‘Til Death Part II

Author’s note: This is Part II of a three-part essay. For context, it’s best to read Part I first. Unless you’re into that whole medias res thing; in which case, knock yourself out.

THE RECOVERY DAY – Friday, 8 a.m.

One of the smartest things Jen did when creating the wedding’s itinerary was to insert a recovery day between the rehearsal and the main event. There’s nothing worse than having to pull on uncomfortable dress clothes and drag yourself to a wedding after spending all morning chugging Gatorade and cursing the tiny amount of sunlight peeking through your blinds.

Jen and Kevin made the right call by planning absolutely nothing on Friday and allowing everyone who got punched in the throat by Thursday night’s heavy-handed bartender to lounge the whole day in sweatpants.

Everyone except me, of course, who spends Friday at work staggering through the hallways like a fucking White Walker.

As far as I know, I survive, in that time passes and I eventually find myself driving home. I don my sweatpants and drift into a blissful slumber.

THE PREPARATION – Saturday, 2 p.m.

The wedding is in National Harbor, a 2-square mile plot of Maryland that is like Britney Spears: not a town, not yet a city, but what the government calls a “census designated place.” National Harbor sits across the river from Alexandria and has caused its fair share of trouble the last few years, including, according to The Washington Post, being linked to “hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated sewage being discharged into the Potomac.”

The downtown area is anchored by a casino, an outlet mall, and a $4-billion-with-a-b Gaylord convention center. It’s walkable and full of restaurants, but feels soulless and contrived, like taking a tour of the world at Epcot.

Coupled with the $25 per day parking garage, I think it makes for a fine wedding locale.

Our first task of the day is delivering the bouquets and boutonnieres to the wedding party at the Gaylord. Jen and Kevin booked suites there to get ready, but only for the day, since the price of a night at the Gaylord is approximately the same as a Kia Sorento.

Already I’m sweaty and surly from carrying the flowers five blocks in my suit and dress shoes. I’m used to being Melinda’s lackey after years of her being in charge of stuff, but the gopher role never seems to get more rewarding.

We enter the bridal suite and Melinda disappears immediately, leaving me with an armful of flowers and my own awkward devices. The room is large and elegantly furnished but dank with the press of so many bodies. It smells like dry cleaning and hair irons and onions, the latter of which emanates from a decimated lunch spread not even worth scavenging.

While the lunch meat is long gone, I manage to find the dregs of a mimosa pitcher, which I surreptitiously pour into a cup when I think no one’s looking.

I am acutely aware of the fact this suite is the wedding equivalent of the girls’ locker room, and at any moment a female could potentially burst into the living room sporting various levels of undress. 

In the bridal suite, the bride prepares for the big day, while I stand awkwardly in the corner with a box of flowers.

 I’m comforted, however, by the sight of Jen’s brothers and father, whom are sitting on the couch watching the Sixers play the Nets in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs. I take a step toward the couch to say hi and attempt to bond over sportsball, but am deterred when both Jen’s brother and his female companion turn toward me and emit twin clouds of smoke in my direction. At first I think maybe Jen has laced the mimosas with mescaline and her family are melting into dragons, but I then realize they’re both holding brick-sized vaporizers and are just having a smoke in the living room of this very expensive hotel suite.

THE PHOTOS – Saturday, 3 p.m.

Having covered all private areas with an appropriate amount of fabric, Melinda and the bridesmaids emerge from the bedrooms. For about 10 minutes, we make a clear plan that includes a private “first look” between Jen and Kevin and a rendezvous point in the atrium below for photos. Then we head downstairs in the elevators.

By the time we reach the ground floor, the plan has gone completely to shit. Pockets of bridesmaids and groomsmen dot the vast atrium, having no idea where to go, despite clear instructions five minutes prior. I trail Melinda as she attempts to corral the party members, but as soon as she leaves one group to find another, the first group disappears.

Not surprisingly, the groomsmen are particularly squirrelly. I spot three of them making a beeline for the hotel bar after receiving instructions to stay put. I snitch on them, pointing them out to Melinda.

“You guys,” I just told you to meet out front for pictures,” she says in her teacher voice.

“We’ll just be here in the bar,” one replies.

“What part of ‘it’s time for photos’ do you not understand?”

The party is finally reunited and photos are taken. Jen and Kevin look fantastic and I already feel a lump forming in the back of my throat. If I start crying, I intend to blame it on the mescaline mimosas.

For those who have never had the pleasure of posing for six million wedding photos, it can be a laborious process; lots of standing around and waiting for your turn. Fortunately, the groomsmen know how to ease the pain.

As Jen prepares for photo number 4,637, a groomsman turns and yells to the others.

“Carrie! Carrie! Get over here! The bride needs to hydrate!”

Carrie teeters over to Jen and Kevin, carrying a lumpy plastic 7-Eleven bag. She pulls a loose Miller Lite from its depths and hands it to Jen, who cracks the tab and takes a long drink.

“Carrie, get over here! The bride needs to hydrate!”
 THE SET UP – Saturday, 4 p.m.

Melinda and I slip out during photos to continue our setup of the wedding venue. Venue staff works double time to get things squared away, but we’re responsible for the finishing touches.

The wedding is beach-themed, and in Jen’s classic manner, this means the decorations include everything but the goddamn Pacific ocean. The guest book is a surf board, and each table has a Ziploc bag full of shells and other beach trash. 

“I’m disappointed there’s no sand,” I say to Melinda as I sort through a bin full of anchors and rope. “I thought better of Jen. A beach wedding with no sand?”

“Oh, they talked about it, but it ended up being too expensive,” she says.

The most ridiculous job I’m tasked with is building a “castle” out of three dozen hermit crab homes. They’re those plastic terrariums you get on the boardwalk that come with a free crab who’s guaranteed to die within 24 hours.

The reason I’m building a chateau of crab condos is because within each table’s centerpiece is, you guessed it, a live hermit crab, which will double as party favors for departing guests. Melinda tells me this decision is the brainchild of Jen’s dad, which helps me to understand a little more about her genetic lineage.

Now, this strikes me as an aggressive move, like getting a puppy for the office’s Secret Santa exchange. Offering live beings as gifts presents not only a burden of responsibility, but an ethical dilemma. Though I am certainly not one to beat the PETA drum, I’m concerned about the onus these party favors place on the wedding’s guests. I mean, what happens to the ones that are left over? Do they get flushed? Set free in the sewage-strewn Potomac? Donated to the wedding venue for seafood bisque?

The venue manager must sense my anguish, because she pilfers an IPA from the bar and hands it to me.

For two hours, I am Melinda’s bitch, sweating through my suit and cramming all the unused decorations into a small broom closet Guests have begun to arrive, and they wander around the half-decorated rooms like they just got pushed out of a van in the middle of Nebraska. They have a right to be confused, because the ceremony doesn’t start for another hour and there’s nowhere for them to go. 

“Excuse me,” says a plump woman dressed like she’s dining with the captain on Don’s Discount Cruise Line. “How do we get to the ballroom?”

“Through those doors.” I point with a plastic beach shovel.

She frowns. “We already tried those. They’re locked.”

“I guess they’re not done setting up. Sorry.”

She looks at her watch and huffs.

I’m all for punctuality — to be early is to be on time and all that — but showing up more than half-an-hour before a wedding is like plopping yourself in Times Square on December 29 and asking when the Jonas Brothers go on.

Apparently the venue manager’s go-to solution is alcohol, because she calls an audible and sends a squad of waiters around with trays full of drinks to the restless hordes. 

It’s a good call, but once you let the booze genie out of his bottle, there’s no turning back. As the ballroom doors open, I observe more than a few guests finding their seats with a drink in each hand. 

THE CEREMONY – Saturday, 5 p.m.

The guests are in place and buzzing with excitement. Even the groomsmen and the flower girl make it to the front incident-free, probably thanks to all that walking practice they did Thursday night. Melinda has a clipboard in her hand, which means shit is about to get real.

It’s time. Melinda sends me to get Jen for her entrance.

Only Jen’s not ready. She’s deep in conversation with a dude from the wedding band.

“Uh, Jen?” I say. “It’s —” I’m about to say It’s time for you to get married, because that’s the sort of thing I think a sensitive and caring friend would say in this scene of a romantic comedy. But Jen puts a finger in my face. “Hold on, let me finish this story.”

I back off because hey, it’s her wedding, but I can see Melinda poking her head through the door to see where the hell the bride is, and now I’m torn between interrupting the bride on her wedding day and getting a clipboard to the back of the head for putting things behind schedule.

I hyperventilate while Jen finishes a story the length of Infinite Jest, and finally she steps to the door.

“Alrighty,” she says, “let’s go.”

I hold my hand out and she considers it for a second and then starts to hand me her bouquet.

“The beer,” I say. “Give me the beer.”

She hands me the Miller Lite bottle in her other hand and steps into the room.

The bride and groom taking their first walk as a married couple, and me, holding the bride’s beer.

The ceremony is…it’s fine. The officiant is a friend of Jen and Kevin, and he’s mildly entertaining.

There’s the normal blah blah blah about promising all of their tomorrows and other phrases that sound like they’re cribbed from an Air Supply song.

And then officiant dude launches into his homily, which begins, I shit you not, with this sentence:

“When I think of love, I think of CrossFit.”

The metaphor is not necessarily out of left field. Jen joined the cult of CrossFit a few years back, and that’s where she met Kevin. But when I think of love, I certainly do NOT think of CrossFit. I’ve gotten good mileage out of snatch jokes over the years, but to me, unironically comparing CrossFit to love and marriage is a bridge too far. I swallow a sip of Jen’s beer when the officiant says “Just like a WOD, life can present some challenges.”

My cynicism doesn’t stop me, of course, from crying fat ugly tears through the whole ceremony. I’m just trying to cover it up now so I don’t seem lame. When Jen looks up at Kevin and says “I treat people better because of you,” I lose my shit and have to step out.

But I’m kind of glad I do, because it allows me to catch a dude who actually gets out of his seat in the middle of the ceremony to get another drink from the bar. When he discovers the bar is closed, he returns to the ballroom and hands an empty glass back to his female companion and sadly shakes his head.

The frowning man does this right as the officiant says “you may now kiss the bride.” 

COCKTAIL HOUR – Saturday, 6 p.m.

Based on the itinerary attached to Melinda’s clipboard/weapon, this is the cocktail hour, where guests are to mingle and enjoy the four open bars.

For me, it’s a mad dash to flip the ballroom from a ceremony hall into a dining room.

I am unaware of when exactly I began employment at the wedding venue, but I’m suddenly among the throng of tuxedoed waiters carrying chairs and table decorations. All of the shit I crammed into the closet now comes out. There are 29 tables, and, thanks to Jen’s OCD, each has individually-numbered accouterments. So I spend a good deal of time with identical Ziploc bags full of sea shells going “this bag is for table 12 and this bag is for table 19. Where the fuck is table 19?”

Adding to the stress is Jen’s dad, who is in charge of deploying the hermit crabs. He moves with a nervous energy, putting them in the centerpieces of the table.

“I see Jen put you in charge of the most important decoration,” I say with a hint of sarcasm.

Jen’s dad laughs. “You don’t know the half of it. I brought all of these crabs from home, but when I opened the box last night, they were all dead.”

I look into the box of crawling, ugly crustaceans. “They seem okay to me.”

“That’s because I spent the whole morning driving all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland getting new ones. I went to every pet store within 60 miles to get enough for the tables.”

When he tells me this, I am horrified. What rational human being drives around for six hours to collect fucking hermit crabs? I’m also disappointed Jen didn’t think of playing up this absurd party favor in a bigger way; maybe a souvenir T-shirt reading I got crabs at Jen and Kevin’s wedding.

I’m just about to lob this T-shirt joke at Jen’s dad when he squares with me and says: “Jen told you why we’re doing this, right?”

Because she’s crazy and you’re feeding it? Because it’s not a true Jen event without a 3-ring circus as a centerpiece?

“No,” I say, trying to be as even-keeled as possible.

“Jen’s brother passed away, you know.”

“Sure, I know that.”

“When they were all kids and we’d go to the beach, we’d always get hermit crabs on the boardwalk, and Jen’s brother would always claim the biggest one. It was part of our family tradition, and this is the way that he can be a part of Jen’s wedding. I think he would really like it.”

And now, I am the biggest piece of shit on the planet. I swallow the gigantic lump I have in my throat and tell Jen’s dad how great I think the gesture is, I help him put the goddamn hermit crabs on the tables.

The hermit crab: Today’s centerpiece, tomorrow’s seafood gumbo.

While I’m in the ballroom ensuring these bottom feeders will stay at least six inches away from the dinner plates, everyone else is out in the lobby enjoying cocktail hour with the special guests, who are a pair of midgets.

That’s right. Midgets. Peter Dinklage, Willow-ass motherfucking midgets.

Before we get into the WTF about these half-pint VIPs, I want to make a disclaimer about nomenclature here. I am aware the term “midget” is considered pejorative and the proper term for those who are vertically challenged due to genetics is “little person.” In this case, I am not calling these guests “midgets” out of insensitivity or a desire to belittle (no pun intended). I am using that label because it’s how these two gentlemen were identified all night; not just by Jen and Kevin, but on the bill sent from the entertainment company through which they were hired. Seriously, I saw the invoice. It read: 2 midgets, 5 hour appearance.

I know you’re asking — because I certainly did — why in God’s name did Jen and Kevin hire two midgets to attend their wedding? The answer is simple: Jen and Kevin like midgets. They think they’re cute and interesting and entertaining. Midgets are a shared interest Jen and Kevin have cultivated over the course of their relationship. They’ve invited Melinda and me to attend midget wrestling matches before — which I guess is a real thing — but gosh darn it, don’t you know we were always busy those nights.

If you think about it, why not hire midgets for a wedding? Isn’t the whole idea for you to throw yourself a party full of stuff you like? Is it any different than me making sure my wedding had Yuengling at the bar and that the DJ played at least one Aquabats song?

Sadly, I am not able to gauge the crowd’s initial reaction when the midgets enter cocktail hour because I am busy ducking my wife’s clipboard. But when my indentured servitude ends and I am able to order a double Maker’s Mark and enjoy the last seven minutes of cocktail hour, I spot them for the first time.

They’re standing there on the patio, both wearing little tuxedos and Sinatra-style fedoras, not talking to anyone. People walk past and give them a wide berth, and so do I, because what else am I supposed to do? I have a hard enough time starting conversation with regular strangers. How would I even begin to engage a pair hired midgets without sounding like a complete ass? So, is this a full-time gig for you guys, or just a side hustle? What’s the midget rental scene like? Is it competitive? Do you have an agent? Is he full-sized?

I realize as I’m having this conversation inside my head, I’m actively staring at them, and we make eye contact. One of them waves, which is weird because we’re standing like eight feet from each other.

I don’t know what else to do, so I just wave back.

-to be concluded-

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