How to Plan a Wedding, Part 1

The air was damp.  My rain jacket fluttered against the ocean breeze as I boarded the M.V. Coho at the tip of Washington State.  My mission was clear—perform reconnaissance for potential wedding venues, but time was limited, and stress was mounting.  Nothing I haven’t been used to lately.

To be honest, life’s been a little hectic these last few months.  When I popped the question, I thought it was gonna be all gum drops and lollipops.  I was on top of the world!  Nobody told me planning a wedding was going to be hard work.  At least I found this guy for some advice.  Go Cougs!

Heck, if it were up to me, I’d go see Elvis at the ol’ chapel in Vegas, but since she’s looking for something a little more proper, and I love her and all, I decided to accept.  And luckily, I had my good buddy Mike Masters tag along, and let me tell ya, he could barely contain his excitement!

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The departure was smooth, with only a mild wind brushing against the water; nothing worrisome to the crew tending the Coho.  There had been rougher sailings on the “Black Ball Line,” I’m sure of it.

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And here we are 15 minutes later.  The sights were just as wonderful, but don’t just take my word for it.  You be the judge.

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Boy, the ocean doesn’t change much minute by minute.  At least it’s getting a little warmer outside.  Who would’ve guessed.  At least I feel good about water now.

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Hair of the dog, here’s another 15 minutes.

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Nothing much had changes in 5 minutes.  I thought the ocean would be a little more exciting than this.

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We were getting close!  Can’t you tell?

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And here we were, pulling into what they call the Inner Harbor of Victoria.  A quaint little place by the looks of it, though it was hard to get pictures with everybody in the way.

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I managed to scrounge together a few good ones before undocking.

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Our first stop, was this castle, Craigdarrach I think they called it, or Craig’s Crotch, or something—the Canadians were always a little goofy with their names.

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Not exactly my idea of a good time, but Mike Masters was pretty insistent.  I think he was trying to impress his babe by acting noble and taking her to an establishment of such extravegance, but I knew better.

Luckily, we didn’t go to every place he wanted to go.

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I’m not gonna lie, the place was pretty fancy!  But man, were they sticklers or what!?  “Don’t go in this room!  Don’t touch that!  You’re not allowed to drink water!”  Give me a break why don’t ya.

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Not sure about the wedding dress…

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Or these crappers.

Sure, they had a room or two to get hitched, but the no red wine policy was a no-go—not with my mom, anyway.  They didn’t like you dancing either.  And check out the flower girl and ring bearer outfits.

If I knew any better, I’d say there were a few ghosts hanging around Craig’s Crotch.  No thanks.

Sorry Mike Masters.  This place gives me the creeps!

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The Fairmont Empress was next, and boy, was it classy, like a real life Wes Anderson film.

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With such posh interior, fire places, wood stained upholstery, marble and a giant tea room overlooking the bay, I knew right then and there the babe was going to love it.

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IMG_3511IMG_3519IMG_3537IMG_3574IMG_3585Immediately, I set up an appointment for formal consultation.

“I’m very impressed with the amenities you’ve presented,” I told the gentlemen running the joint.  No way I was gonna screw this one up.  “So, how much does a wedding run at a fine establishment such as this?”

“Typically, our wedding runs around $225 per person, with a $15,000 minimum,” he said.

“…Seems reasonable,” I replied with a steady nod.  “Let me see here, 225 dollars a person… that’s almost 500 dollars a couple–wait… what the–500 dollars?!”

I stared into space and contemplated.  I made it this far, I wasn’t going to blow my cover now.  “Multiply that by 50 couples, that’s like… $25,000 dollars!  Screw that!”

“Sir… Sir?”  My body gave a little jolt back into reality as my mind raced for a quick answer.  Great.  How am I going to get out of this one?

“Now, if it were up to me, I’d say yes right away,” I said, my mouth moving faster than my mind could keep up.  “But I must consult with my fiancé.  She’ll has to make the final decision.  You know how it goes…  But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll say yes.  Be on the lookout for her email.”  He understood completely.

“We’ll be in touch then.”  We agreed with a handshake, and went on my merry way.  Phew… close call.

The search continued.  Venue after venue we passed, from the parliament, past a few churches, to several other hotels.

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Too bland

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Too old fashioned

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Too Miami Vice

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Heheh.  Erected…

Something seemed off about each one though.  Well, to me, these looked really nice and beyond adequate, but I had a feeling she wouldn’t go for it.

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How could I look my babe in the eye with sincerity and say, “Mission Accomplished?”  Time was running out, my chance of success was looking bleak, and worse of all, Mike Masters had to call it quits.

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So there I was, stuck in this foreign corner of the world, alone without the slightest idea of where I hold my wedding.  Along the waterfront I stood, contemplating my mission and the purpose of life among other mysteries.  How can I possibly go back now?  Across the water stood one last hotel.  The Delta they called it, glowing like the centerpiece of a Liberace Candelabra, shining with full clarity now with Mike Master’s head out of the way.  It looked promising.  It had to be.  It was my last hope.

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I crossed a pedestrian bridge and descended upon the hotel.  It’s exterior lay home to a tributary of paths to a much calmer, greener part of town.  The inside was sleek and modern.  Grandiloquent, but not over the top.  No need to show off.  That’s my motto.

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The staff was courteous while I toured the joint, showing me plenty of spaces for dinner, receptions, ceremonies, the whole 9 yards.  I could see it all unfolding, my family conversing with her family, the bridesmaids and groomsmen partying it up, Gibson yelling at people about football, Ulrich bragging about his pecks—it was all going to work itself out… for the right price of course.

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“Hmm… I really like what you’ve done with the place, but finances are of concern,” I told the wedding coordinator.  That was correct, to a certain extent—maybe a little exaggerated.  But being the frugal person I am, I had to negotiate.

“Oh, well we offer a half-price discount on all our reception halls if you get married on a Sunday.”  …So far so good.

“Sure, but what about the rehearsal dinner?”

“We can set you up at the hotel restaurant.  And if you want a private room, we can probably wave that fee as well.”

…Hmm.  She’s good.  But I’m better.  “Alright, I’m sure the dinner is superb.  But we’re also looking at a few other places around Victoria, like the Empress. Pretty classy place if you ask me… Gosh.  I just don’t know if we can fully commit…

“We also offer a free breakfast the morning after your wedding.”  …What? Free breakfast?

“Free break—well why didn’t you say so!?  I think we have ourselves a deal!”  A cautious smile slipped from her face as I vigorously shook her hand.  “My people will be in touch.  Let’s talk soon!”

The Delta it is!  The best part was, I didn’t even have to consult with the babe!  Boy, is she going to be glad she doesn’t have deal with choosing the wedding venue. Decorations? Leave that to me!  I have that all under control.  Oh, and I got the perfect idea for a cake as well!

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#drakecake

As I left Victoria that day, a sense of pride swelling within me, one phrase ran through my head…  “Mission complete.”

Wedding planning isn’t so bad after all.  Neither is the ride home on the black ball line.  Just as pretty as the ride over.

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Chapter 17: I’m Never Dancing… Ever, Again… A Wisco Wedding Part 4

I had no idea who this Dave guy was or why he was catering the wedding, but everybody seemed to speak highly of him. And supposedly he was famous too, as they made it their business to remind me of the fact whenever they said his name. Famous our not though, I gotta admit, the guy makes a pretty mean pulled pork sandwich, an excellent choice for the reception dinner; so good, that I eventually found myself also referring to the man as “Famous Dave” whenever the subject of his food was brought up.

Naturally, we found ourselves seated at the table with the largest aggregate of liquor stashed in the middle. While Sean and Wes were main proprietors, our contribution was fair and modest, making sure there was more than a sufficient amount of ingredients to make a night’s supply of Old Fashioneds. Much was needed as well, for a round of toasts were about to commence.

The crowd quieted in tandem with the fading of background music as Maggie stood at the helm of the wedding party’s table, microphone in hand to deliver the first of a long string of toasts. Hers was sweet and sentimental, no need for a funny anecdote or long story to describe the friendship between her and Beth or the special bond shared between Beth and Blake that had strengthened their own bond of friendship. It matched her style quite well.

Billy was up next and followed Maggie’s lead with a sentimental toast of his own. His words about Blake and their friendship were touching and from the heart, and he couldn’t have been happier that Blake had found a girl like Beth to spend the rest of his life with. We responded to the uplifting and impressive toast by lifting our glasses and joining him in a well-deserved “cheers.”

“Well, I’m the father of the bride,” started Beth’s father with the full expectation that words of wisdom would follow. “I… I produced her…”

“Cheers,” all of us replied with spurts of laughter, followed by a good sip of liquor in response. The toasts continued, some funny, some heart-warming, and some requiring a heavier intake of alcohol than others.

“Meet me and Gretch over on the lawn after the mom and dad dances,” whispered Bill during one of the toasts. He wouldn’t hint to why, a bit concerning as sneaking away could very well come off as rude, but curious of what it exactly was that he had devised, I did as I was told. As soon as Blake finished his dance with his mother, I made my move.

 

***

 

Spread out across the lawn was an equilateral triangle, each leg approximately 15 feet long and made up of three full cans of Keystone Light. Bill handed me a dart and sent me a nod, for we both knew exactly what I was supposed to do. Out in the distance was a lone can of Keystone Light, one waiting for my company.

Bill, Gretch, and I each stood over our designated can with a dart in hand, each of us taking turns sending one in the other’s direction. The game’s competitive nature requires a great deal of patience and concentration in order to drive your dart successfully into your opponent’s beer. The consequences of holding ownership to a pierced can are severe. Not only do you loose the game, but you are also called upon to pop the top and shotgun your beer as punishment for losing.

Many rounds had passed, and yet, other than a couple of close calls, no cans of beer had been pierced. A simmering of determination sparkled in my eyes as I held the dart up to my face, the sun shinning a quick sprinkle onto the knurled steel gripped between my fingers, pointed directly in line with the can below Gretch’s feet. Her persistent taunting would prove paramount to her failure, a cockiness that caused her to overshoot several times. I blotted out every distracting image in my head, setting up a calculated effort to send the dart to its final location. Perhaps for once in my life, my engineering degree was actually about to pay off as iterations of equations derived from the laws of physics ran through my head.

Ok, with an even trajectory and the force of gravity accelerating at approximately 32.2 ft per second squared, that means with a straight shot I’ll have less than a second until this dart reaches the ground. If I tilt the trajectory upward, that buys me a little more time, and being that the center of mass is placed in the front of the metal tip coupled with the tendency to follow a parabolic curve, the dart will naturally be pointing down towards the ground upon impact. Provided my aim is precise, I say a velocity of 18.34 feet per second at an angle of about 25 degrees should just about do it…

My arm pushed forward and the dart left my hand, sailing through the air and down towards the beer can. Gretch’s arrogant smile turned to a frown in direct proportion to the position of the dart, itching closer and closer to the can, the milliseconds feeling like seconds and the seconds feeling like minutes, until—

“Pfffff.” The dart penetrated the can, sending a fountain of beer up into the air and spraying in all directions, including Gretch’s feet.

“OHHHHHH!” Bill and I cried, for it was a truly impressive shot, as is the case with every successful shot made in beer darts. Gretch, however, didn’t quite share our enthusiasm. Her mouth was shut at first, as exceptionally deep and heavy breaths went in and out through her flared nostrils, giving way to a rising fury much above our level of comprehension. Her eyebrows dipped down and her face turned beat red, shaking and radiating heat like a nuclear bomb within seconds of detonation. As the pressure built to unsustainable levels, the whites of her teeth became exposed, gritting them like a rabid dog forcibly starved. A shot of panic surged through my spine as her head tipped back and she stared up towards the sky. With a pair clenched and shaking fists, she let out a deafening scream, the source of so much anger and frustration that a lifetime of punch cards couldn’t sustain the damage it would cause; an anger and frustration that could only leave her mouth as—

“GAAAAARRRRRRRRYYYYYYYYY!!!”

“Heheh Gretch that means you have to shotgun the beer, haha.” I couldn’t help but egg her on over my most outstanding accomplishment. “You better hurry, don’t keep the game waiting, heehee! C’mon, you can drink faster than that! You shotgun beer like a girl, heeheehee hohoho hahaha—“

A soft release of pressure resonated near my feet, sending my gloating to an abrupt stop. My eyes peered slowly down towards the ground, resisting as much as possible the image I feared would appear. A dart had impaled the can, sending a geyser of beer shooting up into the air. I took another slow peer up towards its presumed origin. Bill stood 15 feet away and delivered a sharpened grin in my direction. My feet lost all feeling, causing a drop to my knees and a solid gaze up to the heavens for an answer. How could this happen? How did he—Why… Why—

“GAAAAAAARRRRRRYYYYYYYY!”

 

***

 

A steady beat resonated down to the lawn from the tent above. The reception area had been transformed into a dance floor, one being utilized by a select few party guests who had the rare ability to muster up enough courage to dance without the assistance of alcohol. It was a group mostly made up of babes, a group that looked more and more enticing after each shotgunned beer and each Gary. The combination of heat and humidity presented an unfavorable environment to the human body however, where even the most modest of movement would result in excessive perspiration, something I was trying to preclude as much as possible.

“We ran out of beer…” said Bill with a look of concern smeared across his face. The lack of beer though wasn’t the real issue. We were well capable of walking up to the cooler and grabbing a few more rounds. He was however fully aware, as was I, of my compulsive tendencies when it came to music and the effects it has on me, having survived a night with me at the 1029 karaoke bar. It consumes me like a drug, making my body move in ways beyond the moral capacity that any God-fearing man can tolerate. But there was no choice in the matter. More beer had to be procured, and walking past the dance floor bustling with hot babes and hot beats was a risk we all were forced to take.

A familiar drumbeat pulsed through our ears on our way back from the beer cooler, heavy on the hi-hat and bass drum. “I know this song…” I told Bill right before the lyrics came on board accompanied by a low-pitched horn section.

I stay out too late…
Got nothing in my brain…
That’s what people sayahay, mmhmm.

 The lyrics sucked me in, casting its evil spell to draw me onto the dance floor much like the wicked witches did in the movie “Hocus Pocus.” Bill may have tried to stop, but his words, his actions, anything and everything said was blotted into the black hole recently formed inside my head. My legs moved side to side, my arms swung left to right, and my fingers began to snap to the beat. I opened my mouth and words came out, matching the ones coming through the speaker.

But I keep cruisin’, can’t stop—won’t stop movin’, it’s like I got the feeling
In my mind sayin’ it’s gonna be alright!

As soon as the chorus hit I was twisting back and forth with a full 180-degree rotation, my knees bending, my torso lowering closer to the ground, my limbs dangerously flying in random directions and my head shaking back and forth as directed by the song.

Cause the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate
And the fakers gonna fake fake fake fake fake
Baby I’m just gonna shake shake shake shake shake
Shake it off. Shake it off!

The music had taken full custody of my body, for I was no longer capable of controlling any physical movement. I remained in a foolish jiggle the remainder of a song, a mix of Chubby Checker’s “Do the Twist” and the fluid hip motions of “Teach Me How to Dougie,” but by the end of the song, it was a solid mess of body parts flinging themselves about the dance floor as she repeated the hook of the song.

Shake it off, shake it off (you got to…), shake it off, shake it off!

 Luckily I wasn’t the only one caught in a foolish twist of limbs, as a handful of little girls joined me with their own version of shaking and stirring, their fingers spread, wrists limp, and arms, legs, and head flinging about, just like me.

Just as soon as it was over, believing that the spell had come to a close, another familiar song hit the floor, starting with its signature horn intro that directed everybody into position. A larger crowd gathered, both men and women this time, for the effects of alcohol were starting to kick in and give everybody their much-needed liquid courage. And as for me… it just wouldn’t let me go.

“Young man…” there’s no need to feel down, I said, “Young man…”

The entire dance floor stood with their legs spread and knees bent as if they were riding an imaginary horse, or as the Japanese would say, “kiba-dachi.” One hand was placed on the hip, the other pointed in front, moving across their field of vision like a controlled water sprinkler while voicing the words of the song, a combination we all had been anticipating since the song’s introduction. After our outstretched arms had made a full wingspan across our bodies over the course of a line, the process repeated itself with the opposite hand as the verses continued, until 5 blaring quarter notes led us into the chorus.

It’s fun to stay at the…
YMCA!

 My hands motioned the shape of each letter as it was announced in the song, a procession of moves that everybody flamboyantly participated in. Heck, even Bill and Gretch joined in! I love it how a couple of simple notes, a percussion beat, and voice mixed together can get a group of people to think the exact same thoughts and let loose, with an end result of a smile on everybody’s face. It’s actually a pretty extraordinary feat if you ask me!

The sudden presence of a slow song cleared out most of the dance floor except for a few predetermined couples. As it turns out, when forced to choose a sole partner of the opposite sex to dance with, it’s not just a couple of timid and hormone saturated Jr. Highers that aren’t willing to take a risk. Not me though. Hey, if I have to wait 15 years for a boundary babe, who says I can’t enjoy myself from time to time? That’s my motto.

I scoured the edges of the dance floor, flooded with an abundance of babes. So many to choose from, but how can I? I mean, I don’t want to make the wrong— 

That’s when I saw her; her head down and shoulders slouched, on her way to one of the empty tables to wallow in sorrow if I had to guess. In any other circumstance I would’ve just ignored the situation and stayed the course to execute my initial plan, but there was something about her dejected demeanor that suddenly sent a sense of guilt through my body. That if maybe for once in her life, somebody might actually ask her to dance… and all it took was a good lad to perform a good deed. Then maybe, she just might—

What are you doing? Stop it! This isn’t your problem! Just walk away and move on! But I couldn’t move on. I mean, she just looked so miserable over there, and perhaps I was the only person capable of turning it around. Every time I looked to make a move towards the congregate of babes, something kept holding me back, my conscious equipped with a dagger, continually stabbing at my heart. In a way, I kind of wanted to—

“What the heck are you even talking about? I can’t do—I don’t want to… no, I won’t do it! Screw her, she’s not even worth it. And man, Ayn Rand would be pissed! In fact, she’s probably rolling in her grave right now with all the bull crap going through my head! What the, why are you so freaking nervous? You don’t even like her! What in the world is going on?”

A disappointment to Ayn Rand or not, I just couldn’t shake the remorse that was eating away at my insides with nothing but my selfish motives keeping me from making the move. Maybe it was the spirit of the 4th of July getting to me, but whatever it was, it just wouldn’t let go. I guess I was still a human being… that maybe, I had a soul after all…

“God, I can’t believe I’m actually going to go through with this…” I took a deep breath, an even deeper exhale, and approached her, preparing myself for a world of backlash afterwards and mustering up all the courage that could be gathered through my short stroll across the dance floor.

“…Hey Gretch… Would you like to dance?”

Yea, me and Gretch danced… so? Who cares? I know we danced too, because the photographer snapped a stupid picture of us (sorry, but I’m not sharing the photo. I look kind of fat in it). And geez Louise did her face light up like the 4th of July fireworks show later that night.

The stupid song seemed to drag on and on too. It was ridiculous! And of course, everybody else seemed to take resplendent notice to us. Beth mouthed a big ol’ heart-melting “aww” while dancing with Blake, who gave me an elated thumbs-up, of which I responded with nod of appeasement. A half of turn later put me right in the line of sight with Bill, who smugly stood with a growing grin on his face. I just shook my head in annoyance and looked away. That didn’t stop him though from making a stupid comment afterwards.

“Move over Boundary Babes,” he said to me with a stupid chuckle under his breath.

“Oh come… freaking… on…”

 

***

 

When you see a faded sign at the side of the road
That says “15 miles to the—”
LOOOOOOOOVE SHACK!

Any potential disruption caused by my dance with Gretch was quickly forgotten once the famous phrase from the B-52’s was heard, followed by a twangy guitar rift that really got the party guests in the mood to hit the dance floor again. My body was at the risk of overheating, and provided that the sun had only begun its decent over the lake, there was still a lot of dancing left before the nights end, but this was just one I couldn’t sit out. I mean, everybody was movin’ and everybody was groovin’ baby, kids, adults, anybody with a sense of rhythm, and I refused to be an exception to that.

As the night went on, the hits continued and moved in a more contemporary direction, you know, the Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida type of songs. The music sent smooth and seamless motions from my arms, through my upper body and abs, and down to (and especially) my hips and legs, a combination of moves that had a tendency to flaunt my greatest assets. Although I found a way to keep myself hydrated with a beverage either in hand or in close proximity, the intake of beer failed to produce the same results as it usually does, as if the alcohol somehow just seeped out of my skin as soon as it entered my body. With the assistance of beer or not, the atmosphere of the wedding reception still triggered provocative behavior, some of which Sean was not ready for and reacted in a way that caused him to spill his drink all over the floor. We all rushed to take part in the clean up so we could continue to party, using the special wedding napkins which were provided to us with special instructions, “not to use for cleaning up spills;” instructions that we conveniently ignored, for spilt beer on the dance floor became a reoccurring problem throughout the remainder of the night.

 

***

 

I walked out of the bathroom (or more accurately the port-o-potty) in the middle of the lawn with every intention of heading back to the dance floor, when a sparkle of light flickered across the sky. Over the lake, a series of fireworks were exploding in sequence. “Oh my God, I almost forgot. It’s the 4th of July…” At the edge of the lake Coti and Sean were sitting in observance of our natural holiday. It was imperative that I join them and pay my respects as well.

Man, the older I get, the more I learn to appreciate moments like Independence Day, and I realize not only what it means to be an American, but also how lucky I am to live in such a place like America, a place that dared to try an experiment called freedom. A freedom that was fought for, a freedom of which many great men fell, dying for a great cause and believing that their lives could mean something greater for the rest of us, that there was this idea that all men were created equal under the eyes of their creator. It’s a freedom that led us to become the most prosperous country ever to grace the Earth; a freedom that realized the evils harboring in its own country like slavery and the lack of civil rights and produced warriors like Abe Lincoln and Doc Martin King who fought tirelessly to make it right. A freedom that defeated Nazi Germany, initiated the tear down of the Berlin Wall, and became the shining star on the hill, a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. It was indeed this freedom that facilitated the creation of the automobile and airplane, and eventually put us into space to land a guy on the moon. The freaking moon! A feat that no other country has ever been able to accomplish—Ever! Think about that. Going into space and landing on a giant freaking rock hundreds of thousands of miles away and coming back! Don’t tell me we ain’t the best until you’ve put a couple dudes with balls of steel on the moon and live to tell about it, damn it!

But perhaps most important of all, the one things that makes us stand out above all the rest over the history of civilization, is that we are the one and only country to ever—

“Wait, they’re playing that one Usher and lil’ John song aren’t they? You know, the one that goes ‘YEAH!’ over and ever again? Man, I haven’t heard this one since I was a freshman in college! I can’t believe—I mean, what was I saying earlier? What I’m trying to say… I wan’t to—Sorry guys. I gotta go.”

 

***

 

The crowd went wild at the next soulful, lyrical lead in:

“You know you make me wanna SHOUT!”

Each one of us put our hands up and let out a big “SHOUT” to match the beat of the song. Our bodies jumped left to right on each foot with our hands in the air and our heads moving side to side, a natural reaction to such an up tempo song. And staying true to the song’s structure, one among us took command and acted as the song’s narrator, a role I’ve had the pleasure of playing at parties before. But if I remember correctly, that man could’ve very well been Bill this time.

“Hey-A-Hey-A!” he said.
“Hey-A-Hey-A!” we repeated.

“Oow-whoaoao-whoa!”
“Oow-whoaoao-whoa!”

“A little bit softer now…” he repeated over and over again, a command that told us to get lower to the ground. Each of us did, our knees bent near our chests, yet still twisting side to side, singing and dancing as quiet as humanly possible, then going even quieter at the next segment, anticipating the lyrical change to send us back up to our normal state.

“A little bit louder now. A little bit louder now…” we repeated during our ascent back to an erect body, wiggling, shaking, and dancing in a natural and comfortable fashion as little by little the music got louder and louder.

“C’mon now! C’mon now! SHOUT!”

Once again, the uncontrollable feeling to move my body overcame and took control. And this time, the enchanting effects had spilled over to the rest of party guests, who like myself found themselves shouting and dancing with boldness. Beth and Blake were moving of course, Anna was getting down, Sean was dancing like an animal, Wes, in gentlemen like fashion danced and twirled with a few of the mom’s, Maggie was doing her thing, and Coti was dancing like she—wait a minute… whoa, I never realized—I mean, I know she’s a babe, but holy cow, Coti’s actually a huge babe! Oh no, she caught me staring—great, she saw me. Act like you didn’t—wait a minute, she’s checking out my moves—I think she’s actually impressed! This is awesome!

The shouting came to a fade and mixed in with a slower paced song. The DJ, who had been on point the whole night with his music selection, figured everybody could use a good rest before the upcoming finale, a rather logical assessment in my book. The usual couples took their places and conjoined on the dance floor while I filtered away with a number of others, heeding the implied advice of the DJ. Something caught my attention however out of the corner of my eye, something I just couldn’t shake off. It was a babe, and she was standing by herself at the head of the wedding party table. Hey, that’s Coti. I can’t believe nobody’s asked her to dance—wait a minute, could this be… my big chance? I mean… it has to be! It’s fate! Maybe I should go over and ask—heck! Yea, I’m gonna go ask her to dance!

There was an elevated sense of intrepidness to my step as I approached her. A smile spread across my face, beaming not so much with undisciplined excitement, but more from a high level of confidence. I was a man among and above men, valiant in my mission and boldly setting forth to seek out life’s purpose. I was going to dance with this babe, and I was… I… I—

I felt the sleeve of my green dress shirt, brushed by my swinging hand in caught in a zealous stride. What in the… why is this all wet? I felt further up the shirt, only to feel the same consistency of moisture and fabric. My dark green dress shirt had turned two shades of green darker and my head looked as though I had taken a dip in the lake. I looked down to check if my pants followed the same pattern. Unlike my shirt, my pants weren’t fully soaked; only enough to give the impression that I had just peed myself.

“Hey Coti… I—“ I stood as a deer peering into a pair of shining headlights, unknowingly forcing her into an encounter with me and my repulsive layer of sweat. “I wanted to know… I mean, I was going to ask you if you wanted to… never mind…

Under the penumbra of defeat, I walked back to the bar in the basement of the mansion, my head lowered in shame, my legs dragging and arms hanging, pulled by a force further magnified by acceleration of gravity. Every square inch of my body was covered in a grotesque bodily fluid released from each pore of my skin. The warning signs were vivid and frequent, yet ignored time and time again. There was no one but myself to blame for my sodden state, a state that left me in the torment of my ultimate collapse. I simply just couldn’t keep myself from dancing.

“Looks like somebody got a little sweaty, heheh,” commented Gretch as I entered my the basement. Gee, nice observation there Captain Obvious… Bill looked at me and shook his head in disgust. Even members of Beth’s family found themselves providing commentary to the amount of saturation that had occurred through the natural process a body undergoes in order to release heat. A process commonly known to scientists as “sweating.”

“Have a little too much fun out there?” asked her Uncle. I just shook my head and repeated the traditional incantation, the mantra of error and acceptance of omission made famous by Joey Carter.

“I’m never dancing. Ever… again…

IMG_1577

***

 

It had to be less than a minute later when a bustling piano introduction caused an involuntary reaction of cheers to bellow from the dance floor. Everybody knew, as did I that it was the beginning of Journey’s greatest hit, the single-most popular music staple in the history of wedding parties.

She’s just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere…

“Screw it. Bill, Gretch, I’m goin’ back out there.” Leave it to the graceful pipes of Steve Perry to make me renege on my vow to never dance, ever again. In a body covered in a film of sweat I walked back out to the floor and flung my green shirt that had been crusted with an extra layer of salt out over the lawn, making the choice to dance in my wife beater, perhaps amongst the most inappropriate of articles to wear at a wedding. At this point though, I hadn’t a care in the world for fashion. No matter how grotesque I may be at this point, this is what I was born to do for this moment in time. To dance and act a fool; to celebrate Beth and Blake’s marriage and to enjoy myself, and in turn, bring joy unto them.

And dance I did, as did the rest of the crew. And in usual fashion, each of us belted out the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believin’. And in that moment of time, each of us actually believed that every note coming out of our mouths was matched in perfect tune with Steve Perry’s voice. And for some beautiful reason, nobody seemed to care that the person singing next to them was off pitch. We moved, grooved, and gave it our all, our voices turned raspy and our muscles swollen from a nights worth of celebration. However, it was not quite over. Blake and Jordan had one last request before the nights end…

The Cold War Kids.

Jordan took center stage, clenched his fist, and sent a mighty roar across the dance floor, singing a set of lyrics delivered straight from the heart, and next to him was Blake following his lead. Each of us watched in awe at the display of sheer jubilance shared between father and son. We listened to the excitement in their voices; felt each thrill of happiness vibrating as the music moved them around the dance floor. It was a special moment they had been waiting a long time for; a moment that brought them unbounded joy… a special moment and happiness we were lucky to witness… to experience… and join.

And how lucky we were to be there with them… to have them as friends… to get a glimpse of love, life, and liberty all in one place and one time—Wisconsin, aka the motherland, on the 4th of July. The verdict was conclusive. By all accounts, it certainly was a Wisco Wedding that we attended, a textbook example of how to celebrate love… and a perfect end to a perfect night (well… almost).

Billy, I guess you were right. The Cold War Kids are all right after all… Respect.

But they’re still no Kanye West.

Chapter 16: Come Away With Me… To a Packers Game… A Wisco Wedding Part 3

Stephen Jenkin’s angelic voice faded as the cycling of a V6 engine came to a stop.  We climbed out of the Benz at the edge of the mansion’s estate, receiving more sets of impressive looks from arriving guests doing the same. Bill and I gave our suits a few straightening tugs and Gretch did the same with her dress, and with our heads up, posture straight, and each stride hit with perfect poise, we made our way up to the mansion.

A drink accompanied the hands of each of our friends, prompting a visit to the wet bar as to be in conformance with the rest of the party guests. “If you want, I can make you guys an old fashioned to go with your Keystone Light—Oh… hey, Billy…” He stood behind the counter fixing a drink of his own, his presence a surprise to us all.

“Hey what’s up guys?” he said to us. “Man, last night got a little wild. I wasn’t mean to you guys or say anything stupid did I?”

“Well, we kind of got into it over Kanye West…” I reluctantly replied. The reminder was likely to bring up contention, something I was hoping to avoid before the wedding’s festivities began, but nothing less than an honest answer was what he deserved, even if we were fighting the day before. He was a groomsmen after all.

“Oh man, I’m sorry. You know what I say: to each his own. That’s my motto. I’m not a big Kanye fan by any stretch, but if you are, I have nothing against that. You know me, I would never say a mean thing to anybody.” His apology was sincere, and in my book, fully acceptable.

“You know, there was a little drinking going on, and people say things they don’t mean, and it just got a little out of hand I think, that’s all. I tell you what, after the ceremony is over, I’ll make you an old fashioned.” We shook hands and added a smile to console our differences.

“Alright you guys, we’re going to start any minute now,” said Maggie having just ran down the basement stairs. That was our cue, for nobody was allowed to see the bride in her wedding dress before the start of the ceremony, and for good reason too. With drinks in hand and sunglasses over our head, we joined the rest of the guests on the lawn and took our seats for the ceremony.

***

Blake stood at the alter waiting for Billy and Coti to make their way past the rows seated guests and accompany him. The unforgiving humidity set by the red summer sun resulted in large patches of sweat left under the armpits of the wedding party’s dress shirts, a common theme that was to be shared by the rest of the male party guests, including yours truly.

Next came Maggie, the Maid of Honor, escorted by Jordan, Blake’s son. At 9 years old, he performed the important, yet demanding role of best man, and an appropriate title it was, for his manners and maturity were far above and beyond that of the rest of us, and only he was capable and deserving enough to walk a babe like Maggie down the aisle. Thus, he truly was, the best man.

Jordan took his spot next to his father and Maggie stood opposite of him while a classical tune continue to play and spill out over the glistening lake, a most perfect backdrop for a wedding, minus the few passing pontoon boats unaware that such a special occasion was taking place. With Blake standing amongst the company of friends, family, and the most important people in his life, the stage was set. All the required members were present, all except for one, whose grand entrance was only a few, long seconds away.

A jazzy brush drum roll sounded followed by a few strokes of a piano, a rhythm and melody that was instantly recognized, as it was the introduction to one of the most beautiful songs ever written (second only to Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me, and possibly a couple of Kanye West beats), a song I had listened to every day for months while delving into the literature of Ayn Rand (quite an excellent pairing)—a song of which you can’t help but think about holding close the most lovely of babes among babes. Norah Jones led in with her signature soft and graceful voice, “Come away with me, in the night…” and a procession of guests rose to their feet. “Come away with me, and I will write… you… a song…”

All eyes turned to the bride clad in a stunning white dress, her elegance on full display. Walking side by side with her father, Beth made her way down the aisle and joined Blake. Standing together, hand in hand at the alter, they looked into each others eyes, millions of thoughts rummaging through their heads, a million thoughts that by some miracle of life, may just happen be congruent within the short distance between them, a lifetime of knowledge, memories, and love shared between two individuals. Thoughts of which neither me, Bill, Gretch or anybody else in attendance could possibly know or would ever know… all we could do is sit back and wonder with thoughts of our own…

***

The Palouse was in its typical Fall transitioning period, unsure of whether it was suppose to be warm or cool that early October Tuesday in 2006, much like the young emo kids struggling to find their identity. The day’s events were exceptionally vivid, for The Killers had just released their new album “Sam’s Town,” the much-anticipated follow-up to their debut album “Hot Fuss.” After my purchase from Hastings in Moscow, ID, I immediately rushed over to Connie and Bill’s apartment, for my house in Pullman was far too long of a drive for me to listen to a CD I had been waiting months to get my hands on.

Emily Dokken answered the door and informed me of three important issues. 1: Bill and Connie were still in class. 2: she had to take a massive dump. And 3: I could hang out with her friend Beth until Connie and Bill came back. Little did I know at the time that Emily’s half-hour outing with the toilet would mark the beginning of a friendship, sort of a blessing in disguise if you ask me.

From that forced encounter on that early Autumn day in Idaho, and with the help of a few Chach Chugs, multiple Moscow outings, and a road trip or two, our friendship grew and blossomed, to the point where we eventually discovered a coveted admiration evolving from our family upbringing—The Green Bay Packers.

Fast forward to 2010; a time where Lady Gaga ruled the airwaves, half the country was going nuts over a terrible film called Avatar, the Shi— uh, I mean Seahawks’ (for some reason I mess that up, every time…) fan base was still limited in size, and I was about to take a temporary position working for the Navy in Washington, DC. Before I was to embark across the country however, there was one last important matter to tend to: the Packers were scheduled to come to Seattle to play the Shi—er, Seahawks (there I go again), and being that game tickets were still decently priced at that point in history, Beth and I made it a point to go to the game, even if it was only preseason.

“By the way Beth, I’m going to bring my friend Cambray. I hope you’re not mad, she’s kind of a boundary babe,” I told her through text.

“That’s fine. I’m going to bring my friend Blake.”

“What the… Who the heck is Blake?!?! He better be a cool guy or else!” I threatened. And soon enough, I would meet this Blake fellow and find out just how much of a cool guy he actually was…

Readers note: in an effort to remain factual, upon my writing of this, I just remembered that the Packer game was actually the second time I had met Blake, but the first time I met him involved him running out of the shower in nothing but a towel, and that story’s not as good. Besides, the Packer game is where we actually got to know each other, so if it’s no difference to you, I’d like to talk about that time instead.

Beth brought Blake to the rendezvous point to meet Cambray and I before the game. In my Belltown apartment across the street from the Space Needle, we made our preparations for the evening’s festivities, for it was dangerous territory we were walking into, making it rather imperative that we gather the appropriate supplies for the mission ahead. I made everybody take a few rounds of shots before leaving, but it was Blake who stepped up the game up by convincing Beth to hide a Ziploc bag full of rum in her shirt, a move that encouraged Cambray to follow suit. Although a bit jealous over the fact that he came up with the idea, it was still a strategy I was most impressed with, and from that point on, I had a feeling that Blake and I were going to get along just fine.

The walk to Qwest Field (now Century Link) was filled with dirty looks and heckles. Apparently, not only was having a giant wedge of cheese on my head considered terrible camouflage, but it also wasn’t much of a popular look on that particular day. Lucky for us we were equipped with a sufficient amount of booze and good conversation to keep the two-mile trek fresh.

“Beth tells me you went to Asotin High School. Did you know Danny P?” asked Blake.

“Yea I know Danny P! Me and him go way back!”

“Nice! We went to the Gorge together for Sasquatch a few years back.”

“What?! I love the Gorge, and I go to Sasquatch every year! It’s probably my favorite place to go actually. You probably know Moody too if you know Danny.”

“Oh yea, I know Moody. That guy shreds on guitar.”

“Dude, Moody’s been my best friend since the third grade! That’s awesome!”

Our conversation got a little carried away, for we seemingly forgot about Beth and Cambray who were several strides behind us. For what it was worth though, it looked as though our acquaintance was quickly turning into a friendship. That friendship however, and the respect it garnered came under jeopardy when we heard the singing of the national anthem beyond the stadium walls, a signal that our arrival had been a late one. To add to the dire circumstance, I had to go to the bathroom… really bad.

“Hey, why can’t I relieve myself and show my patriotic support all at the same time?” I asked myself. The question was a valid one, and I couldn’t find any objection within me that told me not to, even though I only took a few seconds to think about it. So in total support of America and all of the blessings she has given me, I entered the porta-potty and belted out the lyrics to the Star Spangle Banner, a song that has always filled me with pride and jubilance every time it’s been played, while all at the same time taking a whiz, a move that further rendered our presence as suspect.

Unfortunately for Beth, Blake and Cambray, that was only the beginning of my obnoxious behavior, as I couldn’t help but notice every passing Packer fan through the halls of the stadium and acknowledging their presence with at least a high-five and a favorable comment. And I do have to say, the Packers had a rather plentiful showing, even though they were in foreign territory. The excitement held deep inside all of us to see Aaron Rodgers and company play in person was evident. With me though, it was just too great to keep bound, and I let it show in the most impudent of ways.

“You know, the University of Washington did a study and showed that those cheeseheads cause brain damage,” the man next to me said as we took our seat. It was the first of many jabs we were to receive from Shi—Sea… Seahawk fans (c’mon man, get a grip on yourself) in the form of curses, raised middle fingers, and a pointed finger slowly sliding perpendicularly across a tensed net, all by gnarly looking dudes who could easily play convincing roles as homicidal maniacs in one of those crime dramas on TV.

“Well, that’s because UW did the study. You have to go to WSU if you want it done right,” I replied, a surprisingly quick and witty response.

“Wait, you went to WSU too?” asked a woman in front of me. She was 38 years old (probably around 43 or 45 now), a Seahawks fan, and she had already fallen in love with me. So naturally I talked to her. I can’t help it! I kind of get a kick out of older babes hitting on me (although she looked babe enough to me, Cambray insisted that she wasn’t, but for all intents and purposes, and for the fact she was flirting with me, we’ll refer to her as a babe anyway). “…I dare ya to stand up, point your arm and yell ‘First Down,’ the next time the Packers get a first down.” Easy. 

“FIRST DOWN!” I yelled, pointing my hand in the direction the Packers were marching after the next play was over, a notion that made my new 38-year-old love laugh hysterically. The move wasn’t exactly well received with the other fans, as two black girls (only calling them black to provide an accurate description that will help differentiate them between the other characters in the story, and that’s it. I know some of you out there get all worked up about that crap, so I figure I’ll add this disclaimer. Gosh, the things you have to do to cover your buns against the PC police these days…) whipped around and shot me dirty looks. “What?” I said, shrugging my shoulders and sending a sheepish look back their direction. “I love my team, what can I say?”

As what happens with every outing where alcohol is consumed, the trips to the bathroom became very frequent, and each trip back included a bunch of high-fives to Packer fans and a beverage in hand that would cause me to repeat the vicious cycle. “I’m getting a beer, what do you want Cambray?”

“I’ll do a Roman Coke.”

“Uh… I don’t think they have those. Are you ok with a regular one? I can’t imagine that they’d be that much better imported.”

“No, you see, you get a Coke, and I’ll make it a Roman Coke when you come back.”

“I don’t get it? You’re not even Italian, let alone Roman. How can you make a Roman Coke?”

“Just… get me a regular coke please.”

“That’s all you had to say! Coming right up!”

A few minutes passed and I returned with a beer for me and a Coke for Cambray. “Here you go,” I said to her while handing her the bottle. Immediately she began taking sips then adding her secret stash of alcohol to it. “Oh, you’re mixing Rum and Coke, why didn’t you say so? Wait, it’s Rodgers, and he’s rolling out. He’s passing and… TOUCHDOWN!” We ripped and roared, but the celebration was short lived. The two black girls whipped around once more to deliver another set of dirty looks. Oh great.

“Zack, those girls really like you,” said Blake. “They’re just acting tough, that’s all.”

“I don’t know man, they look like they’re pretty mad every time they turn around.”

“But that’s the key. They keep on turning around, just for you! Trust me…”

A few series later, the Seahawks scored a touchdown. My 38-year-old lover made me give her a high five and the rest of the Seahawk fans cheered on… all except for two. In an unprecedented move, the two black girls whipped around once again, and with them came the same pair of dirty looks that had disturbed us several times over.

“What? You guys did a good job and I’m clapping for you! I like you guys, and I want to like you! We can be friends, I know we can!” My radiant smile and exuberant personality was just too powerful for them to repel, and a smile began creeping up on their face, growing larger until it turned into a couple of laughs. “See, I knew we would be friends!”

A few seats down Blake nodded his head in approval with a big smile on his face to give me a message. “Told Ya!”

The 4th quarter was nearing an end with the Packers ahead and in total command of the game, drawing an exodus of fans from the stadium in order to beat the traffic rush. The two black girls gave me one more set of dirty looks that quickly turned friendly, each of us sharing a hug before parting ways. And sadly, it was time for my 38-year-old lover and I to say our goodbyes. We were never to see each other again, for the future tension between our two teams would never allow it, but she forever sealed our fate that day with a kiss on the cheek, a kiss I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. I guess not all Seahawks fans are bad after all…

When it was all said and done, it was just Beth, Blake, Cambray and I left to watch our team march onto victory. They stuck with me through my vociferous outbursts, unruly behavior, and took the brunt of dirty language, inappropriate gestures, and heckles delivered on my behalf, all with a smiles on their faces the whole time. Eventually we made an exodus of our own up to Capitol Hill to celebrate with friends, not all of who were Packer fans, but who would certainly recognize and rejoice in the accomplishment nonetheless.

During that walk up the hill, I couldn’t help but look at Beth and Blake and reflect on the day’s events, having just learned a great number of things that night. 1: The Packers were going to win the Super Bowl that year (which they did, beating Pittsburgh 31-25). 2: I had made a new friend, one who had easily earned my respect. And 3: Beth and Blake were the real deal, and I had a feeling that this was going to be one that lasted a long, long time.

Packers Game 2010

My 38-Year-Old Lover even took a picture of us at the game!

***

A great man (but not a particularly wise man) by the name of Forrest Gump once said, “I may not be a smart man, but I do know what love is…”

Love is a funny thing. We see it all around us, written in books, shown to us in movies and TV shows, and sung through beautiful renditions created by the likes of Norah Jones and Jewel. The word itself gets thrown around freely between friends and family all the time!

Yet, I don’t think we truly understand it, or even how to spot it, even if it’s staring us right in the face. Ask a thousand people what love is and you’d get a thousand different answers. But somehow, in that moment where you’re standing next to somebody, that one person out of a million that somehow can read your exact mood as if they have access to your mind, the one who can erase every pernicious thought built inside your head with a simple gesture of a smile, that one person who you would unequivocally travel to the darkest reaches of the Earth for, your body musters up a single feeling that blots out all other possible feelings; a feeling that grinds the brain into a pile of mush, leaving the heart to do the talking, an organ void of rational thought. You’re stuck with a feeling of complete submission, the equivalent to a giant black hole that within a moment’s notice sucks you in and doesn’t allow you to escape, an unconditional emotion that will never falter, no matter what hardship or tragedy arises. It’s an emotion stronger than the rest, one that conquers and endures till the end and whose simple essence by itself nearly proves the existence of God.

You’re left with the feeling of love, a love that’s impossible to understand, but perfectly known. You know, because the person standing next to you is feeling the same exact thing.

It was love that was on display in the heart of the motherland, and it was their love that was shared with us that afternoon through a set of heartfelt vows delivered emotionally. A love expressed not only between them, but also towards Jordan. His presence strengthened their love for one another, created an inseparable bond that would not be broken, a special type of bond called family. And on that day, they would officially become one.

And though that love was shared and celebrated amongst us, it was only a glimpse of what was actually between them. And how could it be anything more with such a complex subject? It’s no wonder that love is the one feeling that’s celebrated with such a grandiloquent occasion like a wedding. But even the most spectacular, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian types of weddings can even come close to providing the justice love deserves. It’s just simply not possible! So as humans, we do the best we can, and celebrate and rejoice at the phenomenon, that for a moment, we are part of something bigger and more powerful than any material object or selfish desire; something bigger than our good looks, Mercedes-Benz, the Gran Tetons, Steel Reserve, punch cards, Bar Tender Babes, Seahawks Babes, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Packer Babes, Farm Babes, Boundary—uh, I won’t go that far, but the list goes on! And in the end, we get to be a part of love, something well worth traveling 2500 miles for, something we can either look back and remember a time years ago where we were up with the same exact feeling, or something that we can someday look forward to with a wedding of our own.

We watched in delight as Beth and Blake were pronounced husband and wife. Their love was sealed with a kiss, and Bill, Gretch and I joined the rest of the guests with a set of raucous cheers. Each one of us in attendance had a reason for being there, had the honor of being a part of their lives in some special way, to help guide them to this moment. Some were friends who had gained trust and respect from years of sticking together through the best and worst of what life has to offer, never turning their back when terrible decisions have been made, and having the ability to say the difficult things that nobody is willing to say or make the tough decisions that nobody else is willing to make. Others were family, integral people in their lives that spent years helping to mold them into the people they have become, no matter how hard it could be at times.

For me, I was just glad to be that person who could put a smile on their face and consistently make their lives better simply by being the person I was meant to be. That maybe, through the help of a Packer game 5 years prior, I played a part in making love come to life, whether it was love at first sight, or love that was always there, waiting to be discovered.

And who knew that 5 years later, what started with the Green Bay Packers would come full circle and end in Wisconsin, the motherland and rightful home to the greatest football team ever to grace the Earth. That alone was enough to celebrate.

And celebrate we would, for it wasn’t the end, but merely the beginning. It was the beginning of a life of full of adventure, wonderful people, and everlasting memories for each of them. And what better way to start such a celebration than with a reception filled with best friends and family indulging in an overabundance of boisterous dancing, fireworks and alcohol? I don’t know about Bill and Gretch, but that was a plan that I couldn’t wait for; a plan that I was definitely onboard with…

Chapter 15: Forget it. It’s the Fourth of July – A Wisco Wedding Part 2

On each bed we sat, staring and basking in the stagnation between us, neither one of us courageous enough to break the silence, a curse looking to be broken in order to restart time. Our eyes swirled, a captivating effect around each pupil, millions of cells around a spiral galaxy. The air conditioner, augmenting the molecular make-up of air particles had turned off, and I rose to my feet and walked to the mini-fridge near the doorway, careful not to trip over suitcases or step on the piles of clothes strewn about the floor. Inside was a Styrofoam box filled with Applebee’s leftovers. Next to it was an ice-cold can of Rockstar, a possession that was logically mine. I snatched it from the fridge and climbed back over to the clothes to my original spot opposite of Bill. A loud crack rang through the room followed by an aroma of citrus, a pungent sting of soda released in through the crackle of fizz. Bill took a breath, neither long nor short, neither heavy nor light, but a most notable breath regardless.

“I don’t have anything against farm girls,” he said after a short pause. There was no sign of emotion in his face or voice. Our eyes remained fixed, and I pressed the can of Rockstar to my lips, allowing the liquid mixture of carbonated water, condensed sucrose, and energy producing chemicals to pour down my throat, each swallow amplified through the cool and dense air, along with every other proceeding sound effect. I cautiously set the Rockstar on the nightstand next to Bill’s iPad, where a small shockwave reverberated through the room after contact. I waited another beat.

“The stairs. We blew it. Missed a golden opportunity,” I replied, affording him the same emotion he showed me a minute before. Bill wetted his lips, pressed them together, and then hesitated.

“Forget it. It’s the Fourth of July.”

We studied each other for another minute. In a synchronous manner, we turned our heads to the corner of Bill’s bed. Gretch laid, sprawled out across it, one side of her face buried deep within the pillow with one closed eyelid and a half-open mouth exposed. She was to remain in a heavily sedated state for at least another hour or two, unless excessive intervention was to be involved. We both turned our heads back to face one another, our straight faces sustained, as though we were competing in a laughing contest of which no jokes were being told.

“Get dressed. We’re going to the mall.”

***

It was a surprisingly efficient outing at the mall, as a sense of purpose propelled our feet back and forth across the tile, dead set on a mission to look good… damn good. We breezed through the crappy jewelry and cell phone case stands at each intersection, ignoring the calls from salesmen hoping to con us in for a quick buck—it wouldn’t work, not with this amount of focus. Bill stopped in his tracks and peered to his right. A bright red sign burned bright in his line of vision, and out of the corner of my eye, plastered what seemed to be four letters in close proximity—HELL. I turned, only discover it was much worse—H&M.

“Don’t do it—Bill!”

“Gretch said I could probably exchange some of the clothes if I found something I liked,” he said as he walked slowly towards the entrance, his eyes fixated as if he was under a hypnotic trance, inching closer into the store.

“Let’s go Bill, you have to look nice for the wedding today,” said Gretch, nudging him closer and closer into the departmental abyss.

“Screw this, I’m going to Macy’s.”

***

10 minutes later, I came out of Macy’s with a flat green shirt to match my yellow tie, truly appropriate colors for the present geography, foregoing another living nightmare with Bill and Gretch, and all for less than 10 bucks! There was still time to kill however, as I knew there would be, and there was no way I was spending it in that God-forsaken store! Across the way was an Old Navy, a great place to score some 4th of July apparel. Although it wasn’t the premium time to buy (the day after the 4th, you can walk out with an awesome American Flag T-shirt for under 4 bucks), it was still worth a glance.

“Hey, what’s this,” I asked myself, my attention quickly diverting towards a rack of shirts with a color scheme consisting of red and blue. “Wisconsin Badgers? Milwaukee Brewers? I didn’t even know Old Navy made sports shirts… Oh man, they even have a couple green shirts in here too. What’s this say, Green Ba—GREEN BAY PACKERS?!?!” I dug through the pile in search of a shirt in my size and ripped it out of the stack—size large, thin cotton, and solid green with the words “Green Bay Packers” spread across in yellow. It was perfect. Perhaps it was too perfect…

I felt a presence behind me, breathing down my neck, a Golem like figure lurking behind the scenes. I moved my head nice and slow as not to make any sudden moves that would startle the mysterious figure behind me. What could they want? My wallet? My life? Or worse… my shirt… Suddenly, a fight or flight instinct rose within me; make my move or become another victim of this sadistic stalker closing in. I spun backwards to confront the culprit, only to see a streak of blond hair fly behind a clothes rack. A loud bang and crash sounded through the store followed by a number of gasps. I darted my head, seeing a flash of a crouched body, zipping through the store with its head down, using its shoulders to hide its face from detection. It was pitiful attempt, for I could recognize that sneak from miles away.

“Gretch! What are you doing? I know that’s you! Get out of here, and quit creeping on my style! You hear me? GRETCH!”

***

I walked out of Old Navy, a bit disturbed, a bit violated, but at least with a new shirt. Across the way was the big bright sign—H&M, a symbol of despair, a time trap, a psychological torture chamber I unwillingly braced myself for. What a fool Bill was for walking in there, and what a fool I was for not stopping him! If it wasn’t for Gretch… Gretch! The source of all my misery! We’ll never make it to the wedding in time, the reason for this whole trip! We’re doomed! We’ve been doom the moment we left Idaho, and it’s all her fault. It’s been her goal this entire trip! Gretch… Gretch! I curse that name! GRETCH—

My eyes settled on the entrance, my thoughts frozen at its sight. In front stood a man holding up a bag in each arm with a growing smirk on his face. I slowly approached him, his appearance coming into full focus while a girl came up from behind and stood beside him sharing the same smirk. “I have my outfit,” said Bill, lifting the bags shoulder length as if he were shrugging. I couldn’t believe it. I looked over at Gretch, her smirk ever growing, waiting for the respect she demanded, and quite possibly deserved.

“Gretch… son of a B. You pulled it off.”

“And we still have time to change,” said Bill, checking the time on his phone.

I placed my designer sunglasses over my eyes, fitting between my ears and the America Flag Bandana over my head. “Well then, let’s do this.”

***

Bill and I sat at opposite sides of each other at the end of the paired beds in our room as to give each other a quick inspection before show time. Our hair was gelled and parted to perfection, our ties straight and our suits fitted. We looked good… damn good, noted by a single nod of approval provided by both of us. The bathroom door rattled. Bill and I turned in observance, and out walked Gretch in her dress for the wedding. I gotta hand it to her… the girl cleans up pretty nicely.

“What?” she blurted, unfamiliar with the inspection routine. “You guys ready or what?”

We both shot her a single nod of approval. “Let’s get this show on the road boys and girls,” I answered, putting a pair of sunglasses over my head for the second time that day.

Many impressive looks were sent our direction during our strut through the lobby of the La Quinta Inn, acting as if we were a couple of secret service agents whose mission was unknown, but understood to be important nonetheless. We couldn’t help but build a harmonious sense of confidence among us as we entered my Black Mercedes-Benz E350, a confidence that would nullify the chilling effects felt during our first dark and dreary drive to the mansion. We knew where this path would lead and what we were about to be a part of. The turning of a V6 engine came to a roar and Third Eye Blind’s “The Red Summer Sun” blasted through the car speakers. Engulfed by the music and the blanket of light spread across the Wisconsin plains, we sped out of the La Quinta Inn parking lot and towards our destination, the wedding of the summer. The climax of our trip was just around the corner. Beth… Blake… We’re comin’ for ya!

Chapter 14: A Wisco Wedding Part 1

The private drive was long and winding with trees and brush draped over its paved surface. Each of us looked around in wonder under the protection of the Benz, wandering deeper and deeper down the road of the unknown, a path that grew denser and darker the further we drove. Minutes passed and questions over our progress rose, for the path had no guarantee of sanctuary, if there was ever an end in existence. We continued however, having faith in Beth’s directions, hoping they wouldn’t turn us into another horror story statistic.

As quickly as we had been encompassed by darkness, a bright light overcame our despair, one sourced from the sky, a friendly presence that was thought to have departed long ago. A great, acre-long lawn surrounded a mansion, and beyond it laid home to a lake hidden just within the limits of Muskeego, WI, the backdrop for Beth and Blake’s wedding. We parked the car near a basketball court and made our way through the grand residence in search of our soon-to-be-wed friends, passing through an expansive deck area consisting of a large gathering of adults, swimming pool, and a custom built table with a gas fed fire pit in the center, the solid flame rising from an even spread of black pebbles similar to the fire pit seen at the Surly Brewery.

Through the mansion we went, passing a state of the art kitchen and the mansion’s foyer that housed a giant crystal chandelier, making our way down to the basement where an arcade machine and full-sized wet bar lay, a welcoming home for our hefty procurement of booze. With beers in hand, we made the trek through the vast lawn and down towards a group of bikini clad babes and topless hunks sitting at the edge of a dock, accompanied by a set of wave runners, a jet boat, and a water trampoline shining under the golden rays of summer. Our faith in Beth had been rewarded. As it turned out, her family was loaded.

“What’s up guys?” greeted a dripping wet Blake having just come off a fresh ride on the wave runner. “Beth and everybody else are hanging out on the dock. C’mon back and take the waver runners for a spin!” We took the first part of his advice and made our advance onto the dock to reunite with Beth, whose eyes grew with delight upon our arrival.

“Oh my God! Zack! Bill! And… oh… Gretch…” welcomed Beth, eventually making her way over with hugs.

“HEY!” said Anna who was sunbathing on the dock, her voice heightened, being that we had just snuck up on her. “Sorry that my butt’s all sticking out.”

“Oh that’s ok. I don’t really mind,” I replied. It was true. For some reason, I actually didn’t mind at all!

“What’s up Coti? Whoa, Maggie! What’s goin’ on? Hey dude’s, my name’s Zack…” I made the obligatory rounds that are required upon one’s arrival, saying hello to some familiar faces and introducing myself to some unfamiliar ones. There was Coti, a member of the wedding party and certified babe, and Maggie the maid of honor, who was also a babe; in fact, one that’s considered to be among the most respected from the Lewis-Clark Valley! And honestly, I don’t think anybody has ever had a single bad thing to say about her, ever! Not even from Gretch (and that’s really saying something)! I can’t even remember how many times I’ve asked Gretch to stop talking trash behind Meagan Mills’ back (a subject matter that’s really been upsetting me as of late, and I really wish she’d stop). And don’t even think about getting her started on the subject of Ben Woodward unless you have a couple of punch cards you’re trying to get rid of…

There was Wes, who turned out to be a pretty awesome dude, and Sean who really liked to party, and who also knew my sister somehow, of whom was later able to convince him to slap me in the face (not cool Emily). There were peeps from Minnesota, visitors from Idaho, and a couple of natives of Wisconsin, everybody from all around our favorite states!

And then… there was Billy…

Billy was a groomsman, an admirable position at any wedding, and our acquaint relationship seemed to start off on good footing… that is, until I used “Kanye West” and “Musical Genius” in the same sentence. Tension immediately came to a head at the mention of the rappers name, and it didn’t let up as I expanded on his cultural significance and the idea that he was the artist of our generation. The sullen look on his face and the sour tone of his voice gave me the impression that his disagreement on the issue was quite ostensible. Unfortunately, it was to be a prolonged feud, lasting all throughout the wedding weekend, much longer than anticipated.

“Holy Mol—Kassie, I haven’t seen you in ages! I didn’t know you were going to be here!” I said, rushing across the deck to greet her. Any debate involving Kanye’s generational influence could wait, as I was much too eager to catch up.

“Hey, how the heck are ya?” she asked. “I moved back to Wisconsin… I’m a farmer now!”

“No way! Wisconsin? That’s like, my favorite state! So what kind of farmer are you? Dairy and stuff?”

“Actually, organic.”

“Hey, that’s pretty cool. I can dig that!” Through my peripherals, I noticed Bill rolling his eyes. The reason, I couldn’t say. Maybe he had something against farm girls, who knows? It was no matter, for I was able to ignore it for the time being.

Kassie and I conversed for a while longer, talking about the organic farm and hitting up the important Wisconsin issues of the day, a subject matter that always led to the current state of affairs surrounding the Green Bay Packers. “Yea, I gotta make my way out to a game at Lambeau this year. It’d be really awesome if I could make it out to their home opener and watch them exact revenge on the Seattle Shi—“

“Me and Gretch are going out on a wave runner,” interrupted Bill. “You wanna take the other one out?” His question seemed to come out of nowhere, but the wave runners did look enticing, and I’m never one to say no to a friend.

“You’ll have to excuse me Kassie, but we’ll have to catch up a little later,” I regretfully told her, for fun was calling my name. I jumped up, grabbed a life jacket, and hopped on the wave runner opposite of the two siblings.

“I thought you said you hated organic food?” asked Bill, sending a little sassiness my direction.

“I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about it, and really, it’s not all that bad. Heck, it may even be good for me in the end!”

“Yea, I’m sure,” he replied, shaking his head while starting the wave runner. I did the same, unsure why he was being so sassy, but then again, if I had to ride on a wave runner with Gretch, I guess I’d be a little sassy too (I mean, talk about a boring ride…). The motors gave a nice kick and we blasted off across the lake, our wakes breaking the shine off the water from the setting July sun.

Something had gone awry, the observation coming after a couple cruises around the lake, where I had been preoccupied with performing all sorts of cool waver runner tricks for everybody: cookies, driving between boats and jumping off their wake—the whole bit! It looked as though Bill and Gretch were stalled in the middle of the lake. “You guys alright?” I asked from a distance, as I was rightfully concerned. I focused in on Gretch, who seemed to have this stupid grin growing across her face. “Strange… Why would she be grinning if they’re stalled—what the?” Two closed fists shot towards my direction, followed by a raised middle finger on each one. “Flipping me off—are you kidding me?”

Bill suddenly gunned the throttle, and a dumbfounded look of panic was released, sending Gretch’s brush of disrespect to an abrupt end. With her eyes wide, jaw opened, and arms a flailing, her ill-mannered gesture had turned into a disgraceful attempt to combat a sudden acceleration, one that would ultimately prevent her from staying dry. Serves her right!

I whipped my wave runner around to scope the scene. “You guys need some help—oops!” The curving motion of my wave runner’s sent a giant wave right into Gretch’s face. “Gee, didn’t mean to splash ya, heheh. C’mon Bill, let’s ditch this lame pool part and shoot some hoops! Look out Gretch—whoops, not again, heheh…”

***

“What’s wrong?” asked Maggie upon our return from the basketball court. It was a slow and hesitant walk across the dock, my lowered head a dead giveaway of gloom—a precursor to the humiliation that was about to be on full display…

The court was smoldering, for Bill and I couldn’t help but sink in shot after shot, unable to miss a single basket even if we tried—and it was supposed to be an easy in. “Alley Oop,” I cried out to Bill standing at the apex of the three-point line. I took a couple of lunges forward, gaining momentum as to meet his pass midway in the air. His trajectory was high… too high. With all my might, using every muscle in my leg, from the calf all the way up to the gluteus maximus, I lifted off the ground. Every effort used to project my body into the air seemed to be constricted by my water soaked, skinny jeans. But suddenly, there was freedom, a full body spread as an orange sphere fell into the palm of my hand. My legs scissored and I thrust the ball back into the air, watching it settle into the basket before my return to the ground—success.

“Bill, did you see that—“ I paused as my hand brushed past my leg, feeling a gap between the continuity of jean fabric. I tilted my head slowly towards the problem area. “Oh… no…”

I spread my left leg, exposing the giant gash in my favorite pair of cut-offs, a special pair that had honorably served through two tours of the Sasquatch Music Festival. It had been the second favorite pair of pants that I had ripped in recent years, the first also from playing basketball at a wedding, coincidentally.

Gretch immediately released a giant giggle, a nearly perfect rendition of the kid brother in the Christmas Story after he sees Ralphie in the bunny suit. “Shut up Getch,” I snarled, but it was no use. Her uncontrollable laugh continued to reverberate across the lake, no matter if it were as equally embarrassing as my exposed undies. The shame however, was not universally felt.

“It’s ok,” said Kassie. “You’re in Wisconsin. Nobody really cares about that kind of stuff.” It was a voice I could trust, being that it came from one who was well versed with the culture and customs of the land. “Besides, you’ll forget all about it by the time you eat a few burgers and brats.”

“Hey, we had burgers and brats yesterday!” Bill and I looked at each other like we had just scored a date with a Victoria’s Secret Model, even against Gretch’s foolish giggling that was still going strong. “Well what are we waiting for?” I said, sensing the seductive aroma of beef product through my nostrils.

IMG_1556

Beth, the bride to be and I chillin’.  Go Pack Go!

***

“You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve ripped my pants playing basketball within a day of a wedding,” I explained to the group sitting around the table with the fire pit in the middle, each of us in satisfaction with an influx of burger and brat inside our stomachs. “I ripped a nice pair of leather pants sinking in a lay in against Collin Morlock during a game of one-on-one right after Jill’s wedding!”

“So why were you playing basketball in leather pants?” I knew the question would come up. It always does every time I tell the story (something I’m starting to find quite annoying as a matter of fact).

“I was just wearing them at the time, I don’t know! Ever since I saw that 2Chainz video with Kanye wearing them, I’ve always wanted a pair of my own, and so when Collin and Joey Carter asked me to play basketball out of the blue one day, I—“

“Kanye!?!?” burst a voice out of nowhere, its rapid response catching me off guard. I looked straight across from me to its source. It was Billy, and he was giving me the ol’ stare down. Not again.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t lie. The guy’s a musical genius. There’s no other way to put it.”

“No he’s not—are you crazy?”

“Dude… My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the single greatest album since Thriller, and Yeezus??? That album will literally blow your mind.” The intake of information was so enormous and mind-blowing, that he was literally rendered speechless, much like the first time I had read an Ayn Rand novel. Before he had a chance to speak again however, I took a different approach.

“Hey, everybody has their different takes on style, and that’s ok. You don’t have to like him, and I can respect that. But you can’t deny that the man’s an artist. There’s nobody else like him out there, just sayin’.”

Billy wasn’t amused, and the Kanye insults continued to fly, and of course, I continued to defend. “…Oh yea, well what about the Cold War Kids? Do you like them,” he asked. I hadn’t heard that band’s name in a long time, so his choice to use them as an example caught me a little of guard. Regardless of their current popularity though, anything short of a favorable answer would end in catastrophe. Lucky for us (although not a huge fan), I had nothing against the Cold War Kids.

“…I can rock with them,” I said back to him with a nod of agreement, not the exact answer he was looking for, but enough of an answer to ease the tension. “I’ve been to a concert or two of theirs, and they put on a good show. And I kind of like that one song about the hospital beds!” He sent me back a nod of approval. “Good, we’re making progress,” I thought to myself. “Just keep this going, and don’t say anything stupid...“

“Of course, he’s no Kanye West,” I said with a shrug of the shoulders and a turn of the head. “But hey, nobody’s perfect…” Whoops—slip of the tongue!

There was no over-reaction to his order, no rising of his voice, just another cold, hard stare to press his softly spoken command. “You can leave…” The rest of the table joined in on an awkward silence, each with a shiver of unease shooting through there cold spines, as if they had sensed the rotten smell of death brewing in the air. I could see it in his eyes, the morose state of his face—he was serious, and there were no witty anecdotes to save me, not even one involving Gretch. I hadn’t the slightest clue of how I was going to get out of this one with my pride intact—

“Can I tell a fairy tale?” asked a soft voice at the end of the table. All eyes redirected towards it—a little girl with golden, curly hair holding a staff with a clubbed end that was twice her size.

“Why, I’d love to hear a story,” said Anna while she helped the little girl up onto a high stool, taking her rightful position as head of the table. For the moment, it seemed as though our feud had fallen into suspension, for neither Billy nor I had the gall to deny this adorable little girl from telling her story, thank God. With our undivided attention, she clasped the clubbed end of the staff and began the telling of her epic tale.

“Once upon a time, there was a princess, and she was very pretty. And she had a pony. One day, she met a prince, and then the prince asked her to marry her and she said yes. The prince and the princess got married and moved into a big castle with a beautiful garden and they lived happily ever after. The end.”

The story was met with thunderous applause, all of it well deserved. I feared however, that it meant the standoff between Billy and I was to resume. It certainly wasn’t out of the picture for Billy to garnish enough support behind him, for he was a groomsmen after all, and Kanye West isn’t always the most popular figure among certain crowds. I mean, neither was Jesus, but that didn’t stop him from being right. “Would you like to hear another story?” asked the soft-spoken little angel. How could we say no?

“Once upon a time, there was a pretty princess, and she lived in a pretty castle with lots of horses. One day a prince came to the castle and asked her…”

The stories went on and the day grew dim, and by nightfall our little princess had tuckered out, her final departure requiring the assistance of her parents—our signal that it was also time for us to conclude the day’s festivities, for the real party was just around the horizon, and believe me, we needed all the rest we could get. “Does somebody want to drive my car back to the hotel?” I asked, knowing I probably could’ve driven myself, but not wanting to take any chances since alcohol consumption was involved. Hey, we made it this far; ain’t no way I’m screwin’ this thing up now!

“Don yu eve werr bout it! I’ll drive bak to us the hotell…” slurred Gretch while stumbling towards the car.

“Thanks, Gretch, but I don’t know if that’s such a—“

“I don’t mind driving you guys,” said a voice from behind. “I haven’t had anything to drink all day.” I turned around to discover it was Kassie, thank God. “Anna will drive your car to the Holiday Inn where we’re staying since I’ll have to drive my car back there anyway. We’ll switch cars, and I’ll take you to the La Quinta where you can check in. We go up to the room, drop off the bags, change, then we drive back to our hotel to hot tub before calling it a night.” It was a full proof plan, and I liked it… I liked it a lot!

***

“Hey, this is one of my favorite David Bowie songs,” said Kassie as we pulled out of the Holiday Inn parking lot. The horn intro of “Young Americans” marked the beginning of a lengthy journey back to our hotel due to its non-intuitive location and the complex of roundabouts that sent us in multiple wrong directions.

“Hey, it’s one of my favorite’s too,” I said, my voice growing with excitement. “You should’ve seen me at karaoke the other night,” I went on, naturally leading into a brief recount of our road trip. Bill and Gretch remained relatively silent throughout the car ride. I guess they weren’t up for a little conversation, which I found odd. Usually I’m doing everything in my power to get those two to shut up!

“Where are you guys going after the wedding?” she asked.

“Those two are flying to Montana, and me… I—I have may have some family, but… gee, I guess I don’t quite know yet…”

“Well, if needed, there’s always room at the organic farm. Just let me know if you need a place to stay.”

“Yea, you know, I’ve always had this fantasy about living on a farm…” I wasn’t lying when I said it either. I must’ve seen it in a movie one time, an old farm hunk and his old farm wife sitting on a bench swing at the end of the day, thinking about life and looking upon its sustenance during a sunset, giving thanks to God for the gifts that have been provided… you know, that kind of stuff. So I was pretty eager to grasp the whole organic farm experience if it indeed came into place.

We drove through the parking lot of a dilapidated strip mall, the once hopeful source of commercial capitalism nearly dwindled down to a ghostly remains. The heart of the strip mall, a 90’s Movieplex, served as its constant source of beating life, and even that was nearing an inevitable doom. “Are you sure we’re going the right way?” asked Kassie.

“That’s what Google Maps says. Follow this road a little farther maybe, passed this Applebee’s.”

A quarter mile later we rounded a corner to find the La Quinta Inn and Suites shinning in all of its neon glory, tucked into a corner next to the highway overpass. It was no Holiday Inn, but then again, it was no Motel 6 either—something we could live with. “Let’s check in and get this party started!”

***

“Room 421. Take a left and go down the hall. The elevator is to your right,” said the receptionist while handing us our keys.

“Thank you miss,” I replied. “You ready guys? Elevator’s this way I think.”

“Maybe we all should just take the stairs,” said Bill. I twerked my head and narrowed my eyebrows, a natural reaction to such a silly comment.

“Why would we take the stairs when we can just—“ Bill notioned over to an unsuspecting Gretch using an exaggerated tilt of the head and an obviated wink.

“You know, after what happened in Des Moines and all…”

“What do you mean Des Moines? I don’t remember anything—“ I took a quick look at Gretch, unable to control my grin. “OH YEA—uh, I mean, yea… I hear ya. Yes, I agree, let’s take the stairs. Me first!” I took running start to the staircase. “Oops, forgot my suitcase. Look out guys—“ I turned back. There, Kassie stood next to my suitcase with the same look of confusion I had given Bill a moment ago. “…You know, on second thought, maybe we should just take the elevator…” Bill stood in shock, his body positioned in a way that suggested he was using everything in his power not to strangle me. There was a strange vibration coming from his red-hot face, staring me down with a pair of eyes glowing with fury, acting like he had been delivered the ultimate betrayal, that a sacred vow of brotherhood had been broken between us… that he was staring at the reincarnation of Judas… “What?”

After dropping off our suitcases and making a quick change into my Speedo, we were back on the road, navigating through the maze of parking lots and roundabouts that separated the La Quinta from the Holiday Inn where Wes and Sean were out front waiting for our arrival. “What’s up guys?”

“The pool’s closed,” said Wes with a look of regret, sincerely bummed out and unable to fully lift his eyes from the ground. We felt his pain, for the same feeling of disappointment came over us as we drove past the dimly lit poolroom. His statement only confirmed that our hypothesis was correct. “…But we can still party…”

Wes led us up to the 4th floor and knocked on his door—no answer. He knocked again. “Don’t you have a key?” asked Gretch.

“Yea, but for some reason, it’s not working…” replied Wes, the knocks now turning to fist bangs with his lower lip tucked under his front teeth to gain leverage. “Wait a minute… this might not be our room…”

“Maybe we should bail,” whispered Kassie. I couldn’t help but agree, for the situation had devolved into every man for himself. We booked it down the hall, through the elevator and then to her and Maggie’s room, where I plopped on the couch with a giant sigh of relief—the coast was clear.

“Oh man, get this… so we came back and met up with Wes and Sean, and they were all ‘let’s go to my room and party,’ only it wasn’t his room, so we booked it, and I don’t know what happened to those guys, but Bill and Gre—wait… what happened to Bill and Gretch?” I whipped out my phone and texted Bill, my thumbs twitching across the screen in a frantic fashion.

“Is everything ok?” asked Maggie.

“Theoretically yes, I mean… I think Bill will be fine,” I said while dialing his number, my patience reaching its threshold after not receiving an immediate text back. His number went straight to voicemail. “I mean, we traveled all the way across this country together, so what’s a little time apart? But Gretch… she’s in this strange city all alone, and I just don’t want to see her… I just hope she doesn’t… I guess I’m just a little worried about her, that’s all…” I paused, noticing I was surrounded by a slew of funny looks. “I mean, it’s not that I’m ‘worried’ worried—no, I’m not worried about—Well maybe—It’s just… I’m worried about her because I’m worried about me, ok? Look, if she’s out there getting in trouble and stuff, I’m automatically guilty by association, and I can’t have that! No way, not in Wisconsin… I just need to find them, that’s all I’m trying to say, and if I don’t—“

“Well how about we give her a call?” suggested Maggie in a clear and calm manner. Her wealth of common sense continues to astound me to this day.

“Ok, yes, let’s give her a call.” And just like that, Maggie found her number and gave her a call. I continued. “All I’m trying to say is that I have a reputation to uphold, and it’s my responsibility to make sure it stays intact. Therefore, I have to keep her in check, no matter what; you know what I’m saying? I won’t let her—“

“Her phone must have died, but it sounded like they were going to get some food last time I talked to them. Don’t they have an Applebee’s around here or something?”

“…Applebee’s??? Dear God… I’ve gotta go…”

***

The door opened with a slow creep before I slouched into our room at the La Quinta, expended of all energy for one day. It had been an hour since I’d seen their faces, searching high and low between the Holiday Inn and the La Quinta, including each of the hotels themselves, Applebee’s, and a couple unintentional trips around the roundabouts. Bill stood opposite of me, neither one of us uttering a word; his pissed off look a mirror image of mine. We walked passed each other and to our beds to act as a pair of dead corpses; no direct eye contact was given. Gretch shuffled over and turned off the lights without our input. Apparently, she was in a bad mood as well. A mutual agreement was met that we were to pass out that night with nothing less than a grumpy mood.

Bill clicked the roof of his mouth with his tongue like any annoying, pretentious speaker does, before making an annoying, pretentious statement; a very unprecedented move at the time, but I was all ears. “Did you have fun making out with the farm girl?”

That was it. He had pulled the last straw, and I wasn’t in the mood to take his facetious attitude. “Are you kidding me? Are you freaking kidding me?” I smacked him across the body with my pillow. “POP!”

“You do this every time… Every time!”

“Yea, well you deserve it. Every time!” I took another swing. “CRACK!” Bill began to chuckle. “Oh, you think that’s funny, do you? BAM, SMACK, BOOM!”

I beat him into the bed as an Alabama man would his children, using any excuse to give his kids an old-fashioned belt whippin’ after coming home in his drunken stupor. “What do you have against farm girls, huh? POP!” Gretch lay there like a slug—it was her only defense.

The beatings continued and the turning point, the fine line between a child’s laugh and his desperate cry had been reached… and surpassed. Bill lay in his bed howling in pain after each blow, unable to utter the word “stop” between his gasps for air and his constant screams of pain. I however, could not distinguish such a moment, for my mind had been too far obfuscated with anger to understand the meanings of right and wrong. The darkness further muddled my head, until there was nothing but my animal instinct, commanding me to pound Bill into a jelly of disgrace, a sorry excuse for a man, all so I could hear him beg for my everlasting, omnipotent mercy—only to tell him “No” after his submission and proceed with another round of blows, much more merciless than before.

Yea, I whipped him, so? I whipped him good! I popped him, and I beat him to feed my satisfaction, one that was no longer understood, one that could never be fulfilled, the fierce contact between his body and the swinging pillow only providing a glimmer of false hope, just enough to deliver the next blow, and the next… and the next…

They say by the time I was over, I could no longer lift my arms for I had swung so hard and so repeatedly. I had blacked out with rage, to which my body eventually shut down, forcing itself back into bed with a subconscious thought in limbo, a wonder if the actions taken were ground for terminating a friendship. I could only pray that the pain delivered to Bill’s body was enough to shut off the brain receptacles that retain memory. It was our only hope, and we still had a full day until the wedding…

God help us all…

That Time I Became a Jedi Knight for a Wedding…

There is nothing that brings a group of convivial spirits together better than a wedding. Something about two individuals professing their everlasting love to each other just gets people in the mood for dancing, drinking, meeting and greeting, followed by excessive celebration throughout the night. I love showing up and raising eyebrows as I strut around on the dance floor in a newly tailored suit, at the same time fawning over the beautiful members of the opposite sex who are dressed equally as fashionable. They’re one of my favorite things to attend these days.

So when my longtime childhood friend Nate told me that he was getting married, I was more than excited to participate in the festivities along with all of the preceding events leading up to the big day. The first matter of business of course, was the bachelor party.

Now to be honest, I imagined a sentimental night reminiscing with a couple of old friends with what we used do on any typical Friday night when we were youngsters growing up in our small rural town along the Snake River; sitting around the TV with a large pepperoni lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, playing an epic game of Monopoly. And to top the night off, we’d finish with a little TGIF, watching only the classics of course; Family Matters, Boy Meets World, and Step by Step among a list of other great family friendly shows before popping into the VCR a selection from the Star Wars trilogy and fading into a deep slumber. It would be the perfect departure from bachelor life for our good friend before taking that final step into adulthood…

47 drinks later, I found myself at the rehearsal lunch the next day hating the very essence of human existence. My regularly extroverted personality had quickly turned quite misanthropic, as I sat at the table finding the task of swallowing food increasingly difficult, further regretting my bibulous decisions from the night before. With my face turned pale and my eyes bloodshot red and drooping halfway down my face, it was clearly evident that my cadaverous features had me in the running for poster boy of the Spokane County morgue.

I guess you could say that that day… just wasn’t my day. But at least I had the rest of the afternoon to recover before Nate’s wedding the day after, and thank God for that. I needed to be at the top of my game, because lets face it, wedding’s aren’t just a time to watch a couple present themselves as one under the blessing of God. They’re also prime territory for meeting babes… LOTS of babes!

On that sunny Sunday morning, after a good night of much needed sleep, I headed to the Glover Mansion, a historic landmark of Spokane, Washington where the wedding was to be held. Built in 1888 by famed architect Kirtland Cutter, this 12,000 square foot masterpiece takes the elegance of the Victorian era and mixes it with modern amenities such as electricity, air-conditioning, and Xbox, while still seamlessly preserving a classy 19th century look. I, as well as the other members of the wedding party, was enamored at the myriad of rooms to be explored amongst the vast layout of the place. Walking through the ballroom and up the stairs, I imagined a grand history of glamorous city functions that had taken place within the walls of the home: the rich and famous that had once stood in the very spot I was standing, the elegant parties held by Spokane’s aristocratic elite in the roaring 20’s, or the line of children scurrying down the steps each Christmas morning overlooking the spectacle of a 12 foot Douglas Fir meticulously decorated with a beautiful assortment of ornaments, towering over a collage of presents scattered about the room.

Along the upstairs hallway past the awning of the staircase, I peaked into a long line of bedrooms, each one housing in its past many a children, teenagers, parents and servants, each of whom had created their own memories, including semi-violent scuffles from family feuds between the siblings, deeply held secrets of sinister acts dealt within the mansion’s walls and never to be mentioned to the parents in fear of a spanking or grounding, and generations of people living out their lives in opulence and luxury, savoring the special occasions that cements the miracle of family. All of which is merely but a small fraction of the mansion’s 100 plus year history; a history that will never be complete, forever locked away in the minds of its previous dwellers.

The refined décor of the mansion’s interior screamed romance, an obvious attraction for wedding locale. And in almost all cases, romance attracts one other important element that wouldn’t make a wedding complete without it’s complement… Girls!

As for the wedding itself, I wasn’t exactly a groomsman, but still seen somewhat as a guest of honor, able to hang out with the homies and do the groomsmen type of stuff before the commencement of the day’s activities. Most people would be a little sour about not being picked as a groomsman, but the way I see it, I’m still looked upon with importance to the groom, while holding less responsibility, thus, giving me more time to plot my strategies and execute my mission to pick up more babes, a mission that my mind quickly began convincing me that it was to be the day’s primary objective.

Not long after I arrived, the first prospect came strolling by the groomsmen’s lair. “Can I get you guys anything?” sounded a pretty voice, just sweet enough to divert my attention away from the major Halo pown session I was delivering on the Xbox. It was the wedding planner, a traditional cutie presented to us gracefully in a summer dress, one of my favorite types. A couple dumbstruck looks floated around the room, as if they didn’t exactly know what to do when a situation like this arises. Luckily for them, I had a witty and concise request up my sleeve to relieve the stagnant awkwardness consuming the room.

“Yea, I’d like a round of beers,” I stated, followed by a few chuckles from the rest of the party.

“No problem, I’ll bring you guys up a couple of Blue Moon’s,” she replied with straight and proper demeanor, much to our astonishment. My buddy Alex and I looked at each other with bewilderment, as if we had just watched Jesus himself turn water into wine. A minute later she was back with 8 full bottles of beer, more than plenty for each of us to get loose with before show time, an accommodation that literally took my breath away. I knew this one was worth it, at least for some good conversation, with the possibility of a number exchange.

I spent a couple minutes ironing out my moves, contemplating how to approach the situation and what lines to say, then waiting for the opportune moment to strike. I could start with a few trivial questions about the history of the mansion, spark some intellectual curiosity, then move into some small talk, a perfect setup to swoop in with a clever pick-up line and sweep her off her feet.

After a minute of preparation, I was ready for action. This doll was in my sights, and I set out to claim her full of confidence and adroitness… only to be stopped within footsteps of my prize by Nate’s father, our long time spiritual advisor.

“Follow me,” he insisted with a slight grin on his face. I was very reluctant to do so, for I had this anxious feeling that it could destroy all of the plans I had worked so hard to set in place. Regardless of my quarrels, I decided to abort my mission for the time being and settle into what he had to say out of respect for the man. I’d get my chance; patience was the key.

“I’m going to need your help during the reception,” he began as he led me into one of the empty rooms of the mansion. His smile grew ever more vivacious as he began pulling out an oversized brown cloak from a closet in which the fabric never seemed to have an end judging by the amount of pulling that was required to lift it completely off the ground. After a minute of pulling, it was finally removed from the closet, and in the corner appeared a long glass shaft with some metallic gizmos at one end. Nate’s father looked around the room in a sheepish manner, while my intuition foresaw bad idea brewing inside his head. When the coast was clear, he grabbed the glass wand and pressed a button, illuminating the glass with a bright neon blue color. It was now abundantly clear what this long, light infused object was, and I could feel my heart sinking into the abysmal depths of my chest, fearing that I was to have a significant level of involvement with it. With a cloak in one hand, and a lightsaber in the other, he leaned in close to my ear and whispered…

“I want YOU to be a Star Wars Jedi Knight during the wedding.”

“NOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed inside my skull. This was bad. REALLY bad.

“And?”

“And you’re going to walk around, and talk to people like you’re a Jedi from Star Wars. You know, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Yoda, or Luke Skywalker! It’s going to be really funny.”

The look in his eyes—I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nate’s dad so excited for anything in his entire life. And I could understand; his son was getting married, and in his eyes this would be the coupe de grace of all toasts to end toasts for future toasts for all people who like to toast. What I’m trying to say is, if I went through with this, my chances for getting any girls at this wedding would be, well, toast.

“Uh, ok, I guess I could think of something to do when-“

“Great! We’ll talk a little later, I’m going to go check on some of the other family members,” he told me while dumping the Jedi equipment in my hands and disappearing into the depths of the mansion. In the distance I caught a glimpse of Nate’s younger brother looking upon my overwhelmed stature and shaking his head, vicariously feeling the anguish I was suffering. But what was I going to do? Say no? I’m sure he had this stunt planned out for weeks—months even, and had been counting on me and me alone to pull it off.

Some quick background before I go any further: As kids, we used to love Star Wars, like many young children did. There were many weekends and even weekdays where we’d stay up late watching the movies over and over again, arguing over its history and why and how the events took place the way they did. It opened up an endless imagination of space and exploration, with a good mix of fantasy and mythology, a perfect aggregation that we seemed to never grow tired of, especially Nate. Over the years, many of us kept our appreciation for the film series, even the butchered prequels, with Nate showing the most affection, something I completely respect the man for. But I just couldn’t see him bringing homage to his Star Wars adulation at his wedding. I guess his father had a different idea, and who am I to argue?

Anyway, the outdoor wedding ceremony began, and it was hotter than a honey bucket in the Gobi Desert. My 100% cotton shirt wasn’t doing me any favors either, intensifying strategically placed discolorations under my armpits and back from the copious amount of sweat dripping from my pores. “How the hell did I get myself into this,” I kept asking myself, escalating my frustration through each thought that entered my head. I don’t know why Nate just couldn’t have made me a groomsman. It would’ve been way easier to pick up babes that way, and I could have easily gotten out of stupid Jedi duties. It seems like this type of crap keeps on happening to me wherever I go.

They said some vows and kissed or whatever—I don’t exactly remember in what order; I was still a little steamed about being a Jedi and suffering in the baking sun. Don’t worry, I kept my cool and didn’t make a scene, partly out of respect for Nate, but mostly because my parents were there and I didn’t want to deal with getting the wide-eyed death stare from my mother mixed with the “cut it out” hand gesture across the throat, or get a disappointment lecture from the old man later. Both suck in their own separate ways.

My angst didn’t stop there. During the ceremonial lunch, I was constantly tormented by my throbbing heartbeat, a subconscious reaction to the fact that I was about to look like a complete dork in front of everybody. I hadn’t felt this much anxiety since the time cousin Nick made me do a belly flop at the Wisconsin Chain O’ Lakes in front of a parade of pontoon boats, and the more I tried to forget about the whole thing and conceal my emotions, the harder they came crashing down. It took a long time for me to overcome my nerdy past of math teaming, chess clubbing, Magic: The Gathering, and computer plugging from high-school, and as an engineer, I’m constantly battling the stigmas of nerdom, which is not an easy thing to do, but somehow seem to pull off from time to time. God knows how many years this little spectacle was going to set me back.

The ambience of talk and background music faded as the honored guests took center stage to begin their toasts, my cue to sneak off to the upstairs and prepare for my “Grand Entrance.” “Oh gee, I have to go to the bathroom,” I told my surrounding company as I glibly excused myself from my table and headed towards my immanent doom. I reached the backroom where the stunt’s apparatus lay, but not before something else caught my eye in the bridesmaid’s den; an open bottle of champagne placed smack dab in the middle of a table with droplets of water bleeding through the glass. I wish I could say I skipped passed that room without touching the bottle, but shamefully, desperate times call for desperate measures, and my human willpower wasn’t strong enough to resist the temptation.

After my quick pit stop, I settled into the backroom, slipped on the Jedi cloak and grasped the lightsaber tightly as if I was ready for battle. “Maybe I don’t look so bad,” I thought to myself, working up the courage to raise my head and take a look in the mirror. “Who knows, I may even look pretty cool…”

It was worse than I could have ever imagined. I looked like a total dweeb, and in the era of social media, that means you’ll always and forever be a dweeb. There were going to be pictures and video evidence plastered all over Facebook, Instagram, and all those other bull crap websites. Potential employers would see that and be all, “This guy has the goods, but look at him in this ridiculous Star Wars outfit! I think we’re going to have to go with this Ben Woodward kid instead.” And what if I ever had the blessing of meeting my hero Kanye West? “Oh, you’re that dude that looks like a jerk in that Jedi costume. No way you’re dope enough to kick it with me,” he’d say before driving off on his hog with his smokin’ hot wife.

Man, all these scenarios were starting to make me a little light headed. The intensity of my breathing increased and I began to keel over, nearly losing the ability to stand. “I hope I don’t pass out from a panic attack,” I said to myself… or did I?

Then, a sudden epiphany struck me, sending a sensation of feeling back into my legs. Alex and I had spotted an old secret passageway earlier when we went exploring around the crib—an old servant’s staircase out of sight from the mansion’s main interior. It led to the staff kitchen, which connected to the dining room where lunch was being served that had a door leading to the patio outside. With everybody’s attention on the guests of honor divvying out their toasts, it was a clear and straight shot to freedom. I could bail out of there without even being seen, if it weren’t for the fact that I had my backpack still lying in the groomsmen’s lair. It had a couple of valuables in there, an Ernest Hemmingway book, some Green Bay Packers paraphernalia, and my private journal of which I had spent two years recording my inner thoughts and writing down all the important events that had taken place, along with a couple great ideas that I had plans of pursuing in the future, many of which are very personal. With that thing in the wrong hands, the consequences could be devastating, let alone the fact that I was about to lose two years of invaluable knowledge and memories I had worked so hard on to inscribe. I guess some sacrifices just have to be made…

“My iPad!” I blurted as my palm met my forehead with a giant “smack!” I realized I had brought it with me for some silly reason! I don’t even know why it was in my backpack in the first place! “Crap,” I puttered as I jerked my head forward and gritted on my teeth. “I spent like 600 bucks on that thing!”

There was no way I was leaving without that! So once again, I was back at square one, in torturous solidarity waiting for the ultimate and inevitable humiliation.

Through the hall echoed the toasts from the bridesmaids. I listened attentively as they poured out their hearts and emotions for the newly wed couple, wishing them the best of luck and sending kind words of gratitude for all the memories and impacts they had on each of them. “No. Stop. Don’t do it,” I kept telling myself, but it was no use. A giant wave of guilt blasted away my selfish desires, similar to how Luke Skywalker blew apart the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie.

“What was I thinking,” I asked myself. “We’re talking about one of my childhood best friends here!” All the memories—the monopoly games, Mountain Dew consumption, Nintendo 64, James Bond Golden Eye, Sim-City 2000, TGIF, Pizza-Hut ordering, Nudey scene from Titanic—The point I’m trying to make is that there was too much history there, and Star Wars was his all-time favorite movies series, the consummation of our childhood! Sure, he isn’t as into it as he once was, but it’s still important to him… it has to be. Chances are he’s going to appreciate the ode to our favorite pastime and the fact that I looked like a doofus in front of everybody. Maybe I can suck it up and do it, or just kind of ease into a plan B or something—

Too late. The Star Wars fanfare boomed through the speakers from the wedding DJ. Go time.

Before I could figure out what to do, my legs involuntarily moved my body down the steps and onto center stage, with all eyes fixated on this dingus who was clad in an oversized brown cloak. Through my peripherals, I could definitely tell I was creeping a couple of the hotties out, but whatever. That was neither here nor there anymore.

I approached the wedding party’s table and revealed myself to the man of the hour, sitting next to his bride by pulling off the hood. They shot me a smile that resembled that of amusement mixed with delight, and maybe a little shot of “really?” on the side. I pulled out the lightsaber and proceeded to knight my newly wedded friend.

“Nate, my young padwan… You have completed your Jedi training. You are now worthy of courting your princess. Go in peace my young Jedi… and may the force be with you… Always.”

Something along those lines was said; I can’t remember the exact phrases. To be honest, I don’t know if you can ever remember something you say when it comes directly from the heart.

The Jedi knighting was followed by a hearty resonance of clapping and laughter. I couldn’t tell if I had actually pulled this off or if they were just placating me with a polite response. Frankly, I didn’t think about that part too hard, I was just glad the whole thing was over. And you know, I think I even made that babe of a wedding planner smile a little bit, even when she was trying hard not to. But even better was the look of sincere gratitude Nate’s father flashed me as I made my way back up through the crowd after the knighting was finished. I left with a solid feeling that although I may have made a complete ass out of myself, I had at least lightened the mood for a couple of folks, and touched the hearts of others.

Sometimes, it just takes a man to be willing to go through a little humiliation to better the populace. And I guess in the end, it’s just a reflection of one’s character, the type of person they truly are—their creed.

So when it was all said and done, I wasn’t able to nail down any hot dates with any babes, but you know, that’s ok. Getting together that weekend for a celebration of life and love brought back a lot of great memories with a lot of great friends. And most importantly, Nate scored a dame that he’ll get to spend the rest of his life with, a good one at that. That’s something I can definitely live with, no matter how many stupid Jedi pictures get posted on Facebook.

Besides, I still got a couple more weddings to knock out before the season’s over. If I play my cards right, I just might run into a broad or two; I mean, the odds are kind of in my favor now. I bet there’s a lucky babe waiting just around the corner looking for her Jedi hunk.

A very lucky babe…