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My Brother's Wedding

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My Brother’s Wedding
Part One

The news of my brother getting married came as a surprise a shock really. It just wasn’t something I thought he would ever do. Neither he nor Brooke said anything about it when we all went
to Omaha in December to visit my father in the hospital. I first heard about it a week later during a phone call to Mom.

I called them up the next day and talked to Brooke. She said it was a shock to her too. Out of the blue, Sam simply popped the question. After fifty-six years of seemingly contented bachelorhood, my big brother was taking the plunge into matrimony. Who'd of guessed?

I sometimes imagine it might have had something to do with Father's stoke, like maybe a recognition of life’s fragility and the senselessness of putting off the things you really should be doing for yourself. Or maybe that’s just the lesson I drew from the experience. It is certainly something that has crossed my mind more than once or twice in the years since.

Anyway, Sam and Brooke had agreed to get married just as soon as possible, planning a Valentine’s Day ceremony on Sam’s sailboat out in the middle of Tampa Bay. Very romantic. They talked Mom into flying down for the ceremony, something I’ve never known her to do. “Too expensive,” I can hear her saying.

It did seem like a really good idea though, not only for the occasion, but as a ploy to get Mother out of the house for a weekend. Anything to get her away from the constant misery of dealing with Father, day and night. I encouraged her to go as well, saying I would likely be coming, particularly if it coincided with one of my regular trips south on business.

At the time, I really wasn’t serious about going. I can persuade myself I’m too busy for almost anything. And, since the firm had just taken me on full time, my lovely (and very lucrative) contract salary had disappeared, cutting my income in half. I really didn’t need to be buying plane tickets.

A week or so later, Brooke called back. The wedding was now set for the Saturday after Valentine’s Day and she asked me again if I’d be coming. I said I probably couldn’t make it and wished them well.

Afterward, I thought hard about it. Just how many more times would my fifty-six year old brother be getting married? Probably not too many. I called up a travel agent and requested the cheapest ticket to Tampa, scheduled to arrive on the afternoon of the wedding. The agent got me a very inexpensive flight on Jet Blue. I felt pretty good about the deal. Naturally, I should have known better.

On the morning of the wedding, I drove myself to the airport. I’d been doing a lot of flying for the firm and had such good luck doing it, I never thought to pay attention to all the nonsense the airlines tell you to do to “make your trip easier,” like calling first to see if your flight’s been delayed or maybe canceled, or arriving at the airport the hours in advance of departure they always insist is absolutely necessary.

After parking the car, I saunter up to the Jet Blue counter to pick up my boarding pass. There are seventy-five people in line ahead of me. None of them appear to be very happy. There is a single ticket agent working the counter. She doesn’t look to be a real sharp needle I glance up at the departure board. The flight to Tampa’s been canceled. 

“Sheet.”

From the grumbling going on around me, I can tell that pretty much every one of the seventy-five people ahead of me is in the same boat. None of us is going anywhere today. Not on that plane and almost certainly, not in this line. This is because the line is being serviced by the world’s slowest person.

This comes as something of a surprise to me because I thought I already knew the world’s slowest person. She is a clerk at an office supply store where I frequently shop. Her name is Betty. Those of us who know her well call her Slow Betty.

Slow Betty cannot perform any customary act of retailing without first thinking about it all very deliberately. This always takes some time. You hand her your item. She looks at it, turning it over and over in her hands, as though it is some strange artifact from a lost world that requires her very detailed inspection.

“Jesus,” you think. “It’s a pack of photocopy paper, something she must handle a hundred times a day, every day of her life.”

But no, she has to look it over real good. Once she has made herself absolutely certain of the identity of the mysterious object, she begins to type a series of numbers into her cash register. The store has decided not to let her use the bar code scanner. Apparently, no one has the eons of time it would take to train Betty to use the damned thing.

Betty enters each number from the package, digit by digit. She looks down, reads a single number, speaks the number aloud, searches the cash register for the corresponding key, punches it in, speaks the number again to verify she's entered it correctly and then looks down to read the next digit. Sometimes in the middle of this exercise, she’ll get confused and have to start all over again.

About this time, I start to believe I can actually feel hair growing out of my ears.

Finally, she punches the “Total” key and you hand her your money. She always counts it twice, bill by bill. If the bills aren’t in the proper order of value or turned in different directions, she’ll have to take a few minutes to straighten all this out. Then, she carefully counts out your change and hands it back to you.

Now comes the really slow part, placing your package in the plastic bag. Betty holds the bag between the palms of her hands and begins to rub them together. This is her little trick to separate the two sides of the bag from one another so she can slip your purchase in between. You can tell this is something she has practiced. She rubs her hands together very cautiously, no less than twenty times. You can see her counting all this out under her breath.

Finally, after twenty strokes, the lips of the bag pop open, she slides in the purchase and begins to hand it back to you. She then pulls the bag back uncertainly. She opens it and looks in just to assure herself that whatever she had just put in had not somehow disappeared in the interim. Satisfied, she hands the bag over for good.

You grab the bag and leave the store thinking to yourself, “I’ve just spent ten minutes with the world’s slowest person.” But you’d be wrong. As it turns out, the world’s slowest person is actually the ticket agent working Jet Blue's counter this morning. She makes Slow Betty look like Usian Bolt.

I finally get up to the counter and discover why this person is so slow. Apparently, she has never in her life performed two naturally and directly related actions in succession. Something else always seems to intercede.

I walk up. She says “Hello.” I say, “Hello.” Her phone rings. She answers it. She immediately strolls off to take care of whatever it was the caller wanted. On her way back, she stops to answer some other passenger’s question. Then she stops to talk to a baggage handler. She takes a minute to hike up her pantyhose. She blows her nose. She returns to the counter. She asks, “And what can I do for you today?”

“Apparently, not much,” I think. And then her phone rings again.

After half a dozen further distractions, we finally get down to business. I describe my problem to her, explaining that I needed to be in Tampa by 5 PM and ask if there is anything she can do to help me. This is her answer:

“I don’t know.”

O.K., here’s what I’m thinking. I really could understand the answer to this question being “Why yes sir, I can help you with this problem,” just as I could well understand the answer being, “No sir, I’m very sorry but I cannot help you with this problem.”

I do not understand the answer, “I don’t know.”

Now maybe if I’d been the first person in line with this problem or maybe the second or even the third, I would understand. But it’s pretty clear I’m at least the seventy-sixth person who has asked her this very same question this morning and SHE STILL DOESN’T KNOW THE ANSWER!

I give her a look that may well have triggered an intensely primal, flee-in-fear response within her lower brain stem. She runs from the counter as though I was something out of her worst nightmare.

A short time later, someone else strolls up - a supervisor type - and asks if I have a problem. “Well yeah,” I say. “I have to get to Tampa by five.”

“Oh,” he says. “I can put you on a flight that will arrive at 7:30. Would that be O.K.?”

This guy is much faster than the last agent, but not so bright with the time thing.

I figure, “What the Hell. At least there will be some wedding cake left.” Besides, there are another fifty people lined up behind me. I see no sense in dragging this madness out any further. I take a ticket for the later flight.

I now have four hours to kill. I call Sam and let him know what’s going on. I walk past the adjoining Southwest counter. There's no one waiting in line. There are ten cheery ticket agents, decked out in chipper blue and orange uniforms. They all look like they’d give anything to help someone. I step up to the first agent. She’s a smiling woman about the age of my daughter. She asks, “Can I help you sir?”

“Do you have any flights to Tampa?”

“Why we most surely do. There’s one leaving within the hour.”

“Great. I’ll take it.”

“Oh,” she says, looking up from her computer terminal with a gesture of sincere disappointment. “I’m afraid it’s all booked.”

“Oh,” I say and start walking off.

“But, “ she continues. “I could put you on stand-by. There’s just an awfully good chance you’d get on.”

“You really think so?”

“Darn tootin,’ but you gotta hurry.”

“Well O.K. Gimme that ticket.”

I race off to the gate. I now have two tickets for two flights to Tampa. One will get me there two hours late. One may not get me there at all. Who'd a guessed?

When I arrive at the gate, there are already two people ahead of me in the stand-by line. I’m third. I’m thinking my odds aren’t so bad. 

We wait. After about twenty minutes, prospective passengers begin to mill around. There looks to be maybe a hundred or more booked for this flight. I wonder just how many people the plane will hold. I start to get a little nervous.

The lady ahead of me, second in line, waves to someone out in the crowd. She is obviously gesturing to two of her traveling companions, her husband and their scruffy-looking teenage son. She is obviously holding a place in line for all three of them. I wilt. I’m not third. I’m fifth.

They start loading the plane. After about fifteen minutes, the boarding agent makes the customary announcement, threatening any ticket holder who doesn’t step up immediately with cancellation. Nobody moves. The boarding agent hands a boarding pass to the first stand-by. The lady ahead of me approaches the counter. The agent informs her that there is only one remaining stand-by seat. Only she would be able to take the flight. 

I see her looking back at her fat, dullard husband and their frumpy son. She gets this look on her face like maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing. She seems to think about it seriously for a minute or two, but then shrugs and says, “Thanks, but no. We’ll take the next flight.”

I GET THE SEAT!

I touch down in Tampa at 3 PM, a half hour earlier than I would have arrived had I taken the originally scheduled Jet Blue flight. Who knew?

That’s the whole story, except of course for the wedding part. That is all still a little fuzzy. Brooke’s adult daughter is a bartender who was working the wedding gratis. She started handing out killer blue margaritas in the middle of the afternoon and didn’t let up till after midnight. I lost count at three.

I’m going to have to take a few days to reconstruct the rest of the weekend. I'll get back to you.



My Brother's Wedding
Part Two

Here’s the rest of the story.

Like I said, I arrived in Tampa at about 3 P.M. Sam picked me up at the airport. As we were making the turn back into midtown Tampa, I offered him a reasonable alternative. “Look, I say. “I’ve got maybe seventy-five bucks in my pocket. We could turn north right now and make Georgia by nightfall.”

He says, “Thanks,” but he thought he really ought to go through with it. “Besides,” he adds, “Brooke would track us both down and make sure neither of us were ever again capable of reproduction.”

Sam’s a funny guy.

We get to their place. Mom is already there. She’d flown in the night before. When we arrive, she's vacuuming.

“Don’t you dare track anything into this house. I’ve just vacuumed it and I’m not doing it again.”

We tiptoe in.

Cleverly, Brooke has been giving Mom lots of little things to do to keep her occupied: arranging flowers, folding napkins, dusting, etc. and then never failing to lavish praise on her for the good work. Brooke has the daughter-in-law role down perfect. I suspect she’s doing penance for her previous marriage.

Anyway, Mother keeps saying she hasn’t really done all that much, but you can tell she is charmed and delighted by Brooke’s compliments.

Brooke also has things for Sam and me to do. She wants to make sure we stay out of trouble. She has a long list of mostly trivial tasks that she claims absolutely have to be done by five o clock and we are the only men on the planet capable of doing them.

Slyly, she doesn’t tell us all of these items at once. She strings them out, one task at a time, to prolong the effectiveness of the calculated distraction. So, we go to the store to get ice. We clean off the lawn chairs. Sam sweeps off the porch. I rake leaves. We’re sent back to the store to get more ice. And so on and so forth.

In the meantime, Brooke is doing all the things that really need to be done, like cooking the reception dinner for fourteen and polishing her nails and ironing Sam’s tux and fixing her hair. I don’t think I ever saw her break a bead of sweat. She made it all look completely effortless. What a lucky guy Sam is.

At about 4:30, the guests begin to arrive. Brooke’s older daughter is already here (the one mixing the killer margaritas). Two couples who are old friends’ of Sam’s come, as does Brooke’s ex-husband and his trophy wife, Nova. (Who names their daughter Nova?) Brooke’s mother pulls in and at last, characteristically late, Brooke’s youngest daughter.

Also at some point, the man presiding over the ceremony and his girlfriend show up. Somehow I’d missed his arrival even though Brooke had made me the official doorman. Must have been the margaritas.

Brooke’s two sons couldn’t make it. One lives in Indiana. I sooooooo understand why you wouldn’t want to leave a hellhole like Indiana in the middle of winter to come to Florida. The other son is in Amsterdam making some sort of film. Brooke suspects the movie involves pornography of one form or another so she doesn’t say much about it whenever Mother is around, which is just about all the time. I swear, that woman never uses the bathroom or slips out back to take a smoke break. How does she do that?

Sam and Brooke get dressed. Brooke is wearing a stunning black dress. As it is Sam’s “virgin” wedding, his tux is white. They think this little role reversal is cute. It is. Mom keeps referring to Sam as the “Great White Whale.” (He’s put on a little weight over the years). Mom thinks this is a funny thing to say to everyone she meets. She’d gotten into the white wine early on. Sam thinks it’s funny too, but not nearly so much as Mom.

The man in charge of the ceremony is a hoot. I’m certain I didn’t get his story straight, so I’m making a lot of this up (again, the margaritas). I’ll call him O’Hara. He’s a former priest turned lay councilor. He’s a friend of Brooke’s. He’s probably about sixty years old and sports a great tangled white beard. He’s wearing a Scottish ceremonial kilt. He mostly sits on the sofa with his girlfriend drinking straight vodka, cracking very off-color jokes. I think this explains a lot about why he is a former priest.

Interestingly, though no longer a man of the cloth, he still retains the authority to preside over civil weddings. I’m not really sure how this works. It must be something in the water.

Sam and Brooke have given up on the idea of holding the ceremony on the boat. It was a very romantic notion but not entirely practical. Sam is the only member of the wedding party who knows how to sail. You can’t have the groom running around tying down jibs or heaving ho or coming about right in the middle of the wedding.

Instead, they have picked a little park near their house. It has a gazebo that looks west out over Tampa Bay. They rented a stretch limo so everyone can ride over to the park together.

We all assemble in front of the car while the chauffeur takes a group picture or two. He is very gracious about this, especially since every member of the wedding party has handed him their personal camera to snap a picture. This takes some time. There must be thirty different cameras to master. Don’t ask me how fourteen people can show up at a wedding with thirty cameras. I still don’t get it but it’s true, I kid you not.

Everyone has a glass of champagne in hand, not that any of us need anything more to drink. It just seems like the right thing to be doing at the moment.

Then, we pile into the limousine.

I’ve never been in a limousine before. It is something to behold. The interior is decked out in chrome and leather and mirrors and tiny pin lights arranged in patterns of the constellations. It’s a cross between a French Quarter brothel and Wayne Newton’s Vegas stage set. It’s perfect.

As an aside, here is what I think the real idea of a limo is: It is actually a car designed to transport no more than two people. The two of you get in through the vehicle’s only passenger door at the very rear of the car. You lean back into the plush lounge seat, light up fat cigars, sip champagne and cruise around town in absolute luxury with no less than twenty-seven feet of empty car ahead of you. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

If instead you’ve engaged the limo to transport fourteen inebriated guests to a wedding, the idea suffers a bit. For one thing, you can’t stand up in a limo, so everyone has to crawl on their hands and knees from the back of the car to the front, no small trick if you’re wearing a formal gown. This small inconvenience also permits us to observe that O’Hara’s kilt get-up is absolutely authentic. In keeping with time-honored Scottish tradition, he’s wearing nothing underneath. Oh Jesus.

Holding a group conversation in a limo is also a challenge. It’s a little like chatting with someone across the Grand Canyon. You can tell they are talking to you but you have no idea what they are saying. You just nod and smile like you really know what’s going on. Someone does ask Brooke when she and Sam intend to start their family. This makes everyone laugh except Mom. She's thinking it was serious question.

It takes the chauffeur fifteen minutes to get out of the driveway - back up, crank the wheel left, pull forward, crank the wheel right and so on - and then only two minutes to get to the park.

We all crawl out of the limo. By now, everyone has the good sense not to pay too close attention to O’Hara. Brooke leads the group, marching to the gazebo like she’s charging up San Juan Hill. Mother, Brooke’s mother and I bring up the rear. We’re all a little slow.

Mom and Brooke’s mother are whining about every little nuance of the wedding arrangements. It is typical mother-in-law chatter. Mother is particularly annoyed that the wedding is starting late. It was supposed to start at 5:30. It’s now almost six. Mom likes things to run according to schedule. She doesn’t like things to go any way except exactly as planned.

“Yes,” Brooke’s mother chimes in. “That Brooke has never gotten anywhere in her life on time.”

They both softly chortle to one another in that way parents often do. Kids. What are you gonna do?

I think to say that it’s not like we have anything better to do. I mean it’s not like we have to get back home in time to watch Jeopardy. Instead, I keep my mouth shut.

Brooke is up on the gazebo, checking everything out. Even though it’s a long way from where I am standing. I can tell she’s dissatisfied with the accommodations. What appeared from the road to be a quaint Victorian gingerbread pavilion looked on closer inspection to actually be a cheap, Home Depot knock-off constructed of warping particleboard and crappy fiberglass molding. It simply would not do. Brooke storms off to another quarter of the park. We all follow along in tow. Mother is completely befuddled.

“I thought it was supposed to be in the gazebo?”

About thirty yards further into the park, Brooke settles on a really lovely setting. It’s in front of a small fountain and reflecting pool. It’s in the center of a clearing, surrounded by tall, thin pine trees. It is really beautiful. I look up. I notice the moon has just risen. It’s full.

Mother still doesn’t get it.

“Why aren’t we going to the gazebo?”

I play dumb.

Eventually the group assembles around the fountain. Brooke, Sam and O’Hara step forward. The ceremony begins.

Brooke’s choice of settings is perfect except for one thing. We are standing only half a block from the boulevard that separates the park from the bay. It’s a busy street. The cars flying by produce a droning clatter only slightly less grating than a U-2 concert. This, coupled with the white noise of the fountain, makes it difficult to hear anything. We all have to huddle very close together to catch even very small fragments of the service. As a consequence, you could fit the entire party of fourteen into the floor space of a telephone booth, which actually turns out to be a very sweet and cozy arrangement.

O’Hara’s remarks are perfectly “new agey,” full of swell sentiments about “giving people their space” and “wholeness” and “synergy” and “Mother Earth.” I can see all this is sliding right by Mom. I’m pretty sure she was expecting the “till death do us part” routine. I see her eyes glaze over and before long she’s not paying any attention whatsoever. She’s gazing off into the distance, probably identifying tree species or thinking about Father.

Everyone, except me and of course Sam, Brooke and O’Hara, is taking pictures with their digital cameras and camcorders. Sam had given me his old 35mm, seeing as I was the person in the party who could remember how to use it. It had gotten too dark for the camera so I put it down and simply watched the proceedings. Likely I was the only one who actually observed the wedding first hand in real time. Everyone else would see it later on the DVR.

Out on the boulevard, a Harley thunders by. O’Hara has to pause. Everyone laughs.

And then it’s over. Brooke is really lovely. Sam looks completely happy. They share a brief, gentle kiss and then a really long, embarrassingly explicit one. Even Mother blushes.

We all crawl back into the limo, drive back to the house and spend the remainder of the evening drinking and eating and laughing. Pretty cool wedding, eh?

Gotta go. Next time, I will tell you the story of getting Mother on the plane the next day. 

Oh Jesus. 

Till then, I’ve got work to do. As Mom always says, “No rest for the wicked.” How true.

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