If there’s a motor vehicle without a coat of paint within 500 feet of me it belongs to Paulie Gonzalez and I am climbing into it. We’re on our way to Mom’s Diner for lunch. He starts the truck. He smiles, but it’s an apologetic look of faint disappointment.
Paulie: Well, I’m sorry you missed out on the beating!
At the reception the night before, I sat down at table 5 between the husband of a New York cousin and the brother of Paulie’s dad’s second wife. She died a month ago. The kids used to take turns staying up late with their uncle so when he passed out on the couch someone put out his cigarette before he burned down the house. Everyone passes around photo albums. Paulie’s dad sits next to Aunt Esmerelda, the wife of Paulie’s dad’s gangster half-brother, who was found in an unfortunate package years ago. The cousins are her daughters. Their husbands are odd looking fellows. Paulie reminds me his father’s other half-brother was a superior court judge in a northeastern state. I say, “It’s all cops and robbers with your family, isn’t it?” He giggles. Everyone is excited! or angry! or exuberant! or anguished! I’m waiting for the centerpieces, at least four feet tall from table height, to fall over and set fire to our fruit cups.
All the usual wedding things happen: the bride dances with her father; they cry their eyes out. The groom dances with his mother; they cry their eyes out. The bride and the groom dance; they cry their eyes out. The groom dances with the mother of the bride; they cry their eyes out. All in all, this is a great event for Kleenex. Meanwhile, Aunt Esmerelda tells a story and ends up with melted butter all over the front of her blouse. This does not detract from her perky charm. When she’s embarrassed I consider slathering myself with salad dressing in solidarity.
Paulie and I wander back and forth to the bar, sometimes outside when he wants a smoke; we’re in the bar during the salad course and we never actually see pieces of wedding cake. We nibble gray-ish prime rib and laugh hysterically at the stories. All evening, the DJ’s keep things moving at a vigorous clip. Just before our dinner plates disappear, I turn to Paulie.
Tata: Am I imagining things or is this a lull?
We take the opportunity to marinate ourselves in gin. After the reception ends, we and the cousins all pile into the bar, where one of Paulie’s cousins winks at me for two hours. I express regret about his twitch. After 1 a.m., I decide it’s time to begin peeling off layers of carefully calculated foundation garments and I make my excuses.
Eleven hours later, we’re climbing into the giant pickup truck with a coat of matte black primer when the bride, groom and a biker chick shout and wave for us to come back upstairs with Paulie’s tux. Nicole opens the door in sweats, hair flying all lover the place. Jimmy nibbles leftover fruit. As charming as these hoarse, hungover charmers are, me getting involved in post-wedding wreckage would interfere with my lunch plans. Diane the Biker Chick lets on that her boyfriend awoke in lockup this morning after Jimmy punched him during the wedding –
Wait. What was that?
The dam breaks. All three chatter at once. After the third time through, Paulie and I gasp for breath, we’re laughing so hard. Getting an account of events in order never actually happens. Diane’s boyfriend was skunk-drunk before the wedding, and during one of the spotlight dances, he collected one of the abuelas and steered her toward the dance floor. During dinner, the wedding party – minus Paulie – ended up in one of the suites upstairs in one giant brawl. In the most unbelievable turn of events outside of pro wrestling or Scientology, the groom took control of the situation:
Nicole: So she tells me Kevin was choking her and she’d just about passed out when she realized she didn’t have to take this and she punched him.
Diane: I punched him!
Jimmy: I said, “Hey!”
Nicole: Diane and Kevin were fighting and they flipped over a coffee table.
Tata: You what?
Diane: We were fighting and we flipped over a coffee table. You know – like flipping over a coffee table!
Jimmy: Did you see her bruise?
Diane: I got a bruise. See?
Diane: He’s drunk so I’m telling him, “Go sleep it off, go sleep it off.” Instead he chokes me!
Jimmy: So she punched him!
Nicole: So she tells me that Jimmy came running and to break it up between them and Kevin’s like, “You don’t tell me what to do.” And Jimmy’s like, “No, you don’t tell me what to do!” And Kevin tries to head-butt him!
Jimmy: And kick me in the nuts. He missed.
Diane: He missed!
Nicole: So she tells me Jimmy’s growling like an animal. He’s like, “This is my wedding!” She tells me Jimmy grabs him by the throat and pushes him straight up the wall off the ground. I didn’t believe it!
Diane: He was all gurgling blood and still kicking Jimmy.
Jimmy: I put him down.
Diane: Then the cops came and the DJ helped us fill out the police reports.
Nicole: He’s great. I’d hire him for anniversaries, too.
Tata: Paulie, I believe that explains the lull.
Paulie: Hey, that’s full service! You can’t get that just anywhere.
Nicole: The best man’s family are all doctors and nurses and they made him change his shirt.
Diane: He was covered with blood. They’re kind of sensitive about that stuff.
Paulie: I thought he was just a putz who couldn’t keep his tux on!
Domestic violence is no joke. Just yesterday, I called the cops on a domestic situation outside my bedroom windows. Still, a good drunken brawl is mostly hilarious when no one really gets hurt and everyone gets cab fare home. In retrospect, the wedding amused us, and I would’ve been fine wearing the butter.