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I used to spread mayonnaise on saltines because life wasn’t depressing enough. I wasn’t on the BRAT diet nor was I orphaned, but I still spent the greater half of eighth grade slathering cholesterol globs over full-sodium crackers. It wasn’t delicious but I had spent enough afternoons mourning empty raisin bran boxes to know that the underdog of the snack world will always be waiting for you in the pantry.
One day, sometime between The Tyra Banks Show and my daily masturbation regimen, I was polishing off a sleeve of my poverty-sandwiches when my sister walked into the kitchen.
“What are you doing?!”
“What?!” I responded, looking down to make sure my pants weren’t around my ankles.
As I dabbed a dollop of mayo away from the corner of my mouth, I sent my sister into a back-breaking series of up-chucks. Between gags, she heaved, “Did I miss the couch in our front yard? Are we white trash now?”
She did miss something. In short: our family. My Nana was married with children by 17 years old. Granted, this was decades ago but there were plenty of women’s colleges at the time that could have taught her about landing an accountant husband and perfecting a Baked Alaska recipe. Flash forward 30 years and I was in attendance at my parents’ wedding: the fetus on top of this white trash cake.
It’s a legacy that my family has tried to shake. We’ve forbade American cheese, we suffer public radio and we vacation once every seven years. This decade we chose Provincetown on Cape Cod. My sisters don’t live at home anymore and my father is clinging to his remaining shreds of masculinity so it ended up just being me and my mom. The two teenaged girls who tacked pictures of John F. Kennedy Jr. to the inside of their high school lockers.
In our best “aspiring white privilege” ensembles, my mother and I boarded the ferry that shuttled us from Boston to P-Town. A few minutes into the ride and my mom was already throwing up meals from 1987. You think Eunice Kennedy ever got seasick? Fuck no, she didn’t! I would usually be sympathetic in a situation like this but there were people aboard that needed to be impressed.
“Pull it together,” I hissed, tying her hair back with her ascot. “And blame it on last night’s lobster bisque if anyone asks.”
We docked an hour and a half later and I got a head start on my tan while my mother regained equilibrium. Taxi drivers were holding signs that read “it’s farther than you think” but as soon as we saw a guy walking into town while carrying a canvas grocery bag reading “sandwiches, salad, lube,” we knew being cheap bastards would bear some worthwhile fruit.
“I swear,” my mom slurred later that afternoon, mixing a cocktail on the sidewalk in front of Stop & Shop. “I was a gay man in another life.”
The point of the trip was to attend a signing and reading by my patron saint, David Sedaris: the Krug champagne to my two-buck Chuck, the Malibu to my Myrtle Beach, the Meryl Streep to my Casey Anthony. We had an extra ticket for the night and eventually found a woman named Margo to take it off our hands. I’ve never met a woman with that name who didn’t shit solid gold bricks and Margo from Hyannis didn’t disappoint.
“So, why the extra ticket?” Margo asked, clasping her Kate Spade purse. “Was someone else planning to join?”
“Well,” my mom explained, clasping her TJ Maxx sack. “My husband’s the manager of a supermarket and a competing company is on strike so he’s too busy to take off time from work.”
“Oh, yes! Market Basket! My neighbor is an heir to the company.”
My mom shot me a look that said “get used to being middle class” and we walked into the hall.
I’m not religious but I wanted to pray when David Sedaris walked up to his lectern. He shared pieces about his sister’s suicide and read excerpts from his diary and proved to be just as delightfully fucked up as I wished him to be. Afterwards, we waited in line for about 45 minutes to get our books signed: the perfect amount of time for thoughts of “I’m-the-un-funniest-person-I-know” to shit their way to the surface of my consciousness.
“Is this your mother?” asked David Sedaris, motioning in her direction. “Is she heterosexual?”
“Insert something forced-witty here,” said me.
“I’ve been noticing the gay dads here,” David said as he started signing my book. “They’re so affectionate. Calling their children ‘pumpkin’ and ‘sweetheart.’ My father only ever called me ‘sport.’ Sarcastically.”
I remember saying something that made him laugh but our exchange was over soon after. I shook his hand—thanking him for everything and nothing in particular—and we went on our way. The streets were pretty packed but I wasn’t paying much attention. With the light cast from the insides of specialty food stores and organic soap shops and S&M bondage dungeons, I could read David’s personalization: “To Brian—a tragic child of heterosexuals.”
The only other thing I could have asked for was a saltine.