Every June, I travel home to New York for my annual family reunion. It’s an event I eagerly anticipate and wouldn’t dream of missing, even if it includes numerous sporting activities, all of which I completely suck at, except for one.
The reunion is for my mother’s side of the family — the Millers — and although my mother only had four siblings, the Millers definitely don’t lack an ability to procreate. This year, we reached a total of 75 in attendance and of this extended family, I’m the token gay.
I came out to my relatives in my early 30s, here and there over the course of a few years, and just in case I missed anyone, I even declared my sexual preference on national TV. To my relief and delight, the entire family—and I mean everyone—collectively accepted me with open arms and rather than ostracizing me or treating me like an outcast, the opposite occurred. Once my sexual preference was established, they respected and admired me for having the courage to live my life truthfully and, more importantly, to share it with them. I’m one of them; no different, no better, no worse—and their love, much like their sense of humor, is abundant and endless.
Due to the sheer volume of participants, the reunion is held in a public park on Long Island. We arrive early on the designated Saturday morning, gather around 10 picnic tables, form a large circle and claim our territory for the day. Each family brings their own food and beverages, as well as a game or contest for all to participate in.
As we arrive, hugs and kisses are dispensed at a rapid rate. We mix and mingle in cliques either within the circle or just outside its perimeter. The kids run amuck playing games, while the adults catch up and dish the dirt on who’s lost or gained weight; who we suspect will marry or divorce next; whose spouse we like or dislike and whose kids are most likely to be arrested, gay or to have lost their virginity since last year’s reunion. You know—standard family fare. Then once lunch is finished, the activities begin.
The softball game is one of the most competitive events of the day, second only to the egg toss. (My uncles, Cliff and Rich, both in their early-70s, still try to achieve success each year by playing with a wooden egg. They’ve yet to succeed!) The softball teams are organized by birth date, odds versus evens, so we’re pretty much guaranteed the same team year after year. The batting order is arranged according to height, and since I’m a whopping 5-foot-5 and three quarters (that’s without shoes), I end up right behind all the kids ranging from ages 2-12. They, of course, all manage to hit the ball or swing until they do. Then I step up to the plate, swing three times, miss three times and I’m out. As if that’s not embarrassing enough, there’s always Uncle Cliff to deal with, who lovingly refers to me as Hollywood and is always the designated pitcher for the opposing team.
“For Christ’s sake, Hollywood, if you kept your eyes open, you might hit the ball. You’re worse than the little kids. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
Uncle Cliff’s comments are never meant to be malicious, but rather to amuse and always arouse a round of laughter. He could easily pass for Johnny Carson, and his comedic style consists mainly of one-liners, double entendres and the occasional “pull my finger” joke. When he and my other uncles, Rich and Don, get together, it’s like spending time with Moe, Larry and Curly, but with a lot less hair.
While almost every male over the age of 21 belts the ball out of the park, I’m lucky enough if I manage to graze it and claim a single. When that happens, one of the uncles can usually be heard muttering; “Jesus Christ, Hollywood, it’s about goddamn time.” But I don’t allow their humor or my lack of skills to upset me, because for the past seven years I’ve been victorious at another game: the Twinkie eating contest.
The concept is pretty simple; the first person to consume the entire Twinkie wins. You don’t even have to eat it; just get it off the table and in your mouth without using your hands. We break it down into age groups for the kids, but when it comes to the adults, we all just dive in, literally.
The first year, the participants consisted of me and seven female cousins. We all sat around one picnic table, four on each side, Twinkies lined up in front of each of us. The women began tying their hair back, licking their lips and stretching their jaws in preparation, while nervously looking my way as I sat there calmly with my hands tucked under my legs. I was all set.
My sister Pamela gave the official countdown, and then in one full swoop, I went down on that Twinkie. Taking the entire thing in my mouth within seconds, I leapt to my feet victoriously. I’ve never seen such a look of shock, horror and sheer amazement on the faces of so many of my relatives before.
The women, with their mouths full of half-eaten Twinkie, faces covered in cream, were appalled at how quickly I consumed an entire Twinkie and with such precision. The men were horrified at first, and then in utter awe as my cousin Mario asked me to teach his wife a trick or two.
That was eight years ago, and although several of my cousins, both female and male, are determined to take me down and steal the title away from me, I was once again victorious this year. Eight years straight, the undefeated Twinkie champ. As I began my victory lap around our circle, Uncle Cliff pulled me aside and said, “Congratulations, Hollywood. Now if only you could learn to play with balls.”