In the Movie Version, Leslie Nielsen Plays Me

Miss Sasha has lived in Charleston, South Carolina long enough to attend some weddings. She enjoys the traditions her new friends incorporate into their nuptuals like softball games, organized visits to beauty parlors, tons of gifts, dinners, barbecues and shopping excursions. What she failed to realize in the planning of her wedding was that neither the families nor the ceremony were located in South Carolina. We’re in New Jersey. Here, we bathe and primp, attend the service and/or the reception, and gifts are offered in a whirlwind of love, resentment and hair care products while everyone taps their watches. Thus, we gather for a barbecue at 1 p.m. the day after the wedding with a mixture of impatience and condiments. My mother calls twice before 10 to discuss that mass grave of fried chicken parts occupying the top shelf of my fridge.

Tata: I was planning to throw the whole tray into a 250 degree oven while I shower and dress.
Mom: Have you looked under the foil?
Tata: No. I can’t meet a friend or blood relation without them shoving food at me this week. The fried chicken had no reason to fear me.
Mom: Look under the foil.
Tata: It’s Chicken Armageddon in there! Why are we cooking anything else?

While I walk around a one bedroom apartment picking up detritus from my week of running from room to room shouting, “I MEANT TO DO THAT!” and “I MEANT TO DO THAT TOO!” the chicken heats on three big pans in my oven. I have all the time in the world to do this because Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, decided at 5 a.m. it was time for me to wake up and play with him. Just before Mamie picks me up, I toss the chicken into one of those blue speckled roasting pans, which I tie shut with some tulle. Yes, I ALWAYS have tulle. The storebought pies go in a department store bag with handles. It’s a lot to carry. Unfortunately, every member of my family brings twice as much.

Originally, the barbecue was going to be at Mom’s house but that plan went straight to Hell when Sister #1 had her baby and Mom spent two weeks changing diapers, so we’re setting up at the clubhouse in #1’s condo development. Mamie and I show up half an hour late. For the next hour and a half, members of Miss Sasha’s family show up and ask the same question: where’re the newlyweds?

We have a fine barbecue without them. We eat, sit around talking, eat again, sit around talking, eat a third time. We aren’t making a dent in the food. Three dozen people stare at each other with horror when Mom suggests we’re not eating enough. Some conversations happen over and over all day.

Topic A: Fashion

Celebrant 1: Did you see that guy in the guinea T at the wedding?
Celebrant 2: NO!
Celebrant 1: Yes! I looked over and there was a guy in dress shoes, dress pants and a guinea T!
Celebrant 2: Was it his formal wifebeater?

Topic B: Hotel-Related

Celebrant 1: Did you go to the after-party?
Celebrant 2: I didn’t. I heard the party didn’t break up until 11:30 this morning.
Celebrant 1: Going home in daylight sucks. I don’t do that anymore.
Celebrant 2: When other people are on their way to work, put down your beer and go to bed.

Topic C: Sharkey

Tata: Wonder where Sharkey is…
Celebrant 1: How long have you two been dating?
Tata: We’re not dating. He’s my friend. I told you that yesterday.
Celebrant 1: You’re not dating? I thought you were dating.
Tata: When my lips move do you think you’re hearing voices?

Topic D: The Cake

Celebrant 1: We’re having the Gaston Avenue hazelnut cake because the wedding cake was wrong.
Celebrant 2: Wrong? What was wrong with it?
Celebrant 1: Did you notice the display cake at the beginning of the reception was different from the one half an hour later?
Celebrant 2: Cardboard? Legos? PlayDoh?
Celebrant 1: The Pines put out the wrong cake. Then they put out a second wrong cake. They served the second wrong cake. So we’re having Gaston Avenue now.
Celebrant 2: Awesome. I’d eat that off a garbage can lid!

Topic E: The Kids Playing Outside

Celebrants 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Who’s crying?

Topic F: The Future

Celebrant 1: I am so glad that fucking wedding is over!
Celebrants 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Me, too!
Celebrant 1: I get my life back!
Celebrants 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Me, too!

The happy couple arrives around 6. I take one look at her and start twitching again. At the rehearsal, several members of the bridal party wore tshirts:

bride
groom
best man
maid of honor

Miss Sasha is wearing a tshirt so post-post-post-feminist, I am speechless with rage for half an hour:

Mrs. [insert groom’s last name]

She doesn’t come near me. Later, Mamie is introduced to Darla, Dad’s third wife. She is brilliant, confident, cuter than bright buttons and Canadian. Darla, Mamie and I sit with Dad. Dara, bored, sits down. Mom, who is not Dara’s mother, asks if Dara’s had enough to eat. My little sister – like everyone else – is stuffed and says so.

[By the way, if you’re reading this and you’re a Brit: I know exactly what you’re thinking and you’re thinking it about a thirteen-year-old, you freaking pervert. Quit it!]

A thing unprecedented happens. Mom addresses Dad, slides her hands under Dara’s armpits, lifts her a bit and shakes. This is highly uncharacteristic behavior. It hangs in the air for a second, then Dad doubles over. She is making a joke only she and Dad understand. In my 42 years, this may never have happened in my presence and since the seventies, they have few nice things to say about one another. They tell us a story I’ve never heard before.

Dad: There was a restaurant in a house on Easton Avenue in Somerset. The restaurant was run by a big woman and there was no menu. Mama would take a look and decide what you wanted. “You will have the pork chops. You look like the turkey to me.” And then she would bring you that.
Mom: Vegetables came in large bowls.
Mamie: Served family style –
I kick Mamie under the table. She wordlessly threatens me with a plastic fork. The story continues.

Dad: Exactly! Family style. There was no such thing as “I’m full.” Once, I said. “I’m full” and she grabbed me under the arms –
Mom: She lifted him up –
Dad: She shook me from side to side like this –
Dad shakes himself like a ten-foot Eastern European woman is making a heavily-accented point with him.

Dad: Then she says –
Mom: “Now you eat more!”
Dad: “Now you eat more!” In self-defense, I DID!

My brother and Sister #1 – younger than me, and who may not remember when our parents were still married – sit at a table maybe 15 feet behind Mom and Mom’s husband Tom, who sits down between Mom and Darla. I wish desperately my siblings could eavesdrop on the conversation but jumping up and down and shouting, “GET A LOAD OF THIS…!” would disrupt the congenial mood.

We are drinking white wine. Mom, Darla and I are very concerned when the wine we’re drinking runs out. Mom opens two bottles. Dad picks up one and shakes his head. Jubilant in a moment of experimentation, we all talk at once.

Mom: So regular bottle or Dysfunctional Family size?
Dad: Don’t drink that. You will find it very un-tasty.
Darla: This is terrible! Taste that!
Tata: Go put the regular bottle on the table with all the nursing mothers. They won’t drink it and we look very generous!
Mom goes, comes back with the bottle.

Mom: #1 said the same thing.
Dad: The pinot grigio in the Dysfunctional Family size, then.
Tata: I wonder where Sharkey’s been all day.
Mom: I like him. How long have you been dating?
Tata: We dated years ago for a matter of minutes. We’re friends.
Dad: I like him but –
Mom: He’s not our favorite of your exes.
Dad: We liked Ned but –
Mom: We liked him but not for you –
Tata: Did you say “we”?
Mom: We liked the most recent one.
Dad: He was smart.
Tata: You said “we!” Paulie’s great. We’re fast friends.
Mom: So who’s next? Got a new amour?
Tata: I can’t be trusted to pick a lover without a Sherpa guide and a guard dog?
Dad: How about a quorum and a detective agency?

The most important conversation of the day isn’t a joy for anyone. Darla, Mamie and I are minding our own business – possibly talking writing or politics – when Mrs. Lost Her Own Identity makes her way over to us.

Tata: It is taking every ounce of restraint I have not to rip that shirt off you.
Mrs. Missing: Mommy, I’m just going to enjoy this for one week, then –
Tata: Enjoy WHAT? Being someone else’s PROPERTY?
Darla: I can’t believe you took his name!
Mrs. Missing: I’m just going to enjoy being Mrs. Sasha for one week –
Tata: You can be Sasha or you can be Mrs. [insert his name] but not both. Miss Manners frowns on it.
Darla: It’s true! One or the other. And the meaning of it is ownership.
Mamie gets up. She’s been listening to me bitch about the blood vessel I almost burst at the reception last night and she knows I’m going to bitch about this topic for weeks to come. She figures she’ll get ten minutes of Shut Up, Tata now. Darla takes my point and runs with it. For once, when I’m tired of talking I tag a teammate who doesn’t turn out to wrestle for the other team. Mrs. I Won’t Think And You Can’t Make Me dismisses us with a good natured wave and sashays off to play with the kids.

A good time is had by all. A stroke is not actually had by me.

By the time Mamie and I leave, my braces have stabbed very painful holes in my tongue and I can’t talk anymore. That’s okay. Everyone knows what I think without another word.

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Chapter 6: In Which I Am Absent

Mamie: After you left, Lala, Ned, Uncle James and I went to the after-party across the street at the Clarion. I was glad we went. We were the only people there from Miss Sasha’s side of the aisle.
Tata: So who was there?
Mamie: The groom’s parents and their friends.
Tata: …no…!
Mamie: Yes! They were drinking Jack Daniels. Remember that guy who took his own picture? He spent ten drunken minutes shouting, “Mamie! Maaaaaaaaaamie! Mamie!”
Tata: Christ! You enjoyed that, I’m sure.
Mamie: He went to every table and took his own picture.
Tata: What a prick! He was chatting you up?
Mamie: He was chatting up a lamp. I was incidental.
Tata: How long did you stay?
Mamie: Hour? Maybe an hour and a half? The happy couple didn’t come down for a while. We were waiting for Miss Sasha. The whole thing was pathetic.
Tata: I’m so appalled!
Mamie: You would’ve been really appalled when your new arch-enemy the mother of the groom was hugging and squeezing on her son and she said, “I thank God for him every day!” and I said to him, “People believe in God! Isn’t that hysterical?”
Tata: Good thing he’s fucking used to you!
Mamie: We left right after that. We figured if they had any brains left they might organize and kill us.

What the Right Hand Is Doing

Sharkey gets me a glass of red wine because after three martinis I slur the absolute truth – and no one needs that until after the food’s served. During the cocktail hour, while we wait for the bridal limo to circumvent the accident on Route 1 by scaring the same sheep Sharkey narrowly avoided turning into fender-kebabs, we nibble bits of salmon, crostini, pineapple and mozzarella. The room has too few chairs. I have one eye on the doorway and one on the guests, who continue to arrive in waves. Catering at the Pines Manor does a mediocre job of keeping the appetizer trays filled. I’m nervous about my role here, but I needn’t be.

Traditionally, Mothers of Brides plan weddings and execute anyone who crosses them. When Lacy Peterson went missing, 19,000 other people were unaccounted for in California alone. I bet at least half of them refused to serve proper canapes or wear seafoam green dyeables. With help from my sisters and the professional planner, Miss Sasha planned her own wedding; technically my responsibilities end at chewing with my mouth closed. As I look around the room, I see my family talking to everyone. Dad, who has been in a mood, turns into Maurice Chevalier in the presence of guests, as he always does. He charms young and old. friend and stranger alike. Mom, who’s fretting because the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm)’s girlfriend is wearing the same ensemble, talks to guests about the choir, the ceremony and her look-alike granddaughter. My uncle, whose oldest daughter – my first cousin – is engaged, practices on the family of the groom. It’s like the Ice Capades in a warm room with tuxedos.

As an aside: we must take note of the obvious. The groom’s mother wears a shiny, blue dress that is in no way described by the words “shiny,” “blue” or “dress.” It’s a giant, formless, potato sack of a garment made of get-well-soon balloon mylar on a nice-looking woman who ought to know better. Now, back to the reception.

The limo arrives. Doors to the reception room open and guests shuffle toward their tables. I put my formal cigar box purse down on the table and dash off to join the bridal party. The wedding planner lines us up. I’m first, and I’m escorted by Tippycanoe and Tyler Two, who passed their nap-needing social peak an hour ago. They don’t want to hold my hand. They want to fight like superheroes. The wedding planner says the boys and I walk across the dance floor and I leave them with their moms, Sisters #1 and #3.

Tata: Boys, hold still and listen to Auntie Kathleen.
Tyler Two: No! I’m a bad guy getter!
Tata: We have to be good for five more minutes, then we can get all the bad guys.
Tippycanoe: Act like a gentleman!
Tyler Two: Okay.
Tata: Huh! Wonder why I didn’t say that…

The doors open. It’s all I can do to get two five-year-olds across the dance floor, between two tables and back to their moms before the kicking starts again. I barely notice the DJ’s playing “Who Let the Dogs Out.” My Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm)’s introduced, the groom’s parents, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen. I find my own chair with Sharkey, Lala, Ben, Trout, Mamie, Uncle James, Creese and Ned. It’s a good thing I’m sitting down with my oldest, dearest friends (minus a few important people) because when the happy couple is introduced as “Mr. & Mrs. [insert groom’s name here]” my entire family has a collective aneurysm, and I feel like I’ve been punched in the face.

The next few minutes of who-dances-with-whom are kind of a blur. Toasts are made. I don’t actually care. The highly flammable maid of honor – another of my first cousins – gives a little speech about Miss Sasha. They were born eight months apart and have been fighting over accessories all their lives. My mother, who is demure and ladylike in public comes to my chair and speaks firmly.

Mom: At last, someone mentioned the bride at this wedding.
Tata: What?
Mom: This has all been about the groom.

Fortunately, the bar is open and my friends have lined up glasses of red wine in front of me. Mamie’s downed a few and hates the music. A person we don’t know approaches the table.

Stranger: Hey, you’re supposed to open the disposable camera and take pictures –
He takes a picture of himself.

Mamie: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Stranger: No, you take pictures of yourselves and –
Mamie: NO, REALLY. WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Laughing nervously, he backs away with his hands where we can see them.

Mamie: Lala! Meet me under the table!

Nobody argues. We all climb under the table and take pictures of each other. Well, mostly.

Mamie: My knees hurt so only my upper body was under there. I hope the camera was behind me so Miss Sasha sees video of my giant ass sticking out.

We do this twice more before my family notices. We know we’ve been caught when we hear Sister #1 gasp, “They’re all under the table!” We get up in a hurry. Ned adjusts his clothes theatrically.

Ned: I FOUND IT!

We’re creative boredom fighters and we have a camera.

Mamie: Ben, do you think you can carry Tata on your shoulders?
Ben: Sure!
Mamie: To the Pines Manor sign, away!

As a table, we bolt from the room and outside. The rain’s stopped, the sun’s out. I climb on Ben’s shoulders and pull myself up to the best spot on the sign. Mamie takes pictures. A passerby shouts, “Does that mean you’re on the menu?”

Lala: You can’t afford to pick up the check.

Uncle James climbs on Mamie’s back for more pictures. We return to a party in need of food in a hurry. The banquet line is moving too slowly for our taste. The music takes a turn for the better with some Bobby Darin, then Dean Martin. After we eat, we all decide we’ve had enough to drink so we go back to the bar.

Tata: The only way this Hell could be fresher is if the DJ plays “The Electric Slide.”
(Less than 10 seconds later, I swear.)
Uncle James: Coming right up!
Tata: If only I’d asked for your head on a platter full of Jell-O.
Mamie: I LOVE A LINE DANCE!

Mamie grabs Lala and makes for the dance floor, where every female member of the groom’s family demonstrates the idea that rhythm might be subjective. If I slap my forehead any harder I might hear my brain go splat against the back of my skull. Everyone twists to Chubby Checker. Miss Sasha plays a tremendous trick on us all by requesting “Rock Lobster.” Miss Sasha knows her parents, her aunties, and our friends. Though I have been reasonably well-behaved until now, now I am a New Wave girl, surrounded by the same people I danced with in high school. When Fred shouts, “DOWN! DOWN!” I do the backstroke lying on the floor, as Miss Sasha knew I would, and I am not alone. When the song ends, we are breathless and exuberant – until we realize the DJ’s started “Hava Nagila.” The groom’s family stares as my family – not Jewish except me – and her Dad’s family – all Jewish – dance the hora. The bride sits on a chair her male relatives hoist up on their shoulders. Everybody shouts! Mamie’s shouting out dance steps. When the song ends, we are thrilled! Plainly, it’s time for another drink. You know – to rehydrate.

Now that we’ve eaten, had a few drinks and danced ourselves lightheaded, we’re having a good time. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his brother – two of the funniest pranksters I’ve ever known – are tangoing cheek to cheek as I cross the dance floor. A person I shook hands with in the receiving line grabs me by the arm. There’s an ax-grinding look in her eye as she tosses her head in their direction.

Steffie: DID YOU KNOW?

I burst out laughing and point at her as I walk the last three feet to the dancing brothers, where I tell them what just happened, and they burst out laughing as we realize what the groom’s family thinks.

Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm): “Did you KNOW those brothers were QUEER FOR EACH OTHER?”

We gasp for breath and they go back to dancing together. This moment, more than any other, encapsulates the evening for me later on. As the music of the last song winds down, the DJ tells us the party’s over. A microphone ends up inexplicably in the hands of a member of the groom’s family, who drunkenly warbles the Stone Temple Pilots song “Plush.” If you’re not acquainted with this song, it’s the musings of a serial killer about the girl he’s left on a hillside.

Tata: Sharkey, drop me home, willya?

Friends, Sharkey does.

The Wedding Part of the Wedding

On very few occasions have each and every member of my family agreed – to the very last man, woman and English-speaking child – about anything. In small groups, we agree on relatively minor things, say:

+ Broccoli and macaroni can make a tasty salad.
+ …
+ …okay, we agree broccoli and macaroni can make a tasty salad but only if the broccoli is crisp and the macaroni is al dente and the salad dressing is spicy and not too heavy on the olive oil and you present it in a beautiful bowl with nice serving spoons and the temperature outside is a pleasant 74 degrees with a light breeze. Did I tell you to use the extra virgin olive oil three times because you never listen?

Another small group agrees to all those conditions and freshly ground black pepper but the temperature has to be more like 80. I fall into that faction. I don’t know what made me say this.

Tata: Ever watch that show Monk? It’s about an obsessive-compulsive, phobic detective. I know in every scene what’s going to set him off.

Everyone dropped forks, swallowed in a perilous hurry and squealed, “Me too! Me too!” Families have their own kinds of crazy. We count bathroom tiles, level picture frames, wash our hands a few dozen times; none of us can tolerate accidental asymmetry. It’s a good thing we’re good looking because we’re one prescription pad away from medical experiments.
***************************************************

I wolf down lunch. Sharkey’s coming to pick me up at 1 for the 2 p.m. ceremony. Sharkey’s always late – fine by me since Bianca’s making guest appearances on All My Children. He will escort me down the aisle, through the wedding ceremony and throughout dinner so if I throw down my formal cigar box purse and go after a bridemaid, Sharkey will toss me over his shoulder and take me to Time Out. Yes, I’ve got my own bouncer. In the car, I’m too nervous to make conversation. At the church, guests fill the atrium. The same conversation recurs.

Tata: This is my friend Sharkey.
Guest: Your Friend?
Tata: No, my friend. You have friends, right?

Sharkey is a handsome, olive-skinned man with impossibly blue eyes. His black hair is always perfect. My family met him years ago, forgot and met him again, which is fine because despite his prodigious IQ he has the memory of a tse tse fly. We stand in the lobby well after the guests are seated and bored. With the rain, it takes three people to get 90 lb. Miss Sasha out of a limo and into the church’s glass atrium. Bridesmaids and more bridesmaids spill from the long white limo and dash in behind her. I’m standing around without a clue. They ask me what to do.

Five Girls In Navy: Where’s the bride’s room?
Tata: Um…how about this one filled with papier mache?
Five Girls In Navy: Okay!

The wedding planner and Miss Sasha have evaporated into thin air. Sharkey and I stand around picking lint off each other like primate grooming partners. Other than latecomers, the only other people in the lobby are the parents of the groom and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm). Something’s up. The wedding planner runs by and gives us permission to use the restroom. Someone’s in the stall when I walk in, so I examine my hair.

Tata: Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.
FLUSH!

I pass the groom’s mother and lock the door behind me.

In the lobby, we line up and march in. Sharkey’s got me by one arm and good thing because I keep trying to sprint in silver brocade slippers with an adorable kitten heel. I sit down next to my former Mother-In-Law, who couldn’t be more marvelous if she were dipped in gold. Sharkey slides in next to me. My five-year-old nephews Tippycanoe and Tyler Two march to the priest with all the dignity ring-bearing little boys in suits can muster just before they need cookies and naps. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) delivers the bride to her groom in an arcane series of steps. Yesterday, I described this to Sister #1.

Tata: This. That. This. That. This. That. I said to the priest, “We will never, never remember all this.”
Sister #1: It’s that complicated?
Tata: This Virginia Reel had better have a really good caller.

He sits down next to his mother. The bride and groom turn to face the priest and then it happens. Simultaneously, every member of my family sits up straight and starts twitching. The priest talks. The choir sings. The priest talks. The choir sings. The priest talks and talks. The back of Miss Sasha’s wedding dress has my complete and undivided attention. A bow in the middle of her back appears to have unsnapped and it dangles. I whisper to Sharkey, “The whole left side of the church is trying to fix that bow telepathically.” Meanwhile, my former Mother-In-Law is narrating in the way only older people get away with.

fMIL: That is a lovely dress. Of course, she’s a beautiful girl. It’s too bad about the rain. Your cousins look marvelous in their gowns. Which one is your sister? Have you ever been in this church before? That’s your mother’s choir, isn’t it? They’re not with the church. What beautiful voices! Isn’t that Tom with the choir too? Is he singing? I’m so glad, that makes it special…

I am not at all encouraging her by asking questions. That would be rude.

A year later, the best man comes to escort me to the altar, where I am inexplicably trusted with something ON FIRE. Up the steps, off to the left and my wrist corsage gets caught on a flower arrangement behind me. The assembled gasp. I yank my arm free, though I fail to break anything. I light the candle and CLOP CLOP CLOP back to my seat. Everyone laughs.

fMIL: That really lightened the mood!
Tata: Thank you, darling!

The priest talks some more. The choir sings. The priest talks. He announces the happy couple’s going to give their mothers flowers and mmmpyouhhyyyoppphhhhh. That’s what I heard. The kids hand me a bouquet. I buss them both on the cheeks. They give his mother flowers and everyone kisses some more. They have a third bouquet.

Tata: Where are they going?
Sharkey: They’re giving flowers to the “Virgin Mother”.
He makes little quotes with his fingers.

Tata: That’s idolatry!

The happy couple says “I do” and “I do” early on in this ceremony so we all think we’re waiting for a pronouncement of “husband and wife” or “bowling partners” or something recognizable. It never happens. The people with the new monogram smile and walk back up the aisle. The bridal party looks baffled. They get up and march out. The rest of us follow. A small army of women waving safety pins forms a wedding dress pit crew, spending the rest of the evening chasing and re-pinning that stubborn bow because we will all go mad if it’s crooked another second.

Tata: Play Point&Laugh with these Italians you don’t resemble in the least but are somehow exactly like.
Sharkey: I’m hoarse from laughing at you and my pointing finger is sore.

Receiving lines were invented by the Spanish Inquisition. It can be no other way. I smile stiffly and say, “Thank you for coming” to people I want to talk to and people I hope to never meet in small claims court. After the guests dutifully depart the church we’re all photographed more. And more after that.

We hit the road and Route 1 is instantly socked in with an accident. The guests are on the other side of it; the families and the wedding party will have to be especially clever to get to the reception at all. Sharkey blows through the farm roads. Somewhere there’s a bartender with our names on him. The hunt is ON.

The Ceremonial Running of the Bridesmaids

At 9:50 a.m. on Friday, I park my convertible in front of a Ramada Inn on Route 1 in North Brunswick, where the water is ankle-deep and my ankles are perched atop water-resistant Italian summer scuffs, rendering my toes submarine. My clothes dangle precariously from hangers, wrapped together in plastic. The day’s itinerary dictates that I dry off and slap on some makeup, pull on my Miss Sasha-approved Mother Of the Bridewear and smile pretty in ten minutes’ time. I’m not worried. Members of my family are involved. You know how time is all relative? Get a load of mine: we meet in this hotel because every last member of the bride’s tribe uttered the same horrified exclamation.

Greek Chorus: Take pictures at my house? What kind of crack are you smoking?!

We’re insecure. My twelve-year-old niece Lois opens the door. Two days ago, she found herself in the path of Miss Sasha’s rampaging future mother-in-law. Lois appears unscathed. Lois always appears unscathed. She has the magical power to sit through the antics of her batty relatives with a patient smile on her face. She’s a beautiful girl. Her face may be frozen that way. Standing behind Lois is my thirteen-year-old half-sister Dara. They live 350 miles apart, have nothing in common and are two peas in one pod. Just beyond scurry my mother, Miss Sasha, the wedding planner, two cousins, the photographer and a cousin of the groom. The noise is deafening. Bob Barker pontificates on a television around a corner somewhere. I park my ovenight bag of makeup on the floor in front of a window. More than ten minutes pass before Miss Sasha notices I’m applying foundation with a spackle knife. The girls have returned from the hair salon on a rainy day with goo tacking up and down every last hair on all six heads; their hairstyles are a marvel of modern architecture. They’re wearing sweats and every surface in this suite is covered with girlie debris. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) arrives and dresses in the twinkle of an eye.

Tata: So, what kind of mood is Daddy in?
Dara: Oh, he’s in a mood, all right.
Mom: What? What’s going on here?
Tata: Daddy’s been in a mood since last week. Or last month. Or last year…
Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm): …possibly since you’ve known him?
Tata: How was the ride up?
Dara: Well, he complained a lot, so I put on my headphones, and Darla was listening to a book on tape and he was still complaining.
Mom: What was he complaining about?
Tata: Dara’s missing finals. I told him odds were terrible she was paying attention anyway.
Mom: Nobody was listening and he complained anyway for six hours?
Tata: Didja tell him to zip it?

The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and I are seated on a couch in the living room giggling when the photographer issues a signal only members of the bridal party hear. Suddenly, the girls are statuesque beauties in an improbable and dignified combination of navy and rayon. My mother bursts into tears when Miss Sasha zips her wedding dress. Everyone turns to see if I’m sobbing.

Tata: Um…nice togs?
Mom: You really were…raised by wolves…

I shrug. Miss Sasha is truly beautiful in an oversized t-shirt and jeans and though this wedding dress is very Audrey Hepburn it’s still a human sacrifice suit and I’m put off. The photographer peels up layers of girlie debris, rearranges furniture and makes a calm spot near a window. A carefully placed curtain hides the dumpster in the parking lot, below. I feel classier already.

Pictures of Miss Sasha with her dad. Pictures of Miss Sasha with me. Pictures of Miss Sasha applying lipstick. Pictures of Miss Sasha with earrings she’s not wearing. Pictures of Miss Sasha at the window. Pictures of Miss Sasha with the Maid of Honor. Pictures of Miss Sasha with her bridesmaids. I’ve been sitting on this couch for forty minutes when I finally notice my presence here is optional.

Tata: Can I go the hell home?
Photographer: You can go the hell home!
General Outcry: How’s she get to leave?
Tata: You have all mistaken me for a nice person, and after this educational moment, you’ll never make that mistake again. Adios!

I change out of my Mother Of the Bridewear and make a break for it. They’re all younger and quick, but I am wily and out the door before they catch me. It’s just before 11:30. I make lunch, send emails and set up the VCR. Erica Kane’s getting married again, you know, and a girl’s got to have her priorities.

Intermezzo, In Which I Hate Nearly Everyone.

Some people are naturally good parents. They have empathy for and interest in their little charges, and they have the patience and foresight to understand how their decisions will affect the futures of their children. My sisters and brother seem to be good parents to their growing mob of French fry thieves. I…should have pets, because I am selfish and animals nip as a form of behavior modification. Unfortunately this week, Tata has disappeared and in my 9Wests stands the highly porous Mother of the Bride.

After the rehearsal dinner broke up, extra food was portioned out to family members on the basis of refrigerator space because this is The Wedding What Ate Tokyo, and on Saturday we’re having a post-ceremony, reception and after-party barbecue. Other people left the American Legion Hall with cakes and giant aluminum trays of tightly packed meatballs, ziti, kielbasa and beef with broccoli I suspected would reheat best as soup. Into my fridge I stuffed a huge buckling tray of fried chicken packed so solidly I was less afraid of it collapsing than sucking all the cold out of my dairy products, and two pies. These foods may have been truly delicious for all I knew or know now, Thursday, the day between the rehearsal and the wedding. I have been on a diet since 1968 because when I go off it I say yes to the menu. Thus, I can refuse food because this week I am eating like it is my job.

Mamie: What time is the actual wedding?
Tata: Two. The service starts at 2. You can be on time. I know it!
Mamie: What? It’s not my wedding!
Tata: Be sitting in that church at 2, you heartless bitch!
Mamie: I am so gonna spit in your gelato…

Relatives arrive from Virginia, Los Angeles, Florida and all corners of New Jersey. The phone rings off the hook. By the end of the day, I can’t answer any but yes/no questions, my fridge looks like Kentucky Fried Chicken made a house call, and I am slathering my face and body with moisturizer combinations that might stop the spread of the Sahara. The only normal thing about this day is that when I go to bed my tossing and turning goes on longer than I think possible. If I get any more tense I’m going to pop like a turgid tick.

I wake up Friday morning and it’s raining like a son of a bitch. When my brain doesn’t explode, I’m shocked.

Pre-Wedding Titters

My auntie is lefthanded, as am I. This makes us pains in the ass at the dinner table, the sewing table and, whatever you do, don’t buy us scissors – unless you’re silly enough to think we’re unarmed. Auntie InExcelsisDeo, whom we’ll term a dainty I., went to Catholic school from the beginning of her academic career. The nuns taught her to use her right hand by slapping other-handed on their other hands with rulers. This training was successful until one day in the fourth grade, lovely Auntie I. grabbed the ruler and slapped the nun back. Auntie I. still has the ruler.

Your picture goes dreamy woo-woo swirly as a number of years pass. Our journey through time stops on a dime at Miss Sasha’s wedding rehearsal at Our Lady of Peace Church. This is a shocker because in the mid-sixties, my parents went secular humanist and decided to sleep in on weekends. Later, I chose to be Chosen, along with the delicate Miss Sasha who called me six months ago.

MS: Mommy! I converted back to Catholicism!
Tata: Hey! We were never Catholic!

Two of my sisters are Unitarians – we think. One is a fire and brimstone Baptist with a sensible firehose wit. One of my sisters is “some kind of Cape Cod Protestant” – as is my brother. Our children have been baptized in five different houses of worship. We’ve sat still in Quaker meeting houses, synagogues, churches our great-grandparents built by hand and great European cathedrals. When the priest joins us and members of the wedding party, we’re sitting in the chapel outside the church in which Miss Sasha will be married. Auntie I. surveys the scene and is dissatisfied.

Auntie: They’re chewing gum, laughing, and wearing dirty clothes.
Tata: They’re young, stupid and not wading in your gene pool.

The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and I cannot spend ten minutes together without laughing hysterically. We place bets on who’s going to face-plant on the altar steps. I’m at the top of the list! The priest directs a cast of thousands.

Fr.: You go here, you go there, then you walk around in circles, then you march over here and give your mother a flower, then march over there and give your mother a flower, then you turn this way and go back to the altar and where I talk some more and then you turn this way and the best man retrieves your mother and takes her over here and she stands behind the altar smiling and looking at the candle because that’ll make a good picture and don’t look at the photographer you’ll look all cross-eyed…

I put the candle down. Holding it hurts my hand. The priest picks it up and puts it back in my hand. I put it down again. He is still talking. He picks up the candle and gives it back to me, and gives me the best man to boot. I am advised to lean on a smooth-skinned young man which I do in such a way that he finds it difficult to remain ambulatory. That’s fine, I’ve stepped over less deserving persons on my way into church. Anyway, returned to my seat, I am advised to sit and a critical instruction is missing.

“Am I still holding a thing that’s ON FIRE?” Everyone laughs nervously. The priest advises me to hand the candle to the best man who will return it to its holder behind my cousin, the highly flammable maid of honor. The priest stutters. I quote Young Frankenstein loudly, “Put. The candle. Back.” My sister and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) laugh into their hands.

When the rehearsal ends a week later, my cousin and I are fleeing to the parking lot when our private conversation is interrupted by a virtual stranger.

Tata: …so we were both shocked when he said, “Cupcake, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it” and I let him live!
Priest: I hear you putting men down and…
Tata: I am so far beyond that I’m not going to listen to another word.

Half an hour later, we’re sitting in a backwoods bar with a hall in which I learn Piscataway, NJ has a Hillbilly-American population. The groom’s mother sits down at the table full of my family and tells us her terrible and uplifting life story. I see a lot of interesting things nobody else notices, so I’m used to staring wildly around the room to see if anyone else is confused. Aside from those daydreams about WCBS newscaster Mario Bosquez, this is the strangest foray into FantasyLand I’ve undertaken without a French maid costume and a bathtub full of Jell-O. Mamie’s on speed dial.

Tata: Did I tell you the annoying thing she did over the weekend of the groom’s graduation? She cornered Miss Sasha and said something about how she carried the groom, fed him, raised him, educated him and now Miss Sasha has stolen him away. Mama’s opening salvo when she sat down was to explain how reasonable a perspective that was. I started laughing like Gilbert Gottfried was lodged in my throat.

Mamie: I’m somewhat comforted to know that there’s insanity on his side of the family, too, so that if Miss Sasha goes ’round the bend completely, he shouldn’t be too thrown.

If I insult this woman Auntie I. will reach across the table and give me a guinea-wop-dago slap upside my head. When Mama tells us her parents tried to marry her off when she was thirteen, I turn to my twelve-year-old niece and say, “No matter WHAT your mother says, I think you should date first and find out if his parents are CRAZY well before you get married.” When Mama tells us her in her country a person’s employer can toss her into an alley and say, “Your bedroom is this refrigerator box,” I tell the niece, “It’s about time you got a job, you shameless freeloader.” When Mama tells us about the assault, I give up, cluck like a chicken and shovel salad into my mouth.

When it gets worse, I run out of salad. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) will not meet my eyes for fear we might decide I could take Mama in two out of three falls on her home turf. Fortunately, my mother arrives and all talk of the Old Country ceases. She’s brought pie, and it’s blissfully quiet in the hall once everyone’s got a mouthful of supermarket apple. And the room is quiet, except for the classic rock soundtrack on the boombox and emanating from the bar. You’ve gotta know how much I love that hit parade.