I am ascending a flight of pewter steps flanked by some uninspired iron hand railings and immediately can tell where I am. It is St. Bernard of Clairvaux catholic church — the parish I sporadically and begrudgingly attended growing up in my hometown in middle-of-nowhere, north-central, right-on-the-New York-state-border, Pennsylvania. My dear friend, Sean — from graduate school — is next me, assuring me, telling me my birthday surprise is inside.
Inside it is night mass; the only source of light being a smattering of tea candles in red votives. The pews are filled with the usual Italian families. I can smell the incense. The priest, Father Gallina, is doling out the holy water with that little ladle thing. We pick a seat and wait for Father Gallina to spritz us with the holy juice.
In walk Teresa and Gia Giudice. They sit next to me. I think, “Shit. Don’t fan girl right now. They’ve been through so much this year.” I wonder what I can say to her, reflecting on the Real Housewives-themed birthday party I threw myself the previous year where I wore a t-shirt with her face contorted in rage, mid table flip, emblazoned on my chest. “Would she think I was making fun of her” I worry to myself.
I’m jolted out of my head by a loud crash as the doors at the back of the church are kicked in. It’s RuPaul. “You ready to work, bitches?” He inquires as he struts down the aisle in a pair of the pointiest shoes I have ever seen. The old Italians collectively clutch their rosaries. The lights go on. A conga line consisting of my classmates from graduate school as well as peers from Sunday school (kid versions circa 2000) starts weaving through the pews. Britney Spears’s Work Bitch fills the congregation.
RuPaul immediately gets to work arranging my friends as well as various faceless children at the altar for a round of the Snatch Game. One is told they will be impersonating my freshman year science teacher, Mr. Eckstrom. Another, the mayor.
I’m taking everything in when Teresa Giudice turns to me and says, “It’s okay. Go be with the kids.”
With my ringing endorsement from the Giudice matriarch in tow, I walk up to the altar and join the Snatch Game. We break into a choreographed dance that feels surprisingly familiar to my seventh-grade cheerleading audition. I look out into the congregation and see the entire cast of the Real Housewives of Orange County’s eyes on me. Tamra Judge, straight out of the season eleven fitness competition, gives me a nod.
I look over and see RuPaul teaching Father Gallina how to do a death drop. “Yes daddy,” he says to the priest as he hits the floor.