This year’s festive meal feels daunting for families with ideological and political differences about any number of current events or personal matters. But there’s one thing that everyone can agree on, which is that Barbra Streisand, whose memoir came out November 7, is a singular talent of her generation. Yessiree, everyone can agree on that, because this is America, where a girl with a big talent and what she herself calls a “big schnoz” can rise from the projects of Flatbush to become a groundbreaker for all of today’s multi-hyphenate divas and wannabes. I listened to her audiobook, which is 48 hours long. I did this in the hopes that anyone who needs conversational deflection on Thanksgiving will be able to parry with a distracting factoid gleaned directly from Barbra’s sonorous intonations. When you are hovering over the gravy boat and Uncle Milton asks you whether you think the Israelis have a right to defend themselves against Hamas, you will thank me.
“That’s an interesting question,” you’ll say. “Did you know that Barbara Streisand went to the same high school as Neil Diamond?”
Settled with your plate, you find yourself seated next to Aunt Deborah, who watches Fox News. She wants to know who you think the president should be in 2025, and you’re pretty sure you know her answer. Well, Aunt Deborah, putting all questions of the future aside, it’s absolutely certain that when Barbra Streisand’s father died, she was only 15 months old, and her family had to move in with her grandparents in a one-bedroom apartment. You and Aunt Deborah agree that hardship can sometimes make a person stronger.
Going around the table, various family members share what they’re thankful for. Grandpa offers that he is thankful to be absolutely certain that climate change is a hoax. A pall briefly falls over the room, until you cut in with your offering. “I myself am thankful to know that Barbra Streisand loves the colors pink and burgundy, but detests the color royal blue.” A hubbub ensues: Who could hate royal blue? Apparently, it was the color of a uniform she was made to wear at a health camp in the Catskills she didn’t like. Sated, everyone continues sharing their more quotidian expressions of gratitude. The cranberry sauce is passed around, and no one mentions dead polar bears.
Your oldest cousin Aubrey, whose enormous wedding was the last time most of these people saw each other, is seated to your left, and suddenly she asks you if you’re seeing anyone seriously. You tell Aubrey the surprising fact that Barbra Streisand can’t read music and avoid getting into that whole mess.
As the meal progresses, Aunt Lynette leans across the table to you confidingly. “I think teachers should have guns, don’t you? Seems like it would go a long way to curbing school shootings,” she says confidently. It seems like a good time to bring up the time when, waiting in the wings in a backless dress, Barbra Streisand was surprised by a kiss on her back from Marlon Brando, whom she’d revered since she was a teenager but never actually met before. “She never goes so far as to admit to an affair with Brando, but she strongly implies they had a romantic bond,” you clarify to Aunt Lynette, who is of course fascinated to know this.
As people get up to get second helpings, Uncle Irving corners you near the green beans. “It’s a disgrace that Joe Biden isn’t providing more aid to Israel, don’t you think?” he asks forcefully. “Barbra Streisand was only 19 when she booked her first Broadway show, starring opposite her future husband Elliot Gould in ‘I Can Get It for You Wholesale’,” you reply. It’s a total non sequitur, but Uncle Irving seems to accept it. “So young! I had no idea that was how they met.” “They have a son named Jason,” you offer. Uncle Irving shrugs and returns to his seat with his green beans.
As the table is being cleared for pie, Uncle Irving makes a joke about how carving the turkey was more difficult than carving up territory in the Middle East to permit everyone who has a historical claim to the land to live peacefully there. Over the scattered awkward laughter, you speak up again. “To this day, the name on Barbra’s dressing room door is ‘Angelina Scarangella’ because that was the alias she used in some of her earliest cabaret gigs,” you announce. No one has any follow-up questions, so you deploy the strongest weapon in your conversational arsenal. “Barbra has three dogs, but only two of them are clones of her previous dog Samantha,” you attest. Everyone has a lot of questions about the ethics and mechanics of dog cloning, but you can only echo Barbra in saying, “You can clone the look of a dog, but you can’t clone the soul.”
Pie is served. Your relatives are starting to look at you as though you might be slightly unhinged, but on the upside, no one has mentioned the Republican Speaker of the House even once.