Well, it's that time again. Time to catch up with old friends, visit with family and relax with the warm cheer of holiday egg nog, the warm cheer associated with a drink who's expressed purpose is to make rum and milk an appealing combination. Time to drone on, and on, and on, and on, and on about everything that has happened since our last letter, about six months ago. Well, guess what? In a radical departure from the norm, we aren't going to do that at all. Nope, sorry to disappoint you, but we just couldn't. Unfortunately, we couldn't get this letter to everyone in time if we sent it book rate, which we would have to do if we tried to cover EVERYTHING that has happened since the last letter and avoid bankruptcy at the same time. So instead, we are just going to cover one, single, small, almost insignificant topic (note - please ignore the fact that this insignificant topic covers the remainder of the next eight pages). Welcome to....
BLISS THREE - The Wedding
Weddings. A topic that has generated enough impassioned prose during the course of the last year to bury the entire state of Mississippi in "Modern Bride" magazines to a height of six feet, it must be counted as one of the central pillars of American moral and cultural values. Of course, American moral and cultural values also include advertising campaigns such as "Thirty minute pizza delivery or your pizza is free," causing many well intentioned youths driving for pizza parlors to accidentally run over girl scouts in their haste to deliver the pizza. Despite this, I believe we can rank weddings way up there on the scale of socially and personally significant things that are truly important, which is to say things that cost truly vast sums of money. This, of course, ignores ceremonies conducted at the "Church of Elvis" in Las Vegas and other similar wedding discount brokerage houses. On the other hand, one could argue at length that these do not really count as weddings, if one were interested enough in the subject to pursue this train of thought, which I am not.
So, to return to our original point, which was not that weddings cost a lot of money, but that our wedding cost US a lot of money, a topic which is much more personal and emphasizes Katie and I rather than weddings in general. For those interested in weddings in general, we recommend a ten year subscription to Modern Bride.
Anyway, now that the point has been made, and the author (read "Dave") has been whacked about the head and shoulders a few dozen times by the editor (read "Katie"), perhaps it is time to shift to other significant points about weddings that have nothing to do with the vast sums of money we spent. There are certainly other measures of the importance of an activity that weddings rate very highly on. Stress, for instance.
Lets face it, any activity that requires planning an event where you stand in front of a bunch of people, who will only know you for the rest of your life and snicker at family gatherings about any little detail that goes awry, while you are dressed to the hilt and saying all sorts of things about life long commitment; well, we suppose there are some things that measure up there in stress level, like those times when you were a kid and your new babysitter, who bears a striking resemblance to Charlie Manson, picks up the kitchen meat clever and begins giggling in a high pitched voice, but not many. Trying to plan it at the same time as planning a giant party (the reception) and a week long vacation ... the "Church of Elvis" started to look rather attractive pretty quickly, believe you me.
Nonetheless, it was all worth it in the end, mostly because I got to wear a tuxedo and walk around going "the name is Bond. James Bond." Of course, nine out of ten people, given the level of intelligence and creativity expected in Katie's and my family and friends, would come up with witty remarks to kind of play along, most running in a similar vein: "You don't have enough hair to be James Bond." This would invariable lead to a discussion on Sean Connery, one of my favorite actors, since he is both balder than I am and won the coveted "Sexiest Man Alive" award in People Magazine. Which doesn't lead us back to our original topic in the slightest, but we can't drag this too far out, can we?
So, a page after general philosophy on love, marriage, and the holy Trinity, or at least a subset of those topics, we get down to brass tacks. In order to kill the suspense, we can hit the bottom line right now. Prince Charles' and Diana's wedding was almost as nice as ours, except a lot more stuffy. The details aren't important (although a heck of a lot are about to follow). The fact of the matter is, people looking for the first perfect wedding ceremony might as well give it up, because we did it. Now, of course, when I start describing the details, it may sound like some of these are perfect only in the sense that the word is used in phases like "perfect disaster" or "perfect nightmare." But the important thing to remember is that they all fit together, so that, like the jigsaw puzzle with hundreds and thousands of irregularly shaped little pieces, they all interlock to form a perfect rectangle with a beautiful image on it, if you have the patience of a saint and about six lifetimes to work on it. So, to begin the blow by blow:
Thursday, 11 October, 1990, roughly 9:00 a.m., the day before the rehearsal. I'm on my fifth cup of coffee, sitting at the head of the conference table, holding a meeting on the Command and Control Automation Project System Integration and Test Plan, on which I have been working overtime for a month. We are half an hour into the hour and a half meeting, and we haven't gotten off the first page of the sixteen page presentation. I start to pour myself a sixth cup of coffee, only to find that I have crushed the Styrofoam cup in my hand. Katie, across the way, is about to head into our section manager's office for a discussion on why she is interviewing for a job with another company and what he can do to change her mind. She suddenly gets a phone call from Marty Rosmarin, a manager in the company that has offered Katie a new job. He has to know by Friday whether she will take it or not so he can report to the Vice President of the company. The scream can be heard up and down the length of the corridor.
This is known as the "why were we so stupid we didn't take the entire week before the wedding off syndrome, and has been known to cause actual physical symptoms, such as people exploding in spontaneous combustion. For Katie and I, it wasn't quite as extreme. A half dozen crushed Styrofoam cups and off the scale blood pressure were the only real casualties. We planned to take the afternoon off, and managed to find a few hours to get other things done, like picking up tuxedos and the like. The day flew, the night crept, and it was Friday sooner than we would have believed.
We spent the majority of the day running the endless list of small tasks prior to the rehearsal. We also had a small dinner planned for out of town guests and family just after the rehearsal that needed minor attention. The rehearsal itself went fine with the exception of one late individual who was kind of important to the ceremony, Reverend Haldane. Katie's mom's Minister, I had only met him twice, the second time of which had been on Wednesday, when we had discussed marriage vows with him. Although discussion is a relative term; it was more like a two hour monolog on marriage during which our eyes became more and more glassy and our smiles froze in place. The high point was the half hour when the Reverend tried to drive home in some detail how important it was that we maintain a happy, healthy, and above all varied sex life during our years together, while suggesting a set of "instructional" books on the subject.
In any case, he showed up about twenty minutes late for the rehearsal, and we walked through the ceremony. It was simple, straightforward, and to the point, giving us the opportunity to clown around a lot. Reverend Haldane would be saying "Katie, one important thing to remember is to walk in small steps while heading down the aisle. It's easy to become a little nervous and walk fast, but it makes you look like you're running down the aisle." I quickly chimed in "Not that I would blame her!" We finished up in short order, and headed for Katie's mom's house, where we were doing the reception dinner.
The dinner was fun; about twenty people in all attended, including a lot of out of towners we don't get to see much. Eric and Cathy Haines made it from way out in Ithaca, New York, arriving a few days early to catch the sights in California, like the Santa Monica Mall.
Saturday was better, we started with a impromptu party at Katie's mom's for the late morning/afternoon. Everyone was invited to this one, and many people came. We spent the first hour trying to determine how to make the Jacuzzi get hot, then just played around in the pool. The hit of the party was my one year old nephew, Andy, who was loving the pool in a big way. This was a bit of a relief to everyone since Andy is in that destructive stage most children go through from when they learn to crawl to when they enter college.
The mini-party was relaxing, fun, and way too short. The guys headed for the Marina Del Rey Marriot (where the reception would be held) to change, the women stayed at Katie's mom's to prepare. And then, suddenly, it was time to head for the church. We had two limos to drive people around. One went to pick up Katie, one came to the Marriot to pick up me. Bill, Sangok, Kyle, Shirley, Mom, Hugh Henry, and I jumped in for the short ride to the church. Both Katie and I had prepared for the trip in the traditional way, which is to carry enough alcohol to calm your nerves, as well as the nerves of a significant percentage of the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Katie had a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay, I had a fifth of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch. We killed the bottle in our limo.
I and Bill, my best man, hid in a small side room while we waited for the ceremony to start. Once the wedding march started, we would walk into the chapel and wait for Katie and Anne, Katie's Matron of Honour (which is kind of like a Matron of Honor, only better because it has more letters), to enter. We sat back after a last minute adjustment to each other's tux. Then, suddenly, it hit me.
I was about to get married.
Hitched for life.
The M word.
Things focused down. Where as before, I was running a little gamut of emotions, incredularity, elation, wondering what the future would hold, now existence narrowed down to more pertinent questions, like whether my fly was zipped. The wedding march - it wasn't a traditional wedding march, and it was on flute and harp - how the heck were Bill and I supposed to know whether they were playing the wedding march, or another random song while waiting for things to begin? And was I supposed to look at the Reverend when making the vows to God and society, or at Katie? Did I turn right or left after marching in to look down the aisle toward Katie? Suppose I dropped the wedding ring in the middle of the vows? Were my shoe laces tied?
My tux shrank, and began to choke me. My palms started to sweat. I looked down. My fly was unzipped. My intestines wrapped themselves around my stomach and squeezed. Bill sensed my rising nervousness and tried to help.
"Dave, don't sweat it" he said, "The Reverend will clue you ... oh, shit. The ring."
My eyes began to bug out of their sockets. "OH SHIT THE RING!?! OH SfflT THE RING!?! WHAT ABOUT THE RING?????"
Bill looked a little nervous. "Ummm... Ahhh...." he started. Then his face split into a big grin. "Only kidding." I'm sure the sound of repeated thuds and breaking glass made a few people curious.
Katie, in the meantime, was having almost the same reaction. Of course, with Katie, hysterical nervousness has slightly different symptoms, namely looking and acting completely calm and relaxed. In fact, she ended up helping Anne to dress instead of the more normal vica versa arrangement. But that didn't fool me one bit. Although she appeared to be completely normal, some sixth sense told me that underneath, she was really jittery, the same sixth sense that allows me to call heads or tails correctly on a flip of a penny about fifty percent of the time.
Finally, it was time. The wedding march started. Bill and I walked with careful, deliberate steps into the chapel, stopping to the right of the aisle through the pews. Anne walked down in slow, graceful steps, dressed in midnight blue. She moved just to the left of the aisle. Finally Katie came in. She was simply gorgeous. An off-the-shoulder wedding dress of shimmering silk, chapel length train, a long flowing explosion of gossamer thin material running from her headpiece down her back, a single string of pearls around her throat; she was stunning.
The ceremony itself was straightforward, as we had planned it. A reading by Reverend Haldane on the meaning of love, vows to God and society, vows to each other, the exchanging of rings, the lighting of the unity candle, and then my favorite part, the smootching of the bride by the groom. And, finally, introduction by the Reverend as "Mr. and Mrs. Dickie." This last part had a profound effect on the two of us as we realized what it meant in terms of lowered car insurance premiums.
Following the wedding we did the time worn but traditional thing. That is, we had the photographer take about six billion photos covering every possible permutation of immediate family, relatives, friends, the church staff, the limo driver, the limo, our rings, our hands, our feet, and a few homeless hobos who stopped at the church looking for a hand out. It was about at much fun as eating cold MacDonalds french fries, and we were happy to escape into the limo with Bill, Sang Ok, and Anne for a glass of champagne while we were whisked down to the Marina Del Rey Marriot.
Everyone else was already there enjoying champagne, wine, and cheese on the outdoor patio. We circulated around the tables, while I did the standard sort of things one does at times like these, which consist mostly of grinning like a fool and going "This is my WIFE ... THIS is my WIFE ... oh, this is so weird, I can't believe how strange it sounds, let me do this one more time ... This is MY WIFE," and so on, while the guests snicker behind their napkins and talk about how cute it is that Dave is acting like a babbling idiot. Kate ("Katie" became "Kate" immediately after the wedding, since my WIFE ... MY WIFE ... thought that "Katie Dickie" was enough to make some people ill) handled the situation with much more style, smiling gracefully, talking and laughing for a few minutes with each person, whacking me upside the head when I really started to go off the deep end.
After a while, the Marriot had the ballroom ready, and we all headed in for dinner and dancing. Kate thought it would be better if we started off with our dance immediately, in order to make other people feel free to get on the dance floor. The band was a three piece group, with keyboard, drums, and one wind instrument that rotated between flute, clarinet and other pieces. It was also lead by Kate's old junior high school band instructor, which was one of those complete coincidences that really gives me a undeserved reputation for exaggeration.
Given that we were going to be on this wide open dance floor that looked large enough for a dress rehearsal of the Rose Parade, while being scrutinized about as closely as any subject undergoing study under an electron microscope, we felt that this was something we should be prepared for. This was the culmination of an effort entailing hundreds of hours in poorly air conditioned rooms with large groups of other sweating couples attempting to learn how to dance, which for me was roughly synonymous with learning to count to four and remember "left foot" and "right foot" simultaneously, a task I feel we can all agree can be mastered with great difficulty only by a small group of people too coordination impaired to learn it easily, the way most people do. Kate, of course, had taken ballet lessons most of her young life, leaving her with the understandable impression that I had some odd relationship with cockroaches, in that they have a separate set of nerves that cause their hind legs to thrust them out of danger at any change in air pressure (like a swatting hand) before their poor, small brain can even think about it. My relationship with the cockroaches was odd in that for me, the extra nerves not only had separate control over my legs, they also had a malicious attitude and a tendency to count "One, two, two and a half, three, four," causing understandable if undesirable side affects like careening off into chairs or other dancers during the dance for no apparent reason.
We selected the music for our first dance carefully, picking Anne Murray's "Can I have this dance (for the rest of my life)?" A song they played many times during our lessons, we also had a copy on vinyl at home. We practiced for several hours with our stereo cranking out the tune, and between the lessons and the practice, I finally managed to get my legs under control. This was it! Hundreds of hours, billions of dollars, and a continuous case of black and blue toes to make this one dance, Kate in her wedding dress, me in my Tux, a memorable event for millions of people! We walked confidently onto the dance floor, and I grabbed Kate's hand, hooked my arm around her supple waist as the music began to play. There was only one thing that was really significant to me at that moment, something that lead me to a sharper, clearer, picture of this world we live in, a thing called TEMPO. The band played the song at about a half the speed of the Anne Murray version we had always danced to, with an affect on me that could have been just as easily reached by playing Beethoven's fifth symphony on accordion and harmonica.
The lessons were still well worth it, actually. Later songs included several waltzes I could dance too, and Kate and I tore up the floor on the one West Coast Swing song they played (at Kate's request).
The reception was, in our unbiased opinion, a fantastic success, if you measure success by the amount of alcohol consumed per capita. Fifty four people polished off about forty bottles of champagne and wine during the evening, due in large part to the concerted efforts of several of my friends, particularly the ones found sleeping under the tables the next day.
We stayed at the hotel that night. Many of our friends and relatives did as well. In the morning, we met in the hotel restaurant for brunch. We discussed the strange tremors that had hit the Marriott right after the reception ended, while everyone was in bed. No earthquakes were reported in the morning news, however, and the mystery remained unsolved. We also had the opportunity to hear about the escapades of Kate's mom and stepdad, who managed to lock themselves out of their house when they left for the wedding. They managed to find an unlocked window on the second floor of the house, fortunately. They parked the car under the window and Bill, Kate's 73 year old stepdad, dressed in a formal tux, managed to jump up enough to pull himself through into the house.
After the brunch, we returned home to pack for the honeymoon. Where to go to celebrate getting hitched had been a topic of conversation many times in the past. Tahiti, Hawaii, Brazil? All romantic, exotic places with jazzy names and full color promotional magazines with names like "Tahiti - as close to Eden as you'll ever get". Or "Hawaii on $1.25 a day* *tips, taxes, airfare, accommodations, car rental, and luau not provided". Interesting, but a rapid calculation demonstrated that, assuming we spent 22 hours in bed each day, that interest rates remained at two and a half points above sixth district average, with daily compounding sums tax sheltered in a high yield money market account, that would be, aaahhhh, roughly 6 million dollars we would loose, give or take a factor of 100,000. Clearly not a cost effective honeymoon.
Actually, despite five years in California, there were a number of things I hadn't had a chance to see. One of those was Route 1, a small, twisting highway that wraps itself in sinuous hairpin loops around the cliffs and mountains of the California coast. It stretches from San Diego all the way up to San Francisco, and offers a variety of interests, including spectacular ocean views, towering redwood forests, cathedral like pine tree groves, and an opportunity to make the little Honda Prelude's tires scream like a banshee as we powered into cliff-side turns that could have been wrapped around a dime.
Our first stop was the Madonna Inn. It was roughly the right distance for the first day's driving, was in the right price range, and met basic decor criteria, in that it was more tacky than any issue of the National Enquirer published in the last five years. I had tried to reserve the "Cave Man" room, but it was booked through the end of 1991. I settled on the "Bridal Showers" room, with "Cavernous rock decor, genuine rock waterfall shower, and spacious, accommodating bed." It was all we had hoped for, and more. Fluorescent green beams and planks formed the majority of the ceiling. Large, and apparently natural, boulders cemented together made for rather unusual walls. The rock waterfall consisted of a rock shelf that had plumbing running to it; one of the spigots in the little rock grotto that formed the shower stall caused water to cascade off of the shelf and drench you. There was another, smaller waterfall that ran down the side of the shower area that was just for atmosphere. But the shower area was large, the cascading water was hot, and the end "feel" of the shower was definitely waterfall-like. We concluded our stay at the Madonna by swiping the florescent pink showercaps, soap, bottle/can openers, and pens, all as a gift of immense tacky magnitude for Alison.
The next morning, we headed further up the coast to Carmel. Ahhh, Carmel. A town so quaint, so homey, so picturesque you knew it could only be the natural result of pouring billions of dollars into the local economy. We stayed at a bed and breakfast called "The Holiday House," a reasonably nice place near the center of town. We spent the majority of the day cruising the little antique, curio and art shops that dominated main street. That evening, we headed to "La Boehme" for dinner.
La Boehme, which translates in English to "The Boehme," is an interesting variation on the standard restaurant theme. They have a single three course meal with a fixed price each evening. The only real choice you have is desert. It was here that Kate and I started the Creme Brulee taste- off. Creme Brulee, for those not in the know, is a desert for serious desert makers. It is usually some sort of creamy custard in a ceramic dish, covered with sugar, and then hit with heat from industrial strength instruments like arc welders or blow torches. The timid wear asbestos suits with face masks and goggles when preparing it. The ceramic dish is made out of the same material as the heat shield tiles used on NASA's space shuttle. A very, very serious desert.
We left Carmel the next day for the nearby town of Monterey, heading over by way of the famous 17 mile drive, which I had never heard of before. 17 mile drive is a road that meanders through an area so exclusive, so rich, that you have to pay five bucks just to share the road with the residents. It costs more if you are driving an economy car. There other attractions besides the Ferrari's, Jags, Rolls Royces, and other cars in the class of small objects that, if sold, would bring in enough money to finance Russia's economic recovery. There were the houses. No, houses is too weak a word. Mansions. Castles. Mini-Megatropolises. Places with roughly the same square footage as Kuwait. And, lest we forget, the subject of golf courses should be brought up. There are enough golf courses along the road to allow a golfer who is thirty years old and in decent physical shape to play continuously until he reaches retirement age. One of these is, of course, the famous Pebble Beach golf course, so named because of the unusual variety of grass they use for the greens.
What do these golf courses offer that other golf courses don't? Besides 135 dollar green fees, that is? The answer is very unusual obstacles. One is that famous water trap they have, known to some as the Pacific Ocean. Another is the mobile variety of trap, usually referred to as the "Bambi" trap. The entire course was covered with herds of deer grazing on the grass. Not one deer, not a herd of deer, but HERDS of deer. This is great material for a commercial; "Dear, how did you golfing go?" "Wonderful, honey... I eagled a par five, ended up five under par for the course, and bagged a six point buck on the back nine with a one iron!" "You must be hungry after all that darling! Time for some CambeH's HUNGRY MAN Cream of Venison soup!"
That evening, we dined at The Old House in Monterey, a fine restaurant and historical landmark in downtown Monterey. The dinner was fine, although they rated poorly in the Creme Brulee taste-off. This was more than compensated for, however, by a little something special they did for us. I had asked for the most romantic table when I called, mentioning that we would be on our honeymoon. Near the end of dinner, the waiter brought out an aperitif in an iced champagne bucket, complements of the house. Moet and Chandon's "Petite Liquor," it was as close to the ancient goal of alchemy to make gold out of lead as you can get in modern times. The basic goal is to mix two ridiculously expensive liquors in order to make a really extravagantly, outrageously priced liquor. They succeeded. A mix of champagne and cognac, ordering it usually results in the waiter handcuffing you to the table until your gold card clears. It was really very good.
After Monterey, we headed further north, past San Francisco, and into Napa Valley. We stayed at a B&B called Villa St. Helena that sits up in the small mountains surrounding the valley. It really was a Mediterranean style Villa; three sections joining at one hundred twenty degree angles, like three sides of a hexagon, facing inward to a courtyard and pool, which were closed off by a wall built into the hill in back. The place was huge; just the "bedroom" I and Katie rented, which turned out to be two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, and a small area with a refrigerator and sink, was about a thousand square feet. The entire house must have been about ten thousand square feet all together. The view into the valley was spectacular; the small town of St. Helena, surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see.
The Villa offered another source of wonder as well. Eighteen cats, three of which were house cats, the rest of which were somewhat wild, called the place home. Most of them were skittish, but Kate managed to make friends with a few.
The next few days were spent touring a number of famous California vineyards, including Sterling, ZD, Stag's Leap, Vichon, Silverado, Raymond, and others. Somehow we also purchased enough wine to fill Shamu's pool at sea world as well, although we're rather vague on the details of when and how we actually accumulated the sixteen cases of various Cabs, Zins, Chards, and Sauvs. Getting them home was an interesting exercise in packing. Getting the credit card bill was an interesting exercise in massive heart failure. But what the heck; if we have one bottle each year for our anniversary, we have enough wine to last until sometime in the twenty third century.
We started back on Friday morning, driving directly down to Cambria and staying at a B&B called The Beach House on Moonstone Beach. Three other couples were staying there at the same time, and we enjoyed the opportunity to sit around and chat with them. One couple, who we shall call George and Cindy, not because they will hunt us down with hammers and break our fingers if they read this, but because we can't remember their real names, had an amusing story. They were involved with supporting a mission in Africa, and had recently helped to gather together shoes to send for distribution to the impoverished locals. Unfortunately, when they put out fliers and classified adds, they neglected to say exactly where the shoes were going. End result, a lot of African natives are wearing bright red spike heeled pumps this year.
Cambria, and Moonstone Beach, are nice, quiet spots, with a mixture of smarmy, touristy shops and some truly remarkable local art / nicknack shops. The weirdest by far was "What Iz Art," an art shop on the second story of a brilliant pink building. Downstairs was a sign reading "Goe Upstars - U'll like it". Funny thing is that we recognized the artist - they have a line of earings out that look like little flat-headed faces saying things like "Do it" on one side and "Don't do it" on the other. The shop had lots of strange stuff. I was really tempted to buy a pair of the shellacked sardine earings ("Real sardines! Biodegradable!") for Kate, but decided to avoid the bruises that would undoubtedly ensue. However, there wasn't any reason not to get a dozen or so to send out as Christmas presents to people. Whoops! Darn, gave away the surprise. Oh well.
Saturday, we arrived home, sorry that the trip was over, but glad for the opportunity to relax and sleep in our own bed. Little did we realize that an event that would radically change our lives was looming just around the corner, waiting patiently to jump us...
TO BE CONTINUED