Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 8th, Part the Second: Streetfighter likes my pinstripe

As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by my gushing adulation of Christopher Lee, I was in the midst of commencements...
Starting the 4:00pm service (the School of Law), I had been promised by the professor in charge that I could leave at an appropriate time in order to make it to the wedding of my friends.  But as the degrees droned on and the four (!) speeches piled up, I started to get nervous.  "Just let me out of here, so I can change clothes in the stall of a public bathroom and try and look presentable."

At length, the lawyers stopped thanking themselves and I made a mad dash out of the gym -- almost forgetting to return the borrowed mouthpiece I spoke about last time.  A quick change in a bathroom and I was in my best suit (technically my only suit) and driving through town to a location called the "Arts Incubator".  It's built in an old factory building in an area of Kansas City known as the Crossroads Arts District.  The Crossroads is home to many of KC's art galleries and other visual art studios, as well as the counter-culture newspaper, "The Pitch".  It is (thanks, Wikipedia!) one of the five largest arts districts in the U.S.  If "La Boheme" were set in 21st-century Kansas City, Rodolfo and Mimi would share candlelight in the garret of the Arts Incubator -- if it had one.

Of course, if La Boheme were set here, it would be an awful tedium.  It would consist of all the main characters smoking cardamom cigarettes in each others' apartments as they lament the death of culture and how people don't really "feel" anymore.  They'd bemoan how they can't make a living as artists despite not actually being creative or producing anything.  They'd have part-time jobs at Ikea and Trader Joe's that they'd try to pass off as an ironic comment.  They'd all drink the pretentious ale with the French name that's bottled in Shreveport before they went to Lidia Bastianich's restaurant and put the meal on their credit cards.  Rodolfo and Mimi would discuss love and art, then decide they should have an open relationship where they see other people, but usually just each other.  Also, Musetta continuously attempts to embrace bisexuality at awkward moments in her ongoing quest for self-identity.

It would be horrific.  And lamentable.  Should it occur, the ghost of Puccini would take up residence in the new performing arts center, wandering the halls while weeping and mumbling "che cazzo...dio mio"

I approached the door marked with balloons after parking my car up the street.  At the corner of the building, a man wearing body piercings and a leather jacket slurred in my general direction for pocket change.  I didn't have any.  He said that was okay and that he really liked my pinstripe suit.  I think one of the other attendees later referred to him as "Streetfighter", so maybe the district also has a regular cast of benign homeless drug addicts.  Come to think of it, he did sort of exude a "Mad Max" vibe...

The door was marked with a sign that the doors opened at six, so I waited on the street for a bit.  The door opened and grandmotherly woman invited me inside, since they were also waiting for the wedding.  We chatted intermittently, establishing each others' connections to the wedding party.  Eventually, the bride's brother came to collect them.  It yielded a comedy moment when he introduced himself to me as "Hi, I'm Andy," and I responded "Hi, I'm Andy."  There was a definite comedy-length pause where he tried to decide if I was mimicking him.

We ascended to the third floor in the original warehouse cargo elevator.  It was not for the faint of heart.  When I set foot on it, it dropped about an inch and made a loud clang.  Fun!  The third floor offers nice views of the surrounding KC area, and the large open space at the north end was converted over to wedding use.  One half had tables set up for dinner, while the other had all the missing chairs set up for a wedding.  I bumped around a little, but nobody I knew had arrived yet so I headed back down to see who was coming in.

I gave directions for a bit until another set of grandparents arrived, also in need of the elevator.  I ran up three flights to make sure somebody knew to send it down.  I was informed that everyone was "ketubah-ing" by a woman who had been placed to block the door.  The witnesses to the ketubah-signing apparently included everyone who was trained in the use of the elevator.  I walked to the elevator, which is covered in signs saying "If you haven't been trained to use this elevator, do NOT use it."  After a bit of agonizing, I decide not to play the hero.  I walked back down and kept the waiting group company while assuring them that eventually "someone would come looking". 

But no one did.  So I spent the wedding on the factory floor.


Just kidding.  But it did take a while, while I ran out of all my conversation starters speaking to taciturn Hoosiers.

*** *** ***

I should speak a little about the ceremony.  The bride's family history involving Christianity and the groom's involving Judaism makes for a difficult marriage (pardon me) of ceremonial ideas.  You'd think with all the modern talk about our nation being founded on "Judeo-Christian" principles and the commonality of being "People of the Book", it would be straightforward.  It turns out it isn't.  Who knew religion was so complicated?

See, for Christianity, Jesus is sort of a big deal.  Actually, he's THE deal.  Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins -- that's what's on Christianity's business cards.  Trying to remove Jesus from Christianity is like trying to get Joe out of "Oklahoma Joe's BBQ": it's going to make certain people mad at you and they probably won't let you have any potato salad.  And here's something I didn't know: it turns out that some Jews aren't all that interested in Jesus.  I know, right?  While they may agree that Jesus was among the nicer people to get nailed to a crucifix in 33 A.D., they're a little touchy on the "messiah" angle.

So I have no doubt the bride and groom spent a great deal of time trying to craft a ceremony that wouldn't cause half the family to tut and hew and cry.  And hem, if they had half a mind to.  The result was perfectly balanced from my perspective, but I'm an agnostic -- it's not going to offend my religious sensibilities any way you look at it.  And I was seated next to an unabashed atheist and she didn't seem too put out by it, either.  We're an easy audience to please, though the both of us are definitely at the shallow end of the faith pool.

After the ceremony and the smashed glass, everyone picked up their chairs and dragged them over to the tables.  Food was from the Jerusalem Cafe and was AMAZING.  I ate myself silly on red pepper hummus and lamb with tzatziki.  Cakes were tasty too.  My self-appointed mission to get a piece of carrot cake to the uncle who only likes carrot cake was partially foiled because he already had a piece.  However, in true gentlemanly fashion, he said he'd eat the piece I brought "for your sake, because who knows? You might have tripped bringing it over!"  Such a mensch.

It was as beautiful a wedding as e'er I seen.  She made a luminous bride, an alabaster lady glowing from happiness and the knowledge of (not-so) secretly wearing blue shoes.  He made a jovial groom, clad in earth tones and magnanimously touring the room, exhorting crowds to his left and right to eat and drink more.  I was happy just to see them smiling as they stood united against a sea of relatives.  That part of the evening was fantastic, as well it should be.  Two people who love each other celebrating the fact with friends and family -- what's not to like?

And yet -- it was a difficult evening for me.

*** *** ***

I must now trip over myself in my haste to explain to the bride (who will read this at some point) that it was nothing whatsoever to do with the planning, preparation, execution, or aftermath of her celebration.  The entire soiree went off without a hitch as far as I could tell and I wanted for nothing to be added or subtracted.  The fact that there were no "traditions" like catching the bridal bouquet made me VERY happy.  The biggest fuss seemed to be who should sit by whom and whether or not we stand when the bride enters.  Oh, and whether or not we were assigned to specific dinner tables -- turns out we were, but I didn't know that until after I got my kazoo.

This fault lies within me, beyond the remedy of any amount of tasty cake.  I should declare that I love weddings.  In this day and age, we are given so few opportunities to be un-ironically happy and hopeful for people we love and care about.  Everything seems to have a "but" followed by deprecation or censure. 

So the opportunity to give someone a hug and say, "You are beautiful, all this is wonderful, and you have a good head start on being happy for the rest of your life," greatly pleases the part of me that feasts on honesty and openness.  Part of the reason most people like weddings is BECAUSE we get to be so positive. 

What disappoints me about weddings is that they are (at a base level) Valentine's Day in microcosm -- they're best enjoyed by couples.  I type this with the acute awareness that I am not in a couple at the moment.  Formal social occasions are much easier to navigate with a partner.  It gives you someone to retreat to in awkward conversations, someone to connect with across the length of a room, and someone to unpack details with afterward.  Without the second half of a couple, I felt like I was constantly dancing between talking to other singles (in the attendance -- not the romantic -- sense) and becoming a parasite on a friendly couple.

There was one such handy couple there, but I tried my very best not to become a tedious third wheel in my quest to find something to occupy my time while waiting for our table to weave through the food line.  It still smacked of desperation when I finally did pull up a chair next to them later in the evening for a bit.  In fact, the whole evening seemed to involve me struggling to appear charming and appealing and not to appear extremely uncomfortable and out of place.  All part of the fun of social gatherings, eh?

There's a hundred thoughts and experiences I didn't list here, partially because this may already go down as one of my longest entries.  And who wants to read a ton of what I have to say?  Well, I guess you all do, since you're visiting my blog.  Still, I don't want to abuse the privilege.  The bride expressed it best in summing up her own reflection (which you should totally read HERE): she closes by saying, "Not every memory is for the internet."

Let me close with my thoughts immediately following the wedding:

Here's to Libby and Sam. May you each grow old counting ways the other is amazing.

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