It’s Pride. Well, the end of Pride, depending on where you are.
For me, here in the Central time zone, it’s July now. Pride is over. It’s July.
July means two things to me: veggie pizza and Schlitz.
Let me explain.
I met my BFF, my bestie, my ride-or-die, in some other month that wasn’t July. August, if I’m not mistaken. I fell hard. Not sexually, which, looking back on it…was weird.
Sometime after we met, my bestie invited me to her family’s Fourth of July celebration. Her family had an in-ground pool out in the country between college towns. It felt, as The Cure suggested, just like heaven.
My bestie knew me for a lot of years as a straight person, Or, a person trying to be straight. Or, as a person trying and failing miserably to make other people believe that she’s straight. Bless this patience. But every year, sheltered by the grace of an in-ground pool, I felt a kind of peace that can only be described in terms of nostalgia. Out here in the cornfields, Fourth of July really did seem like something to celebrate with fireworks and bottomless margaritas and chlorine and veggie pizza.
For those of you unfamiliar with this particular Midwestern delicacy, veggie pizza is a recipe that goes something like this: roll out a tube of Pillsbury crescent rolls onto a sheet tray. Cover with ranch dressing. Cut into tiny dice shapes including (but not limited to although if you deviate from this list so help me God…): cauliflower, broccoli, black olives, tomatoes. Top with shredded cheese. The end.
I can’t get enough of veggie pizza. I don’t know why. It may have something to do with my bestie being from an area of the state so unlike my own, rural v. suburban, where Fourth of July actually meant something. So many family members brought things like bacon-wrapped-weenies-in-BBQ-sauce and seven-layer-taco-dip. Nothing about this screams REGIONAL DELICACY but here we are.
My grandma—you can call her Gamma (not like Gamma rays but GAH-ma like a toddler who doesn’t know that a single vowel can have multiple sounds)—also made some not-quite-regional-delicacies. But, now that I’m thinking about it, she wasn’t the kind of grandma you could count on for cooking advice.
She despised “ethnic food.” That included pizza. Her seasoning of choice was Accent, something I realized after reading the label too many literate years later was not-not salt but pure MSG. She didn’t cook so much as she reheated boxes and cans and that was okay by me. Sometimes, she’d make Sloppy Joes, which, let’s face it, wasn’t much more than dumping some ground beef into a Crock Pot with a bottle of ketchup. I loved her more than anyone should love another human.
Gamma’s birthday was July 20. It’s a date I can’t excise from my brain because it’s also the anniversary of the first moon landing, another day I’ll always remember because she was quick to remind anyone in earshot that on July 20, 1969, my uncle—her baby boy—chose to watch this historic event while getting drunk at the VFW hall rather than spend the day with his newly 44-year-old mother.
Gamma was, to me, a woman of extreme secrecy and heart-wrenching honesty. She would give an impassioned sermon on what she thought of Picasso (briefly, “a dirty old man”) but leave out extremely juicy details of our family history like that one time my grandpa, her once-husband, got arrested and serrved actual jail time for bigamy in Wisconsin.
Nothing about her life made that much sense, especially her tie to Schlitz beer.
Schlitz tastes like pennies. Actually, it tastes like if you took cheap domestic beer and let a bunch of pennies sit in it for a few days. It is…not good. Gamma didn’t drink Schlitz as far as we could tell. We found one photo of her and Grandpa at a wedding, clearly at the table you put people you don’t know what to do with. She’s casually smoking a cigarette, wearing a dark A-line dress and smiling. She’s not drinking, but there are Schlitz cans all over the table.
Later, we’ll come to love a hat that has the Schlitz logo all over it. It’s a bucket hat, like Gilligan wears. Except that this one has the Schlitz logo with its world and banner in a repeating pattern. Gamma wears this hat to a third-rate Christmas-themed amusement park that is our annual outing—Gamma, our Auntie, my brother, sister, and I. We go and love every minute. And even though Gamma is in a wheelchair, she demands to go wherever we go, sporting this bucket hat and wraparound sunglasses to keep the sun out of her face. We laugh and roll our eyes that day, happy to be with her but also consumed by the shame of adolescence that doesn’t appreciate the fact that someday you’ll never be able to hug your grandma again.
When July arrives, it marks the end of Pride, a time when I, like my other queer+ party people, are supposed to feel connected to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And feel connected I do. But there’s a pall over July, the end. What’s next? A whole year disconnected? Yet, in July, I feel most connected to my origin story. The people who raised me and raised me up. An incredible and otherworldly joy mixed with loss and regret and a sentimental time that never was.
I see it all in veggie pizza & Schlitz.
The allegory of consumption isn’t lost on me. I want to take it all in, knowing that things will never be the same as they once were. But maybe, in the taste I crave every July, I can find my footing again, grounded and sure despite all the evidence to the contrary.