traditional Long Island wedding
Sunday, September 14 2003
A drive down the New York Thruway. Crossing the Bronx on the urban vivisection known as the Cross Bronx Expressway. Getting to Long Island via the Throgs Neck Bridge (the easternmost bridge connecting the continent to Long Island). A wedding in Stony Brook, half way up the north shore of Long Island. These were the events that filled my day today.
I'd never been to a real wedding before I met Gretchen. Now I've been to six, including my own. Still, my interest in weddings hasn't improved with exposure and I'm eagerly looking forward to the day when Gretchen's friends are all married off.
Gretchen's contribution to this wedding had been, as usual, the baking of the wedding cake. I won't bore you with all the troubles it had caused her; suffice it to say it ended up beautiful. The bigger surprise was that we managed to get it to the wedding without a mishap; it rode in a big cardboard box in the middle of the backseat and I kept worrying that Newtonian physics would be the one to make the first slice. Newton was gentle with us today, doing nothing more severe than spilling my second cup of coffee.
Also typical of our wedding contributions, I'd made a sculpture to serve as an abstract bride and groom atop the cake. Since the bride and groom are a biologist and a biochemist respectively, my sculpture depicted two strands of DNA exchanging a sequence of base pairs. I'd made the sculpture from three different gauges of copper wire, all electroplated (at 12 volts) with zinc melted out of the cores of pennies. (I'd neglected to mention this, but this sculpture project had consumed the bulk of my Thursday.)
Today's bride was Nina, one of Gretchen's friends from Oberlin. (There were a good number of Oberlin people at this wedding, only one of whom looked familiar to me.) Nina, a Jew, was marrying Karsten, a young non-Jewish biochemist from Germany. Their relationship had already been something of a scandal in the reader response section of a Jewish magazine that had run a story about it. Today's wedding was a strongly Jewish ritual, complete with a ketubah and a Gustav Klimt-inspired chuppah, as well as a white wedding dress. The couple had also managed to track down a rabbi to perform the ceremony. (Most rabbis will not marry a Jew to a non-Jew.) Apparently this particular rabbi came from the "tradition" of Reformed Judaism, and this meant that much of what she said was in English. The big downside of this was that every reference to God could be clearly understood, even by a schlub like me, ruining all secular delusions. Had the rituals and prayers been conducted entirely in Hebrew, the religious references could have been understood to be cultural artifacts, but when stated in English, the words didn't seem any less religious than those said in all seriousness by evangelical Christians. The irony, of course, was that the people being married were almost certainly non-religious people, and yet they were allowing religion to assert itself unrestrained on the biggest day in their collective life. I suppose this is the way of rituals. To preserve a ritual, one must go through certain motions even after the meanings of those motions have been forgotten or become obsolete. Viewed from this perspective, the wedding between Gretchen and me wasn't really even a ritual - since we only copied aspects of the template that had relevance to us.
If we were expecting zany humor or anything mind blowing, we'd come to the wrong wedding. The oddest thing that happened was when the music (jockeyed by a bazoo-voiced DJ) went from a classical waltz to salsa - like the funniest joke at a Bob Hope show. Perhaps most appropriately, the overwhelming emotion at this wedding was, well, love. You could clearly see it on the faces of both the groom and the bride. The former was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time and the latter couldn't keep from crying throughout the ceremony.
During the cocktail hour and following dinner, Gretchen and I mostly hung out with her friend Johnny C., his wife Susan, and their little baby. John told us of his various projects, one of which is to reprint an ancient copy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary using the original print blocks. He also finished telling me a story that he'd started telling me back during my wedding (in May) about the time he ran the Boston Marathon without having bothered to train first.
After the wedding, Gretchen and I decided to follow Johnny C. up to nearby Port Jefferson so we could take a ferry to Bridgeport and avoid driving in and around New York City. This actually made more sense for Johnny than it did for us, since he lives to the east near Boston. For us, it ended up costing us time and was thus mostly about having an adventure and being able to spend more time with Johnny C. and his family.
The ferry ride would have gone reasonably quickly, but as we queued to load up, a horse trailer being offloaded somehow got stuck, causing a delay that seemed to take an extremely long amount of time (I couldn't tell how long, since my feel for the flow of time had been addled by excessive alcohol consumption). The actual crossing of Long Island Sound - some fifteen miles of open water - took an hour and a half. The weather must have been unusually clear, because I could see all the way across to Connecticut from the Long Island shoreline.
I must have been a strange sight on the decks of the ferry, because I was dressed up all nice for a wedding, but I was walking around completely barefoot as I did such things as buy a paper cup full of french fries from the ferry's snackbar.
The price for the crossing was $53, but we could have saved $13 had only one of us walked to the ticket window - otherwise they wouldn't have known there were two of us (no one actually bothers to match up tickets to cars).
Owing to my continued intoxication, Gretchen had to drive all the way to Newburgh, where I took over. I felt reasonably sober by then, but there was still something terribly wrong with my reflexes, because I had difficulty doing such things as adjusting the rearview mirror while also keeping the car on the road. Through sheer force of will, though, I was able to get us home okay. We stopped on the way at Tony's house near the Hurley Mountain Inn to pick up a recording he made of today's second WNBA finals-series game between Detroit and Los Angeles. We watched it the moment we got home. Things seemed to be going well at first - with Detroit going into the half with a comfortable lead. But they squandered it in the second half and the game turned into a nail-biter. In the end Detroit won by only a single point. This was the second good news to come from the WNBA today. The first came at half time, when we learned that Lisa Leslie would not be awarded Most Valuable Player this year.
By now I'd been awake long enough to start suffering from a hangover, the head-pounding kind that comes when one drinks too much red wine. The last thing I remember is lying face down in bed trying to get to sleep while my heart punched my brain at a shallow 120 beats per minute.
The country club hosting the wedding. It was a Cape Cod style place on an arm of the sea.
Gretchen is in the foreground and the bride Nina is visible with fragments of other girlfriends.
The wedding cake.
The sculpture on top of the wedding cake.
Some homeslice dancing with the bride.
Leaving the Long Island coast by ferry.
Gretchen finds a dog to pet on the ferry.
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