Her Face, At First Just Ghostly, Turned A Whiter Shade of Pale

When I accepted Paulie Gonzalez’s invitation to his sister’s wedding, my intention was to frump my brain, which has been stiff and bored. A friend told me years ago that when you do things you ordinarily do in a different way – stirring your coffee with the hand you don’t usually use, for instance – you create new pathways in your brain. It could be complete bullshit for all I know but who cares? I’m sitting in a hotel meeting room with over one hundred empty chairs five minutes after the wedding’s supposed to have started, and my brain is dancing like a pack of Rockettes on a bender.

As wedding guests file into the room – and fail to file into the room – strange, strange things are happening. First, from the right rear of the room, a giant speaker plays an endless, pasteurized, instrumental version of the passionate, aching Whiter Shade of Pale, the Procul Harem song taken from the Canterbury Tales. The lyrics sound like they’re about faithless lovers. I could be wrong. Then something passionate, endless and instrumental played that I don’t recognize. The groomsmen file in and stand in place. Wedding guests continue not to arrive in droves. The groomsmen break formation. Paulie finds the not-found-in-nature red glow of my hair in the sea of empty chairs and crosses the room to kiss my cheek before rejoining the parade. Guests slowly fill in the seats. The music changes to an instrumental version of Nights In White Satin. The groomsmen march in again. The pastor, who has been doing laps around the room, crosses the finish line and gasps for breath.

Two years pass. A number of videographers hover at the back of the room with a camera set up on wheels and easily seven feet tall. Finally, the back doors open and Nicole’s giggling pre-teen daughter lopes down the aisle, followed by four or five women in matching rust-colored satin dresses and matching shoes. The guests giggle, too. The bridesmaids and groomsmen stand stiffly in place, smiling like they’re pinching each other. The back doors close and mysteriously remain closed. Music plays for a long time. Suddenly, the wedding springs a leak. The guests surrender any pretense of attentive behavior.

When the doors are thrown open, nobody shuts up but everyone stands as Nicole tries to walk down the aisle with her regal mother and very nervous father. Mom is less than five feet tall and glowing on her daughter’s special day. Dad is counting out loud: “Step and…hold and…step and…hold and…” When they finally reach the plastic trees with Chistmas lights, tulle and a flock of attendants, the giant video machine smoothly slides into the aisle and blocks any view of the bridal party. I can’t actually see the ceremony because I am tiny by human standards but I hear the pastor, whose homily is about disappointment. His allegory is a pastrami sandwich incident. While he’s going on and on about horseradish sauce at his favorite deli, the guests behind me debate the fine points of answering the question “Does anyone know of any reason these two cannot be joined in matrimony?” in the affirmative. Across the aisle, guests conduct Chinese fire drills without a motor vehicle. From now on, mine is an ear-witness account.

Talking, talking, talking. Let us pray to the Ramada gods. Blah blah blah. Pastrami sandwich. Horseradish sauce. Parkway. No sauce. Grateful for food. Will you, Jimmy, blah blah blah? Will you, Nicole, blah blah blah? Let us pray. Put your right foot in. Put your right foot out. Disappointment. Story about Nicole’s long history with the pastor and the giggling pre-teen daughter. More disappointment. Isn’t life wonderful to offer us such misery? Talking, talking, talking. I now pronounce you legally obligated to pay one another’s debts.

At no point during this stirring ceremony does the gossiping, seat switching and speculating let up. When the bride and groom skip back up the aisle, everyone claps vigorously and looks around wildly to see what to do. A minute or two later, I climb out into the lobby. My eyes haven’t even adjusted to the change in light when a member of the waitstaff guides me by the shoulders like Glinda the Good Witch around the corner. “Down the hall and to the right.” I wonder if this direction is just for me or everyone else and my little dog, too. I find a bar, heaps of sliced fruit, pinhead-sized tables in a configuration I don’t understand, and three women wearing the exact same pants I am. I can’t deal with the fruit.

Suzette’s got my number. I sit in an overstuffed chair and watch like a Smithsonian anthropologist with a folklore and customs grant. Finally, Paulie appears. We get on line for drinks, where I order a cautious chardonnay and a pack of long-lost Brooklyn cousins on his mobbed-up side leap at him, squealing, “Paaaaaaaaaaulieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Accustomed to flying women, Paulie spills not a drop of his martini. In rapid succession, Paulie introduces me to a tribe of half-Hondurans and another of charismatic New York Italian-Jewish women related to Paulie’s father…somehow. When we each have a handful of napkins, sticks and empty glasses there’s nowhere to put them and no one to ask. We pile the debris where no one is certain to find it.

I change my mind about this wedding business and switch to gin. Though I have no idea what to do or how to act, I decide to roll with it. And shrimp. My brain is not in control here and I’m along for the ride. Bring. It. On.

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