Monday, April 11, 2011

Wedding day, part two - The reception

I stood near the bottom of the staircase and watched Tess walk slowly across the lawn. The bridesmaids had taken a side route on the way in, staying on the pathway, but she was forced to teeter down a row of uneven stepping stones in heels she was unaccustomed to wearing. The result was an awkward, painfully long procession and the music had ended by the time she finished her struggle up the stairs.

When she was finally situated the bridal party turned to face the couple, as previously directed. Unfortunately for me, turning to the side gave everyone in attendance a generous view of my left breast. I could see mom staring and I knew she thought the display of cleavage was my way of rebelling against an event I didn’t want to participate in or an attempt to make the hideous dress work in some way. But it wasn’t.

When I’d picked up the dress the top was already straining so I took it to a seamstress to reinforce it, to avoid any possible mishaps. But as soon as we started walking around the grounds taking pictures, the threads began to pop, stitch by stitch, until it was even more gaped open than when I bought it. Everyone in the wedding was, at regular intervals throughout the afternoon, overcome with laughter about my wardrobe malfunction – taking it in turns to making popping noises.

While the preacher started his spiel, I tried to inconspicuously raise my bouquet to chest height. It no doubt looked ridiculous, but it was better than the alternative – flashing my family, friends, neighbors, and the president of the American Pilipino association, who’d flown in from New York to witness the blessed event. The greenery was poking me unpleasantly and making my boobs itch, but I suffered in silence.

“If there is anyone here that can show just cause why these two should not be wed, speak now or forever hold your peace”, the preacher shouted threateningly. There was the tiniest pause for breath and he started to speak again, but was suddenly interrupted by loud and repetitive shrieking.

Larry the Goose, Tess’s web-footed mate, was objecting...when a lot of people wanted to, but wouldn’t. I’d always hated that goose, but I found myself feeling rather fond of him at that moment. The preacher had to wait until Larry finished honking, and everyone had stopped laughing, before continuing.

That's his bad eye. He has one that works.

When the service ended after the second longest prayer in the history of prayers (the first was at the rehearsal), Papa and Tess slowly and awkwardly descended the stairs – she was all wrapped up in her dress and he had to take one step at a time, sideways, because of his leg braces. I was told later that my father picked that moment to pipe up and say, “Well, there goes my inheritance.”

They reached the bottom and went off on their way, which was our cue to start ascending the stairs one by one, meet a groomsman on the top platform and be escorted out. I’d fought to get my cousin Ben as my partner, since the alternatives were an old family friend that irritated me and my cousin Ashley’s letch of a husband.

He winked at me as we made our way to the top and I rolled my eyes. We met, hooked arms awkwardly (since he’s a foot taller), and started down. Days later, when I was looking through pictures of the ceremony, I saw one of Ben and me walking the aisle. In it we’re looking at each other, my neck craned up, his down, and grinning like idiots at some whispered joke I can’t remember. It looked just like a picture of me with another Ben, in another wedding, ten years ago. The dress was different, the hair was certainly different and it wasn’t the same cousin – but it made me remember a moment I’d almost forgotten, and I think that was worth being in that fiasco of a wedding and almost flashing my nips to all and sundry.

Anyway, we were forced to spend another hour taking pictures on the stairs while all the guests made their way through the buffet. I was pissed because I knew there wouldn’t be a single meatball left by the time we were finished, and I let it be known.

“How much longer is this going to take”, I asked a photographer. She was shorter than me, which is rare in people over the age of 12, so I used that to my advantage and gave her my best ‘I’m leaning over you, glaring, and you will be intimidated’ pose.

“I don’t know”, she said, not at all unsettled. She and her fellow photographer seemed to find me quite amusing, despite my best attempts to be the opposite.

“All the meatballs will be gone”, I grumbled, not for the first, or even the second, time. I can be rather single minded when meat is involved.

After more laughter, someone’s child was sent to fetch me a few meatballs (I got the last three) and someone’s boyfriend to get me a beer. Then I stood by a column and waited my turn again, stuffing a whole ball in my mouth and “mmming” inappropriately.

While I was rolling my eyes and blissfully chewing, my cousin poked me in the chest and said, “Hey, what’s all that green and orange stuff on your tits?” I looked down and sure enough, there were splotches of color all over my exposed cleavage. Confused, I rubbed at a spot with my finger and it immediately came off.

“It was the flowers”, a woman passing by said, peering down my dress. “You had them stuffed in there and they bled.” Everyone laughed at my expense, again, and I just sighed, shrugged and popped in another meatball. It was a testament to how hungry I was that I let the stuffing and bleeding remark go without comment.

My family is roughly the size of a professional football team – including managers, coaches, water people, and all those other random folks standing on the sidelines – and each little family unit had to take a picture with the happy couple.

My father showed up in jeans, work boots, a black t-shirt and a button up black and orange Harley Davidson shirt with the sleeves ripped off, the frayed edges sticking out several inches. There were plenty of other people wearing jeans, but none stood out quite as much as he did. I sat uncomfortably on the steps under the crook of his left arm, hid my beer behind the bouquet and tried to smile like I meant it. But I’m pretty sure, all things considered, it could be a candidate for the awkward family photos website.

The caption would read: “Just married Grandpa poses with his wife, an ex-mail order bride from the Philippines who is no longer suspected of murdering her first husband (hooray!), his son, a man that proudly shows everyone his cell phone collection of busted old lady titties...even at funerals, his two granddaughters (anorexic on right, Boobs McGee on left), and his great granddaughter, who only moments ago wiped boogers on the back of his tuxedo.” Or something like that.

The reception was in full swing by the time we made it to the patio. I went straight to the bar, grabbed another beer and walked away from them all – around the side of a building, up the hill and to my house. The first order of business was to get out of that stupid dress.

I was gone for about half an hour, at the most. The sun had been shining all day, but as I made my way back to the party in a slightly more comfortable dress, the sky had turned grey and the wind had begun to pick up.

Joining the huge circle of people around the dance floor, I noticed that only half of them were watching the Pilipino dance crew do their thing with balance beams of some sort. The other half was staring worriedly at the steadily darkening sky.

It held out until after the first dance and what I call “the money dance”. Apparently it’s a Pilipino custom for the couple to dance and people to come up to them (males to the bride and females to the groom), pin money on their clothing and take a turn round the dance floor.

Tess’s friend took the microphone from the DJ and explained the procedure to the crowd over the playing music. The first few minutes were rather awkward as everyone, including myself, looked around at each other and balked. Our reluctant faces, turning this way and that, said it all – “Ha! Fuck that shit! I came here for the free booze.” Finally a decent number of people started participating, but I have no doubt that it was just to get Tess’s friend to stop barking loudly into the mic.

I snuck away to the smoking crowd by the boat house and hid there until the first rain drops began to fall. The band and the DJ were swiftly moved to a covered area, just before the bottom dropped out. I was bummed because it made our dancing area considerably smaller, but it only lasted long enough to drive away the majority of the old people and non-family members. The guests dwindled and that was alright by us – more beer.

And while I was drinking more beer, I got a play by play of what I’d missed before the dancing. Apparently Papa and Tess were cutting the cake, surrounded by photographers and guests of course, and the minute they shoved it in each other’s faces, his pants fell down. The long table cloth obscured the scene from those facing them, only showing Papa’s surprised cake-covered face and Tess rapidly disappearing from view. But those to the side of the table got to see a very large, very old man in his underwear...and his tiny new bride, fumbling around on the ground, attempting to jerk his pants back up. And as expected, dirty old man that he is, Papa is still quite pleased about the incident.

I returned to the house once more, as the rain was all but finished, and changed clothes again. As I squished back down the hill in my rain boots and jeans, I saw dad walking around the perimeter with a glass jar in his hand. Some idiot had given him moonshine and I thought to myself, “Well, here we go...”

As the evening wore on, the band and the DJ taking it in turns to play a mix of country and every line dance known to man...twice, dad started to make his presence more known. Though Papa finally confiscated his moonshine, some damage was already done. He spent an hour with his arm around a visibly uncomfortable Ray, telling him how glad he was to be gaining a “husband in law” and how to tell when mom is going to “flip her shit”.

Responding to the desperate look in Ray’s eyes, my sister and I attempted to distract dad and draw him away. It worked, but only when he suddenly decided to physically force me to dance with him to a slow song. Though I tried to resist, he was having none of it and I knew if I continued to refuse, he’d get angry. So to keep the peace I swayed in a circle, avoiding his drunken stomping as best I could, while everyone snickered and shot me thumbs up.

My cousin’s boyfriend was the next recipient of his unwanted attention. I was standing with the two of them in front of the garage when he zigzagged right up to us and threw an arm around her.

“Who are you”, dad demanded of her boyfriend.

He answered, holding out his hand to shake, but dad just stared at him. I knew that look so I wasn’t surprised when he slurred, “I’ll black both your fucking eyes, boy.”

The poor guy turned white as a sheet.

“Shut up, Dad. Leave him alone”, I said, glaring at him.

After a few minutes of tense conversation, dad decided that “the boy” was alright, mostly because he had horses and motorcycles and, wouldn’t you know did dad! What a fucking coincidence! A connection was made. Then the band struck up a fast song and dad shouted, “It’s time for the Jimbo Shuffle! Everybody to the floor! Jimbo Shuffle!” He zigzagged back up to the crowd, violence temporarily forgotten in his excitement.

But once he’d regaled everyone with The Jimbo Shuffle (which is the only dance he does: feet together and arms bent at the elbows with closed fists, he slides a few feet to one side and then the other, pumping his arms in a circle at the same time...a lit cigarette usually firmly clenched between his lips), he approached my cousin’s boyfriend once more.

“I’ll black both your fucking eyes. Don’t think I won’t you sonofabitch.”

He’d completely forgotten their truce, probably even that they’d spoken at all, and we had to intervene once more. They then had the same conversation as before and dad tugged him down the ramp to see his motorcycle while my cousin watched in horror. Fortunately, though, she didn’t have to worry for long. Dad’s ALDD (Alcoholic deficit disorder) kicked in and he started half running back up to the band shouting, “FREEBIRD! FREEBIRD!”

You’ve heard of “My Father, The Hero”? This was “My Father, The Epitome of Southern Stereotypes”. He requests the eight minute version of Freebird every time there’s a live band. Once, when we went to dinner, he embarrassed the shit out of me by asking the lead singer of a reggae band, “This shit is ok and all, but ya’ll know any Skynyrd? Freebird!”

A little while later, I realized just how far behind the others I was on the drinking scale.

There was a random pole, that looked like a stop sign post without the sign, sticking out of the ground in one of the flower beds bordering the overhang where the band was playing. And facing that pole, dancing in front of it as if it were an audience of one, was my neighbor. An hour later, she still hadn’t stopped gyrating and so I approached one of her daughters.

“Your mom’s been over there alone, dancing with that pole for over an hour.”

She glanced over and rolled her eyes. “I know. I wish she’d go home.”

Every now and then someone else would notice, comment, chuckle and go on about their business. That’s why I was surprised when all hell suddenly broke loose.

I was dancing with Claire when Leigha came running up crying. Apparently the daughter I’d first spoken to cussed out my mom for looking at her mom – at least that’s what I was able to gather from Leigha’s dramatics. It was over before I made it off the dance floor, but I approached the daughter and asked her what the problem was. The more she spoke, the angrier I became and I finally just held up my hand, said “no” and walked away.

I stalked into the house, fuming, with Marie on my heels. I knew I was doing the right thing by walking away and not escalating the situation, but that didn’t lessen my anger. I distracted myself by cleaning up the girly mess scattered all over Papa’s bed and floor.

Maybe 10 to 15 minutes later I was relatively calm and Marie and I had finished cleaning up, ready to head back outside. That’s when Leigha came running in, crying again. The first thing I thought was, “Dad tried to black both of what’s-his-name’s eyes and now they’re dancing around trying to slice each other’s nuts off with broken beer bottles!”

“They’re fighting”, she said. “Throwing beer and screaming and...”

We ran back through the house and out the door. I placed my family members first – Ray was off to one side talking to a neighbor, Mom talking to another neighbor, and dad was swaying alone in front of the band, completely oblivious. It was clear that he wasn’t the antagonist this time and closer to passing out than punching someone out. But who was? Where was the fight?

“They left”, Leigha said, pointing up the hill at a group of people that I recognized as our (yes more) neighbors – the pole dancing woman and her two daughters et al. The story came out in bits and pieces. Supposedly Claire went up to my mother to apologize for her sister’s behavior and when she did a family friend asked her to stop using profanity in front of the kids. She popped off at him, he yelled at her, she threw a beer at his head and that’s how the, apparently, three minute brawl started.

I was never a big fan of the wedding in general, but I was appalled at the way they disrespected my Papa by fucking up his reception. Not to mention completely shocked that it hadn’t been one of my family members that started the whole thing. The party ended abruptly and we’ve never called it a night so early before.

(Because of those events (and others that have happened since) there’s now a rift between my family and theirs. I’m broken hearted about it because I’ve been friends with those girls for 11 years.)

The band and the DJ started packing up an hour or more before they were supposed to and the few people that were left stood in an uncertain circle at the edge of the patio. No one was really sure what to do.

My sister looked as exhausted as I felt and so I said, “Are you ready to go home, Lee?”

“Yeah”, she answered immediately.

We told everyone goodnight and started our short uphill walk toward home.

“You know what? I just knew that, if anyone was going to start shit, it was going to be dad. And wasn’t even anyone from the family. How crazy is that?”

She looked over at me and laughed. “I was just thinking the exact same thing.”

And somewhere in the dark, left behind, likely swaying back and forth in the middle of wedding debris, we heard dad singing.

“And this bird you cannot change! Oooooooh!”