wedding party in Hurley - Saturday May 10 2003

Last night's party had been sort of an exclusive affair, analogous to the "rehearsal dinner" given the night before more traditional weddings. Today, though, we were throwing a more general party at our house. Most of the day was consumed with preparations for it. While Gretchen continued assembling her wedding cake, Janine and Nathan cleaned hitherto unknown parts of the house, and the others prepared food, I focused mainly on yardwork. First I hauled a full load of trash to the dump, then I went to Lowes and bought their cheapest gas-powered lawn mower. This was, of course, the first time I'd ever bought any sort of gas-powered tool whose chief purpose wasn't transportation.
Back at the house, I unpacked the new mower, fueled it up and gave it oil, and then commenced mowing the front yard for the second time this spring. The sight of me mowing the lawn inspired my mother Hoagie to frantically snap pictures with a disposable camera while making comments in her uniquely low-frequency-perseveration-choked way. This is her typical response to anything she sees that differs from her expectations. In this case, her expectations had been forged during my childhood, when everyone in our family was in agreement that lawn mowing was a ridiculous ritual practiced by unthinking Americans imitating their neighbors in suburbia. My thinking on this matter hadn't changed, but when entertaining guests I could understand the value of a limited patch of mowed grass. Indeed, I only mowed a small fraction of all the lawn I could have mowed, completely ignoring, for example, the entire backyard.
After I was done with that, I caught up with Nathan for something of a repeat of the work-shirking we'd undertaken yesterday. This time we rendezvoused on the trampoline in the backyard and talked about several things, including the day a hot chick in the Riverheads High School drama department (perhaps thinking him gay, like all the other guys in Redneckistani drama departments) flamboyantly took a seat in his lap.
Meanwhile Hoagie (who had been making a spectacle of work shirking all afternoon, choosing to practice her tin whistle instead) had seemed like maybe she wanted to hang out with us, but we were in no mood for companionship that was either parental or female.

When we were done with our beers, it was already time to get dressed. Suddenly people were arriving and the house was brimming over with activity. I started carrying speakers upstairs to my laboratory to set up a sound system for possible dancing, but my work kept being interrupted by well-wishers handing me gifts or asking me for things. I felt ridiculous walking around with an enormous spider plant (a gift of my Aunt Dotty) trying to track down the woman who had asked for a bit of tape.
For some reason I mostly drank wine tonight, although at a certain point in the afternoon, just for old time's sake, my old housemate John opened up one of the two forties of Old English we'd provided, but then he thought he looked ridiculous with it, so I appropriated it (since one can never really look ridiculous at one's own wedding). I'd be off somewhere chatting with someone and Gretchen would send for me, because something important would be happening. On one occasion we stood around and giggled while the Gus & Gretchen trivia contest results were tabulated. Another time we stood at attention while the "Cantor Berry" (a friend of Gretchen's family) sang something in Hebrew and then, in a nod to the cultural protocols of my bride, I crushed a lightbulb with a percussive stomp. Later still, various people got up and either sang songs or gave speeches in commemoration of the occasion. Gretchen's brother Brian sang an amusing country song about an entity called "Grustch" - an allusion to the pre-love children of the moon mentioned in Plato's Symposium (as popularized by Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Then Mary Purdy sang a song she'd written called "Here in Hurley" about the great new life Gretchen and I have together in the Catskills. At one point in the song, our new cat Mavis was said to be "one hundred and two." At another point the song asked, "Have you ever seen Gretchen look so girlie? Right here in Hurley?" Mary hasn't been playing guitar for very long, and when she'd have trouble with a chord change she'd make a point of turning it into a comic pause. It was creative brilliance.
Anita, one of Gretchen's childhood friends who is trying to make a name for herself as a musician in Los Angeles, sang one of her songs, which was along the well-traveled path of Tori Amos and her ilk. Then Dina got up to read something she'd written, followed by a little something by David the Rabbi. By now I was so moved that I felt the need to dab tears out of my eyes or else make a spectacle of my wussiness.
Next my childhood friend Nathan, armed only with a glass of wine, got up and said something, alluding to the good old days in Redneckistan when he single-handedly improved my peer group several orders of magnitude. Then came my old housemate John, who told an amusing story about how he knew I was in love with Gretchen when he saw me cleaning my bathroom, supposedly even cleaning the grout "with a toothbrush, my toothbrush." People were especially impressed by John's speech and asked me later if he was a comedian or a motivational speaker. "No, he's a dean at a college," I always said. I wasn't lying. People would look shocked and say something like, "Wow! I always thought deans were, like, old and stuff."
Finally Gretchen's frail Great Aunt Helen, self-declared matriarch of the family, got up to say something. Helen is 92, well into the era in which people use the phrase "years young" when stating her age. She spoke mainly of her life in the past tense and said she had holding on, hoping to survive for this glorious day. I was so overcome by the stark reality of her words, that this was being said as if from the grave, that I started weeping uncontrollably.
Some people were more interesting to hang out with than others. One good place to escape the more troublesome conversationalists was between our two downhill neighbor, a goodhearted older couple. While there, they made a few positive comments about the things we'd accomplished with the house, adding, "You know how to finish what you start." Their son had lived in the house before us and left a good third of the interior for us to do. Feeling the need to mingle, I began experiencing guilt whenever I talked to anyone longer than about two minutes, no matter how interesting they were.
I caught one of my Uncle Bob's little vignettes out in the yard where he was holding court. He was talking about how his last name, DeMar, was normally a Huguenot name, but that he'd looked in the Chicago phonebook and found another bunch of Demars who turned out to be Russian Jews. This gave Gretchen a good thing to say just before I stomped the lightbulb, but it didn't exactly constitute a last minute discovery of Jewish origins. (New Paltz is a famous Huguenot settlement, and after Uncle Bob mentioned that DeMar is a Huguenot name, I turned to Johnny, part of the New Paltz contingent, and asked him about the New Paltz Huguenot connection. "You can't throw a rock and miss a Huguenot in New Paltz," he agreed.)
Interestingly, people at the party seemed to be having difficulty finding the beers in the coolers and were drinking lots of vodka instead. A half gallon bottle of Grey Goose (Product of France) was empty only a few hours in, so I ran upstairs and refilled it from a plastic bottle of Barton (Product of the U.S.A.).
Like last night, I didn't have much of an appetite, which was sort of a crime given the great variety of food we had available. I found one thing I liked, ravioli, and stuck with it.
On Gretchen's parents' advice, she'd hired somebody to put out the food, wash dishes, and make sure the buffet stayed tidy. This person was Megan, our favorite Hurley Mountain Inn waitress, who had recently been fired under circumstances we had interpreted as unfair. Indeed, Megan's firing had aroused the better angels of Gretchen's labor activism.
I forgot to mention that Gretchen took delivery of a small spinet piano a few days before the wedding. I'd been talking about how ours was the sort of house that should have a piano, so she'd bought it from one of her clients as something of a wedding present. At today's party there were at least two accomplished pianists in the house, one being my Aunt Dotty and the other being Katie's mother. The latter happened to overhear the former tickling the ivories and was appalled by the inappropriate selection. Leave it to one of my relatives to play Chopin's "Funeral March" at my wedding!

At a certain point in the evening, about ten of us took the party down to the Hurley Mountain Inn. Unfortunately, the place was inexplicably dead, more like a living room than the living room we'd left behind. So we sat around and talked. Lin's boyfriend Mark was at my table and I got him to tell me all about the crazy days of his youth, back when his ultra-idealistic parents somehow made careers out of tax evasion. Forced to live in a quasi-fugitive state, Mark managed to attend more than twenty different schools over the course of his childhood.
Back at our house, Gretchen and I were delighted to find that a group of mysterious elves had completely cleaned up the detritus of the evening's party.

Me mowing the grass.

Gretchen making her own wedding cake.

Gretchen's brother Brian with some of the flower pots he'd prepared for the wedding.

DeMars: My Uncle Bob and my mother Hoagie.

The "Cantor Berry" sings in Hebrew while I temporarily
abstain from my forty of malt liquor and Gretchen looks on.

Oh the excitement!

Nathan VanHooser, former housemate John, and me.
Nathan's dogs are soliciting ravioli in the foreground.

Amy and Kristen in the smoking area out in front of the garage.
For want of a lighter, I fetched a MAPP gas torch normally used for plumbing.

From left: "The guy who looked like Einstein" (a friend of Gretchen's family who made his fortune with computers),
Gretchen's mother Karen, and Great Aunt Helen.

Ana (David the Rabbi's sister) and "the guy who looked like Einstein."

Aunt Barbara plays with Uncle Bob's dog Venus.

Foreground (from left): Venus the Dog, Uncle Bob, Hoagie, Uncle George (Barbara's husband).
Background: Julie, John, Mustafa (Kristen's husband).

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