THE RECEPTION – Saturday, 7 p.m.
The wedding party gets introduced and there’s a first dance to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” a song impossible to hear and not yell BAH BAH BAH at the top of your lungs, so from the outset the reception has kind of a dive bar-y feel.
We have a nice dinner and I start to loosen up because my work is done and my glass keeps magically refilling with red wine. Jen has graciously seated Melinda and me with my actual friends and nowhere near the midgets, who sit at little tables on either side of Jen and Kevin at the front of the room like court jesters.
At one point, I watch Kevin lean over and kiss one of the midgets on the head like you’d kiss your nephew on his way to school.
“Jesus, Kevin,” someone yells.
“What? He made me!” Kevin replies.
“Kiss the bride, not the midgets, you moron,” yells someone else.
And then come the speeches, which drag on for so long it feels like it might be on purpose, an ironic gag on par with replacing your best man’s steak dinner with a taco or placing live animals on the dinner table or forcing your guests to socialize with hired midgets.
But really, I don’t think that’s the case. As someone who can spew thousands of words once given a microphone, I can relate; it’s hard to shut the machine down once you get it rolling.
As Jen’s step-dad enters minute seven of his speech by recounting her role in the 4th grade play (Wizard of Oz, if you were wondering), the crowd’s attention wanes and their intoxication waxes. I go over to Melinda and Jen’s dad, who is waiting for his turn to speak.
“Man,” I say to him, hoping to redeem myself for the whole hermit crab thing. “Tough act to follow, huh?”
Jen’s dad’s face is ghostly pale, and he swallows and nods. I find out later he was super-nervous to speak, and Melinda had just given him a five minute pep talk in an attempt to calm him down.
“Go sit down,” she hisses.
Two of the groomsmen goons take the mic, and one begins their speech by saying “I want to talk about what happened between 1981 and now, since Kevin and I were in 7th grade.” My table groans at the prospect of hearing a detailed account of the last 35 years. But I think they’re being sarcastic, because they wrap things up pretty quickly, and the dance floor begins to fill.
Jen has both a live band and a DJ — because duh, why choose one when you can have both? — and they trade off, creating an interesting juxtaposition of songs. The band lets the final chords of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” and the DJ dives into Pitbull’s “Fireball,” two songs I am certain have never been played back-to-back in the history of music.
The midgets are out there strutting their stuff, of course. They’re not interacting much with the adults — the disparity in height makes it difficult for them to really get into the mix — but the toddlers seem to really enjoy their company on their little corner of the dance floor.
THE WIND DOWN – Saturday, 10 p.m.
Time starts to slip sideways like it did at the rehearsal dinner, and suddenly I find myself a little heavy on my feet. I am, however, in way better shape than some of the other guests. I see one girl slumped in her chair and squinting intently at her phone.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Shfewllfzzz Uber,” she says, which I take to mean she is trying to arrange for a ride home.
“Good idea,” I say. “I’ll help.” After some prodding, I’m able to decipher her address, and I take her phone and get an Uber set up for her so she can get home. But just as I’m about to confirm the ride, she grabs the phone out of my hand.
“Need Lyft,” she says. She opens the app of Uber’s competitor and starts to type in her address.
I gently take the phone back. “You don’t need a Lyft,” I say, “the Uber’s already set up.”
“I want to see which one is cheaper,” she says.
“I feel like we’re past the point of bargain hunting.”
“No, NO! Gimme my phone.”
I hand it back to the young lady and back away slowly, feeling as though I’d done my good deed for the evening. I’m unsure which company she finally landed on, but my hope is that she did indeed find the best deal. Bargains are an important part of personal finance.
The dance floor begins its natural decrescendo, and suddenly, the band kicks up a rendition of Blink 182’s “All The Small Things.” There’s a commotion in the center of the room, and the midgets appear from the crowd. They’re pushing each other and end up in the middle of the dance floor.
Had I not consumed a flagon of wine, I probably would have realized the altercation was staged, as the whole thing was just a little too convenient. But in those first 30 seconds, I am completely consumed, thinking holy shit, Jen’s midgets are tanked up and fighting. I wonder if she’ll get a refund.
I also think: this is amazing.
I hesitate to say the scuffle clears the dance floor, because the midgets aren’t imposing enough to do so. But the crowd backs up and forms a circle around them like they’re watching a playground brawl.
They strip off their tuxedos and toss them on the ground, revealing that they’re both wearing wrestling singlets. Okay, definitely staged, but I’m too enthralled with the performance to care. They grapple with each other, one tossing the other at the feet of the band, who continue belting out Blink 182.
People are less excited and more confused. Mouths are wide open.
Of course, their confusion doesn’t stop them from all pulling out their phones and taking video like they’re the fucking paparazzi.
As the song cruises to the final chorus, the midgets help each other off the floor and give each other a hug and show the crowd it’s all in good fun. Before the dance floor has a chance to refill, a girl steps into the circle and begins twerking to grab her share of the spotlight.
Things get sweaty and sloppy, though I am happy that no one has once tried to pull me onto the floor to chicken dance or electric slide.
The old people start to leave, gawking at the madness on the dance floor. “Are they giving tattoos at this wedding?” I hear one old bag say to her husband as she pushes her walker toward the elevator.
“What?!” her husband yells over a Bruno Mars song.
“Tattoos!” she repeats. “Everyone here has one!”
“What?!” he yells again.
At the request of the venue manager, the band announces its last song. “We started the party this way, so we might as well end it this way,” the singer says, and the band starts in on “Sweet Caroline.” It’s better received this time, as the guests are now the appropriate level of dive-bar drunk.
I’d like to say I then go around to all of the tables and round up the hermit crabs so they could be safely returned to their natural habitat. But that definitely did not happen. Instead, I wander around drunkenly looking for my wife until the venue manager asks me for the fifth time to leave.
THE AFTER PARTY – Sunday, 12:30 a.m.
Normally, this is where I’d tap out. It’s been a long day, and I’ve done my fair share of partying. At this point in my life, I’m happy to socialize for a few hours and head home for a good night’s sleep.
But this is Jen’s wedding, and Jen doesn’t do early nights. And what do I care? It’s Spring Break, so I won’t have to re-live the misery I felt going to work on Friday after the rehearsal dinner. I’m ready to go. I’ve got the fire.
So after getting all but escorted out of the wedding venue by security, Melinda and I change out of our fancy clothes at the hotel and prep to hit the homogenized streets of National Harbor.
What’s on the agenda? A nice quiet nightcap at a local jazz club? A final beer toast at the pub? No, sir. Not when you’re with Jen and Kevin.
We head to the bar with the mechanical bull.
I knew we’d end up here after the wedding. I knew it weeks ago, when Melinda and I had lunch with Jen and Kevin at the same bar after a meeting with the wedding venue manager. During that lunch, we watched a group of ladies peer pressure their…how do I phrase this…most rotund friend to take a ride.
I felt kind of weird watching this chick try and fail to mount the robo-bovine for the better part of five minutes. It felt like I was intruding on a private moment, like accidentally making eye contact with your dog while she’s taking a shit in the yard.
Kevin, on the other hand, had no such concern.
“Oh, this is going to be good,” he said, craning his neck to get a better view.
I give the girl credit; she was persistent. She finally got up on that thing (with a little boost from her gal pal) and squealed like she had just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Thirty seconds later, when she was facedown in the foam padding, Kevin turned to us and smiled, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
That’s when I knew we’d end up back here after the wedding.
Despite our party’s noticeable lack of inhibition, it takes us almost an hour to determine who will ride the bull first. Nobody even looks in my direction, for which I am thankful.
It’s Logan, my Scottish friend from the rehearsal dinner, who finally falls on the sword. He manages to stay on the bull a full 30 seconds before it’s clear this ride is nearing its logical conclusion.
“Hold on, you William Wallace motherfucker!” Kevin yells above the din.
Logan succumbs to the writhing beast, and Jen steps into the ring to take his place, her courage bolstered by his valiant attempt. But just as she hitches up her dress to climb onto the beast, she’s grabbed by a bouncer.
“That was the last one of the night,” the bouncer says. In my head, he’s bald and wearing sunglasses and an earpiece, but that’s probably not accurate. He’s just some beefcake making 10 bucks an hour breaking up bro fights.
“But I’m the bride!” Jen pleads.
It’s no use. The lights come up and we realize it’s 2 a.m. and we’re supposed to scatter like the roaches we are.
Our night’s not quite done. As we cross the street toward our hotel, we watch two idiots curse and swing at each other. It’s more violent than two midgets in tuxedos wrestling, but not nearly as tasteful or refined.
“Go home, morons!” Melinda yells at the pair. Five cops appear from nowhere and diffuse the situation.
HOTEL LOBBY – Sunday, 2:30 a.m.
We bid farewell to the bride and groom as they excuse themselves and go upstairs, but I don’t feel done with the evening.
It’s not fair. I’ve finally relaxed, gotten into a good groove. The work is done, we made it through Jen’s wedding with a minimal number of casualties, and dammit, I’m not ready for bed. This is such a rare feeling for me that I want to keep the night going.
So do Maggie and Logan, apparently, because they are sitting in comfy lobby chairs and talking.
It’s funny. Even after bonding over revealing kilts and the contribution of lesbians during the rehearsal dinner, we hardly acknowledged each other the entire day. Now, all of us properly hammered, we’re best friends again. They’re like the drunk friend version of the room of requirement.
God knows what we talk about. I stopped taking notes hours ago, and even if I did, I doubt I could have read them the next day.
Logan makes his second-most respectable power move of the evening — the first being the decision to ride the bull — and orders us McDonalds from Uber Eats.
All in all, we agree, that was a damn good wedding. There were no tears, no fights that weren’t pre-planned, and no major gaffes. Even the flower girl managed to keep her shit together.
I’m halfway through my Big Mac when I glance down at my watch and see two things: one, it’s 4:30 in the morning; and two, my calendar indicates I have work at the brewery in six hours.
This is very bad, because there’s no way in hell I will be in good shape by then.
I start to panic and get bummed thinking about how much tomorrow is going to suck, but then I stop myself. You know what? Let tomorrow come.
The thing I hate about weddings is that they’re awkward and stiff and cliche. But if you just relax and enjoy yourself, it’s not so bad. For a few hours, I got to surrender myself to the power of love and the joy of friendship and family.
Oh, and the midgets. They were cool too.