Park Slope wedding
Sunday, November 16 2003
Today Gretchen and I drove down to Park Slope, Brooklyn to attend the wedding of our friend David the rabbi to his fiancé Lynn. We brought their wedding cake as our precious cargo. It weighed forty or fifty pounds and was a complete bitch to move around. Things improved considerably after we used double-sided tape to attach the lazy susan on which the cake had been built to the cardboard box in which we transported it.
As we crossed from Manhattan into Brooklyn via the Brooklyn bridge, I kept my eyes peeled for American flags. I didn't see any. There were no tattered antenna flags, no faded window decals, and none flying from any of the buildings. This were certainly none on Atlantic Avenue, a center of New York's Islamic community. I got the feeling this lack of flags was self-enforcing, much as the presence of flags had been in the aftermath of Nine-Eleven. If someone were to fly an American flag on Atlantic Avenue these days, they'd risk getting a brick tossed through their window.
Before the wedding, Gretchen and I had a sort of brunch with Sarah the Korean (who is not Korean) at Two Boots, one of my favorite Park Slope restaurants. (Park Slope, despite its post-lesbian gentrification, doesn't actually have any truly fantastic restaurants.) Gretchen kicked it up a notch by suggesting we all have bloody marys, and when our waitress tried to sell us on their top-shelf version, Gretchen turned her down with the words, "We're simple folk." Conversation mostly concerned Sarah's work and what little could be said about her love life. Based on her account of the other night, it sounded to me like Sarah's old boyfriend wanted to get back with her, but I could be wrong about that.
The wedding was taking place at the big synagogue on the corner of Garfield and 8th Avenue in Park Slope, only a few blocks from where Gretchen and I used to live (951 President Street #1R). Bringing in that wedding cake from our illegally-parked car proved a major hassle when the guy at the door told us to take into the wrong building and up the excruciatingly-slow elevator. But with us in that elevator was the aunt of none other than Rose Levy Beranbaum, author of The Cake Bible.
This was to be a very traditional Jewish wedding, illuminated with occasional glimmers of 21th Century enlightenment. Unfortunately, this meant it had the same accessibility as Nina's wedding. Things that might have been obscure and beautiful when said in Hebrew were instead said in English, and this meant we had to hear lots of things about God, all things that everyone present (including me) already knew. The wedding also was afflicted with ritualistic longwindedness, poorly-considered leavening, and, perhaps worst of all, Jerusalem fixation. I suppose Jerusalem is an important place for Jews to mention in their rituals, but in this wedding the word "Jerusalem" grew to be as annoying as the word "like" in the speech of teenage girls. It's important to know and celebrate where you're "from," whether it's Downriver Detroit, Compton, or Jerusalem, but using Jerusalem as an all-purpose geographic reference is absurd and comes across as parody, particularly when leavened with a reference to Alanis Morissette.
Mind you, there were parts of this wedding that were extremely touching and indicated a sincerity of love between the parties to the marriage, but all that had happened earlier, downstairs in a sweltering chairless room, where we'd all stood around while the bride and groom signed the ketubah.
As the wedding dragged on through the seven blessings (there was a wedding nerd behind me to my right who was loudly shouting along in Hebrew), Gretchen pointed out how everywhere in the synagogue there were little plaques with lists of names (all of them in English, sometimes with English inscriptions). These were celebrating the donors of money, preserving "forever" the memories of otherwise anonymous people. Gretchen thought their presence was terribly tacky, though there was nothing all that unusual about it.
After the wedding, we all went across Garfield to the building where the reception was to be held. We started out in another practically-chairless basement room, eating finger food and drinking wine. The idea, it seemed, was for us to prepare for dancing the hora and eating the dinner.
From there we were herded upstairs to the banquet hall, and immediately people began dancing the hora. Gretchen didn't think the celebrant had enough wine in them for that activity, but evidently she was wrong. The hora was, as usual, the absolutely best part of the wedding. Under a punctuated precipitation of large-grained glitter, the band cranked out the Klezmer and the people moved like a large joyous snakelike organism. People were wearing woven straw hats and fake plastic cowboy hats. The bride and groom were carried briefly on chairs and were made to dance like hand puppets. The tedium of the chuppah phase of the wedding was briefly forgotten.
Later the band veered between Dixieland Jazz and Bluegrass. The clarinet player looked terrified every time she held her instrument in her mouth. The drummer was the opposite, looking like he'd spent some quality time sippin' on gin and juice. Laid back.
As usual for a 200 person wedding catered by some large caterer, the food served for dinner was industrial and tightly regulated (thoroughly unJewish!). But at least the conversation was good. At our table were Johnny C. (the print meister from Boston), his wife, a couple we knew from Fort Greene, Anna Hepler and her soon-to-be-husband, and another couple that once visited us in Park Slope. I usually don't feel much connection to Gretchen's friends, but I genuinely think Johnny C. and Anna Hepler would have been my friends had they lived in Charlottesville back when I did.
There were two babies at our table, and Gretchen actually held one for a few minutes. I don't think I've ever seen her holding a baby before - she's usually disgusted by them. Everything she needed to know about interacting with one she could have learned from our cats, except cats don't have slobber all over their hands when they reach out to touch your lips. "This is training for when I'm an aunt," Gretchen said.
Due to its earthy hues and its distance from the hora area, few people ever saw the wedding cake, despite its massive four-tier construction. The few who did never noticed the fact that one of the tiers had slid a little off-center during the ride from Hurley. What most people noticed about the cake was something that couldn't be experienced until after it had been cut up. It was delicious. People - total strangers in most cases - kept coming up to Gretchen and telling her how yummy it had been. She'd been obsessing about the tier slippage and their positive feedback totally salvaged the evening for her.
We stayed a little too late, it seemed, because we got sucked into yet another (and completely unexpected) structured wedding activity that followed dinner. It was some sort of informal "blessing" ceremony, above and beyond the seven that most Jewish weddings find sufficient. Whoever planned this activity needs to quit the wedding planning profession and consider a job where it's normal to ask customers whether or not they'd like fries "with that." By now there was no more wine to drink, but I managed to endure by scavenging abandoned champagne from various flutes on my table.
I'd avoided taking any pseudoephedrine, and this meant that I'd had better control of my drinking than I've had at past weddings. This control lead Gretchen to think I was actually sober, which wasn't technically true. But I did drive us home, only fucking up once when I veered into a lane on Atlantic Avenue without checking my blindspot first. Gretchen immediately diagnosed me as drunk, but I disagreed. What had happened, I argued, was typical of my city driving. I hate driving in the city, a place where things happen entirely too quickly.
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