Sunday, July 01, 2007

An American Wedding

I attended the wedding of a good friend's son last night. The boy is in his second year of law school, and the girl is applying to medical schools. They are an attractive, intelligent and succesful couple and I wish them the happiest of marriages.

I focused last night not so much on the specific's of the ceremony last night as I did the overall picture of an American Wedding. Weddings in America in the early 21st century come together at times like corporate mergers ,or a bill supported by a weak disparite coalition of politicians. I think that this has always been so to some extent, but has been exacerbated by a number of things, including, the high divorce rate, the dwindling of religion as the focal point of the ceremony and the extreme expense in entertaining a couple of hundred of your best friends. I have been told, as the father of a daughter, that I can reasonably be expected to spend between $25,000 and $50,000 on a wedding. I think the total cost of mine, which had well over a hundred guests, came to about $900. The 1990s seemed to have resurrected the wedding as a social event for the middle class to show off their wealth and taste.Cookies, punch and cake was out. The seated dinner, the open bar and CAKE were in.

None of this is surprising, the wedding has been an overblown affair at all times and in all cultures, with the father of the bride expected to foot a pretty hefty bill. The first miracle of Jesus allegedly got a father of the bride off the hook by the turning of water into wine and avoiding a last minute trip to see what reds were on sale down at Canan Liquors.Wedding have swung back and forth between small religious ceremonies and three day drunks for many centuries, depending on who has the upper hand in the society, the child or the adult. When I was a teenager, the child had the upper hand and often used it to humiliate the parents by not allowing a huge festive wedding. Today, the child again has the upper hand and has turned 180 degrees ,often opting for the largest and most vulgar, that is to say, gratitously expensive, wedding possible.

You could see the compromises at work last night. The first clue to the need for compromise was that the parents of both the bride and groom were divorced and had remarried, so instead of two families, four families had signifigant input. You need to recall that these were four families that had proven at least one thing in life, they did not get along with each other very well. I hesitate to also mention that none of them had been too conspicuously successful at marriage.The worst thing about all these moms and dads and stepmothers and stepfathers and displaced grandmothers, etc. was that they all required special escorts down the asile prior to the start of the ceremony. It was very much like watching a review of the troops returning from World War II marching down Fifth Avenue, and took almost as damn long. Each and everyone of these individuals had had input into what the ceremony and the following reception would be like. I know for a fact that my friends ex-wife is a devout Catholic, and I am sure that she had some things to say about the choice of venue for the wedding (hotel ballroom) and the number mentions of God in the ceremony (none, although a vauge higher power was mentioned by the Judge adminisitering the vows at some point).

I don't know if this was a Protestant/Catholic battle, or a kids as lapsed Christians issue ,or just a "we can great a great rate at the Hyatt" idea. Whichever it was, there was no messy mention of doctrine, or any of those closed communions during the ceremony, where the uninclined and the uninvited stare at their shoes and contemplate hell fire, moments. In deed, the cermony started with someone, not knowing that a mike was on, uttering a mild expletive, which was broadcast through the hall, to the amusement of most of us.This happened seconds before the bride, looking incredibly beautiful, with one of the most tasteful and yet luxuriant dresses I had ever seen, beagn leading her father on the awkard shuffle down the aisle. Of all wedding traditions, that one is the worst. The bride, always radiant, so overshadows the nervous and usually near bankrupt father, that he fades away into insignifigance before he even gives the girl away.A hollow, check writing spectere of his former self, forced to hand over his baby girl and sit down.

The Judge in this ceremony was an old associate of mine. He told me before the wedding that he did about one a year, always for a good friend. He was burdened in this one by the newly written vows of the bride and groom and he wandered through the wording in somewhat of a dissheveled fashion, on at least one occasion referring to the bride as the husband. There were a few other errors which would not have been noticed except for the fact that officiants don't usually blow lines at weddings. Usually the couple screws up somehow. My wife has never lived down struggling with me at the altar, trying to put my ring on my right hand instead of my left during the climax of our wedding.
This simultaneously made her look to be a bit of an idiot and me to appear to be trying to escape my fate.

Despite the best efforts of the Judge, the wedding ceremony was at least legally completed. What followed was an unusual touch. Following the families of the bride and groom, each row of guests filed out one at a time, one following after the other. This avoided the usual bottleneck of the escape route, but left me woefully behind in getting to the bar. I thought of bolting, but since I was sitting on an aisle seat, I had the responsibility of leading my row out. I imagine that that is how I would feel if my Southwest Airline plane ever went down and I was sitting on the security row, where you are supposed to open the door and wait until everyone else is out. It seems like a real risk, but that row provides you with a great deal of leg room.At any rate, we all filed out and stood around outside the banquet hall waiting for the bride and groom to have pictures made.Two bars opened up out there, a nice touch. It was theoretically possible to get drunk before you even entered the reception.

It is at the reception where these wedding bills typically get out of hand. Jesus could conjure up wine and feed thousands with just a couple of loaves and fishes, but you and I have to deal with a caterer. I won't say that no expense was spared for the party, but I will say that the quality and quantity of food was certainly on par with a nice Sunday brunch at this particular hotel. I had the indignity of being thrown out of a seat and told to check a list outside the hall for a seat assignment. It turned out that there were no seat assignments, but by the time I found this out,all tables had been taken, except for the table bordered by the band on one side, and the children's table on the other.This would have been O.K. except that in a cost cutting measure, the bars had been closed until after all the usual humdrum of the reception had taken place. Official dances, toasts and cake cutting. There was wine being poured, but we were so far from the serving area that it took a long time before it made its way to us. Once it did though, I stopped drinking before it stopped flowing, so no complaints about that.

The hotel staff which can handle a buffet on Mothers Day for 1,000 guests, was incapable of establishing any order in the food service. There were about five seperat serving areas for food, but for some reason everyone, except me assumed, that you were supposed to get in one long line and charge in and out anytime you saw a table with something you liked on it. I quickly realized that I could walk, unimpeded to the antepasta table,go back to my seat, eat my salads and then get up and go to the entrees without standing in line. This meant that I had to eat dinner by myself, but it seemed a small price to pay for not having to wait 20 minutes while talking to some cousin of anyone of the eight parental units who were running the show.

The band turned out to be good. I was told that a fight over whether to have a female singer had been brokered only that morning and apparenlty they had opted to spend the extra money. I was glad, her voice was wonderful. If you closed your eyes you thought that you were listening to a young Wayne Newton. To my shock, after the cake was cut, I was served two delicious pieces by a waiter and never had to stand in line. There was some discussion that perhaps the ornate ceremonial cake was a fake and that slices from sheet cakes had been prepared to be delivered to the tables. If this is so, I congratulate them on the idea. Nothing is worse than standing inline for a tiny piece of cake, behind some old lady who can't make up her mind if she wants some from the bride or groom cake, and then gets talked into both (every time).

All in all, I am happy to report that American Weddings appear to me to be in good shape. They may lack a little bit on the organizational side, and as I silently totaled up the costs of feeeding and watering 200 hungry people,I had to admit that they were not cheap, but they are still joyous occssions. As my friend, the father of four boys and no girls said to me. "It's a wonderful evening, I want you to eat up and drink all you want, I'm not paying for a thing !"

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