Buffalo, New York
Saturday, May 15 2010
location: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
In the context of pure theory, the tackiness of Niagara Falls had intrigued Gretchen. Originally she'd wanted a room with a heart-shaped jacuzzi and a rotating bed with built-in mechanical fingers. Instead we'd ended up in a nice room with a king-sized bed, a couch, and nothing especially tacky aside from the mild offense of the painting of a pot of flowers over the bed. But by this morning, Gretchen and I were eager to get out of Niagara Falls in the name of all that was holy. It was seeming more and more like a half-assed anachronistic rust belt take on Las Vegas. In such a place it isn't just that you see the tackiness and raise an eyebrow of disgust, it's also that you see so many people not aware they're being suckered by a shoddy scrim of commercialism set up to absorb their money like so many solar panels.
Our next destination was Buffalo, which we drove down to on the Canadian side of the Niagara River. Crossing back to the United States on the Peace Bridge took about fifteen minutes, and, as it happened, we ended up in the slow line. American plates were decidedly in the minority in the traffic jam converging on the immigration plaza. Given our rarity, the no-nonsense immigration official should have maybe staged a balloon drop to celebrate the return of two of his countrymen. But no, he just waved us through. He didn't even seem to notice that Gretchen's passport was two or three months expired.
Our destination in Buffalo was a little hidden away French restaurant called Rue Franklin. We'd arrived a bit early, so Gretchen and I walked around neighboring Buffalo before venturing into the restaurant. We found our way down to Main Street, where, for a block at least, nearly all the storefronts were boarded up and abandoned in keeping with modern Rust Belt fashions. Interestingly, there was some sort of semi-subterranean light rail system evident there. And the damn thing was actually functional; a train ran by as we stood there in what otherwise resembled a ghost town.
We finally headed back to the Rue Franklin, where we ducked into its intimate low-ceilinged space. The staff accosted us immediately with requests as to what we wanted to drink. Red wine please. This was the Doug and Felicia wedding party, and it was typical of all the wedding parties I've been to. People shouting into your ear over the noise, people wanting to know where you'd come from, and people telling you how drunk the woman in the blue dress got last night. That sort of thing.
Eventually we were herded into the dining room and the meal gradually began, first with bread, then with salad. Gretchen and I found ourselves sitting at a table with another vegan and two vegetarians, which made things easy for the staff, who had been warned that our kind would be present. Unfortunately, the Rue Franklin's idea of vegetarian food was the same as your grandmother'ss: take some vegetables, cook the hell out of them, glop them into a tidy pile, and serve. For an old-school French chef, vegetarianism is all about suffering, and if that's what we want to do, they're happy to oblige. Nevertheless, the meal wasn't a complete disaster. The asparagus and green beans were divine. But I couldn't eat more than a few grains of barley from the flavorless icecream scoop of barley and cooked peas presented as the meatless main course. Come on, Rue Franklin, it's 2010! Vegetarians and vegans want to be able to taste their food! Do a fucking Google search next time you prepare for your inevitable vegan wedding party guests!
After the meal, everyone was to reconvene at Felicia's stepfather's Victorian mansion about a mile away. Felicia's stepfather is a wealthy Buffalo slumlord and was supposedly involved with the Scientologists at one time. Recently he began renovating his mansion to replace some of its 1970s-era ick, such as rust-colored wall-to-wall carpeting.
But when we got back to this mansion, we found the front door locked and nobody would answer our knocking. So we took a walk around the neighborhood, which (in this area) was built around exceptionally long blocks.
Though the weather was cold and dreary, the plant life in Buffalo was exceeding lush, reminding me more of New Orleans than of the East Coast cities I'm more familiar with. Something about all that humidity from Lake Erie (immediately upwind) seemed to do wonders for the plant life. The houses were big and crowded together on small lots, and nearly everyone's front yard was some sort of flower garden. After spending six months holed up in their houses, the people of Buffalo cannot get enough of their flowers. But the weather is not as bad in Buffalo as some would have you believe. As someone would tell me later tonight when extolling the virtues of Buffalo, Lake Erie actually has a moderating effect on Buffalo's temperatures, and they only occasionally dip into the teens in the winter or rise into the 80s in the summer.
Back at the slumlord mansion, we sat for awhile on the porch until finally Doug's new step-father-inlaw heard us and invited us in. The mansion was huge on the inside, a ramble of rooms and offices and apartments. Up on the top floor we passed through a door and suddenly there they all were from the wedding party, all raucous and drinking and carrying on, none of which we'd been able to hear from this very house's front porch. The upstairs had been tastefully remodeled in the style of a medieval lodge, complete with an exposed matrix of overhead beams and a spiral iron staircase to an unexpected loft.
Gretchen and I would be spending the night in Felicia's mother's massage studio (she's a massage therapist). After some half-hearted socializing, we retreated to the massage studio for some much-needed downtime.
Soon after we'd rejoined the party, it didn't take long for me to start looking for something to do with my body, which felt awkward both standing around or sitting off by itself doing nothing on a couch. So I went out on the fire escape. Eventually I was joined by the woman in the blue dress who had reportedly very drunk last night. It was only about three in the afternoon and lordy lordy, she was totally hammered. Luckily her husband came over and helped neutralize some of her space invading drunkenness. Interestingly, though, he didn't seem to have any problem with her getting another glass of white wine and then gulping it down like Gatorade after a marathon. About an hour later she was so drunk that she vanished from the party, causing a contingent of skinny overly-veiny, overly-tanned older women to put their heads together and concernedly whisper.
Eventually I found my way out to the back porch-balcony, where the smokers were all hanging out. These tended to be a bit younger than me and represented the "redneck" wing of Felicia's family. The guy at the center of it all was an a big gentleman with a distended gut who talked and acted like your typical, well, douchebag. He made a number of comments indicating that he didn't like Democrats but thought a great deal about himself, so I just sort of nestled in to watch. In my social circles, I don't get to see very many people like this, but, despite their transparent unpleasantness, for some reason they're allowed to run the country. He was talking about some sort of private space program, and I'd come into the conversation late so I asked what it was about. After first dismissing me as someone who had obviously been "living under a rock," he said that it was only the most important news in space exploration and that he had been involved somehow. Yes, he was that kind of guy, and he was at the wedding of a friend. Later he wanted to bet me that Reagan had said "it isn't that I left the Republican party, the Republican party left me." I was pretty sure that Reagan had actually said this about the Democratic party, but I didn't actually want to enter into a contract with someone so unabashedly distasteful.
Later the party took delivery of a bunch of pizzas and "wings." This actually being Buffalo, "Buffalo wings" are referred to by the name of Paul McCartney's band. Again provisions had been made for the vegans in the house: a cheeseless tomato pie had been ordered. It was just a pizza crust covered with pizza sauce. Despite its simplicity, it was surprisingly good. But it would have been even better with mushrooms and jalapeños. I should mention that being a vegan at this party didn't come without its social price. For example, every time the father of the groom ran into me, he made some jokingly defensive comment about how what I was eating or drinking contained meat. This even extended to the Jack Daniels. But I wasn't falling prey to his humor. I either ignored it or brushed it off, responding (for example), "Oh, I make an exception for Jack Daniels." Later Gretchen told me that the Republican douchebag had been heard bellowing, "Which ones are the vegans?" I don't think he ever got an answer to that question. (Dude is going to die of a heart attack before he reaches 40.)
At some point Gretchen tried to cut off my drinking when, in response to a mention of "house swapping" by the groom's mother, I chimed in, "I prefer wife swapping." But then she got lost in a prolonged and extremely tiresome ritual of bridal gift unwrapping, at which point I rejoined the rednecks and douchebags out on the porch. After I declared how dull the gift unwrapping had been, they all tittered with delight. We'd found a common cause despite our differences.
Gretchen in front of a spectacular Buffalo cathedral.
At the wedding party. Doug the groom is on the left.
Gretchen in the driveway of the mansion where the after party happened.
A very friendly cat we found on the residential streets of Buffalo.
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