This is a yarn that first appeared in The Loafer in June of 2010, and was published
again last year to celebrate my column's fifth anniversary.
I've always been rather fond of this one, so I thought I'd share it once more.
Generally speaking it is in June when people decided to get themselves hitched left and right. I was on my annual early June This Old House retreat, where I lock myself into a cabin in the woods for a weekend, watching old episodes of the series on VHS tape non stop till my body finally gives in to fatigue, and I pass out muttering the name of Norm Abram. I set a new personal record this year. 17.9 hours of non stop wood working action. My dreams that night were dramatically vivid as I thought about building my dream deck.
When I finally came to—some 12 hours later—I heard my phone going off. It was my then girlfriend Elizabeth, calling to check in on me, and to tell me something that in her words “was very important”. I braced myself for a break up speech, but was instead reminded about the wedding next weekend of her best friend Harriet. Harriet became engaged to Hank the year prior, and they had been planning the wedding ever since. Elizabeth and I started dating half way during the planning process, so I knew that there would be at least one wedding in my future that I would have to attend.
We began discussing the wedding and that is when Elizabeth told me: “OK, so you know Hank's best friend Tommy was going to be the best man right?”
“He's come down with a bad case of Malaria, and won't be able to come. So Hank wants to know if you'd fill in as best man.” My head was floating around a bit at this point, “how do you get Malaria in Iowa?” I thought to myself, the other issue—for me anyway—was that I really didn't know Hank all that well. We had chatted once or twice at parties and small gatherings, but the only time he and I ever did anything together was play a game of Scrabble.
However, I agreed to fill in as I saw no reason to hold up a wedding, plus Elizabeth kept hounding me about it till I gave in. The wedding was in Abingdon, it was all arranged that the whole family, and all of the wedding party, would be staying there at a very nice hotel the weekend of. But with your average sprawling wedding, there was the pre-wedding, pre-rehersal, post-engagement party Hank's parents were hosting. Since Harriet's parents were mostly fronting the bill for the wedding, Hank's family felt they should contribute something other than one willing Male specimen.
Elizabeth was happy about us going, I was nervous, this was to be the first time I would really meet any of the people who I would be faux best manning it up for, having no idea how they would react to me. Hank's parents had the party catered, so we just sat and waited to be served. For reasons which were never made clear to me, I was not placed with Elizabeth or the rest of the inner circle of the wedding, but near Hank's family, and right next to his 78 year old grandmother Debbie.
Debbie and I discussed everything during the meal, from Frank Sinatra to Fedora Hats, then the question that was bound to come around bounded. “How do you know my little angel Hank?” she asked, “Truth be told, I've only known Hank for a short period of time. His best man got ill and I was asked to fill in by Elizabeth, one of their friends”. Debbie then asked me something that I found to be rather odd “So you know Harriet well?”
“Not too well, but we have chatted two times for over 10 minuets”
“I don't like her!”
“I Beg your pardon?”
“She looks just like that witch that Hank's grandfather ran off with!”
Surprised to say the least by this bit of information I just dived back into dessert and didn't say a thing for the rest of the meal. The rest of the night was very nice, Hank's parents thanked me for filling in, and appreciated that it was a bit awkward for me to be in that spot. Elizabeth spent most of the night cooing with the rest of the bridesmaids, Hank and I wound up playing Scrabble again, and his grandmother kept looking at Harriet like she was the devil incarnate.
Around two the following morning, Elizabeth and I left and were making our way back to her place. She was rather drunk at this point, and naturally with all this wedding bliss in the air, the words out of her mouth after we had traveled down the road for a moment were: “You ever thought about marrying me?”
“Marrying me, you know. You and me, a house, a dog, and then you could impregnate me and we could have tiny versions of ourselves running around.” Flabbergasted all I could get out was “Well, um, er, I have to say that I have thought about marriage in my time, and I think I shall continue to do so in the future.” Fearing what might come out of her mouth, I was happy to see that she had passed out.
The passed out car ride was on a Tuesday into Wednesday, the wedding was that Saturday, and on Thursday Elizabeth and I loaded up the car and made our way to Abingdon. Once we got settled and unpacked, and checked in, and fleeced, we both had dinner together with Hank and Harriet (their parents were running behind and it seems we were the first ones to make it to the hotel). Dinner was nice, and gave me a chance to get to assure Harriet that I would do a fine job as best man.
I made sure to go over with Hank what all I needed to do at the wedding, I asked him about if I should go ahead and get the ring from him, and he told me that he'd get it to me later. “My parents are bringing it up, they didn't trust me with it” he said with a laugh at the end. Elizabeth then said “I think the bridesmaids dresses are beautiful! I can't wait to wear mine”
“Oh? I started “I've not seen them, what do they look like?” Harriet told me “Purple and Turquoise with a gold belt”. I thought “Wow, they're gonna look like The Joker's henchwomen.”
After dinner Hank pulled me aside and told me he had a gift for me “this is just a little thank you for filling in so quick, Elizabeth told me you like old school shaving stuff, so I bought you a straight razor.” Right around then Hank's parents showed up, we asked them where the ring was and his dad said “Harriet's parents have it, her mother wanted to show it to her grandmother, so they're going to have it here in the morning when we all meet up for the Mother's brunch.” “Mother's brunch?” I thought, sure, why not.
That night in the hotel room I was trying out my new razor, Elizabeth came running into the bathroom—she had left her cell phone in there and it was ringing—and she almost bumped into my arm. I told her she had to be careful when I had this razor out, or else we'd be seeing a recreation of Sweeney Todd. Come the morning Harriet's parents had arrived and we had the Mother's Brunch, I had never heard of doing such a thing at a wedding, but I had never been a best man before either.
As far as I could tell the Mother's Brunch was just an excuse to glorify each others mom, cry, and drink mimosas. I walked up to Harriet's parents and asked if they had the ring, they thought for a second, then a sightly horrified look came across their face. “I left it on the kitchen counter” her dad said. Have I neglected to mention that Harriet's parents live in Chattanooga? A tiny argument over who would get the ring began, “we have the pre-wedding photo shoot, and I am having a spa treatment so I can't do it” were the words out of the bride's mouth. Since I was the best man, the party voted that I should be the one to retrieve the ring, since I had no spa treatments or photo shoots that day.
Armed with a full tank, the address loaded in my GPS, and the code to their alarm system, off I went on my jolly way to Chattanooga. After a good drive, I arrived at the house in which the ring rested. I pulled out the alarm code that her father had given me, used their keys, opened the door, and entered the code into the alarm box. Nothing happened. When I say “nothing happened” what I mean is that the disarm code did not take, and next think I knew I heard “whoooooop whooooop whoooop”. Panicked and frantic I quickly tried again, nothing. I tried one last time, and I noticed that I had been messing up the last number of the code, I finally got it right. A voice came through the box saying “This is Pittman Security, is everything OK?” “Things are fine, I anciently hit a wrong button” I told them. I got the ring, locked up, and hightailed it back up to Abingdon.
By the time I got back to the hotel, ring very secure, I was just in time for the rehearsal dinner. Both went fine, and we were all beginning to think that this wedding would be going off with out any more hitches. After the dinner, Hank and the rest of the groomsmen partied a bit, they had a keg and I was welcomed to join them. I was too worn out to do so, and returned to my hotel room, where I thought I would relax, and get a good shave with my new razor so I'd look good for the wedding in the morning.
I put on a Fred Astaire album, broke out the blade, my brush, shaving cream, and starting feeling very much as if I was William Powell in The Thin Man. I started to shave, slowly, as to not cut myself. I just finished, and was holding the blade in my hand admiring my handy work in the mirror, when I heard the door open, and foot steps rushing towards the bathroom. Elizabeth quickly pushed the door opened yelling “He's bleeding!” In doing this, she hit my elbow with the door, and the razor went right at my chin, now I was bleeding too.
It seems that as the amount of alcohol in the bodies of the groom and his band of merry men went up, Hank thought it would be a great idea to do a keg stand. He slipped, busted his nose, and was rushed to the hospital. I sat there reaching for a bandage to put on my wound, while Elizabeth was on her phone taking to Harriet about it. Apparently Hank's grandmother caught wind of this, went to the hospital to check in on Hank, and accused Harriet of being a “Jezebel harlot who is after her grandson's money.”
Incredibly, this did not put a damper on the wedding as planned. The following morning both Bride, Groom, and Best Man were all in happy moods, with Hank and I bravely showing our bandages. The actual ceremony, which people had worried about, cried about, and in this case bled about, went off extremely well, and fast. Months, sometimes years of planning, and in 15 minuets you're pelting the happy couple with bird seed.
I was just happy I did not lose the ring, I think I did very well in my first best man outing—though I did hear some people saying “who the heck is that guy?” Some of us were worried about the mood of Hank's grandmother, but she was quiet (three magic words: uped the dosage). The reception went well, the menu was great, the dancing adorable, and the daddy daughter dance brought a wet eye to everyone gathered. Including me, as I splashed myself in the face with champagne.
Looking back on it now, this was nearly two years ago, I've often wondered what it will be like for Hank and Harriet to look at their photos and videos and see me so involved, when I am hardly around in their lives anymore. I see Hank now and then, Elizabeth would go on and dump me later that year, around Thanksgiving. Interestingly enough she is now engaged to the guy who was supposed to the best man at that fateful wedding.
But here we are with wedding season about to start, and more couples are committing themselves to each others, and more parents are committing chunks of their bank accounts to said couples. Should you find yourself being a best man this summer I hope that you pull of the task with grace, and little—if any—loss of blood. Happy honeymooning!
Copyright 2012 Andy Ross
Copyright 2012 Andy Ross