I love weddings. You can ask anyone who’s ever seen me at a wedding, and they’ll probably tell you about Wedding Frank, a drunken dervish of broken dancing, whose version of The Worm looks more like a man imitating a dust mop. You can usually recognize him by his unbuttoned shirt, misplaced necktie, his sweaty sheen, and his glass of gin and tonic that he does not spill but does occasionally drop, shattering on the dance floor. He has turned up less frequently as time has passed, but his legend has only grown.
About three weeks ago, I attended a wedding in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I’d known the groom Chad since college, even before he’d given himself the nickname The Sweetness (which we initially refused, then took up with a vengeance). I’d seen him three weeks prior, at his bachelor party in the woods of Kentucky, where my parting image of him was slumped against the car window on the drive back to Louisville. There were five of us in the car, and our friend Ryan took it upon himself to impart some advice to the groom to be.
“Chad, buddy, let me give you some advice. After you’re married, you’re going to get in some fights. It’s going to happen, so just remember one thing: you are always going to be right, and she will always be wrong. Remember that.”
Parker, sitting shotgun, added, “And don’t give in, no matter how long you’re fighting.”
“That’s right, stick to your guns!” Ryan added.
“And keep a list of all the things she gets wrong, she’ll really appreciate that,” I threw in. “She’ll like that you’re trying to help her be a better person.”
“Yeah, you can remind her of them every time you guys are having a fight! It’ll help, no question,” Ryan said.
Three weeks after those sage words, I found myself waiting in Terminal 2 at JFK. It was my first time flying out of JFK, and a combination of travel anxiety and my unfamiliarity with the A train past the W. 4th Street stop meant I got to the airport more than three hours early. At LaGuardia, this would have meant boredom and a disappointing, ten-dollar sandwich from the Cibo Express, and I wasn’t expecting much more here. This is why I very nearly burst into tears when I saw the Wendy’s just past the security line. If I had been any hungrier, I would have been openly weeping.
The terminal at JFK was definitely one of the nicer terminals I’d ever been in. There was a seating area near the Wendy’s, with iPads on each table for public use. I enjoyed my Spicy Chicken combo while reading ESPN, then made my way over toward my gate. I used my three and a half hour wait (the extra half hour was bonus time spent waiting for the plane to actually land) to finish one of the three books I’d bought for the trip. The gate itself was odd, as it was a covered walkway on the tarmac, with numerous exits to the left and right. After walking halfway back to Manhattan, I finally reached my exit and boarded the plane.
After an uneventful flight, I landed at Dulles and called Arnie, who was coming to pick me up from the Baltimore airport. He told me he was driving a little black Mazda, and that he’d be there in 40 minutes. After about half an hour (and a surprising number of little black Mazdas), Arnie called me again to ask which terminal I was at. If you’ve ever been to Dulles, you’ll know this is an odd question to ask, as there is one main terminal for pickup and drop-off before it splits into its numerous smaller terminals.
“What do you mean, which terminal?” I asked.
“Dude, I don’t know. What airline are you flying?”
“Delta, but there’s only one terminal.”
“Nah, man, look. I just drove past Terminal A, and it says there’s Terminal B and Terminal C. That’s it.”
Concerned, I told him I’d ask at the information desk and call him back. I explained what Arnie had told me, and she gave me a sympathetic look. “Honey, your friend isn’t here.”
“Honey, he’s at Reagan.”
“Reagan. Airport, right?”
“Yes, dear. I’d call him back right now, because it’s going to be an hour before he gets here.”
I called Arnie back. “Dude, you’re at Reagan.”
“I’m at Dulles.”
“Oh. Then you’re not here at all, are you.”
After spending the past five hours in airports or in planes, the additional time didn’t really bother me. If anything, it gave me some time to start in on the second book. Arnie did make it to Dulles in good time, and it was relatively easy to get to our hotel as well.
The area where our hotel was located was part of what development types call a “lifestyle center,” but which most of us call an outdoor mall. It was a very pleasant area, with a lake behind our hotel and a boardwalk connecting several restaurants and the pavilion’s other hotel, where most of the guests at the wedding were staying. After settling in the room, Arnie and I made our way along the edge of the lake and entered the hotel bar, where those who had attended the rehearsal dinner were waiting with drinks in hand.
One of my favorite moments in any gathering of old friends is the moment we first get together. There’s so much joy in everyone’s eyes, with smiles and handshakes and hugs being passed around without reservation. Even the guys who I had just seen at The Sweetness’s bachelor party greeted me with the same exuberance as if they hadn’t seen me in years. We got drinks, raised our glasses, and drank to the happiness of the bride and groom. And we drank again. And again. And again.
That night was a lot like many other nights we’d shared in college and beyond. We met random people (one of whom was from New York, just off the W. 4th Street stop I mentioned before). I had conversations with people who didn’t remember they’d met me the next morning. Someone made a late-night run for food. And we retreated to a hotel room with a deck of cards and a bottle of Gentleman Jack (on a possibly related note, I can’t recommend substituting whisky for beer when playing drinking games).
The next morning, I was remarkably untouched by the previous evening, feeling only a minor bit of queasiness. After some breakfast, I retrieved the golf discs I’d brought with me, and joined Nat, Elizabeth, Walsh, and Dan for a game at a nearby park. As rusty as we were, we had a great time. The temperature was perfect, and while the fallen leaves made finding our discs challenging, I hadn’t realized just how much I missed their soft crunching since moving to New York. Between ricocheting off of every tree in the forest and trying to tunnel our way to the hole (“subcutaneous,” as Walsh put it), we didn’t score very well, but it was one of those days where the score is only incidental.
A quick lunch and a shower, and we headed for the bus to the wedding location, a farm about 10 minutes from the hotel. The ceremony itself was outdoors, and it was gorgeous. We walked past some repurposed farm buildings into a large, hilly clearing. A chuppah had been erected about 50 yards past the base of the hill, with rows of white folding chairs eight rows deep sitting opposite. Billy’s acoustic guitar provided the perfect aural setting for the procession, with the groomsmen wearing gray suits and the bridesmaids in burgundy.
Nat, who was sitting next to me, pointed out a structure in the distance, partially hidden by a hill. “Do you think that’s part of the ceremony?” he asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “I’m guessing they’re going to go down the aisle on ATVs and jump off that ramp. I don’t know, I’ve only been to two Jewish weddings.”
“That would be awesome. If The Sweetness and Jen don’t do that, someone should. Ooh, and pyrotechnics!”
“That’s perfect! And magicians!” I started humming the opening bars of “The Final Countdown.”
“Yeah! He could pronounce them man and wife, then disappear in a cloud of smoke!”
“May I please have the ring?” I said. “You, ma’am, in the front row. Would you check your pocketbook? Is there a ring in there?”
“Oh my god, there is!” said Nat, in his best old-lady-being-excited-about-being-included-in-the-show voice.
“Oh my god, that would be the best wedding ever,” I said.
“Yeah, we should definitely be wedding planners.”
“We’d make millions.”
After the ceremony, we moved into an open structure where the wedding favors had been laid out. Each of us had been given a mason jar with an attached handle, a tag on each glass indicating our table. The jars also served as our drinking vessel for the evening, and I intended to put it through its paces. I started with a gin and tonic, naturally, and made my way to a group of friends.
After a few moments, Arnie came up to us with a brown cocktail and a confused look.
“What did you get?” I asked him.
“A Tom Collins, apparently.”
I understood his confusion, as most Tom Collins are yellow, not brown, and do not come with a cherry. Arnie dumped out his undercover Manhattan and made his way back to the bar. A moment later he came back with another drink and a giant, shit-eating smile.
“Did he make the Tom Collins right this time?”
“Nope,” Arnie said. “This is a Carl Weathers!”
“I don’t know! I asked him to make me a Carl Weathers, and this is what he gave me!”
Apparently, a Carl Weathers was also a gin and tonic. Or at least it was that time. Walsh went up and asked for a Carl Weathers as well, and he got a Jack and coke. Another time it was a whiskey sour. You ask me, you mix them all together, pour it over a little more ice, and you got yourself a cocktail going.
Dinner was a barbecue buffet, and it was quite tasty, although I was a little unsettled when I was given my chicken. A pale, lanky kid with some unresolved acne issues asked me if I wanted white or dark meat.
“Sure thing.” And he took a half-chicken in his hands and tore it in half, placing the breast on my plate and the leg back on the warming grill. Now, I’m no prude when it comes to how our food is prepared. I realize that when I eat meat, there is butchering of some kind involved. But I wasn’t quite prepared to see a kid tear a chicken in half right in front of me, even if it was already cooked.
After dinner, toasts, and the traditional dances, the reception opened up into the usual dance party. One of the things that happens after going to many, many weddings is that you notice the little touches that each couple adds to their reception. The Chad and Jen did themselves proud. Next to the DJ there was a crate labeled “dancing shoes” filled with flip-flops for those wearing uncomfortable shoes who wanted to dance. There was a fire pit out back with s’mores fixings, as well as a box of cigars for whoever might want to indulge (and yes, I did).
For me, the highlight of the evening was when Walsh took the Carl Weathers game to the next level. Rather than order another Carl Weathers, though, he invented the “subcutaneous.” What’s a subcutaneous, you ask? Specifically, a subcutaneous is a scotch on the rocks. With fifteen cherries. The best part? Walsh doesn’t even like scotch. From there, the rest of the evening relaxed into a pleasant ease, from the farm to the hotel bar and back to the hotel room to drift off into a semi-inebriated slumber.
The remainder of the trip was largely an exercise in retreat. Back to the airport, back to New York, back to the A train and back to the apartment. By that point, it was the only place I wanted to be, back with my girlfriend and the cat, on my couch in my pajamas, returning to the usual surroundings. I think in some ways that’s the best measure of a wedding. There’s the love and all that crap, but it’s also about just how much you were able to squeeze into that tight window, and the level of exhaustion you feel when you get home is a pretty good indication of how successful you were. So thanks to you, Mr. and Mrs. The Sweetness, for making me so exhausted. And here’s hoping you guys manage to exhaust yourselves for many years to come.