Once upon a time in rural Middle America, a small town and its people struggled to escape their downtrodden existence. Women’s hairdos looked totally basic, and men wore boot-cut khakis. Suburban homes lacked proper awnings and picket fences in their front yards. Starbucks and In-N-Out Burger declined to open shops there.
One day, a pair of men moved into a particularly rundown home, knowing that they could probably flip it for a tidy profit. Sure enough, they were soon spotted sanding down banisters, planting roses, and applying fresh coats of pastel paint to their cottage — all while wearing matching outfits.
These are the opening lines from my first book, “Gay Passover,” which I meant as an allegory to Jewish life in ancient Egypt. Jews were slaves to Egyptians, and so in my story, the gays were slaves to suburban America: they made lattes, planned wedding receptions and arranged flowers, all while being taxed higher and living in run-down parts of town that they renovated.
I call it a book even though it’s clearly a gag — I wrote this tidy 40-page Haggadah after a near lifetime spent in Northern California, which I’m not sure if you know is relatively scant in its Jewish community. My neighbors in Sacramento were Christian, and my closest friends in school were Mormon. In Jewish homes that were even as lazy as my family’s, we still popped on “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston every year, and we held a traditional seder.
I wanted to have that in my San Francisco life, too, but I didn’t think my friends who pounded down whiskey sours and frequented underwear parties would sit still that long for something so tame.
So instead of Moses, Neil Patrick Harris leads the gay people out of Middle America and into “a promised land with cross-fit workouts, overpriced lattes, and boys with muscles for days who never age.” He meets his god, Cher, in a lesbian bar called “The Burning Bush.” She unleashes the 10 gay plagues on straight people — including skinny jeans and Liberace — and caps it off with the final one, Oprah, who gives crabs to every home that doesn’t leave a streak of glitter on their front door. (“And you get crabs! And you get crabs! Everyone gets crabs!”)
I was a little surprised I wasn’t sued. Oprah and Cher never got in touch. Neil Patrick Harris actually asked for a copy, but he did it through my Kickstarter campaign and started out by saying, “Hi. Neil Patrick Harris, here.” Believable, right? I rolled my eyes and told him to go buy one. Then the payment and shipping details rolled through, and I was like oh ha ha, whoops, never mind, please enjoy these free signed copies! He never endorsed “Gay Passover” publicly, but told me he “laughed a lot” and that it’s “ridiculous, in the good way.”
This may all sound like a plug but it isn’t. I love the book but am also embarrassed by it, especially because seder stories are meant to be read aloud every year. I come from a conservative household, and I pride myself out of shocking my parents in loud outfits, and by wearing dress after dress in social media posts. My mom flipped the script the past couple years, using my book as our traditional seder Haggadah. It is a great moment, I think, for my teenage cousin to see a rendition of “One Twink, One Twink” — a modified game of the traditional “One Kid, One Kid” or “One Little Goat.”
Passover was the first party I attended in nearly a year, and the first time I had visited home in about as long. Everything felt the same but also weird. We talked about vaccines and family drama, and a friend broke another of my parents’ chairs just by sitting on it.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced the state would open fully on June 15, and I’ve already been invited to two parties. I thought a lot about this on the train ride up to Sacramento: I’m ready to socialize again, but I’m not longing to return to exactly the same life. In isolation, I came to see many of the parties I organized and attended as distractions from pretty significant loneliness I felt underneath it all. I love my family but want one of my own. Living alone and unable to throw parties has reminded me I don’t have that yet.
Still, it was nice to see my family, and I look forward to reconnecting with many friends in the summer.
As for Jewish-themed cocktails: My “Gay Passover” book has two cocktail recipes that I’ve already shared in my columns: a Cucumber Gimlet and an Apple Spice Cocktail, which is really the Pumpkin Spice Cocktail from November without the pumpkin. I also made a Manischewitz Slushie in this series. In honor of approaching summer, I offer this Manischewitz Margarita:
2 ounces Manischewitz red wine
1.5 ounces tequila blanco
.5 ounce triple sec
1.5 ounces fresh lime juice
Directions: Combine wine, tequila, triple sec, and lime juice into a shaker filled with ice, and shake. Prepare a cocktail glass of choice by lining the rim with a lime wedge, then dipping the rim in kosher salt, and filling the glass with ice. Strain the shaken margarita into the glass, and serve.
Saul Sugarman is a San Francisco-based writer, event producer and apparel designer; visit him at saulsugarman.com or buy “Gay Passover” here. He is a guest columnist and his opinions are not necessarily that of the Examiner.