First and Best for the Rest

monumentphotoA quick note:  Today is my tenth wedding anniversary.  To honor it, I’m reposting what I wrote ten years ago on my old blog, Inane Crap.  Bits and pieces of this have been edited for spelling/grammar, but it is that post from November 2003.

To use a cliché, it was a blur. Most great days usually are. A beautiful, 12-hour blur that ended with our eating doughnuts in a suite at the St. Regis hotel at 1:30 in the morning, amazed that we had pulled it off. I thought we should have printed T-shirts or something. “I survived planning a wedding.” Hey, if they can print them up for a 3:30 ride on The Big Bad Wolf, we can print them up for the end of 18 months of wedding planning. And in the end, all of our anal-retentiveness, insistences, weeknight meetings, and stress paid off completely.

I didn’t know if it was going to go smoothly, to be honest. I mean, we’d done everything that we possibly could, but as I headed into Thursday night, when Tom and Denise–my best man and his wife, both of whom deserve mad props for helping me keep my shit together all weekend–showed up at my place, I kept hearing Princess Leia’s voice in my head:

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”

Yeah, I never understood why Carrie Fisher has a British accent in that scene, either. But she’s right–one of the best lessons I learned the weekend of my wedding was that you can only be so anal-retentive, and sometimes you just have to allow things to happen in order for them to go well. You know, along with the plethora (yes, a plethora) of other lessons that are valuable to any stress-crazed groom.

You will learn more about strange medical conditions and quick forms of death in the two weeks leading up to the wedding than you did in four years of college.

Not that I, having been a writing and political science major, would have learned anything about disease while in college outside of Wynnewood Towers dorm plague. Anyway, what happens the last week of your engagement is that not only does your celebration begin–your fiancée meeting your co-workers and finding out that some of them went to her high school is always fun–but your stress hits its zenith and begins to manifest in strange ways. I mean, yeah, there are the usual nightmares, pimples, and panic attacks that have you and your bride sitting awake at night wide-eyed and wondering if you are going to make it to Saturday, but there are also headaches that have you standing in the shower and wondering what an aneurysm feels like. You spend your days at work researching the symptoms of a stroke on Web MD, and actually make trips to the public library to see if there are any documented cases of spontaneous combustion.

I’m serious when I say that on the day before the wedding, I was wound so tightly that I could have put Cameron Frye to shame. In fact, I was so uptight that I missed most of the point of my groomsmen’s surprise–at lunch on Friday, three of the idiots I had asked to keep guard as I walked down the aisle showed up at lunch sporting some of the most ridiculous facial hair I had ever seen (although Drew’s mutton chops were quality). My response? A pretty hostile, “You’d better shave that shit.” I think it’s because when you start counting down hours, you start thinking from moment to moment. What is next? Did it go right? Good. Okay, what can go wrong next? How long before that happens? You start missing funny little things like that as a result. So, maybe my having a stroke in the middle of Fuddruckers wasn’t completely out of the question.

The worse the rehearsal goes, the better the ceremony will go.

So there I was, 10-15 minutes into the allotted rehearsal time, and missing members of my wedding party, who were stuck in the traffic nightmare that is Halloween in Georgetown. My parents were testing the church acoustics by bickering in a pew. I was running around, trying to reach people, trying to calm people down, relaying information to my wedding coordinator and to my mother and to anyone else I felt the need to relay information to.

What wound up happening was that things went smoothly, and between the end of the rehearsal and the beginning of the ceremony, I realized that my choice in groomsmen was on the money. If you are going to choose the right groomsmen, you want guys who are going to realize that right before your wedding, you will be nearly insane with stress–and will try to fuck with you anyway. Mine seemed to share the same brain when, a few minutes before the ceremony was set to start, Drew came into the office and said “T, Amanda’s already up there. What are you waiting for?” Russ tried the same thing a few moments later.

The night before your wedding, nothing beats watching a drunken spectacle unfold.

I obviously made it through the stress of the rehearsal to attend the dinner, where my groomsmen presented me with my very own red, Swingline stapler, and my sister presented us with our faces carved into pumpkins. A few beers and a full meal of risotto, beef, and cake later, I joined my extended family at the bar of the Hamilton Crowne Plaza, where we’d had all of the out-of-towners situated, for some drinks. It was one of those “Everyone can sit back and get to know one another before the big day” things where people came and went as they pleased. The guys and I learned that when my uncle says you’re going to do a shot, you are going to do a shot. That, and when you try to decline said shot and my aunt looks at you and says “You’re no nephew of mine,” you have no choice but to save face and down that tequila like a pro.

Now, I didn’t get drunk–I don’t think I’ve yet to recover from the waking nightmare that was the Saturday morning of my bachelor party. But I got to watch my cousin down way too many vodka tonics and talk with some of the best slurred speech ever. It was after-school special quality drunk, I tell you, and during that after-school moment, I was able to connect for a little while with someone I hadn’t really seen for a very long time. I come from a very loud, tight-knit family that can be overbearing at times, but the best part about that is that you can drown some of the more obnoxious qualities (and don’t look at me like that–everyone’s family is obnoxious) and have a good conversation. The last time I’d had such a quality conversation with him was last March, when I had seen him for the first time in nearly 10 years. What made it even better was being able to see him disintegrate before my eyes. And while I should cut him some slack because he recently ran a marathon and therefore had very low tolerance, seeing him hung over the next morning was awesome.

Your inability to sleep late will provide for some much-needed time alone.

Here’s what happened Friday morning at 7:30. I got a phone call. It was Russ, asking if I was “pumped.”

At 7:30. In the morning. On my day off. Where was I? In bed. I had been sleeping, but now, along with the three other people in my apartment, wanted my groomsman’s head brought to me on a platter.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. The light from the crack between the drapes in my hotel room was shining directly in my face and I was wide awake. The phone rang. It was my cousin Brian, whose tuxedo was sitting in my closet. I told him I’d run it downstairs, probably with a tone that said, “You’re actually going to make me get out of bed?” But I wasn’t as annoyed and didn’t spew as much animosity toward my cousin as I did my friend. Why? Well, he’s my cousin, and he could crush my head like a melon. Besides, it helped me get up and go for a much-needed walk.

I received a lot of advice that weekend, but I guess some of the best advice I pass on is that you should go for a walk. Of course, I had to find the one place in downtown Washington, D.C. that wasn’t populated by homeless people screaming incomprehensibly (but who can clearly and politely ask a person for the time of day). I was able to sit for a while in Lafayette Park, facing the White House, but even then, I was interrupted by a tour group.

Thank God, then, for Starbucks. Okay, let me rephrase that. Thank God for the four Starbucks within a three-block radius (with a fifth on the way). I went to Cosi and got a bagel with cream cheese and a grande whole milk mocha with whipped cream. Having been dieting for the better part of two years now, and having sworn off whole milk back in college, I felt that on my wedding day, I would indulge. Every groom should. Of course, some grooms take this to mean liquor and prostitutes; I go for the whole milk and complex carbohydrates.

Trashy television makes you feel better about yourself.

I watched two episodes of The Maury Povich Show the day before my wedding, and while the shows focusing on baby mama drama and infidelity were just ways for Tom, Denise, and I to pass the time, it was a great way to make me feel good. Why? Well, I’m normal. And being normal, well, it’s weird. After 18 months of watching bad TV specials and reading stories on the Internet, usually featuring chaotic weddings and relationships with so much drama that you’re amazed the people can actually function in society, you’re able to put things in perspective. You see, I’m just, well, I’m me, and I know it sounds really arrogant for me to say it, but at that moment, I felt pretty damn good about being me.

The whole “taking time out to think about it” sort of thing helped. It wasn’t one of those God-awful “What am I doing here and what have I gotten myself into?” sort of introspections; rather, it was a Colin Cowie-recommended “time out.”

The phrase that most suits groomsmen is “All dressed up with no place to go.”

Okay, so I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I made you get up early. I’m sorry that I made you be at the St. Regis at noon in your tuxedos, all for one picture that we took at 3:30. Yes, three-and-a-half solid hours of the five of you witting around in penguin costumes when you could have been out doing … well, anything else, really. But don’t blame me completely.

All right, my groomsmen can blame me, because I was one of the people who came up with the day’s schedule, and when it comes to something like that going right, I am one of the most anal-retentive people ever. So yeah, the “you’re so anal” insult of freshman year applies in this case because I wanted to have all my troops in place before going in, even if I was the only one needed that early on. When you plan a wedding, sometimes you play the “What’s the worst that could happen?” game and concentrate on avoiding all of the things that could possibly go wrong. Being the attendant to overly neurotic schmucks like myself requires a sense of humor and a lot of patience.

You already know that my groomsmen had a sense of humor. They also had the necessary patience to tolerate my not being able to sit down and being fidgety and snippy and an all-around nervous wreck.

I know I have used the wingman metaphor before, but it never gets old. Okay, it does get old, but it’s very appropriate to describe the five guys standing beside me. They took one for the team so their buddy could live the dream by hanging out in that lobby. They knew when to step in and curb my anal ways–when I realized that we’d been lining up slightly wrong and tried to institute a change at the last moment, Russ wisely advised me against “calling an audible.” It really was like Top Gun, but without the subtle homoerotic undertones (because when you’re dealing with my friends, it’s more like homoerotic overtones). At any rate, those cigars they smoked at the end of the night were well-deserved.

Ignore superstition.

Amanda and I broke the cardinal rule. We saw one another before the ceremony. Keep in mind, we had to. You’re talking about a late-afternoon wedding in November when the sun sets at 5:00 p.m. To get all of the pictures that we wanted, we had to take them in the early afternoon and then head to the ceremony. Now, I will tell you that we were only together for a couple of hours and we arrived at the church under separate cover, upon which we took a few more pictures and then were sequestered until Amanda walked down the aisle. But some would have already considered the damage done and the bad luck already incurred, and it would have taken away from that “wow” moment that all grooms have when they first see their brides.

I’ll admit that the moment I first saw Amanda was staged and the two of us were paying more attention to the directions we were being given by the photographer than to one another, but anyone who tells you that seeing your bride in her dress before the ceremony takes away from the “wow” of the ceremony has no idea what he’s talking about. When I stood at the altar and the music began, the doors opened, and I saw Amanda and her father turn the corner and make their way from the back of the church down the aisle, I had two thoughts. First: “Wow.” Just “wow.” Second: “Don’t cry. If you start crying, she’s going to start crying and then you both won’t be able to get through the ceremony and we really don’t want to be here all night, do we?” I mean, that is the best way to describe a moment that is so utterly perfect, that you feel like the only person on earth, and you certainly don’t notice the 100 people looking right at you.

100 of your closest family and friends is actually an “intimate” wedding.

So, yes, Amanda and I stood in front of a little over 100 people on a beautiful 70-degree Georgetown Saturday afternoon in November and declared that not only did we love one another, but we were ready to love, honor, and cherish for the rest of our lives. The last time I felt this on the spot in front of that many people, I was playing Scrooge in the Lincoln Avenue Elementary production of A Christmas Carol. When we were up at the altar and I caught a glimpse of the audience, the number of people seemed pretty huge. However, after the ceremony, the receiving line went very quickly and when we gathered in the St. Regis lobby prior to cocktail hour, it didn’t seem like it was that many people. In fact, Amanda and I were able to go around from table to table and say hi to everyone during the reception in record time. I think that we hadn’t even cut the cakes when we completed all of our schmoozing.

Not that I think either of us minded it, although Denise’s words of advice proved true: if you put your drink down anywhere at any time, you won’t see it again. Part of that is due to the attentive wait staff; part of it is due to your being so otherwise occupied that you aren’t able to drink yourself into a stupor. Trust me, I could have. There were two regular bars in use during the entire night–one on the terrace and one in the state room–and there was a martini bar, complete with ice sculpture (although in defense of the St. Regis, the ice sculpture was the martini bar, so there were no swans, bears, or phallic representations). The lines for all the bars were very long, which goes to show that people will drink anything if it’s free, and which makes me wonder why we just didn’t serve paint thinner and Scope and call it an “iceberg martini.” Would have been cheaper.

No matter how stupid they’ll end up looking, people will dance.

There was a lot of dancing at our reception. In fact, there was so much dancing that the party actually kind of died around 10:00 or so, not because the music sucked, but because everyone was exhausted and second winds had not been achieved.

That being said, did anyone dance gracefully?

Did I?

This, if you don’t know, is asking a lot. I am, without exception, the world’s worst dancer. So, a few months ago, Amanda and I hauled ourselves to the Arthur Murray dance studios in Alexandria to learn how to rumba to our first dance song, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. I’d been taking most of the day from moment to moment and as soon as all the required family photos were done, I was talking to people with “slow, quick-quick, slow” running through my head.

Not that I want to get all “reflective voice-over from a suburban drama” on you, but there are times, in a man’s life, when he realizes that he is in what is known as a “moment to remember.” You know, hitting a home run in Little League, his first kiss, his senior prom, graduating high school, throwing the first bag of trash from his dorm room window. As “One More Time” mixed into Barry White and we were introduced, I knew that was one of those moments, and maybe it was the adrenaline, the beer, or the self-delusion, but I wasn’t nervous at all. In fact, I was able to call on all of the times I’d spent my lunch hour doing box steps in my office, and all of the “let’s clear out the furniture and practice dancing” sessions that Amanda and I had in our apartment to pull off a sweet first dance. In fact, when I threw in an extra twirl at the end, she wasn’t thrown off too much and we executed the dip perfectly.

That being said, the great dances of the night did not end there. In an effort to bring some class to the St. Regis, there was a rousing rendition of Bon Jovi’s 1986 classic, “Livin’ on a Prayer.” It was loud, it was out of tune, it had air guitar. It rocked. Seeing that everyone was on the floor, the deejay decided that it was now or never, fired up Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and got the Soul Train line going. Yes, a Soooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul Train line. At my wedding. After it was over, our deejay told Amanda that he couldn’t believe we pulled that off. But hey, when the pastor is dancing around maniacally, you know you’re at a good party.

Let them eat cake.

Seating charts can be as hard to plan as the Normandy invasion; or, if you’re going for a less-obvious example, you can always go back to the trusty sports metaphor. After all, by this point, Amanda and I were seasoned wedding guests, and in planning the wedding, we had been watching a lot of mental game tape. Who would want to sit with whom? Who can’t sit near one another? What do people like to eat? How long do we want people to eat? how early do we cut the cakes? Will they eat the appetizer? Will they eat beef? Should they eat the cakes? Since we’re also serving a dessert, will they eat the cakes?

We wanted everyone to have a good time, but most of all, we wanted to make sure everyone enjoyed the food. My sister was pretty impressed that the appetizer delivered what it had promised–prawns that were literally speared with rosemary. I mean, I guess it is kind of funny when you think about it, because who looks at a piece of shrimp and thinks, “Gee, this looks like it needs sprucing up. I know, I’ll stab it with some rosemary!”

The beef wasn’t stabbed with anything; it was crusted and cooked perfectly. When I say perfectly, I meant that you could cut it with a fork (as some of our guests did). So good that I wolfed it down while committing a huge faux pas. I had white wine with beef. I would have normally had red–I love red wine–but let’s be honest here. I’m usually the first person to spill something at an event, and I was sitting next to a woman in a white dress.

The two cakes were the white wedding cake (yellow sponge cake with Bavarian crème filling) and the chocolate-on-chocolate groom’s cake. And they ate cake. Cake, and the champagne-poached pear served in puff pastry for dessert. I think the only person who didn’t get cake was me, bringing the total number of weddings where I didn’t eat an entire piece of cake to three. I did taste it, at the moment where Amanda and I were one of the first couples in history to not only not shove cake into one another’s faces, but to politely feed said cake using forks. By the way, cake and champagne is a great combination. From now on, that is all I want when I eat cake. Champagne.

There is always a great battle going on during receptions.

Like any good event, a wedding has its associated stories. Sometimes, they are Povich-worthy tales of psychotic ex-girlfriends or relatives who could benefit from a Valium prescription, morphine drip, or 30.06 to the back of the skull. Most of the time, the stories are subplots, usually involving bridesmaids, groomsmen, too many beers, and a men’s room counter. While there were quite a few drinks, there was no hooking up (although one of my friends gets the “Mac Daddy” award for having the most girls flirt with him all evening).

The key subplot of the evening was tame by drunken-asshole-debauchery standards. By idiocy standards, it was one of the greatest battles ever waged. You see, my friends, as I have mentioned many, many, many times, are idiots. And I mean that in the nicest way, because they raised stupidity to an art form with the beard project, and as I was recently informed, considered fashioning a Johnny Jump-Up with Russ’s suspenders so he wouldn’t have to stand during the entire ceremony. That being said, in all the years of witnessing their stupidity, they had yet to encounter my family, who has turned some of the dumbest things into hallowed traditions.

It was a battle for dance floor supremacy that outdid all of the great ones–Britney vs. Justin; the dance contest in Grease; Saturday Night Fever; the audition in Flashdance; the video for Run-DMC vs. Jason Nevins’ “It’s Like That;” “Top That” in Teen Witch. Napkins on their heads, arms flailing, legs kicking, hands jiving, men running, potatoes mashing, rabbits rogering, my cousins Josh, Mark, Brad, and Jason wend head-to-head with the members of the famous forum and their kind, with Drew leading the pack. In the end, after all that boy-on-boy, cousin-on-cousin, girl-on-girl, and girl-on-guy action, my friends edged out my family. Sorry, I know blood is thicker than water, but I had to give it to my friends when I saw my friend Mike, on his hands and knees, and barking like a dog during “Hungry Like The Wolf.”

Class all the way.

In the end, you’ll savor the leftovers.

At the end of the night, Amanda and I capped things off by taking left-over favors up to our room. What were they? CDs and doughnuts. The CDs, we thought, would make the perfect gift. The doughnuts? Well, what tastes better after a wedding than two Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts? Nothing, I tell you, because by that point, both Amanda and I had let our collective second wind die and were waiting for the third. I’d been drinking water since the cake cutting because I was so amped up that beer wasn’t going to sit well. I even turned down a cigar–not because I didn’t want to, but because I was afraid it would make me sick.

You see, there is a point in the night where your nerves will stop going crazy but you’ll still be running on the adrenaline that comes from having a good time. As a result, ingesting anything except water will probably not go well. That’s why you wind up starving at the end of the night, and we figured … “Hey! Doughnuts!” Very key.

There is one moment you will probably remember above all the others, and it will be the most random one of all.

So there I was, dancing among the idiots, when I noticed Amanda sandwiched between Josh and Brad. It was then I realized that everything–every last thing–was perfect. And not to be cheesy, so was she.

I know this shouldn’t be the shining example of “Oh, this is how much my wife loves me,” or anything, but the groom’s cake (a southern tradition, by the way) was a complete surprise. Well, I knew we were having a groom’s cake, but not what it was going to look like. Amanda had it made to look like a stack of books. On the bottom was Sayville, in the middle was College Ruled, and on top, appropriately enough, was For the Rest of Your Life

I was touched, and at that moment, looking over and seeing how perfect she looked and thinking about how perfect everything had gone, I watched her dance with Josh and Brad and turned to Dennis.

“See that?” I said, “That’s 100% Panarese.”

“Yes it is,” he replied.

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One comment

  1. hey Tom! thanks for posting this again! i finally read tha whole thing and it makes me feel normal knowing that i wasnt the only one that went through this! 🙂

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