The first thing I did when I got to the Palace Hotel was call up to M.'s room, because it was already 8:10 and I didn't see her at the bar. Her shiny black brilliantined head and powdered white face with movie-star eyebrows and dark red mouth and outrageous low-cut garment rumbling under the wake of her sexily graveled laughing were all unmistakably invisible.
"(Sob) Isn't Shane already down there? (Sniff)"
"Nothing ... I ... nothing ... (Gasp)"
"Nothing ... (Sniff) I'm on the other line, I'll be down in 10 minutes." Click.
Wuh-oh, I thought, what in the massive world of yaks is going on? Should I run up to her room and sneak her out the window, providing her with enough cab fare to get to our allies in Spain for concealment? Should I find Shane in the bar and stab him in the eye with my keys? Should I go get M. some real drugs?
Stabbing Shane seemed like the wrongest thing I could do when I saw his shaky form at the bar and realized that M. had already warclubbed his soul into childish fright. Shane's a tough guy, a paratrooper, but he looked like he'd just been forced to push his best pal out of a helicopter and down to a savage enemy waiting in a bog below, who would vandalize him in an un-Christian manner. M. is a glittering typhoon of a woman who can be a downright feral polecat when pushed to extremes of stress, inflicting the worst slashings on her nearest and dearest.
I shuffled nervously over to "the table" where "the meeting" was taking place, meeting Shane's mother and Shane's best man, who was also his sister. This was fitting, because I was Father of the Bride, a position I secured after informing M., an orphan, that I was the only person with the moral authority to give her away. Everybody was visibly jarred by the fact that M. had not yet emerged from the suite for this all-important gathering of wedding forces. They were all smiling tight, stapled-on smiles and clutching big glasses of merlot.
"This is normal! Heh hee heh heh heh. New bride stuff. Happens to everybody," they nattered. "Major life commitment stuff. Heh hehmm." The angst rising off the table was wiggling in the air like gas fumes. Shane looked brave, for a man gored and dribbling black matter. Finally, at about the point we were all ready to start inventing elaborate apologies for ourselves and each other, M. came down.
"I've been crying!" she announced, realizing that the 10 minutes she had allotted herself to pull herself together were worthless against the cramped voice and trembling hands and red, waterlogged eyelids.
"Has she been mean to you?" I whispered to Shane.
"Yes," he whispered back.
"Don't worry," I said, clutching his knee. "She'll go through with it. I've spent way too much money on this thing to let her escape."
The church was enormous: a huge 19th century cathedral with stained glass and huge cavernously hooting organs and choir boys and rows upon rows of wooden pews worn smooth by pious slack bottoms and rustling Sunday finest and thousands of family hands gripping the backs to rise and set in accordance with ceremony.
The ceremony itself, despite its being performed by the most gallopingly homosexual Episcopal clergy imaginable, was filled with depressingly unspiritual material, dealing primarily with the searing qualities of jealousy, the distinct probability that both parties would eventually regret the union but need to abide by it anyway and the importance of raising children in abject Fear of a Mean and Ferociously Judgmental God-Head. I was displeased in my little place of honor before the Moorish-looking, intricately carved gray wall of Christly idolatry, and could not prevent my mouth from curling into a sneer.
I guessed that the priest was trying to be "frank" and avoid the kind of myopic sunniness that often mars religious events. Still, I thought, if there is any reason to bring God into the fiasco of marriage, it is to introduce the unknowable spiritual magic necessary to keep love endlessly redoubling itself between the two partners for life, not to serve as a cosmic threat relating to the imminent calumny of divorce. It struck me as odd that the Episcopalians should be so Catholically concerned with keeping us down. What good, after all, is "inspirational" doctrine that only makes one feel smaller and lamer?
M. is a spiritual cannon of a woman -- a Creator of the Universe (at least her own universe and that of some of her friends), tirelessly carving her own morality and elaborate karmic balance, with a fearlessness and tenacity that has been nothing less than terrifying to all of us. Sitting there, in my Father of M. the Bride chair, and trying to find some gem of truth in the unfortunate priestly prattle, I figured that it was the role of any organized religion to frighten one into overcoming one's own fears of true spiritual freedom: the fear of intrinsic, cosmic "wrongness" is the flaming veil through which one must march into a full possession of self-knowledge. At a certain point, you know what is right and wrong for yourself, but not without initial self-inflicted punishments from the various crowbars of guilt and dogma. We collectively create God because we ARE God, I reckoned. People have a lot of trouble gripping an idea of abounding benevolence and limitless mercy: God is always and only as cruel as people are to each other and themselves. In an utterly compassionate world, God would be perceived as much sillier and more ironically kind; less like Zeus, more like Santa Claus. Here on this earth, God still needs a fascist task force and a whole shitload of ground rules, more because of Us than Him.
But in any case, M. went through with it, and by 4 in the afternoon she was all married up, and that was that.
There was a lesbian couple at the post-wedding dinner. I knew one of the women, "Barb," from years ago, when on New Year's Eve she suggested to a bunch of us girls that we go find a firehouse and try to fuck the firemen. I was shocked by her then.
Upon arrival, Barb threw off her coat to reveal, to my shock and horror, a wedding dress with the breasts cut out and her huge, pendulous dugs swinging offensively above the bodice with tiny white pasties on the nipples. Jesus!
I thought. How fucking inappropriate! A nude bride, and it's not even her wedding! Talk about pulling focus. M. didn't seem to mind, having no appreciation of social boundaries whatsoever and being generally welcoming of that type of behavior, but I felt it was gruesome. It wasn't a merry topless jape: There was way too much political Smearing-It-In-Your-Faceness about it.
Like a dog smelling fear, Barb seemed to thrive on the disgust provoked by her antagonistic nudity. "Do you like it, Cintra? I wore it Just for YOU," she said sneeringly, obviously having been told that I had previously thought she was kind of awful and unattractively lewd, and attacking me with both huge angry tits before I could get my bearings. "I'm SPEECHLESS," I hissed, with excessive hauteur. Various men swung their heads away from the area mouthing the sentiment "ooooh!"
Still, I was glad for her and her oppressive raunch. There were also very powerful Wall Street leather queens in various harnesses in attendance at the dinner: M. herself wore a white vinyl teddy and feather boa, and nearly everyone had a rambunctious, oversized hat. People stopped noticing Barb's tits after a while, and after a few glasses of champagne it was almost as pleasant as if she didn't have any tits at all. I was still infused with the holiday spirit of giving: I really appreciated the fact that Barb had shown up to be a target for my barbing. I realized solemnly that it was my place to be the uptight snit and hers to be the slummocky exhibitionist, and all was right with the world.
It was good to give a bride away, my most spectacular orphan friend. In a way, I was handing myself on to the next phase also, by giving M. to Shane before God and country; I'm getting married this year, too. As it has been with the rest of our lives, M. has taken the plunge into the iciest waters before me, coming up for air with blue lips and giving me the finger, giving me the dare and unspoken permission to do it myself.
Later that night, after watching the last episode of "I, Claudius," I dreamed of a Roman senator living in the woodsy suburbs of Rome, shortly after the death of Christ. The senator and his wife were gallivanting naked in the trees near their home when they suddenly saw two small figures approaching.
"Look," said the senator to his wife, who was wearing a black bikini-bottom and floral pasties, "satyrs."
Two young satyrs appeared silently out of the trees. They looked like naked children with moose antlers. They were wild, and stared at the couple with the same kind of quiet, ego-absent awareness that an elk would. The senator and his wife were careful not to scare them. It was clear that such innocently libidinous activity as happily frolicking naked with one's wife in the woods could attract satyrs, in my dream, much in the same way that cleaning fish can attract curious raccoons. The senator beseeched the satyrs, "Can we join you this once, and not just watch?"
The young satyrs, who possessed in their untamed manner a superior consciousness of such celestial matters, calmly shook their heads no. "Ah, well," said the senator sweetly, and guided his wife through the white columns back into their home to make love.
Later I dreamed of trying to pull into a gas station to use the restroom. The station was perched on a steep incline, and I was driving a Plymouth Champ with no emergency brake. It kept rolling backwards.