past year, but was 93 years old and wasn't expected to have made it as long as she did, but they are quickly forgotten as they're overshadowed by stories of "my dad died on Thanksgiving 1968 in a fighter plane crash in Vietnam... a month and a half after my brother died."

If Neal does it without alcohol, it's doubly impressive.

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