Canteys happen more often?

There’s a lot of angst out there tonight. Has been for a while, but this week has been particularly bad. People are upset about a lot of different things. I was, too. Then I took Matthew to the Canteys.

Every year at the end of the season, Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) has its annual meeting and awards ceremony — they’re called The Cantey Awards, after Cantey Venable Sutton, the “grand dame of RLT” who spearheaded the original theatre’s construction more than eight decades ago. Those awards are as much a tribute to humanity as to the humanities, celebrating the best the arts community has to offer.

Matthew and I weren’t up for any, but we went to show support for our friends who were, and to be part of the community. He and I acted in “Beanstalk! The Musical!” there together earlier in the season, followed immediately by him acting in and me working props for “Blood Done Sign My Name.” We love that theatre, and we wanted to be there for the awards. I’m glad we did.

One presenter opened with an imitation of a heartbeat before citing a study that found that audience members’ hearts tend to beat in synchronization with each other during a play. He went on to point out how iambic pentameter, the meter in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, emulates a heartbeat. And how all of us in that room already knew we were contributing to synchronized heartbeats with every performance, and that’s why we do what we do. And how a heartbeat says, in rhythm, “You, me. Me, you. We, us. Us, we.” And how we are all part of it.

An award-winner told us RLT has saved his life on numerous occasions, by allowing him to be part of its productions. Another gave an impassioned plea to use our voices to effect the change we wish to see. Several thanked RLT for its inclusive nature. The same themes repeated throughout the evening — we have important stories to tell, stories that bring people together and help mend society.

There was a lot of love in that room tonight. And warmth. And support. And camaraderie. Tears were shed, achievements were celebrated, hugs were given in abundance. And for a short time, cares were forgotten.

We stuck around the lobby for a while afterward, congratulating winners and catching up with friends and former castmates. It felt good, and it’s as simple as that.

As we were standing there, another theatre parent approached us. Her daughter is in Matthew’s grade, and like us, both of them act. I’ve seen her around over the years, but never formally met her. She approached Matthew to compliment him, which I thought was nice. She even included me. She shook his hand and told him she’d seen him in both of the plays he’d done, and that he’d done a good job. Then she shook mine, and said the same of me. We smiled and thanked her, and then the conversation went a little sideways.

“And I look forward to seeing more from…whatever this is,” she said, waving her arms toward and around both of us. I guess she meant me and Matthew doing plays together? I really don’t know. I took it as a compliment, but then she kept talking, and doubt presented itself.

She turned to Matthew among all the other noise in that crowded room, smiled, and said, “And I don’t know who your girlfriend is going to be next year, but we’re going to have to get you some stilts.” I scowled a bit at that, at first doubting I’d heard it correctly. She continued, “That, or we can cut her off at the knees.”

With that, she laughed and turned to go. I couldn’t see Matthew’s face from where I was standing, but I could well imagine it turning beet red. All of the boys in his class are older than he is, so most of them are taller. Some of the girls, too. For whatever reason, this mom pointed it out to him.

I thought I’d shock him into a laugh, so I leaned over and said, “Well, that was a shitty thing to say.”

He turned to me, shrugged, and said, “It doesn’t matter.” His face was fine.

Later, he would tell me he hadn’t heard all of it, but heard the words “girlfriend” and “stilts” and knew it was a remark about his height. He asked me what she had said specifically, and I told him it doesn’t matter. He was already handling it graciously. It was the one blip in an otherwise great night, and my 12-year-old taught me how to handle it with aplomb.

Who knows? Maybe she meant it as a compliment, as in, the girls are going to be after you now, but don’t let your height worry you. I may never know, so I followed his lead in shrugging it off.

We stayed a few minutes longer, sharing a few laughs, tears, and hugs with some of the other cast members of “Blood Done Sign My Name.” We left feeling pretty good.

So if you want my advice on how to park your worries, go watch a play. Or better yet, an awards ceremony. Celebrate the triumphs of the human spirit. Know that there are others who want to tell and/or hear these stories. Share your heartbeat with some other lucky people for a bit.

But please — don’t comment on their height.

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Newfound friend

I was checking out after this week’s grocery run at Target tonight when a nervous-looking woman, who had left the store only moments before, came back in with her two young kids and a cart still full of groceries. She approached my cashier and asked if they “do anything about dogs in the parking lot.” I figured there was a dog roaming loose.
The cashier asked a few questions and came to find out the dog was in the back of a pickup truck next to the woman’s car, it had barked at her, she didn’t know if it was restrained, and she was worried it was going to jump out of the truck and attack her and her kids. She seemed a little embarrassed as she said, “Sorry, I don’t do dogs.”
 
The young cashier didn’t know what to do, what with dog-wrangling not being a required skill there. I was about to pay and leave, so I offered walk out with the woman and her kids, and check out and/or distract the dog. Both the woman and the cashier were grateful, and I felt confident a vicious dog would not have been left unrestrained, anyway.
 
As we walked out, I asked her where her car was. When I looked in the direction she was pointing, my heart skipped a beat — there was an enormous dog in the bed of the truck, staring at us from 30-40 yards away. It was white and shaggy, and I swear to God, I thought it was some ghostly creature standing on the other side of the truck, so all I could see was its torso and head facing us. I imagined a Yeti waiting to gut any poor Tibetan villagers careless enough to cross into its territory, and rethought my previous bravado.
 
I walked ahead of her. My car was in the same row, so I left my cart with it and continued to walk. I noticed there was no car next to the truck, but there was one two spaces away. I asked if that was her car, and when she said yes, I walked just past the car and stopped to assess the situation. The dog didn’t bark, but we stared each other down while the woman hurriedly put her kids into her car. This huge beast looked a little like a Newfoundland, although I’ve never seen one that was all white.
 
Remembering the calm demeanor of the last Newfie I’d met, I cautiously approached, speaking in a low, friendly tone and holding out my hand for the dog to sniff. This thing could have bitten my hand off and swallowed it whole without breaking a sweat, but I felt like we had an understanding. It tentatively sniffed my hand, then looked me in the eye with an expression that said, “You may proceed.”
 
I kept talking as I placed my hand on the dog’s head and scratched behind its ears. It was like putting my hand into a bag of cotton balls. The fluff! The sheer fluff of it all! I began to pet the dog with gusto as I saw the woman practically run her empty cart to the corral and skitter back to her car and her kids. She thanked me as she jumped in, still watching the dog apprehensively. I wished her a good evening without breaking eye contact with the giant velour blanket that was currently engulfing my hand.
She drove away. I stayed there, talking to the dog and petting as if my life depended on it. It seemed grateful. I felt more grateful. Other people came and went. I finally broke contact when a couple parked next to the truck and got out, only to stop and stare at the dog. I think maybe they were waiting their turn, so I let them take it. I walked back to my car and the full shopping cart next to it, wondering if it seemed weird to them that I hadn’t emptied my cart yet, but had ventured further into the parking lot than I’d needed to.
People don’t usually do that, do they? Aren’t there rules? When you’re done shopping, you must minimize time spent in the parking lot, and avoid contact with other living beings? Then, watching them dive up to their elbows in that dog’s fur, I figured they probably didn’t think it was weird, after all.
I put my groceries in the car and walked my cart to the corral, which I’m happy to say was on the other side of the dog in the pickup. The couple had gone into the store, so the dog watched me walk by, put my cart away, and come back toward the truck, perking up when I finally slowed down and held out my hand again.
I stayed for another few minutes, petting the dog and talking to it, marveling at how I’d thought I was doing that woman a favor, but how she’d probably been doing me one. When I finally left, I drove by the back of the truck, making eye contact with the dog one last time as its gaze seemed to say, Yes, the favor was all from her to you….
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…Under the hood

The capper on yesterday’s list of admittedly first-world problems was a movie spoiler. Something related to being in a theater. So it was only fitting that the turnaround came from being in a theatre (and yes, I intentionally spelled them differently). Better put, I lost all of my drama by going to a place for drama.

Kim and I had to divide and conquer last evening, due to the boys needing to be in two different places at close to the same time. As you’ll see, it wasn’t exactly the same time, as it left enough time for something else to happen in between, but Kim wasn’t back from dropping Chris off before I had to take Matthew. And then we arrived at a weird sort of convergence – of multiple people and things from yesterday.

Matthew’s been cast in a play at Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) – it’s called “Blood Done Sign My Name” and it’s about racial tension elevated to a horrific degree in 1970, in a small town not too far from where we live. Pretty heavy stuff for a 12-year-old, but he’s tackled it with aplomb. He had rehearsal last night, for which we typically drop him off out front at 7:00. Last night, however, he had a costume fitting at 6:45, and the costume shop is in back of the building.

Meanwhile, Chris was going to his prom, and was meeting up with a group of friends at one of their homes, then taking a limo around 6:00 from there to the rest of their destinations for the night. Of course they were going to dinner and the dance, plus an after-party. But I had forgotten they were going to have their pictures taken first at a popular spot for special event photos – the Raleigh Rose Garden. Know where that’s located? Behind RLT.

Matthew and I hit a drive-through on the way there, because he’d been too busy playing Fortnite to eat beforehand. (Don’t judge my parenting.) So he had his meal with him, but wasn’t able to finish. He had a couple of other things to carry in, and with a bag of food, I offered to walk in with him and carry something for him. (Don’t judge my parenting.) So we planned to park in the back and walk in together.

As we approached the building, I noticed a limo parked along a side street. That’s when I remembered. I knew it wasn’t necessarily the limo taken by Chris and his friends, but I was literally saying, “Hey, I wonder if Chris…” as we rounded the winding driveway to the back of the theatre and we spotted him at the same time. Before I could finish my sentence, Matthew shouted, “There he is!” with so much enthusiasm you would have thought way more than the actual 50 minutes since we’d last seen his brother. But you have to understand – the Rose Garden is a large plot of land, and it was packed with prom-goers. Spotting Chris was akin to finding Waldo, if Waldo wore a black tux and every illustration of him had 100 other boys in black tuxes.

I laughed in agreement with Matthew’s joy at having spotted his brother, but there was a little bit of worry behind it. Chris is an intensely private person, and we tend to honor his need to often be left to his own devices. (Don’t judge my parenting.) We’d taken a picture of him before he and Kim had left the house, and we knew it was going to feel like torture to have to pose for additional pics with his friends. Further, some of the other kids’ parents had followed the limo to take more pictures of their kids at the Rose Garden, so he probably was already a good bit outside of his comfort zone. I didn’t want him to think I was stalking him, and hoped if he saw me, he’d remember Matthew’s play and realize I wasn’t there for him.

But Matthew would have none of it. “I wish I could go down there to see him!” he exclaimed as we got out of the car and started walking toward the building. Which is really his way of asking, “May I go down there to see him?” (Don’t judge my parenting.) I thought this was kind of sweet, so I told him he could, but that I would stay up in the parking lot. Matthew ran down the hill and was warmly welcomed by Chris’ friends as they saw him approaching – then by Chris when he turned around and saw his little brother there! My relief was palpable as I gave a half-hearted wave from where I was standing, clearly not holding a camera and trying to look totally disinterested in the concept of taking a picture of the son who’s going to be leaving home all too soon.

Matthew came back up the hill and we proceeded toward the theatre, the momentary sadness at the passage of time returning my thoughts to my friend who’d been having a bad bout of depression. He was on my mind as we walked up the steps to the backstage door, and three seconds later, I saw him. The magic of theatre.

As we walked toward the costume shop, we passed by the studio where some rehearsals occur. Directly across the room from the open door, sat my friend. I was already past the doorway when that registered, and I backed up a couple feet to peek in again. There he was, knitting and smiling at me. I smiled, waved, and pointed down the hall to indicate I had somewhere to be, but would come back. The strange thing about it, though, is he wasn’t supposed to be there – he’d been cast in a play at a community theatre across town, and had posted earlier about the upcoming effort of pulling himself out of his doldrums to get to their rehearsal. Yet, there he’d been, sitting alone in a big studio, surreal as you please. Had I just conjured him? (Spoiler alert: No.)

I put Matthew’s food on the little table outside the costume shop as he walked in. I had been planning to leave quickly, but I’d been needing to ask one of his castmates about a show he’s going to direct at a third community theatre, and of course he was sitting just inside the door. In I went, to shake his hand, ask how rehearsals were going, and talk to him about that upcoming show. I didn’t notice the third cast member – the one silently being fitted at the back of the room – until we finished our conversation and I looked up to see what Matthew’s costume looked like. And found myself staring into the hooded, steely eyes of a Ku Klux Klansman.

Remember, this is a play about racial strife. There are Klansmen in the play, so naturally, there are Klan robes in the costume shop. And he happened to be trying his on. But when you encounter that sight up close and unexpectedly, you’re not going to immediately remember you’re in a costume shop. I’m a tall guy with a little weight on my frame, but with the hood and robe, this man looked to be imposingly large. And I believe he was getting into character, because I could have sworn he was glaring at me. My breath caught in my throat for a moment, then I pointed at him, looked at Matthew’s other castmate, and said, “Holy crap!”

The Klansman’s eyes went immediately softer; I’m pretty sure by then the actor was grinning behind the hood, which he reached up and removed before chuckling and saying, “Yeah, I felt the same way when I saw it.” His eyes were a little apologetic at that point. Mine went instinctively to one of the costumers I know who was also sitting there – and who happens to be black. She’d been staring at him all along, I think. She’s normally an ebullient load of energy, but of course she was sitting there in rapt silence, her expression was a weird mix of a bemused grin and abject terror. She looked at me and just nodded, as if to say, “Honey, you don’t have to tell me.”

I expressed to all of them how powerful this play is going to be, wished everyone a good rehearsal, told Matthew when I’d be back to pick him up, and got the hell out of that room. It was a horrific, yet oddly exhilarating, moment. The magic of theatre.

As promised, I stopped at the studio to see my friend for more than a moment’s glance and wave. He smiled when I rounded the doorway, and I knew it must be taking phenomenal effort on his part to do that. I wanted to give him a hug, but for some reason, that felt like it might be a violation. Just a vibe, so I let him stay seated without forcing him to stand and hug. Maybe I was being empathic, maybe I was just being awkward. I smiled and gave him a big “Hey!” in lieu of a hug, then asked the oh-so-inviting question of, “What are you doing here?” (Yep. Definitely awkward.)

It turns out, the other theatre didn’t have rehearsal space last night, and RLT had agreed to let them use its studio to rehearse. I love that. In almost any other business, they’d be considered “the competition” and it’d be unheard of to let them use the space and help them succeed. But in this business, collaboration rules. The magic of theatre.

We chatted for a couple minutes, then another friend walked in – he’s also in that other play. This time, I did give him a hug, then told them both why I was there, and about the surprise of seeing a Klansman in the costume shop. They had the same visceral reaction. They’re also both gay, so like the costumer, their feelings toward the Klan might run understandably deeper than mine. I was just full of awkward blessings last night.

Then I saw my second friend’s partner standing outside the studio door; he’s not in the play, but had dropped my friend off. I’ve worked with him in the past (in the same play as the other two friends I was currently chatting with), so I ran out to tell him hello. I was going in for a hug when he put his hand out, but he grinned and said, “Okay, bring it in.” Maybe awkward again? For an empath, it’s hard for me to tell.

We talked for a moment before I told *him* about the Klansman – I’d obviously been moved by the experience, and wanted to tell everyone. He had the same reaction. He’s both black and gay. My awkwardness is the gift that keeps on giving.

Before I left the building, their director showed up. I know of him, but hadn’t met him in person. He recognized me and went to extra effort to get my attention, introduce himself, shake my hand, and talk for a bit. That meant so much to me. That studio and the surrounding area were full of warmth last night, and it melted away every negative feeling I’d had all day. Even my own awkwardness didn’t bother me, and for once I didn’t chide myself over it as I walked away.

I left the theatre, practically skipped down the stairs from the backstage door, and hurried to my car, where I sent an apology text to Chris for having intruded on his prom time. He gave me a warm, reassuring answer, and I started to drive off. Coming down the stairs was the aforementioned partner who’d dropped off one of the cast members. I stopped and rolled down the window to chat for another minute before joking about us both being “theatre orphans” in that moment.

Rounding the curve in the driveway, I caught a glimpse of Chris and his friends, still waiting for the photo session to end. I smiled to myself and headed for home, texting Kim from the first stoplight to see if she’d like to go out for dinner. I’ve been grumpy and extremely nasty with her lately (and not in a good way), and I wanted to spend some time just being nice and not worrying about things before heading back out to pick up Matthew. We drove together to do that, brought him home to Fornite, and I sat down and blogged about my “bad” day while I waited for midnight to pass, so I could go pick up Chris.

When I got back into theatre in recent years, I thought it might be a midlife crisis. But I used to act when I was younger, and that urge never really goes away. Plus, if you get right down to it, I was acting in a sense every time I took the stage for improv during the past two decades. But there’s something more to theatre. As I’ve said a few times in this entry, the theatre has magic.

Sometimes the magic is evident on the surface, but sometimes you have to look under the hood to find it. But it’s there. And it’s powerful.

 

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Over the top…

I don’t know how to start this blog entry any more than I knew how to start this day. I only hope the entry ends as well as the day did.

I woke up from either a bad dream that stayed with me, or a good dream that I didn’t want to end. Either way, it was a jolt when I heard the alarm, and I was confused. I think I managed to incorporate the sound in my dream, then realized what it was. I became aware I was waking up, and felt only a deep, abiding sense of disappointment. I was exhausted.

Once I forced myself out of bed, I started thinking about the dichotomy of really wanting it to be the weekend already, but needing more time in the work week to finish some things. I like my job and I rarely complain about it, which I suspect puts me in the upper percentiles of being blessed, lucky, and/or privileged.

So I’m neither complaining nor criticizing – I have no right to do either – but to understand my overall perspective as of this morning, you should know I’d let some recent work-related obstacles get the better of me. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing life-threatening. Just sort of an abnormally long period of me reacting to things by thinking, “Are you kidding me?” and having to work a little harder (or a little more outside my comfort zone) to overcome the accompanying challenge. In other words, opportunities for growth. Accompanied by stress.

There’s been a bit of stress in my personal life, too. And again, I have no room to complain – my life is good. But lately the worry factor has been amped up a little too much, for a little too long. A few too many commitments, not quite enough time, and a slight feeling of being in a microwave. Between baseball and rehearsals for two plays, Matthew’s had to be too many places at difficult times, while Chris has had opposing commitments and Kim’s been out of town more than usual. This results in me getting pulled away from work – you know, the place where my attention really needs to be.

And I woke up knowing that Chris had a half-day of school and would need a ride home at noon, Matthew had the day off but had school play rehearsal at 2:15 back at the school where we had to pick Christopher up at noon, Kim felt guilty about having been gone and wanted to make it up by handling both of those commitments despite needing to spend a lot of time in her own office to make up for the time she’s been away, Christopher needed a ride to a friend’s house later in the day so he could meet a group of people for prom, Matthew needed a ride to the community theatre for rehearsal a short time after that, Matthew would need to picked up less than three hours later, Christopher would need to be picked up after midnight, I had a lot of work to do, I could barely keep my eyes open, Kim looked equally tired, I was feeling dizzy from either exhaustion or high blood pressure, and oh my God I can’t even.

So, nothing awful – just a few too many smaller hassles. Sort of a perfect storm, but in a teacup.

That’s what was on my mind when I walked downstairs and discovered that the cats had somehow overturned one of their litterboxes. That’s right, I wrote “one of” – as in, we have more than one litterbox in our home. Because we have three cats. And two of them don’t get along with the other one, so they need their own litterbox. In their own room, which the third cat can’t access. And that room happens to be what was once my home office. With a nice hardwood floor. That now had litterbox contents strewn all over it.

How is this even possible? Cat litter is heavy (I know because I’m constantly handling it because we have to buy so much of it) – it’s heavier than a cat, so how can a cat overturn a box full of it? Better yet, why would a cat do that? And who the hell has the time or intestinal fortitude to clean that up? Is it just a matter of sweeping it up with a broom? Can this be working? What the hell? Why is there a clump of it stuck to the hardwood floor? Was it recently wet? Did they actually use the litter while it was on the damned floor? How am I going to get that up? How does recently urinated-on litter have such strong adhesive qualities on hardwood flooring? Why doesn’t it smell like glue if it acts like it? Don’t I have other work to do? Is this room spinning? Am I dying? Am I going to pass out in cat urine and litter?

I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking the day was off to a bad start. As it progressed, I thought maybe I was doing better, because I was feeling empathy for a bunch of friends who were having their own troubles. A Jewish friend had been overwhelmed by someone defending Holocaust jokes; I felt bad for him. A friend’s child was having trouble with a teacher; I felt bad for both of them. A friend with depression was suffering through what sounded like a severe episode; I felt bad for him. I congratulated myself for feeling empathy, then remembered – empaths take on others’ pain. I felt bad.

But the day went on, as they usually do. I fancied myself hanging tough. Until a straw broke this camel’s back. Taking a quick break on the internet, I stumbled right into the thing that alters a person’s destiny, the thing that can’t be undone, the thing that drives the sanest person mad. I accidentally read a spoiler for an epic movie that had opened less than 24 hours prior.

Yes, it was a spoiler for Avengers: Infinity War. And yes, it was major. And no, there’s no way I can convince myself that maybe it’s not really going to happen. And no, it’s not from early enough in the movie to leave a good chunk of it untainted. And yes, I was pissed.

This was beyond the pale. Out of bounds. Over the top.

What could possibly redeem a day like this? That answer is going to have to wait, being that today is now yesterday. Sure, it was still today when I started writing, but by the time I finished, today had passed. Then it was time to pick Christopher up. And now it’s time to go to sleep. So I’m going to save the answer for tomorrow. Or rather, today. But later.

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Silver lining

Twenty-five years ago, at 5:21 p.m. on January 2, our priest pronounced me and Kim “husband and wife.” I’ve already blogged the awkward love story that eventually led to that moment, and I’ve shared a lot about our life together in the two and a half decades since. But I’d like to focus first on that ceremony, then on the greater three days that became known as “our wedding.”

Common prayer, uncommon words

We were married in accordance with the rite in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which means we made our Declaration of Consent with the words “I will” rather than “I do” — I’ve always thought that’s a nice touch. It’s less “I promise right now” and more “I promise now and forever.” (And we have done exactly what we said we would do — loved, comforted, honored, and kept each other, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others and being faithful to each other alone.)

The Declaration of Consent was earlier in the ceremony; the vows came right before the exchange of rings, followed by the 5:21 pronouncement. There were some cool words in those parts, too — “In the Name of God, I, Dan, take you, Kim, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” She repeated that vow to me. All with our hands bound together, another nice touch. And we got through it without choking up. For some reason, it was the rings that did that to me.

First, the priest asked God’s blessing on the rings, which were declared to be a physical symbol of the vows by which we had bound ourselves. Then came the hard part. I don’t know why I choked up a little, other than that’s just my Irish tear ducts that want to open too often. But I don’t know why it specifically happened at that part. Maybe I found the words to be particularly powerful: “Kim, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It was on the “all that I am, and all that I have” part — maybe I knew that didn’t amount to much, so I was worried I wasn’t putting enough into the vow.

Then the priest, who ironically would be separated from his own wife within a year, joined our hands and said, “Now that Dan and Kim have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”

These are all powerful words, and the moment was solemn. Then we got back to partying, as we had been for the two days prior.

The Velvet croaked

I had asked Kim in May to marry me, and we knew we wanted to be married during the Christmas season. But we were foiled in every attempt to find a place that was available in December. I can hardly plan something more than seven minutes in advance, let alone seven months, so I found it surprising that everywhere was booked. Then we realized the time after Christmas is still part of the season, and might make things easier not only for planning the wedding, but for celebrating future anniversaries — the time before Christmas is crazy-busy already.

So we opted for the first Saturday in January. Kim had her heart set on a place called the Velvet Cloak Inn, so we scheduled an appointment with their event planner to discuss the details. We wanted to have a Christmas tree at the reception, and she told us she could probably do that, unless someone else booked something for earlier in the week and wanted the tree gone. We wanted a certain size room and she told us she could do that, unless she needed it for New Year’s Eve. We kind of scratched our heads over those responses, losing out to an imaginary party that wasn’t likely to materialize.

The planner had an obvious disdain for the size of our reception, preferring to work with a larger group that could bring her more revenue. But she was “willing” as long as we could be flexible. The kicker was, she wanted to demonstrate that we had come to the right place, because they did so many weddings. She pointed to a bridal portrait on the floor behind her desk, leaning against the wall. And she began to tell us all about the wild bride with her unusual haircut, and how funny she thought the whole situation was, because she “loved her brides.” I should have stood up and walked out, but I didn’t want to disappoint Kim.

It turns out, Kim was as shocked as I was. I just didn’t want to assume she was willing to walk out on her dream location. It turns out, she was. Not that she wasn’t disappointed — she was — but she didn’t want to sign a “contract” that could be overturned at any moment by a greedy bitch who wasn’t content with a bird in the hand, nor give said bitch control of her beautiful bridal portrait, leaving it lying around God-knew-where, judging Kim’s looks, and telling some other couple all about the crazy bride who wanted a Christmas tree to stay up past New Year’s Eve.

Months later, on the morning of our wedding, I indulged in a little immature revenge at the behest of one of my groomsmen. He dialed the Velvet Cloak and handed me the phone. When someone answered, I asked if they had a wedding scheduled there that day. When they said they didn’t, I shouted, “Well, you could have!” and hung up the phone. Not my best moment as a human being, but somewhat worth the minor cost of my shame.

Alternative ‘tracts

Anyway, we found a better place place for our reception — Embassy Suites. It was a beautiful venue with a nice, normal event planner who was willing to work with us and put everything we wanted in the contracts. Plus, there was a bonus….

Every year, that Embassy Suites throws a massive New Year’s Eve party in its atrium, for everyone staying at the hotel. They have a special price that includes lodging and the party — you have to agree to spend the night there and stay off the roads — and people come back every year for it. That year, it was going to be two nights before our wedding, so we encouraged our guests to come to Raleigh early and party with us.

The monster bash

It was more fun than I’d ever had in one night. Great food, freely flowing drinks, good music, and dancing without care, followed by a massive balloon drop at midnight. I was wearing a sweater and burning up in that crowd, but I didn’t care. We still have a picture of me kissing Kim at midnight, sweat pouring down my face. I don’t know how she could stand it.

That night, I danced with Kim, her mom, my mom, her aunts, my godmother, and multiple bridesmaids. At one point I was dancing with Nancy Carol, Kim’s best friend and maid of honor, when some drunk stranger wandered up to me, pulled me toward him, and shout-whispered in my ear, “Yo, that girl totally wants your monkey!” I have no idea what he thought he saw, but I’m certain Nancy Carol did NOT want my monkey. Nor did I want her to have my monkey. We were simply dancing. So I admonished him, “Dude, come on! She’s going to be the maid of honor at my wedding in two days!” He got excited at that news, shook my hand, congratulated me on the impending nuptials, and stumbled off to offend someone else. I still have to wonder who this guy was, and why he felt he had to provide innuendo-laden affirmation to random guys on the dance floor.

Like the rest of us, Nancy Carol got a little tipsy that night. She was staying in Kim’s suite, and once the festivities were over and they’d made it back upstairs, Nancy Carol had an urge. No, it wasn’t for my monkey. It was for pizza. She tried her best to call Domino’s, but got a recording and left a drunken, disappointed diatribe about how all she wanted was to have some pizza delivered, and they were really making her mad, and why couldn’t they just listen to her and take her order? She never did get through, probably because she didn’t realize she had to dial “9” to get an outside line before dialing their number, 783-1801. She called seven times, talking to no one, but entertaining Kim.

Strangers at the wedding

At one point I was walking through the crowd when I heard a group of people calling my name. I turned to the table and didn’t recognize any of the four people sitting there. They gestured toward my brothers, about 25 feet behind me. Apparently my brothers had been shouting my name, but I hadn’t heard them. Those two couples did, and when they saw that my brothers were looking at me, they called out the same name. Nothing remarkable, but for the next two days, I kept running into those four people.

It started Friday morning, with me wandering around the atrium in a haze, unkempt and looking probably even more confused than I had the previous night. I walked right by them, and one of them jokingly said, “Hey, look, it’s Dan!” to his friends. I turned to see who had said my name, recognized them after a moment, grinned, and moved on.

It continued from there. Every time they saw me, they’d say, “Oh hi, Dan.” I’d turn to see who’d called me, and we’d laugh at the improbability of us continuing to cross paths. It became a running gag.

On Saturday morning, I ran into them for the last time. They were about to check out, and we chatted a bit. One of them said I looked lost, and I said, “I’m getting married this afternoon.” They hadn’t known that; for all they knew, I’d been there for an extended New Year’s celebration, just like them. I still remember one of the women putting her hand on her chest and saying, “Oh! I just got goose bumps.” All four of them congratulated me and wished me well before heading out. I thought that was pretty cool, and still wonder sometimes what became of them and whether they remember Dan, the sweaty guy with bad hearing who got married that time in Raleigh.

Oh, God…

On Friday, Kim had her bridesmaids’ luncheon, which she later told me was miserable for almost everyone involved. One of them was so badly hung-over, she couldn’t eat anything other than the free rolls at the restaurant. All of them were hurting. Nevertheless, they persevered.

I continued to wander the atrium in a haze, occasionally running into old friends who had missed the party but were checking in for Friday night. I managed to get sobered up and cleaned up in time for the rehearsal, where we had fun trying to teach my brother how to correctly pronounce “Corinthians” when he did his reading. Rehearsal dinner was in a roped-off area of the atrium, and the wine again flowed freely.

An ongoing gag from that weekend was a reference to a Saturday Night Live skit from three weeks earlier, “Orgasm Guy.” In it, Rob Schneider plays a guy who reacts to every mildly pleasing thing with a miniature orgasm. It’s stupidly funny, so it appealed to most of us.

I think the gag started when Charlie, one of my groomsmen, asked if anyone had seen the skit in December. Several of us remembered it, and suddenly the atrium was filled with stupid guys tensing up and saying, “Oh, God!” like Schneider. Charlie did it the most, and the best bit happened after rehearsal dinner, when he had gone upstairs to get something, then boarded the glass elevator to come back down. He saw us watching him from the atrium, so of course he put on a show, feigning an orgasm. We could see him mouthing the words, “Oh, God!” and shuddering until he fell on the floor of the elevator, still twitching his legs.

That’s when the elevator stopped on a floor halfway down. Its doors slide open while he continued to convulse in hyperbolic mock ecstasy, and the man and his two young daughters who were trying to come down to the pool, slowly backed away from the open door with mouths agape. We saw them a minute later, boarding the other elevator — the one without a maniac convulsing on the floor.

Hail, victory

Just before midnight, I kissed Kim goodnight and promised her I’d try to avoid seeing her until she walked down the aisle. That proved difficult, as we both had to pack for the honeymoon — from the same apartment. I’d moved my things to her place in the last days of December, letting the lease expire on the apartment I shared with my friend Paul. Her roommate was preparing to move out, and I just stacked my crap in their living room.

Bear in mind, there were no cell phones then. No text messages. And we were staying in suites right around the corner from each other. The easiest way to coordinate was to call her suite directly, dialing “7” and her suite number on the phone in my suite. I talked to Nancy Carol a couple times, asking if they were ready to go to the apartment yet. Once I got the word they were walking out of their suite, I stayed in mind for another five minutes, to give them time to clear the hotel so I could avoid seeing my bride on our wedding day. Once Kim finished packing, Nancy Carol called my room from the apartment, and I left the hotel with Charlie so I could go pack my suitcase at the apartment. Getting back into the hotel was slightly more difficult, but with help from Charlie and Nancy Carol, we managed not to see each other before Kim and the bridesmaids left for the church.

Meanwhile, we had a football game to watch. Charlie and I were big Redskins fans, along with everyone in my family and a couple other groomsmen. Paul, one of my best men, was a Vikings fan. They were playing in a wildcard game at 12:30 that afternoon, a fact that most of my friends weren’t willing to let me forget with the church deadline encroaching. But it was decisively the Redskins’ game after the Vikings’ first score, and between hotel room TVs and car radios on the drive to church, we experienced most of it.

Brothers, where art thou?

We had to be at the church in wedding attire by 3:30. We took some bridal party photos — minus the ones with the bride and groom in the same room — before the wedding started, which required a bit more coordination. Once the guys were finished, we were ushered out to the parking lot to wait, where I wouldn’t see Kim. It was 70 degrees that January day, a stark contrast to the freezing temperatures we’ve seen today.

While we were out there, a vagrant approached and asked me for spare change. Bear in mind, I was wearing a tuxedo and surrounded by guys in matching tuxedos, outside a church. We were obviously part of a wedding, waiting for it to start. And I’d left my wallet inside. I couldn’t help, but it was a little weird that someone would have asked under those circumstances.

At one point during the photos, I realized my brothers had gone missing. I went searching and found them in the sacristy, jokingly trying on robes. Fortunately, they were choir robes and not solemn vestments, so I didn’t scream at them. In fact, I joined in the fun and posed for a picture, kneeling in front of them for a fake blessing. I’m still surprised the robes didn’t catch on fire.

That’s why it’s called a cough drop

The time came for the ceremony to begin, and I was in an antechamber with Paul and Marc, my two best men. We joked about running the wedding like a football game, so I pretended to kneel in the dirt and draw a diagram. “Okay, guys,” I said. “You’ll run this pattern. This twig is me, this leaf is Father Perry, and this dirt clump is Kim.” I didn’t get any further before Paul repeated, “This dirt clump. Is Kim.” and cracked up. Okay, I hadn’t meant it to sound that way, but he had a point. We laughed it off, and Father Perry came in to tell us it was time.

I began to cough, and he offered me a lozenge. I unwrapped it with fingers that were shaking so badly, it flew out of them and through the vent on the floor, careening off the sides of the duct underneath. This time it was Marc’s turn to laugh, and I knew he was trying hard to get it out before we entered the church.

Back to the beauty

Which brings us back to the ceremony, and the specific time that I’d hoped to post this blog — more than six hours ago. (Told you I can’t plan things.) Well, with luck, I’ll finish it before January 2 is past.

When I saw Kim coming down the aisle, I almost wept in awe. Full stop. I don’t know what else to say. Like her, the ceremony was a thing of uncommon beauty.

Party-crashers, pen names, and pizzas

The reception was one more joyfully raucous party among a three-night string of them. We danced, we drank, we celebrated life and love. My college friends nearly dropped me on my head while we were moshing to Jane’s Addiction. The basketball players from Iona College tried to crash our reception. Some couple we didn’t know actually did crash it near the end, begging us to let them come in and dance. The open bar had closed, so it wasn’t going to cost us anything. The music was recorded and they didn’t know anybody there, but they just really wanted to dance. They were probably the only people left in the hotel who weren’t there for the wedding — we felt like we owned it at that point — so sure, why not? Kim was ready to leave by then, anyway.

I ran to the front desk to surreptitiously pick up the key card for our suite, only to be told there was no room registered to a Dan Bain. I’d forgotten, I’d registered under a pseudonym because we’d told my friends we were staying at another hotel that night. I knew better than to trust them to leave us alone. We left the greatest ongoing party we’ve ever known, hopped in a limo, and drove off.

The limo slipped around the back of the hotel and let us out at the kitchen. The driver came in with us, running ahead to see if the coast was clear. It wasn’t. “There are a bunch of them standing outside their rooms, looking around!” he said. “They’re looking for you!”

Plan B was to take the service elevator up. We made it to the eighth floor without being spotted, and ran into a college friend just outside our suite. He was staying right next to us. Not to worry, he assured us, he wouldn’t tell a soul. Besides, he didn’t know Charlie, who was the ringleader in the attempts to prank us.

We opened the door to room 831, got inside, and congratulated ourselves on having made it. Then I noticed the message light blinking on the phone. There were seven messages waiting for us! Luckily, each one was Nancy Carol, berating us for not being willing to deliver her a pizza early in the morning of January 1. It turns out, when she was trying to call 783-1801, she was connecting to room 831 by hitting “7” for a room-to-room call. By some weird, hilarious coincidence, she’d happened to connect to what was probably the only unoccupied room on New Year’s Eve, and we happened to be staying in it two nights later, where each of her rambling messages was still saved.

Sunday morning, Charlie was shocked to see us come down for breakfast. He’d apparently tried to find our room at every neighboring hotel, in an effort to send us pizza in the middle of the night as a prank. Suspecting I would have used a pseudonym and knowing me well, he’d asked for the room of John Lennon or Paul McCartney at each hotel, including the Embassy Suites. But I’d been smart enough to register as John McCartney.

Happily ever after

That afternoon, we flew to Orlando for our honeymoon and the beginning of a 25-year relationship with Disney. Life has been amazing during the years since then, and we’ve been blessed enough to know love and laughter many times over.

Tonight, we celebrated our silver anniversary by taking the boys to The Melting Pot, an old favorite that was pivotal to the early days of our courtship. But really, I’d have been fine with just ordering from Domino’s….

 

Posted in Christmas, Family, Holidays, Life and how to live it, Nostalgia, Religion, The Wife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Time, warped

During a trip to my Dad’s this weekend, I ventured into the basement — a catch-all storage area the size of the entire footprint of the house, wherein one might discover any sort of stray memory. He led me down there to hand over his oscilloscope, the story of which I hope will be another blog entry. But a trip to his basement is an encounter with the random, and this entry is about the serendipity shown in the feature image.

There, on top of a stack of other documents that may or may not have been equally unimportant, was a Dean’s List Certificate from my days at Virginia Tech. It caught my eye immediately, and reading it — “This Certificate is Awarded to Daniel P. Bain who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and is hereby named to the Academic Dean’s List In the College of Arts and Sciences For Fall Quarter 1986” — resulted in multiple thoughts at once:

  1. “I don’t remember Tech sending this to me.”
  2. “Is it weird for a college to print an official certificate every time any student does this? That seems: 1, wasteful and expensive for an institute that large, and B, kind of non-collegiate. That’s more for high school and lower, isn’t it?”
  3. “Did Mom and Dad mean to keep this, or did it simply get stuck between more important stuff that they wanted to keep for 31 years?”
  4. “31 years?!? Shit, I’m old.”
  5. “If they meant to keep this one, did they keep any others?”
  6. “How in the world did this happen to end up here, on top of a stack, right where I would see it? Why would Dad have gotten it out from wherever it was after 31 years?”
  7. “Again with the 31 years?!? Stop reminding me!”
  8. “There’s a water stain on it; maybe the basement flooded and he left it here to dry it.”
  9. “Don’t be ridiculous; there’s nothing else here drying. If there was a flood, this certificate would not have been the only document to have gotten wet.”
  10. “What a cool, improbable set of circumstances if it really had been the only document to get wet in a flood.”
  11. “Why don’t you ask him how it came to be here? He’s right there in front of you.”
  12. “Nah, he’s busy trying to show you how to use the oscilloscope. In fact, you should probably start listening to him.”
  13. “I wonder if he’ll notice if I take a picture of it.”
  14. “Fall Quarter, 1986. That would have been when I…”

And then a flood did happen. A surge of memories washed over me, erasing those 31 years and warping time, taking me back to that quarter and that year. There was Blacksburg, and football in the snow. Christmas gifts before break, and R.E.M. at William & Mary. Co-parties with our neighbors, and validation from that professor with the squeaky voice. Mostly there was me, facing a decision and an uncertain future, reluctantly embracing the craft that would carry me across the next three decades. Does every moment seem pivotal in our memories, or was that time particularly rife with possibilities for me?

Am I vague-blogging? Maybe. Probably. But I’m not entirely comfortable revealing what I remembered in those moments, nor saying what I set out to say with this post as a result. Suffice it to say that’s about the time I discovered something I like about myself, and nurturing it has made for an amazing 31 years. It’s a shame it took me 31 years to figure that out.

I need to go back to Dad’s soon, to see what other discoveries await me in the basement.

 

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The twelfth song of Christmas: Wonder and hope

One of the great things about Christmas is being grateful for everything we have. Another great thing is acknowledging what we don’t have, and resolving ourselves to strive for it. I’m not talking about gifts, I’m talking about ideals. Things like the ever-elusive peace on earth. I never feel closer to that than I do on Christmas Day, even knowing we’re not close to it at all. But still, there’s hope.

I don’t know where Stevie Wonder found hope, but he did. Had I faced the circumstances he faced, I’d have lived a life of despair, but he had faith, found hope, and created happiness — many times over. And he continued to hold out hope for a better world, as evidenced by the lyrics of his classic, “Someday at Christmas.”

The song essentially describes a utopia, and promises the human race will see it one day, even if not in our lifetime. It exemplifies a simple, loving faith in mankind, with a powerful message at its core. This song gives listeners the gift of hope, something our world needs in abundance.

I hope your Christmas has been filled with faith, happiness, and hope, and I wish for all of us to be able to see and share the world Stevie promises in “Someday at Christmas.”

Thank you for reading part or all of my 12 songs of Christmas. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and found as much joy in the songs as I have. Merry Christmas!


Lyrics:

Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys.
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free.

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for.
When we have found what life’s really worth,
There’ll be peace on earth.

Someday all our dreams will come to be,
Someday in a world where men are free,
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand.
One happy morning people will share
A world where people care.

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears.
All men are equal and no men have fears.
One shining moment my heart ran away
From our world today.

Someday all our dreams will come to be,
Someday in a world where men are free,
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmas man will not fail,
Hate will be gone, and love will prevail.
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart, yeah!

(Someday all our dreams will come to be.)
Whoa, yeah!
(Someday in a world where men are free.)
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmastime!


Stocking stuffers:

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