11 July 2008

Fourth of July

A friend from New Zealand celebrated her first 4th of July as a new US Citizen by throwing a big “white trash” themed 4th of July barbecue. Having completed 10 years of US residence in January, I’d been considering throwing a red, white and blue stars-and-stripes overkill party, but events had conspired against it. So when the invite to the barbecue arrived, we said “Hell yeah!“

I managed to find the perfect baseball cap in a thrift store. It’s blue, with “TEAM USA” on the front with stars and stripes. Inside, of course, the label says “Made in China”. I picked up some China-made flip-flops for a dollar at Walmart (of course), and gave them a good wash to make sure I didn’t end up with chemical burns on my feet.

For a top, I wore a T-shirt with an American eagle on, and a patriotic slogan in white puffy lettering. The ensemble was completed with some overlong shorts that reach down to the knee; one of my pairs of cargo pants unzips into pseudo-shorts. Ideally I’d have gone with Nike knee-length basketball shorts, but I didn’t want to purchase anything like that. A few “USA” temporary tattoos and I was ready to go. Sara got some cheap off-brand Crocs, and decorated them with red, white and blue ribbons.

Other people dressed in wifebeater shirts (with, in one case, carefully manufactured disgusting stains), blue coveralls, and all the other clothing you’ll see if you wander into a trailer park or a farm supply store in rural America.

I’m going to skate around the question of whether the term “white trash” is offensive or not. Many of those at the barbecue grew up in the culture being carefully reproduced. Someone–I don’t know who–even managed to come up with some genuine moonshine to bring. The label said “Moonshine. Not a joke, this is real moonshine, it’ll make you go blind.” I found that less disturbing than seeing people actually use chewing tobacco, a habit which makes cigarette smoking look classy. Point is, though, this wasn’t (just) a bunch of pretentious yuppies out to mock the working class.

As well as the barbecue, there was a table laden with all-American food. There was “Ambrosia”, which is mini-marshmallows and Cool Whip. Next to that was a second bowl, similar but with canned fruit underneath. Alongside sat a Tater Tot casserole made with venison. Someone had brought along a cheese shaped like Texas, and crackers for the crackers. in deference to the dietary preferences of many of the participants there were vegetarian hotdogs as well as meat ones, but of course they were all served properly, in buns made from enriched white bread, with classic cheap bright yellow mustard. Someone brought along a bucket of KFC too.

Many people brought various varieties of bad American beer. PBR, for example, was immortalized by Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and since then has become a brand often imbibed ironically. There was also a lot of Lone Star Beer, a local variety advertised as “The National Beer of Texas”, and the beverage of choice at local roller derby events. There was bourbon too, but definitely no wine.

Everyone posed around the pickup truck for a group photo. There was a Slip’n’Slide out back, though it was sadly broken and nobody tried to make it work. We had taken along a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke and some Mentos, and set off a small Coke and Mentos geyser in the back yard before it got dark and fireworks were lit.

The best gimmick, however, was the battery-operated self-waving American flag. You push a button and it plays patriotic music while wires concealed in the flag cause it to billow as if in a strangely predictable wind. It reminded me a little of the famous Apollo 11 flag, though this one of course was made in China from cheap plastic, like pretty much every patriotic bauble these days.

Overall, I think everyone had a great time, even a few who had to get drunk before they could really relax and get into it. It wasn’t so much mockery as an opportunity for a bunch of people to forget that they live in a place like Austin and celebrate July 4th the way perhaps most Americans celebrate it, without pretense. And you know what? The food was disturbingly tasty.

Well, except for the Twinkie. I ate one. I had to, just so I could check it off in my list, just above Dippin’ Dots. They really are nasty, greasy things.

I do wonder if hicks ever get together for a Yuppie Party. “Oh, look at me Wayne, I’m drinkin’ a fancy Starbucks four dollar coffee that tastes like burnt crap.”

© mathew 2017