Jeremy called me on Friday to make sure I was still coming to the wedding. "Of course," I told him. "I wouldn't miss it."
He asked when I was getting into town. It turned out it was early enough on Saturday that I'd be able to help him out of a jam. "We need you to usher," he told me.
"Show up without a shirt and sing, 'U Got it Bad?' " I asked.
"Take people to their seats and try not to knock over any old ladies."
"So... uh, what are we doing after the wedding? You wanna go to Mama Lou's?" Mama Lou's was the place where we used to hang out in high school and college, an Oklahoma Denny's-style restaurant where the coffee flowed into the wee hours.
"Well, I don't know. I'm getting married and all."
"Katie can come too."
"Oh, well then we'll see you there."
"You don't need a honeymoon anyway. You guys live together. Isn't every day like a honeymoon?"
Jeremy sighed. "Yes, Omar. Every day is like a honeymoon."
On Saturday, at about nearly the time I was supposed to get there, I arrived at the church in central Oklahoma City where the wedding would take place. Only "church," isn't really the right word. This was more like a, "Presbyterian worship complex and food court." The place was huge. The church itself with the pews and the ceilings that seemed to stretch up into national airspace was only a tiny portion of this enormous, multi-level building. I kept expecting to see a Foot Locker next to an Orange Julius.
I asked a group of elder churchy women near the entrance where I could find the wedding group and they had no idea what I was talking about. "There's a wedding today?" one of them asked.
I had no response for that. Instead, I went wandering around the building. Having very little religious upbringing in my life, I felt like I was exploring some uncharted continent. The walls were plastered with photos of men and women who looked like they may have never sinned in their entire lives. Construction paper collages and bright letters greeted a part of the complex devoted to some magical Ned Flanders-esque learning center for kids.
I kept thinking about Jeremy, who has done theater and was in a rock band and who came to my housewarming a few months ago and consumed enough alcohol to start a Guatemalan mudslide. Jeremy was getting married here? Won't we all just burst into flames when we enter the chapel?
It turns out I was only seeing a tiny part of the building and once we made frantic cell phone contact ("You're where? Up the stairs? Okay, turn around. You see the guy with the cell phone waving? Waving in your direction? Talking into the phone? That's me. Yeah. I'm walking toward you. I have my hand on your shoulder now. We've made eye contact. That's me. You're in the right place now.") I found the dressing room. I was in a room with six guys who looked like they were about to go perform in a particularly funny stage production, except they were going to do it in tuxedos.
Marcus showed up. Matt came along. And suddenly, there we were, four of us who've known each other since high school and have never stopped being amazing friends and confidantes. Except one of us was taking this huge step, moving further into adulthood and away from the adolescence where we met.
Jeremy wore a tux that would have made Sting jealous. It had a longish coat, cool linen-looking cream vest, a cream undershirt. Only Jeremy among so many of my friends could make a tux look like a costume in a very expensive rock video. He was stylin'.
We went downstairs and had photos taken with Jeremy, the entire groom's party of which I was suddenly a peripheral part. (Ushers count as groomsmen, but in a very pinch hitter, alternate spelling bee contestant kind of way). We followed the instructions of the Pushiest Photographer Ever. He seemed very smart and together, but he was dictating our every single move as if we were slow children, which in some ways I guess we were. I whispered to Matt that this guy's wife must hate him in bed: "Okay, you're gonna lift your leg about two inches, and move about half a foot to the right, and when there's penetration, I need you to not blink. Okay, you blinked, let's try that again. Could somebody get some lube over here before we lose the light?"
The photographer had an assistant who came up to the groomsmen's room looking for Jeremy, who was out on a smoke break. We told her so, but she didn't like that answer, as if we were hiding Jeremy, or helping him abscond away with a mistress who was going to suddenly appear at mid-ceremony.
Mostly, we were killing time. We were about two and a half hours early, and there were jokes flying everywhere. When all of us were in the room together upstairs, Jeremy introduced Marcus, Matt and I to his other friends: "There are my high school friends. Don't worry. It's the same sense of humor." We all got a kick out of Marcus' listing in the program. All of the other guys were listed as "Friend of the groom." Marcus was the only one on there as, "High school friend."
Before long, it was time. The groomsmen went upstairs. Matt and I stood at the front of the worship outlet mall to tell people they needed to go around to the side. Matt and I were talking and just as I turned to the right, a woman had walked right past me and into the building. "Crap! I missed her!"
"She's gonna ruin the wedding."
"How did I miss her? I just turned and she was already inside!"
"Stealthy old woman."
"Should I chase her down? Kick her out of the house of God?"
They finally decided they didn't need us there, so they posted us on the actual wedding entrance. We lined up to escort women to their seats, but we never got our gameplan right, so we couldn't figure out if we were supposed to escort all women or just the ones who didn't have husbands/boyfriends with them. What about little girls? Do we carry them? Won't that be kind of creepy?
The result was that some women were escorted, and others were not. Some walked right past us as if they would've kicked us if we offered an elbow. One joker who looked like a grizzled Sam Elliott made a huge joke out of wanting to be escorted down the aisle. His wife just looked on in muted seen-it-all-before resignation.
Outside, huge storm clouds were gathering and we could see lightning in the distance. About 30 minutes away, the OU football team was supposed to take the field for their first night game of the season, and every few minutes, you'd hear a groomsman trying to figure out where the nearest outlet for score news might be had after the wedding.
It did rain. Badly. A huge storm hit the church just as people started making their way down the aisle. Katie appeared, looking gorgeous. Jeremy and the groomsmen stood in the front. There was s short moment where Jeremy and I exchanged a look. I couldn't believe he was up there.
Katie's mom performed most of the ceremony, and you could tell she was pulling out all her A-material. It was moving, funny, touching -- you had not only the ceremony itself, but also the emotion of a mother watching her daughter get married right in front of her. It was maybe the most eloquent wedding speech I've ever heard.
At one point, though, just as she was talking about God's prophecy (and I wish I could remember what was said exactly at that moment), a huge crash of thunder ripped through the church and lights went out for a half second. I think it was God's way of telling us that he was hearing the vows loud and clear and we'd all better listen up. That or he was rooting for OU.
Jeremy and Katie kissed. We all applauded. When they walked by, down the aisle, I gave Jeremy a little thumbs up. Then it was outside and into the rain for the reception.
Let me tell you one thing -- a reception can never go wrong with an open bar that includes two kegs (one of them Dos Equis), limitless wine (three kinds!) and equally endless champagne. That is a fucking reception, and no matter what else happens, you're going to have some serious goodwill going.
As it happens there was lots more. Jeremy and his old band played a few songs and people got on the dance floor. Not in that tentative wedding way where people kind of shuffle along for a few seconds, then get embarrassed and go back to their seats. This was an open bar, remember. People got their grooves on. Little kids danced. An old lady threw down. The bride and her bridesmaids danced to her husband's songs. They even covered Radiohead's "High and Dry," The Beatles' "A Day in the Life" and James' "Laid." How cool is that?
We ate a lot, drank a lot and kind of stood back and watched, amazed that at the center of all this was our good friend and his new wife. They were doing it. They were adults, totally and irrevocably.
That night, we went to a karaoke bar and had even more fun. I ran into Pete Young, was of my best friends from high school. I'll tell you about him sometime. He's someone who changed my life and my perception of how someone can change their entire course and direction if they really want to. But for right now, I'll just say it had been years since I saw him and it flooded back into my mind how much I'd missed him in all that time and not even known it.
He sang "Sweet Transvestite." Matt and two of his buddies did "Man of Constant Sorrow." The whole bar joined in for "Oklahoma." I introduced my old friends to my oft-performed "Lady" and Matt and I teamed up on "To All the Girls I've Loved Before." Marcus did "Under the Bridge."
The next morning it was time to head back. I was driving down I-35 thinking about Jeremy and his new life. I thought about all our lives, how it's been five years since I left. I love Austin, I really do. There are people here I truly love and admire.
But sometimes it's so lonely knowing that you've left some of your best friends behind, knowing that you won't be laughing like that again until the next time you see them, months from now. Knowing that the hole in your heart that's never quite been filled in their absence will hurt a little more for a while until you settle back into your regular life.
My biggest mistake in leaving Oklahoma was thinking that it would be easy to find new friends like that; that it was my personality that drew people like them to me. I wasn't aware that I'd been lucky to find the rare cadre of friends who speak my language, who understand me completely.
I was thinking about that and before I noticed, I was already past Norman. I hadn't even seen it go by. I didn't get to spot the exits or see the restaurants littered along the highway near the home I'd made for myself for those years. It was in the rearview before I knew it; ahead of me the highway stretched ahead endlessly like a dirty gray ribbon toward Austin.
Everybody's going to be talking about The Sopranos this morning, so here's my little contribution. We ran our preview piece on Saturday; I wrote a short introduction and the A to Z thing. I got to see the first four episodes from this season earlier on. I'm linking to the review we ran, but I'm of the opinion that the show's as good as it's ever been, especially after some of the individual episodes in Season 3. ("University," "Employee of the Month," "Pine Barrens.") So, different strokes, ya know. I definitely see Jeff's point, though, about it not being as tight and focused as it could be, especially given the huge number of subplots and characters they've introduced and then completely abandoned.
Hey, look at this! Stuff to buy! Haaawwwt-Damn!
"Even supposing it's not what we think it is -- we still don't have to tell people we smoked it."