What else is there to do in Hong Kong, besides eat dim sum and buy cheap merchandise? Try a foot massage! But get a recommendation first, because every block has the sign of the smiling insole poking out of one building or another. We got a recommendation from Josh and Emma (echoed by Fodors, so we marched through Central to Happy Foot Reflexology Center. $200 HKD (about $26 US) apiece got Sylvia and I 45-minute foot massages. And these people do not waste your time. They will grind, roll, buff and pummel your legs from the knees down. I appreciated it, but Sylvia, who dances when she’s not accompanying me through Asia, felt like she’d been given a new pair of feet. Highly recommended.
Speaking of typical tourist stuff: Victoria Peak is worth the hype. Find a way to get your tickets ahead of time (lots of tour buses offer packages) and plan to eat at a restaurant on the peak gallery. Take a public bus down for cheap and save yourself some time, too.
Expats drink all over the city, but the best place to find them seems to be Lan Kwai Fong (LKF). Picture New Orleans spread through a series of near-vertical alleys, only accessible by steep, cobblestone paths. Josh and Emma took us to a couple of bars in the neighborhood our last night there. I remember none of their names.
Sylvia found us two museums. The Hong Kong Museum of History had a permanent exhibit on the history of the island, taking us from its geological formation (I skipped that) through the days of its early tribes, up to British rule, Japanese occupation and the present day. The Hong Kong Museum of Art featured a lovely exhibit on calligraphy, the history of Chinese “export painters” who reproduced British sketches en masse and the art of scroll paintings. Each museum advised us that their doors were disinfected eight times per day.
Hong Kong seems prepared to funnel users into and out of the city better than anywhere I’ve been. Free shuttles loop from every hotel in Kowloon to Kowloon Station, where you can take a reasonably priced monorail across the water to Hong Kong International Airport. You can even check in for your flight at Kowloon Station. Only Walt Disney World (where you can do flight check-in from your resort hotel) beats it for convenience.
Several people asked what was my favorite part of the trip. I always have a hard time with this question. Small talk remains a mystery to me, and this question seems like such an obvious conversational gambit (e.g., “Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge”) that it shakes me out of the moment. I wonder if I’ve failed at my end of the conversation: if I’ve just been staring blankly, rather than providing entertaining patter, and the other person is prompting me.
But here’s a contender: one night, Sylvia and I took dinner in the lobby lounge of the Intercontinental Hotel. The lobby features two-story windows that sweep through a lounge the size of an auditorium, looking out over Victoria Harbor. As an effusive waiter served our cocktails – a Ruby Dragon for the lady; Laphroaig, neat, for the gentleman – the daily light show began. Lasers beamed from one end of the bay to the other while the tallest buildings in the city – the Bank of China Tower, the World Trade Center, the ICC Building – lit up from within. Ferries and party yachts glided across dark water. I sat before one of the finest views of a city I’d spent a decade longing to see, scotch in hand, and thought: I win.
From the Blog
I helped Sylvia move her furniture out of her apartment on Saturday. She rented a storage cube from U-Haul (“UPod”) and also hired some movers to get the heavy furniture down the stairs. The movers turned out to be a mover, which meant I got promoted from management to labor right quick. Raphael and I filled the UPod, then struggled to close it against warped hinges.
Sylvia repaid my effort by treating me to dinner at Foundry on Elm. We had a short wait for a table, so we ordered cocktails at the bar. Our bartender consulted a recipe card several times while shaking up my Manhattan. While waiting, I noticed the bar manager at the far end of the counter. He had to be the bar manager, of course: no one else would be tasting random drinks with a cocktail stirrer while wearing a suit jacket and a shirt unbuttoned all the way to his solar plexus.
(“Do you think he dresses like that because he has this job,” I asked Sylvia, “or did he get this job so he could dress like that?”
“I think he dressed like that already. Or close to it. At work, he allows himself the extra button.”)
Either our bartender consulted the recipe card not enough or too much, as Sylvia’s pisco sour proved bland and my Manhattan was no better than a Jersey City. We told our waiter, who apologized profusely and provided us beers at no cost. The entrees were much more satisfying: crusty flatbreads (i.e., pizza) with Italian sausage.
There’s an indifferent bar on Mass Ave in Cambridge called the Asgard. It’s an Irish pub. Don’t ask me what Asgard has to do with the Irish, although the Norse certainly had their way with Ireland a dozen centuries ago. Asgard differs from other Irish pubs in Boston in degree but not distinction. The dark, faux-ancient wood that makes up the bartop and tables is darker and fauxier; the buttressed ceilings are higher; the Guinness drafts are pricier. Otherwise, nothing separates Asgard from Kinsale, Joshua Tree, Tavern on the Square, Biddy Early’s, the Black Rose, Crossroads, O’Brien’s, An Tua Nua, Clery’s, the Green Dragon, Lir, J.J. Foley’s, Matt Murphy’s, the Druid, the Field, River Gods, Phoenix Landing, Tommy Doyle’s, Grafton Street, Union Street or the Emerald Isle. They have trivia on Tuesdays, live music on some Fridays and, until about two weeks ago, Boston’s best karaoke on Wednesdays.
I should know. I was there.
To have a good karaoke night, you need alcohol, forgiving friends and karaoke (in that order). Very few people like to sing with rockstar presence unless there’s a drink nearby. There’s no point to belting out your favorite 80s hits, New Jack Swing or showtunes unless you have an audience. And you need a song catalog, a monitor to prompt you, and some decent speakers. Those first two are easily attained. It’s the third one that’s the hurdle: finding a catalog that covers pop hits and buried classics, in a bar that has a good sound system and is the kind of place you wouldn’t mind drinking.
In March 2007 I was still in Neutrino, an ImprovBoston house troupe that did improvised video vignettes, filmed and edited together live. Dave had recruited me. One evening, Dave told us about this karaoke night he and John S. had stumbled onto at the Asgard. Since the Asgard was right around the corner from our rehearsal space, and Rachel V. and I needed a drink anyway, we followed. The bar was nearly empty. Baseball season hadn’t really started yet, it was Wednesday and it wasn’t dark yet.
Paul, the karaoke DJ, had an effortless grin and the towniest accent that the North Shore has yet produced. He had scattered thick books across several tables. You didn’t need to fill out a slip to request a song; nothing so 20th century. He had every song in his catalog on a hard drive. Requests were kept in order by some descendant of the WinAmp player. I paged through the back, found one of my favorites, and whispered it in Paul’s ear.
“Primal Scream?” he asked. “That’s not one of those death metal bands, is it?”
Over the next four years, Wednesday night at the Asgard went from a ghost town to a dense pit of humanity. Dave, Rachel and I recruited the rest of ImprovBoston to come by after shows or rehearsals and sing their weary hearts out. I expanded my catalog from inoffensive pop to rock, classic hip-hop power ballads and the most depressing sorts of folk. People made friends with me, bought me drinks and challenged me to freestyle rap battles (all true). Wednesday night karaoke followed me through three apartments, three jobs, four haircuts and a variety of hook-ups both awesome and ill-advised.
But the heart must pause to breathe: two weeks ago, karaoke at the Asgard was suddenly canceled. I wasn’t there; I didn’t see it; all my details are hearsay. I hadn’t gone as often in the last year. Karaoke was no longer a weekly ritual to convince myself that I was a well-liked rockstar. I had discovered that I was well-liked, even for my faults, and that was enough. But there were still plenty of people who wanted their fix every week – for that or other reasons – who now lacked an outlet. And there were people I almost never saw but for Wednesdays.
“Leaving people is a sadness,” Frank Herbert wrote. “A place is just a place.” Paul B still does karaoke gigs throughout the Boston metro area, and may be coming back to Cambridge soon. I can still find most of my friends in the bar of the ImprovBoston lobby. But on hearing that karaoke had been canceled, I realized that I had no reason to ever set foot in the Asgard again. It was the black box in which the biggest party of the week happened. Now the sets were struck and the actors were moving on. I could leave the Asgard without so much as a second glance.
But recollection is a tactile thing. We remember sensations first, ideas second. We invest our memories in the taste of beer, the swirl of dim lights and the sound of our own voices through beat-up amps. It’s easy to forget that there’s nothing special about the Asgard in itself, and that they pour a better Guinness elsewhere.
Discovered two awesome beers this weekend:
* The Racer 5 IPA (WARNING: terrible website design), a California brew that made its way to Common Ground in Allston. Just the right blend of bitterness and sourness that makes a good IPA for me.
* Berkshire Brewing Company’s Steel Rail Pale Ale. Sylvia and I ate at Foundry on Elm after seeing Cymbeline on Saturday. I ordered a Steel Rail and was stunned into silence at how smooth and tasty it was. After dinner, we marched one block south to Downtown Wine and Spirits and picked up a 64-oz growler of it. Most of that jug is now gone.
Your preference for Racer 5 will depend on how much you like IPAs. But almost anyone should like Steel Rail. Smooth, refreshing and light but with a full body of flavor.
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Downtown Wine and Spirits is dear to me as the source of one of the best lines I can never use. I was in line there, years ago, when the woman behind the checkout perked up her ears at the song playing on the store radio. “You know,” she said, “I ruined a perfectly good song by getting married.”
A few weeks ago, I got a mailer offering me a nice discount on any purchases from the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet. For those of you not from New England: the Outlet is the only chain of stores where hard liquor or wine may be sold in New Hampshire. Since New Hampshire has no sales tax, the discount on the final price, compounded with the savings on this coupon, more than paid for the trip. So Sylvia and I drove up to Derry on Saturday afternoon, taking in the gorgeous fall foliage on the way. I loaded up my cart with several massive bottles of mid-tier liquor – Tanqueray, Canadian Club, Smirnoff – and paid a mere pittance. A trifle, for the joy they’ll bring.
Jaunts like this remind me of why I’m not comfortable identifying with either of the major political mindsets in America – either conservative or liberal.
Conservatives tend to champion the “rule of law” as if it’s a value in and of itself. “Sure, the illegal immigrants in the Midwest aren’t committing crimes in record numbers,” they say, “but their very existence in the States is a crime.” Or consider Rudy Giuliani’s “broken windows” crackdown in New York City in the 90s. The idea seems to be that an environment of widespread lawlessness encourages greater crime. The problem – outside from a lack of empirical evidence in either Arizona or Manhattan – is that we’re all lawbreakers. We all scoff at the laws we find inconvenient and adhere to the laws we like, or the laws we can’t get away with breaking.
The relationship between New Hampshire and Massachusetts is a perfect example. There’s a long-established trend of Massachusetts residents motoring up north to buy wholesale clothing, cartons of cigarettes and liquor in New Hampshire. This trend is so well-known that massive corporations cater to this sort of thing, as American Express did when they sent me that discount mailer. The coupon rang up on the register as “AMEX MASS.” Now, there’s nothing illegal about a Massachusetts resident buying liquor in New Hampshire – provided he reports it at the end of the year and pays his use tax. Which I promise you, I am definitely going to pay come April 2011. You just see if I don’t.
But I know not everyone else abides the law as closely. So you’ve got an endemic, multi-generational culture of tax frauds in eastern Massachusetts. Has this driven up the crime rate in Boston? Does this make the North Shore a greater source of other forms of tax evasion than typical for the country? Because, if not, I think we need to reconsider the “culture of scofflaws” idea.
On the left side of the aisle comes the notion of the tax burden in the first place. Whenever I get into an argument over the justification of taxes, I’m told that they’re a “payment for services rendered” by the state and federal government. The same way I might pay two dollars for a gallon of milk, or a thousand for a computer, I pay the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the U.S. Treasury several thousand dollars a year in exchange for bank bailouts, secret prisons in Afghanistan and ConAgra subsidies. Which I suppose makes sense.
I can understand the reasoning that taxes are money that I owe to the government (even if I’m not sure I buy it). But I can’t understand the reasoning that taxes are money of mine that the government already owns. And if you think I’m exaggerating, consider this Huffington Post article, about a series of tax loopholes that “cost the U.S. $60 billion a year” (the headline’s words, not mine).
The author’s mindset seems to be that Google doesn’t owe the U.S. money – rather, that Google was holding money that already belonged to the U.S. and hasn’t returned it fast enough. It’s the distinction between “I promised to buy you a six-pack” and “you put your six-pack in my fridge; let me get it for you.” I understand the former, but not the latter, especially if I bought the bespoke six-pack.
Google, Microsoft and the other companies who employ the “Double Irish” strategy aren’t breaking the law. They are taking advantage of loopholes in corporate tax law. You might consider that sort of behavior uncivic, if you think that people have an obligation to maximize their tax burden. But no actual human thinks that way. In fact, 100 out of 100 people I talk to think the opposite – that if you find a way to lower your tax burden, whether it’s through charitable donations or investment strategies or setting up a trust for your child’s education, you go for it. And you can see that sort of mindset in the New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet, which advertises to Massachusetts residents to come thumb their nose at the law.
If you think I’m misunderstanding or caricaturing your view, let me know. I’d be happy to discuss it with you over a glass of illegal booze.
BIMA‘s biggest event is their annual summer cruise, a jaunt around Boston’s harbor. BIMA also holds a Christmas gala, but the turnout’s not quite as good: it’s harder to coordinate people around the holidays. Everyone shows up for the good weather and free booze, though.
My coworkers suggested we walk from Copley Square to the harbor. I gently reminded them that it was 90 degrees out, even at five in the afternoon, but didn’t want to be the sole veto. Another half hour found us staggering down Sleeper Street in South Boston. I had pushed myself pretty hard in yoga that afternoon, stretching my hamstrings to the breaking point, and was suffering the aftermath. My feet went numb. At one point I found myself listing to the left while on dry land. Thankfully there was no line to register, so we got aboard the boat with no waiting. I ordered a gin and tonic, my preferred summer drink, and basked in the air-conditioning. Waiters came by with scallions wrapped in bacon, miniature quesadillas and trial-size spanikopita. I took double handfuls of everything.
No one drinks like young professionals, except perhaps Irish mourners, and the party hit its stride an hour before docking. I wheedled a few coworkers onto the dance floor and worked my groove to some top 40 hits (plus Tribe Called Quest, to my surprise). I wasn’t the center of attention, though. That honor fell to a sweating gentleman in a button down shirt and shades (indoors, after sundown), working his magic on every woman within sniffing distance. He popped and locked. He got low. At one point he made it rain with a shower of business cards. I scooped one up, noting the (unknown) wireless ad exchange of which he was a VP of sales.
“Why aren’t you out there working it?” a coworker asked later.
“Because I might want one of these people to hire me someday,” I said.
When Misch and I found Barrio Central, a Mexican-themed pub in Soho, we spent the night there dancing with strangers. Late in the evening I flagged the bartender down with a fiver. “I’m from the States,” I explained. “What would you recommend that’s local to Europe?”
The bartender produced two bottles. “This is Vedett,” he said of the one. “It’s a good blonde Belgian ale. And this is a beer you can’t get in the States: it’s Cuban. It’s got a …” But I was already grabbing the second bottle, throwing money at him and waving at him to stop talking. The verdict on a Palma Cristal – very tasty! And a compelling argument against lifting U.S. sanctions (take that, Mary Anastasia O’Grady).
Misch and I spent our last night in London dancing until exhaustion at Opal, an understated club near the Victoria Embankment. As I say in the review, it was just what I wanted: fun young people, nobody starting fights or being skeevy, good music, big crowds. I danced near the DJ booth most of the evening and made a request at one point, holding up my iPod tuned to Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize.” The DJ shook his head. “Too hip-hop,” he explained. That’s how you know you’re in a London club. I cannot imagine an “80s, 90s and pop hits” dance night in the States that would consider Biggie (a/k/a Biggie Smalls, the Commissioner, Frank White, etc) unsuitable for the playlist.
London has its own currency! Well, look at that. The hardest thing to get used to in London was sorting through coins. I could have a huge pile of change jingling in my back pocket that was equally likely to be 85p or £3.25. And they’re not quite ranked by size. It got me thinking about how early schools start you learning on what each coin denomination means. Quarters (25c) are the biggest ones, but dimes (10c) are the smallest, with nickels (5c) between them in size. That gets drilled into a child’s head from an early age. Without that educational advantage, you’re left standing in front of the clerk at Boots, fumbling through oddly shaped coins for the 75p you need for a bottle of water. For years I snickered when I heard anarchists railing against institutional education, “training kids to be consumers, ma-a-an.”
Though I like traveling alone, as my trip to Iceland indicated, there’s something to be said for having a companion. Misch was a second set of eyes, spotting restaurants and tourist attractions I might have otherwise missed. She was also a source of good ideas and a sounding board for mine. We spent enough time apart that we weren’t about to kill each other, but still checked in. Maybe there’s something to be said for this “human contact” nonsense after all.
You can tell a lot about a city by what sort of posters go up in its subways. London had ads for books and Broadway shows where most cities would have ads for movies and pop artists. I wouldn’t take this to mean that London’s a more literate city than Boston; rather, it means London wants to appear that way. Or whoever sells advertising space on the Tube does. Also noted: plenty of PSAs advising people to watch out for pickpockets, and warnings that assaults on Tube personnel would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I wonder at the sort of city where the latter needs to be spelled out.
I’d been suffering a great deal of wanderlust prior to this trip. I had some deep dissatisfaction with the status quo that I thought touring Europe on foot would soothe. Seeing London slaked my thirst. Maybe it’s because my writing’s started coming together and I wanted to get back to my novel in the States. Or it could have been the realization that I don’t make friends easily: not with the same guileless eagerness that Misch does. That would make traveling difficult: wrapping myself in a cocoon of foreign whiteness and not really interacting with the world.
Or perhaps it was the giant, sloshing blister that formed on the outside of my left big toe. That’s as strong an argument for settling down as I’ve ever seen.
(These posts are arranged by impressions, not chronologically. Viewer discretion is advised)
Does London have more attractive people because it’s a denser city? Because it’s a more desirable city to live? Or is this the same principle that’s at work in all cold reads – I remember the hits and discount the failures? The eye does tend to gloss over ugly people – except the spectacularly ugly – and recall attractive ones with greater ease. Anyhow, more gorgeous women than I’d seen in Boston in a month, I saw in London in a day. Leggy blondes in playsuits; wide-eyed Pakistani in business wear; redheads dusted with freckles and curls. I’m off the market, so this is a tip for the single fellows: London. Summer. Bring a puppy and/or a guitar.
And the guys all wore amazing shirts. Such nice shirts! Sharp collars, pinstripes, cuffs just so. None of the baggy business-casual stuff America tries to get away with. “Where do these guys buy their shirts?” I asked Misch several times. “Look, you see that guy over there?” I indicated a tanned fellow with hair past his ears, the top two buttons of his fitted shirt open. Misch bit her lip and nodded. “I’ll crack him in the jaw and steal his shirt,” I went on. “Then I’ll run off while you attend his wounds. We both win.”
I failed at ordering breakfasts several times. On Thursday I had a traditional English breakfast at the Shakespeare Pub, right next to Victoria Station. I ordered tea. The waitress asked if I wanted it regular. I said yes. She brought me coffee.
On Friday I went to the Cafe Rouge (a chain of faux French bistros) in Victoria Place and saw on the menu pain perdu, or French toast with honey, chocolate and strawberries. So I ordered French toast. Five minutes later the waiter brought me two slices of toast, jam and butter on the side. Ooh, neat, a little appetizer. I ate the toast and waited. Fifteen minutes later, I flagged the waiter down and asked when my French toast was arriving. He said that he’d already brought it. I opened the menu and pointed at it, indicating the entree item with honey, chocolate, strawberries, etc. He said he could make it for me. In a fit of pique – the second time I lost my temper that trip, and it’s a rare quarter where I lose my temper twice – I told him he could bring the check instead. I choked down a sausage roll in a train station kiosk to assuage my hunger.
I set myself a quest to find some proper English pubs instead of the shiny tourist stops that flanked every Tube station. The key to finding a proper English pub is to start at a major destination, like Hyde Park or Victoria or Oxford Circus or Covent Garden. Then walk two blocks away from the flow of traffic. Walk into back alleys. Get yourself lost. Make abrupt turns. Before five minutes, you’ll have found a hole in the wall pub that’s older than the city you were born in. They will serve fish and chips, or a good ploughman’s lunch, and will have local ales on tap for a pittance. THIS ALWAYS WORKS. There is no part of London that will not have a pub in it. Excellent pubs I found this way include the Union Jack (Southwark, London SE1) and Kings Arms (Mayfair, London W1J 7QA).
At the Kings Arms, I had a ham sandwich with sharp cheddar and a local IPA. “You want that sandwich on moldy gray bread or a baguette?” the publican asked – the sort of bluff chap you expect behind the counter. I stood while eating, as the bar was filling for the Brazil/Portugal game. As I did, a salty older man stepped up next to me and flagged the barman down. “I’ll have a pint of Doom,” he said. I wondered which Tim Powers novel I’d stepped into until I saw the tap of Sharp’s Brewery Doom Bar next to him. So after lunch, I sat around and had a pint of Doom as well. Now I fear not the sting of death.
Misch discovered a pub the size of my studio apartment in Covent Garden called CellarDoor. You get to it by descending what looks like a subway entrance. They had a pair of saucy lounge singers when we found them, covering British sing-a-long favorites. A bachelorette party in ill-conceived dresses, heels and tiaras tottered around, while a couple of lads out for a birthday snorted lines off a drink platter. The entire bar sang “Wonderwall.” We would have gone back for Saturday high tea – featuring champagne and roulette – but the door was padlocked from the outside.
Misch would regularly stare at pub menus for ten to fifteen minutes. I don’t know whether this was from choice paralysis or hunger fatigue, but it usually ended with her ordering something hilarious. On Wednesday night, with only two minutes before the kitchen closed at St. George’s (Pimlico, London SW1V 1QD), she ordered the potted beef. Five minutes later, a lump of cold, boiled beef with some bread squares arrived. We stared at it in confusion. Then she ate it. “It’s all right,” she said.
Tomorrow: tourist stuff.
This weekend, roughly half the things I tried to schedule failed. It was a loud, continual reminder of how forces beyond your control can throw your plans out the window.
First, my phone stopped notifying me of messages on Friday evening. I missed three voicemails and three text messages between eight o’clock and midnight. While I didn’t pass the evening in misery – I got a hot dog at Spike’s, watched the season opener of “Burn Notice” on Hulu, and drank a lot of whiskey – it meant I couldn’t hang out with Sylvia. Which is what I’d planned to do.
Second, I was able to reschedule with Sylvia for the following afternoon. Which was good. But this meant I didn’t go on the Southie pub crawl that my friends through Yelp had organized. And while catching up with Sylvia was a good time regardless, it meant a bunch of my friends had to drink beers and accost strangers without me. I’m sure they managed.
Third, I had tickets to see Psychedelic Furs at the House of Blues that evening. This, I had worked out: I’d go to Michelle Z’s housewarming barbecue in Arlington, leave from there around 7:00 and get to House of Blues around 9:00. This would put me at the concert an hour after the doors opened at 8:00. I could see the opening act (She Wants Revenge, who sounded interesting) and get up nice and close for the folks I’d come to see. This plan lasted until I got back from Michelle’s (at 7:45) and actually looked at the ticket. Doors opened at 6:00.
Swearing, I didn’t quite sprint to the subway. I made it downtown by 8:45, late enough to miss the first two songs (“Love My Way” and “Heartbeat,” which are phenomenal live) and half of the third (“Like a Stranger”).
None of these failures were critical. I missed hanging out with Sylvia on Friday night, but I got to reschedule for Saturday. I missed drinking with the Yelp crew on Saturday, but I see them plenty. And I missed the first two songs of the Psychedelic Furs set, but I’ve seen them live before. They hadn’t written any new songs in the intervening period (or the last eighteen years). The crowd was small enough that I could still shoulder my way pretty close. And while I’d missed two of my favorite songs, I still got to hear “President Gas” live. Psychedelic Furs recorded “President Gas” in 1982, and it’s only grown more relevant every year since then.
Weddings are wasted on the young. I don’t mean the really young, like J.J’s toddler, who would sprint across the dance floor to give someone a high-five then hide behind his mother’s skirts. But anyone between the ages of seven and seventeen has no business being at a wedding. Unless it’s their own and they’re in a state that tolerates that sort of thing. But the real joy of a wedding comes not from the ceremony or even the rituals following it. It comes from those long hours at the reception, sitting in small circles with a friend at your side and a drink in your hand, saying, Hey, remember when? It’s reflecting on the deep history you have with the married couple, and then realizing with a sigh that all of it is prologue.
Fortunately, I didn’t see any kids between seven and seventeen at Will and Gina’s wedding this past weekend. Gina and Will always meshed in such a way that you had a hard time remembering when they weren’t a couple. The goofy humor, the quiet energy. But, with effort, I was able to remember Will before he met Gina, and those few months before Gina started openly dating Will. That was eight and a half years ago. And yet, seeing them at the front of that church last Saturday, I still recognized the excited look in their eyes. Wow. We made it.
The ceremony, a Catholic mass, spent as much time on Jesus as it did on the happy couple. The DJ’s playlist was probably the same as any other wedding he’ll do this summer. And everyone knows what order the reception rituals come in: introducing the couple, toasts, first dances, cutting the cake, etc. It’s not the ritual that makes the wedding special. You can get the wedding day just right and still end it in bitterness a few years later. Or you can twiddle your thumbs during a grotesque homily*, fumble with the lighting of special candles, and still come out all right. It’s not about the uniform; it’s about who’s on your team with you.
* I don’t use the word “grotesque” lightly. The priest told an inspiring fable about a soldier who was sentenced to death by a court-martial. Told that the sentence would be carried out when the curfew bell rang, the soldier’s wife tied herself to the bell clapper so that no one would hear the signal. When her “cut and bloodied” body was found inside the bell, the sentencing officer solemnly intoned, “Curfew will not be rung today.” I hope the photographer caught the dawning look of horror that washed over the congregation; my digital camera has a pretty small lens.