Sent: Saturday, October 07, 2000 12:28 PM
ICK Goes Public
I'm most likely still searching for your address at this moment, preparing another mailing and waiting for the old tenants to move out of my new apartment. I've been camping out at my parents' house while trying to be a cheerful productive writer, which is like trying to type while juggling. After being called tactless for years I've finally dismissed all evidence of civilization in my behavior and am donning my filthy bearskin to make a semi- formal announcement through e-mail and await my punishment. Here goes.
Aidan moved out of our Bronxville apartment in mid-May after I broke up with her in April, trying to convince her I really just needed to be by myself for a while, etc. The fact that I was right isn't terribly flattering. "A while" wasn't too long. Over a series of phone calls between Missouri and California we got back together and she agreed to move to California. We wanted to stay together and we knew we would - it had all been very educational - so we snuck off to Las Vegas and got married. Somewhere there's a reasonable explanation that's both concise and flattering and I don't know where it is. From any distance it would forever resemble a thoughtful Hail-Mary pass at the start of the second quarter.
I didn't want to tell anybody about it beforehand, mostly because we were eloping and that's the rules. I wanted to be married to Aidan and I wanted to skip the twelve month campaign of ritual suffering that precedes a typical wedding. Amnesty International should be writing letters on behalf of innocent citizens subjected to to agony of American Wedding Planning Torture. I get stupid when I'm under stress.
I packed the car with bananas and hard boiled eggs and baked chicken and ice cubes and drove to Las Vegas, checked into the Excalibur Hotel and parked at the chapel on the way to the airport. Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton had just gotten married at the Little Chapel of the West and when I read about it in People Magazine I knew it was the place to go for anyone who expected to be a celebrity at some point in life, as I usually do.
A wedding chapel in Las Vegas is a small video studio with plastic flowers and pews for those who sit in reverence of the holy video-making process. The walls are lined with bright lights and there are no windows, like a small public- access TV station or a giant EZ-Bake oven: The Play-Doh Wedding Factory.
A small gang of young men in tuxedoes smoked by the entrance, as if a real wedding were about to take place. Tuxedoes? Here? It was like spotting wildlife in Disneyland, live bears rummaging through the garbage cans on Tom Sawyer Island between shows at the Country Bear Jamboree. I'd expected only burned-out celebrities and lovestruck alcoholics and cheerful couples in their forties unwilling to spring for a traditional ceremony the third time around.
The office was hopping busy at 7:20 pm, the receptionist cool as old soup in the chaos. "No, there are no drive-through weddings here," she told the phone. "You've got the wrong wedding chapel. I'm sorry, you are comparing hot dogs to filet mignon. We are the finest wedding chapel in Las Vegas." A young bridegroom hopped nervously beside the desk as a woman in her forties, holding a wedding dress, scowled beside him and complained. "There must be a mistake - we're scheduled to be married in twenty minutes and" - she gestured to the young man beside her - "there's another wedding about to start!"
The receptionist looked up from the phone. "There's no mistake."
I picked up Aidan at the airport six blocks away and all was bliss, every mistake neither undone nor forgotten but now behind us. We returned to The Excalibur, our elaborate hotel on The Strip. On a boulevard of live manmade volcanoes and lurid dancing fountains, The Excalibur is a palace of sin with a familial Round Table Pizza motif.
The brochure from The Little Chapel of the West showed four different "packages" for between two hundred and six hundred dollars, plus minister's fee. The cheapest - presumably the "Hot Dogs" package - offered the ceremony and a handful of photographs; the most expensive, the "Filet Mignon" of the packages, would provide flowers, limo, an expansive selection of photographs from several poses, and a candid videotape of the ceremony featuring a five minute documentary giving the history of The Little Chapel of the West. Richard Gere and Cyndi Crawford had been married here, as had Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (who each married several times, though not to each other) and, topping the list prominently printed on the brochure, Greg Almann of the Almann Brothers' Band, who won international fame for being married to Cher for three days. I searched the brochure for a list of people married at the chapel who were... still married. Thought to suggest they try to come up with one for advertising purposes.
Every hotel and streetcorner in Las Vegas has a wedding chapel, and every chapel has an Elvis: Old Elvis that is, King of Rock 'n' Roll and patron saint of tacky religious ceremonies. The phone book featured several pages of ads for wedding chapels, including at least one other that also advertised that Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney had each been married there. The Little Chapel By The Courthouse was a macabre wedding closet with interrogation lighting and the faint smell of mold.
The cheapest wedding chapel in Las Vegas is also the most attractive and pleasant, Aidan and I agreed: the Shalomar Chapel under the orange roof at the Howard Johnson's. Actually, the Howard Johnson's itself was a warm relief from the staggering overdrive of every inch of The Strip. Never has so much excitement seemed so unexciting.
Mark, our square-jawed balding receptionist and wedding planner, said they had a slot open that afternoon at 2:30. One hundred nine bucks. Video, pictures, limo, the works. Damn, I thought. I could afford to get married here every year.
Back to the hotel and changed. Ate bananas and hard-boiled eggs. I'd forgotten my tux-like suit in my rush to drive to Vegas, instead grabbing my pin-striped suit from the closet. I looked like a baby gangster in his father's clothes. Aidan wore a tasteful, sexy black dress. Together we were young, dangerous and out to save money.
The limo pulled up to the hotel and the driver got out. It was Mark, still in his street clothes, explaining that their other limo driver was running late somewhere. We climbed into the far-from-new vehicle, like two tiny kids in a big hotel swimming pool, and took as long on the highway to reach the hotel as it would have taken on The Strip.
Back at the Shalomar, our limo driver escorted us to the back of the chamber and whipped out a camera, running us through a series of standard couple positions and snapping pictures like a friendly doctor who's gotten used to working for Kaiser. The roll ended - twelve pictures - and he rewound the film, opened the camera and handed us the roll. We'd indeed come to exactly the right place.
Next appeared the cheerful chubby Southern-speaking fellow with a moustache - our minister, director and cameraman. "Start here, walk down to this point and stop at the end of the pews, and I'll talk." He focused the camera, the taped music charged up and, ten minutes after arriving, we were walking down the aisle.
There had been no rehearsal and no discussion. There was no need. I only might have panicked because I knew exactly what I was doing. Suddenly I was in an episode of The Love Boat, or The Guiding Light, or a home movie of every older relative and several younger ones. I - we - were suddenly passing through the tunnel I'd seen so often from the outside.
The minister delivered a beautiful, perfectly concise speech about the meaning of marriage and the need for compassion and flexibility within it; I think that's what he was talking about, anyway. He dignifiedly stepped off the dais to adjust the video camera as he spoke. That's what I remember. Someday I'll look back at the video, when I need to see two giggling kids suddenly and excitedly realizing on-camera what they'd gotten themselves into. A game show life sentence. Suddenly together these two were becoming one with all couples - they would be grandparents, they would be arguing restaurant-goers, they would be sharing hotel rooms for the rest of their lives. They - we - were doing what our parents had done, if not in the way they had done it.
I had a ring for Aidan. We would go shopping for real rings together soon; I'd purchased a ceremonial ring for the occasion. The store on Haight Street even gave me an extra week to return it if she didn't like it. She liked it.
The minister then announced that he would share a poem with us. Each line in the poem started with a successive letter in the word "Shalomar". That might have been where he lost the crowd at this minute gathering, but for some reason it worked for us at that deliberatly ironic, sweet moment. The audience was as captive as could be.
It was over. He bid us congratulations. I kissed Aidan. He informed us that we could buy a marriage license holder featuring the special Shalomar anagram poem for a mere $20 extra. We said no thanks.
Saw Cirque Du Soleil that night. The next day we left to see Aidan's grandparents in Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Zion national park, then across the middle of Nevada to honeymoon at Burning Man.
It would continue to be blissful, more or less, even while the wind-blown playa dust was a biblical curse and all our food tasted like swollen bananas. The chicken. The hard-boiled eggs. The orange juice. Never carry forty bananas in a heavily packed car through six days in the desert. We sat in the car for two straight afternoons, reading Harry Potter to one another and talking. It was disappointing. It was funny. And we'd have the rest of time to together build the tangled memory into a story worth telling again and again.
Copyright 2000 Martin Azevedo