Sunday, April 23, 2006


In Which I Can't Sleep After 12 Years...

Yow, am I exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open. But I suppose there were some mitigating factors, such as the fact that last night Thomas unexpectedly but authoritatively announced that he had come down with stomach flu, approximately 42 minutes after consuming a substantial supper of chicken, noodles (never pleasant on the return trip) and chunks of apple sweetened with a little bit of caramel.

All while Her Lovely Self was conveniently away at a cocktail party at the home of one of the Yummy Mummies in the neighborhood.

But Thomas, who is a generous boy, made sure that my sweet bride didn't miss out on any of the expectorant fun. In fact, the poor little guy threw up or dry-heaved throughout the night, at a rate of once an hour, almost on the hour, like some nearly accurate cuckoo clock of vomit.

Things settled down around dawn, so we got about two hours of sleep before the Brownie woke up and announced that her throat hurt. Of course it did: she has strep, as we discovered once we took her to the urgent-care clinic later in the morning. Well, at least the kids didn't string us along for a month or so, but instead got it all batched into this weekend.

Everyone else is asleep now, and I should be too, but I had a few things to mop up and also had to make a late call to our babysitter to let her know that we will not, in fact, be going out to dinner tomorrow night, as we like her too well to inflict Barf Lad and Strep Girl upon her.

If you had told me 12 years ago that this was how I would one day spend my anniversary weekend, I...well, I was going to say I would not have believed you. But with the way things had been going back then, I just might have.

For one thing, that spring of 1994 had been almost as eventful and tumultuous as this spring has been. Thus it was that on April 22, less than 12 hours from my wedding, I should have been sleeping--was certainly exhausted enough to be sleeping--but I wasn't. I was wide awake and then, as now, there were some mitigating factors.

To begin with, my body was thrumming with steroids. I had just a few weeks earlier awoken one morning to find myself afflicted with a condition known as Bell's palsy. You can read all about that eventful weekend here, but the short form is that the condition caused the left side of my face to become paralyzed. I suppose there are worse parts of the anatomy to suffer paralysis before one's wedding, but this was bad enough, thanks, as it spelled almost certain disaster as regards any decent wedding pictures. In addition to paralyzing one side of my face, the condition also caused no small amount swelling and facial pain in my neck and ear. After studying the literature on the condition, my doctor had found that some people--not ME, it would turn out, but some people--recovered more quickly if they were pumped full of the kinds of steroids that reduce your immune system--not to mention your testicles--to almost nothing. While I confess the treatment did help the swelling and pain, half of my face continued to be paralyzed for the duration of the wedding ceremony and for a few weeks thereafter.

The steroids also had the not-uncommon side effects of leaving me a near-raving insomniac, however, and that was just one of the reasons I was wide awake and drumming tabletops with fingertips for most of the evening.

Another reason was the gunfight.

Earlier in the day, with all arrangements seen to and nothing to do but wait four or five hours for the wedding rehearsal, my brother and several friends spirited me away to a large variety store, where we each bought a Super Soaker water gun of varying capacities and hydraulic firepower. It had been an unseasonably warm April for western Ohio, and so it was decided we should take advantage of the fact--and burn off the uncontainable mega-wattage of nervous energy coursing through us all--by heading off to a local park and having a squirt-gun fight.


The Wetting Party

And you know what? It was a fantastic idea. We ran around like idiots, shooting each other with jets of water, laughing and yelling in high spirits and enjoying the bountiful fresh air of a warm spring day.

Our battle ranged through a park, but stayed within loose orbit of a water pump, where we reloaded when we all finally spent our last drop of water. By "we," I mean everyone but my brother, who had purchased not a water pistol but a water cannon. The thing was about two feet long, pump-action, which drew water from a yard-long hose that attached to a giant backpack water reservoir that held about 400 gallons of water. The man never ran out of water. So when the rest of us would come to the pump to reload, he laid down constant, soaking, suppressing fire, which we were simply forced to endure as we filled our piddling little two- and three-pint water guns. The upshot was that we were sopping wet--and so was the concrete pavilion around the water pump. Not that this fact should surprise anyone. I mean, hey, if you're signing up for a water-gun battle, things are going to get a bit moist.

But we had no idea how moist until, as I finished reloading my gun, I made a mad dash along the concrete pavilion to try and hit my brother with an unexpected squirt. However, at my speed, and with my shoes and the concrete both being soaked, I ended up hydroplaning, skidding across the concrete before coming down on the edge of the pavilion, landing on one knee that emitted a surprisingly loud "POP" and then flopping bonelessly down the steps to the sodden ground below.

For a moment, no one moved. Even my brother went still and pale, and reported to me later that his only thought was for my well-being. Actually, to be completely accurate, his only thought was Oh FUCK, we crippled the groom. Mom is gonna KILL me!

And to be fair, everyone else was thinking some variation of this thought too.

Except me. I was only thinking one thing, and it wasn't even "Ow." Thanks to the steroids, I was feeling almost no pain. But despite my amped-up bloodstream, my left knee--the one I landed on--had swelled up to about double its normal size. By the time I got back to the hotel, the only thing my mind fixed on was wondering if I'd be able to pull the pantleg of my tuxedo up over the distended knee.

And I admit, by evening, it was smarting just a bit. So I had ample reason to be kept awake the night before my wedding.

I was rooming with one of my groomsmen, a great guy named Bunky, who was no more ready to sleep than I was. For a brief time we channel-surfed, but this was unsatisfying. In the end, we moseyed down to the lobby and were slightly surprised and pleased to see that many other wedding guests were ambling around aimlessly too. We ended up hanging out for a while and for me the moment was a bit surreal, like being a contestant on your own personal version of This Is Your Life. I mean, sitting on one side of me was one of my oldest friends, a guy I'd known since I was 2. Across from him were three guys I went to grad school with, and they were flanked by a couple of my old high school pals plus my brother and my best friend (also my Best Man). It was like someone had written me into a story featuring all of my favorite characters from every favorite book I ever owned. And I realized that this was a singular experience, in more ways than just the company I was keeping.

Earlier, during the rehearsal dinner, a few pals of mine had more or less said the same thing, reminding me that this was my last night as a "free" man and that perhaps I didn't want to spend it sitting in a hotel, icing my knee and watching late-night infomercials. We had toyed briefly with the idea of heading off to some bar and that would have been nice, no doubt. My friends are not the kind of friends who would delight in getting me hung over for the wedding the next day (my already looking like a frozen-faced freak show took some of the fun out of that idea anyway), nor were they the kind of people who were likely to be overcome by the moment and tie me naked to a lamppost or stick me on a bus with a one-way ticket to Toledo (again, not an idea that held much promise for boffo yucks, since we were a scant 12 miles from Toledo city limits anyway).

In the end, we had all come back to the hotel because, well, it had been a long and fun day on its own. Most of us were tired and sleepy from all the fresh air we'd gotten during our water-gun exertions. And we knew that, over on the bride's side of town, everyone was probably already asleep. Those folks went to bed early, and as soon as the rehearsal dinner had wound down around 9 or so, we had watched a veritable motorcade of Her Lovely Self's relatives driving off to their beds, all yawning and talking about what a big day lay ahead.

Meanwhile, here we all were, not sleeping, but not doing anything else either.

It was one of those moments where there was a kind of vacuum in terms of any kind of last great moment before the wedding. Since nature abhors a vacuum, I found myself wondering what I wanted to do this last night before I became a married man.

And then, almost inexplicably, the answer came to me: I wanted to go over to Her Lovely Self's house. Not to see her--good God no! The bad-luck-to-see-the-bride-beforehand clause was already in effect. No, I had something else in mind.

I turned to my Best Man. "Did you bring your guitar with you?" I asked him, although it was really a rhetorical question, like asking him if he had brought his fingers with him. My best man was a musician and was performing during the wedding mass and even if he wasn't, he was one of those fellows who just would have his guitar with him.

Trained vocalist and all-around musical guy that he is, I half-expected him to laugh when I told him what I wanted to do. But one of the nice things about my BM is that he was pretty much game for anything. If I had told him I wanted to drive to Boston and back to pick up my favorite imported British hard cider for the reception tomorrow, he'd have had his car keys in hand in about a half-second. If I had said I wanted to mark the territory around Her Lovely Self's parents' house just to make sure no other male would try to claim my bride, his only question to me would have been to wonder if we should swing by a convenience store on the way to pick up a few extra gallons of urine.

So when I told him I had decided to sneak over to my fiancee's house in the dead of night for the express purpose of serenading Her Lovely Self, his only question to me was to wonder what songs I had in mind, and to suggest we run through them once in his hotel room, just to make sure his guitar was properly tuned to accompany me (which I thought was a sweet and diplomatic way of saying, "I know you don't have a musical bone in your body, so let's hear how tunelessly you render these songs so I can figure out how loudly I have to play to cover your sorry ass.").

As we crept away from the throng in the lobby, it only briefly occurred to me--as it is perhaps occurring to you--to wonder why, of all things, this is what I decided to do the night before my wedding. I don't have an answer, except to say that then, as now, I saw this marriage as a one-time thing. I didn't see it happening again, and that being the case, I wanted to make every moment of it count. For example, at the ceremony the next day, I had already decided that I wasn't just going to kiss the bride, but give her A Dip, too. Because, really, if not then, then when? (And if you read last year's entry, you saw how that turned out.)

I had never in my life serenaded someone before, and didn't think that, with my vocal cords, it was anything I was going to make a habit of in the future. So, why not tonight, of all nights? I could hide myself in the bushes in the backyard, just me and the big guy with the guitar, my own balladeer, standing in the dark, singing up to a shadow in the window.

Yeah, I thought it made me sound dead romantic, too.

There was just one problem.

Well, a couple dozen problems actually.

And they were all lying in wait for us outside my Best Man's hotel room door. Because someone had overheard me and word had spread and by the time the BM and I had briefly rehearsed my two-song set, half of my friends and relatives staying at the hotel had massed to bear witness to this, to join a convoy across town to watch me sing my tone-deaf songs of love--which, by the way were that hoary old stand-by, "Can't Help Falling In Love" and the slightly more obscure Waterboys tune, "How Long Will I Love You?"

And here the Best Man intervened, demonstrating one of the duties of all great Best Men, which is to save the groom from himself. As 50 percent of the reason why people had come this long way to a wedding, I was constantly in the position of feeling like I had to play host to all of these folks. So even though I had really just wanted to sneak off to HLS's childhood home and make a fool of myself in relative peace, now that the cat was out of the bag, I felt like it would be rude of me somehow to tell everyone else to fuck off and stay put.

My Best Man had no such compunctions. He didn't tell everyone to fuck off (although he would have, had I asked him). Instead, he simply said something about "meeting everyone over there." Then he took me by the elbow and hustled me faster than I knew he could hustle out to his car. He was breaking the speed limit before we even left the parking lot. At first, I protested that he should slow down because not everyone knew the way to HLS's parents' house and they wouldn't be able to keep up. But then I saw the look on my best friend's face and realized that was exactly what he had in mind. He didn't even have to point out that this should be as private a moment as possible, something sweet and low-key (but hopefully not too off-key), not a press event with an audience.

We broke land-speed records making it across town and found ourselves in the darkened cul-de-sac in the suburban enclave my future in-laws called home. Quietly--except for the part where I hit my knee (yes, that knee) against a fence post--we made our way to the back yard and I showed the BM the dimly lit back window on the second floor where I knew Her Lovely Self and her maid of honor were bedding down for the night.

With only the briefest preamble--and his wife to bear witness--the Best Man began playing and--God love him--backed up my tuneless caterwauling with his own deep voice.


Good God, I actually LOOK like I'm baying at the moon...

In the three or so minutes it took us to pick our way through the Elvis standard, we had slowly started to gain an audience despite our best efforts. I'm not talking about folks we left behind at the hotel (although many of them arrived for the second and last song). No, I'm talking about all the neighbors whose houses overlooked their neighbors' back yards and who one by one began flicking on back porch lights to try and determine what was making that noise. Was it? Yes! A guitar! A large man in the dark playing a guitar! And that red-headed fellow in the yellow barn coat. Is that...could it be...Ronald McDonald? Singing an Elvis cover?

By the time I was singing "Take my hand/Take my whole life too" I was aware of more than a few silhouetted figures gazing out at me from more than a few newly lit windows. Of course, the one window where no light changed and no shadow appeared was the one I was singing to.

Because meanwhile, in the house, Her Lovely Self and her maid of honor were listening to real musicians on the radio and talking about boys Her Lovely Self knew in college who she had decided not to marry. Indeed, their only hint that anything unusual was going on outside was the distant pounding of my future father-in-law's feet somewhere downstairs, as he stumbled in the dark from window to window, muttering "What the heck is that noise?"

And then the noise ended and with the first song over, enough of my unwelcome entourage from the hotel had arrived that they were able to applaud the BM's playing and my lame efforts.

HLS heard the clapping and shut the radio off. A moment later, her two sisters came into the room, wondering what was going on outside. At last, the three sisters and HLS's maid of honor peeked out the back window and saw dozens of shapes moving through the back yard. It was like one of those zombie horror movies and for a moment they were genuinely frightened (so, too, were at least three of her neighbors, who called one another and then ultimately called the police to report an aggravated serenading in progress).

But then Her Lovely Self saw the unmissable yellow barn jacket and simply uttered a phrase that would become worn with overuse during the next 12 years: "Oh God, what is he doing now?"

What he was doing was singing the first few lines of the Waterboys song, a personal favorite and one that he had rehearsed numerous times in the car on the way to work.

How long will I love you?
As long as stars are above you
And longer if I can...

This song was more in his range and he had convinced himself he was doing a better job with this one now that he was warmed up. But Her Lovely Self really had no way of knowing, because she could barely make out the fact that someone was playing a guitar and someone else was singing, and a lot of other people were milling about in the dark, trampling flowers and breaking sprinklers. She couldn't really hear them do this, of course, because her father had bought a very well-made house indeed, complete with nigh-soundproof double-paned windows.

Her Lovely Self reached to crank the window open, but her parents had--and have still--the curious habit of removing the hand-cranks from their windows. I had once joked that this was so none of the girls could escape, but then had to stay for the lecture about how the cranks caused the blind to fall unevenly, and so each room only had one hand-crank, which was usually secreted away in a dresser drawer in the room.

Or not, as in the case of this room.

By the time Her Lovely Self dashed to one of her sisters' bedrooms and found a window crank, I was in the home stretch of the song and imagined I could hear sirens in the distance. Besides, half the occupancy of the Sylvania Best Western was in the back yard now and I felt the intimate moment was spoiled. So the Best Man and I wrapped it up, bowed and cried good night to the window that was just now cranking open. And then we were gone, leaving the audience to inform the bride-to-be what it was she had just missed hearing.

Final score: full marks for the idea, and the sentiment behind it. Absolute dead ZERO for timing and execution. But bonus points for disturbing the peace.

And speaking of peace, even though my future wife had only heard the slightest note of song from my awful warped throat, I didn't know that. I assumed I had been dead romantic and serenaded my bride and so I returned to the hotel congratulating myself on a job well done. A job so well done that I slept like a baby the rest of that night and woke up refreshed and ready to get joined, holy-matrimony-wise.

And now here it is, 12 years--12 YEARS--later. A lot has changed since then. For example, instead of sleeping like a baby, I actually have babies of my own and not only don't sleep like one, but have come to learn that the phrase "sleeping like a baby" means waking up every 90 minutes and making an ungodly noise. Which, in fact, is what one of my babies is doing right now. And so I must take my leave and see if I can soothe him back to sleep--or failing that at least make sure he hits the bucket and not the rug.

More importantly, I want to catch him and calm him and quiet him before he wakes Her Lovely Self. If 12 years have taught me anything, they've taught me that sometimes the most romantic gestures are the ones your true love never quite hears about or even realizes she's received until after it's over. So it is with my first gift to my bride this year: The gift of uninterrupted sleep.

Not as romantic as a moonlit serenade, I grant you.

But not as likely to make the neighbors call the cops either.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Hey MM, I think things went very well for your serenade, overall. Considering it was YOU, I figured maybe a trip to the hospital for your knee, followed by a late-night arrest for trespassing and getting bailed out of jail on the morning of your wedding (after a night spent with "Bubba" in the county jail) so overall, I would say things worked out quite well.

BTW, that jacket was SCARY.
That guitar strap, which you can barely see in the picture, was my groomsman's gift: black leather with faux-rattlesnake and big buckles, and embossed in silver JACK FEAR 4 . 23 . 94.

I've used it for every show I've ever played since—and there have been a lot of them—but I can safely say there's never been another gig like that one.

And I wouldn't have missed it for anything. God bless the Magazine Marriage and all who sail in her.
there is no greater gift than that of uninterrupted sleep, you are a wise man...
*furiously taking notes of ideas to plagiarize for own wedding experience*
Awesome post :)

In fact, the poor little guy threw up or dry-heaved throughout the night, at a rate of once an hour, almost on the hour, like some nearly accurate cuckoo clock of vomit.

I feel bad that I'm giggling like a ninny over your son's illness :(

Is that...could it be...Ronald McDonald? Singing an Elvis cover?

My husband didn't serenade me on the night before our wedding, but he did serenade me at our engagement party...coincidentally to "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You." Is that some sort of guy thing---to serenade their betrothed with Elvis? Anyway he warbled his way through it and next month we are celebrating our 6th anniversary. Halfway to where you and HLS are. I guess the Elvis thing works.
Hope your kids get better soon.
I don't even have to read last year's post to imagine what happened. My husband has bad knees, and he, too, tried The Dip. The result was a torn skirt and knee surgery. So romantic!
It was a very sweet thought. If I were Her Lovely Self I'd have been annoyed to have missed the show!

Happy anniversary and congrats, you two!
After more than 19 years, I can tell you that the gift of uninterrupted sleep is one that is more precious than anything you can buy...

...but don't forget something a bit more *tangible*!

Hope Strep Girl and Vomit Boy are feeling much improved by morning!

T. :)
Adore your story.

Not only the lovely pre-wedding stuff (I was married April 29, 1995, so we're on a parallel course) but the whole kid vomit topic is fresh (um, bad word choice) in my mind as I was just blogging about it today.

Shameless blog plug: I'd be honored if you felt like checking out my Suburban Masquerade -
Hey, I just want to say congrats MM!

I hope the kids are better soon and you get to go out with HLS to celebrate.
On their anniversery, allow me to say how much Magazine Man and HLS remind me of Cosmo and Wanda, the Fairly OddParents. G-d Bless you both, and may your lives be what you want them to be.
Congratulations on 12 years of wedded bliss! Hope the household returns to healthy soon. HLS is a lucky woman.

We're close to celebrating our one year anniversary. Just before our wedding my husband was ready to go, waiting in the hotel lobby for valet to bring the car around. Before heading to the church, he has the luck to run into the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders just an hour before we said our vows.
This is the first thing he told me when we sat down during our ceremony - after he mentioned how beautiful I looked.
Happy Anniversary big guy. May all your anniversaries contain fond memories that make you smile. Even this one will in time.
happy anniversary! many happy returns and all that jazz, and i hope the magazine munchkins are feeling better soon.
Happy Anniversary, MM & HLS!

Interestingly enough, my best man was my buddy, Sean Flaherty, also a fine guitar player. I did time with Sean in a couple of pretty bad groups. I wrote a song for my wedding and Sean did me the favor of playing it - along with our other musician friends - as part of the communion processional.
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