6 pm – rehearsal dinner.
the cramped cabin, modern in all its trappings, sat on the edge of a quiet lake near the resort’s main entrance.
we were unfashionably early. i poured myself an unfashionable red. asked Chester’s girlfriend if she’d like anything.
Joyce was a tall drink of water. an approximate 5’11”. wavy hair, cheeks a perpetual light blush. she was respectful and polite, made her way through conversation with relaxed ease. laughed at the jokes she liked, smiled at the ones she didn’t.
also, she didn’t know a soul apart from Chester; so first impressions could have easily come down to best behavior.
i served her a glass of white.
we stepped out onto a wooden deck overlooking the lake. the water spilled delicately over a concrete levy. measured waterfall pouring into a thin, rocky riverbed.
everything smelled clean.
the rest of my crew stood by the railing, chatting up strangers. what brought you here? tossed around from person to person. simple, concise answers. everyone waiting for the alcohol to take effect.
Nick pulled me aside with a low whisper. it was time to meet the father of the bride.
i straightened my tie.
in place of a warden, i was met with Michael Dumas. a cut above 6 feet, silver hair and soft features blending Mandy Patinkin and Steve Martin. eyes half closed, bright smile suggesting he was the only person without nerves or reservations about the shape of things to come.
“Lucky!” his shake was solid. “we’ve heard so much about you.”
“were that i could disagree, sir.”
“you know Nicky from…?”
“kids, Philadelphia, or…?”
“kids Verona, North Carolina, yes.”
“and what do you do?”
Nick, who had been keeping tabs with paranoid glee, made this his cue: “writer. Lucky is a very talented, thrice-published author.”
Nick beamed. “Random House.”
this seemed to do the trick, and Michael smiled. “that’s great that you’re doing so well for yourself, Lucky.”
“thank you. i have my legion of fan to thank for it.”
“you mean fans.”
“i mean fan.”
“oh, Lucky…” Nick laughed, throwing an arm around me. squeezing very hard. “you magnificent, modest little man.”
i put my own arm around Nick and addressed Michael. “you should know, despite all the things Nick once did to win your affection, his current love for you is actually sincere…”
Michael laughed. honest and pure, and for some reason, his approval filled me with a sublime, fleeting bout of inner peace.
this bothered me.
i was relieved as Nick when the first few drops began to fall.
“rain!” Nick exclaimed. “let’s get everyone inside and far away from here!”
as the rest made for shelter, i remained outside for a dampened minute or so. close to the water. ripples of solid onyx, neverland growing wide, wide, wide.
cell phone buzzing in my pocket.
caught a raindrop in my glass and left my post to grab a refill.
do what i could to dilute some of that early evening poetry.
more circles awaited inside. tables set for 10, placemats packed tight, napkins and utensils awaiting orders.
i clung to the edges. watched the room swell. mingled conversations shifting from babbling brook to flash flood.
kept on with my wine. observed the crowd. scanning. experiencing facial recognition at the quantum level. that guy became that guy over there, became that guy, who i thought was talking to that group, all of whom were suddenly that collection of people at the other end of the room.
all at the same time.
the only constants were my childhood mainstays. doing just fine, every last one.
even Joyce was holding her own in this alternate reality.
got another glass from self-serve. returned to wallflower detail.
Korben parked it alongside me. plastic cup filled with keg libations. i had cut my teeth on Jack Daniel’s, forever unable to drink any beer above a pilsner, if that.
i gave him a nod. “hey.”
we found our silence. holding vigil. difficult to say whether we were wiser individuals with a healthy respect for the unspoken, or if there was simply not much left to be said.
“just got a text from Misty.” i told him. “she says hi.”
“how is she?” he asked.
“so, you still talk?”
“see each other once a week give or take.” i downed half my wine. “mostly take. drinks, or a bite to eat.”
“that’s good. didn’t want to ask, earlier, but… i’m glad to hear that.” he had himself a sip. “how long were you together?”
“as the crow flies.”
“i think you’re getting your spatial aphorisms mixed up with your temporal maxims.”
“want to hear a joke?”
“a regret once walked into a bar…”
Korben paused. took another sip of beer. swallowed. then: “i like that.”
“because it’s past tense, instead of the standard present, and by nature, a regret –”
“yeah. you had to go and explain it.”
Korben went to give the keg a conjugal visit.
i took a sip of wine. “2 regrets walk into a bar,” i muttered to myself. “bartender points down the way and says, Lucky’s sitting right over there.”
i nodded to myself, pleased.
just another place in the crowd.
the lineup for my table was Korben. Joyce. Alley. Alley’s father, Owen Springs. Owen’s wife. joined by 3 others who i figured as part of Nick’s China crew.
i managed to handpick a few items from the buffet. salad, coleslaw, green beans, and a dinner roll.
sat down to eat.
to my left were 2 of the unknown elements. pair of fellows some years younger than me. both white, sporting black-rimmed glasses, facial hair and plaid shirts.
they took the first step, and soon we were small talking between mouthfuls. the usual this, that and this. conversation engaging the ears of another Beijing acquaintance; this one a living statue, gorgeously carved from pure hematite. shaved head adorned with light beads of sweat.
“what do you do?” he asked, sporting an accent i was too uneducated to pinpoint.
Nick wasn’t around, and i was a bottle and a half in: “adult retail.”
he raised an eyebrow. “adult…?”
“i work in a sex shop. i sell sex toys. and sex movies.”
within 3 seconds, the 3 strangers went through the 5 standard stages:
topped with a quick evaluation of their own lurid desires and perversions.
one of the pair beside me swallowed his food. “cool.”
the ebony gentleman across the table nodded. “what’s that like?”
“glamorous as hell… and you?”
“i own my own import/export company.”
i cleared my throat. “what’s that like?”
he politely wiped his mouth… “profitable.”
“lot of work. i imagine.”
“well, you own your own store, Lucky. so i do not have to tell you the pressures of doing business.”
“i said, you own your own store –”
the pop of a microphone saved us all from oblivion.
i hadn’t given much thought to where Chester Springs had been this whole time. unsolicited question answered by his voice. rich and buttery, pouring generously through a pair of speakers. i glanced up from the losing end of my measuring contest, and saw him poised at the far end of the room. gathering steam before a white screen, which i prayed was not part of his 7-page manifesto.
Chester’s declaration of war rocked the walls. brought all represented nations to their knees. true showmanship, coupled with ease, improvisation, warmth, and a basic knowledge of how far to keep the mic from his mouth.
he was a crowd pleaser. a ringmaster. unstoppable.
Nick was next in line. better than the best days as a young performer, his skills had become nothing short of astonishing. Chester had taken care of the walls. Nick stepped in to blow the roof right off the whole damn world.
if i hadn’t blacked out somewhere towards the end, i might have even remembered to applaud.
came to as a trio of bridesmaids wrapped up their shared speech.
managed to put my hands together, reached for my wine.
someone mentioned how much they had liked Kayla’s speech.
i blinked. realized i had glazed my way through the entire thing.
goddammit, i whispered.
hoped i had whispered.
the part of my brain dedicated to dubious scientific reasoning suggested that an overdue visit to the bathroom might sober me up.
a capital idea.
assuming i had found my solution, i took down the rest of my wine.
i splashed some water across my eyes.
had myself a helping of my own reflection.
made a sour face and raised my middle finger. “i hate you.”
once more, into the breach.
the bathroom was situated at the far end of the building. a truncated hallway led to the dining area, directly onto the showroom floor.
spotlight occupied by Nick’s mother, Lacey.
i leaned against the threshold and listened in. entranced by the video feed from a nearby monitor. looked as though the cinematographer had been hitting the bottle as well; couldn’t see much of what was going on. kept listening.
“…as the key to a healthy marriage is relaxation, to be relaxed,” Lacey proselytized… “i thought i would give you something to make sure that relaxation is never more than a click away.” i heard cowlicks of laughter from the audience. “this is a massager. what i am told is a classic, Chinese massager, that will work miracles for you.” more sporadic bursts of mirth. “you can turn it on, and let the vibrations take you away. you can use it on any part of your body.” further laughter. confused laughter. restrained. as though everyone were caught between wild hysteria and chronic hiccups. “just relax, and i guarantee, this will take you to nirvana…”
this slippery, almost uncomfortable amusement gave me pause. yes, Lacey’s speech sounded charming enough to my inebriated ears, but it was hardly catching Todd Lynn at The Comedy Cellar.
“try it right now,” Lacey suggested. “my gift to you.”
with the end of her speech came the evening’s most raucous applause. i joined in. made my way across the floor. quick pit stop to procure a bottle of wine for the table.
i was back at my seat. a couple of chairs emptied out. a good deal of guests now roaming around, balancing cake and coffee along with their children.
one of the bearded duo nudged me. “can you believe that?”
“you didn’t catch Lacey’s speech?”
“yeah… but i was too busy concentrating on the monitor to –”
“she openly gifted Kayla a vibrator,” he laughed.
i poured myself some wine. “is that what that was all about, the massager?”
“i think Lacey genuinely didn’t know it wasn’t a massager.”
“a vibrator is a massager.”
“most of them are promoted as massagers to encourage sales in non-adult oriented brick-and-mortars, like Spencer’s gifts. depending on the price point, of course.”
he rolled his eyes, annoyed. “it’s still funny, though, who cares?”
“agreed.” i took a hit of red. “wish i’d been paying attention. would love to know which brand she bought.”
“just curious. was it multi-function, variable speed? external, internal use? hard plastic, velvet touched? curved for g-spot stimulation? now i really want to know.”
the bearded ones exchanged a look.
went to get desert.
they never came back.
the rehearsal dinner was winding down.
i borrowed the keys to Chester’s rental.
Korben spied my sweet escape. asked if i was up for a smoke.
the rain had tapered off.
i got my bookbag out of the back seat.
“what do you need that for?” Korben asked.
i handed him a smoke. “somebody’s got to be prepared for what comes next.”
Korben was content to ignore that, and we both lit up.
he exhaled. “everybody here’s got jobs.”
“like… import/export –”
“P.R. start ups –”
“consulting firms, hedge fund management –”
Korben took another drag. “i work in a bar.”
“i envy you.”
“you work in a sex shop.”
“history will decide.”
Korben shook his head. “no, it won’t.”
“that’s for me to decide.”
“no, it isn’t.”
“most likely not, no.”
our cigarettes continued to evaporate. from 50 yards away, back at the ranch, a burst of laughter reached our ears.
“but are you happy?” i asked.
“yeah…” Korben gave it some thought. checked his math. “yeah, i am.”
“so that’s good.”
“are you happy?”
“feels like i just answered that.”
“you seem a bit down,” i misdirected. “something on your mind?”
“a friend of mine tried to kill himself.”
i took a drag. “anybody i know?”
“well… tried, right? at least they didn’t figure it out.”
“that was the thing about it…” Korben nodded towards my glass of wine. i passed it on, let him take a sip. “i don’t want to sound like i condone this, but he really did come up with something special.”
“he bought a bottle of vodka. had himself a bottle of prescription pills. sat in his room with a pack of smokes. started drinking. drank to the point where he was no longer… in control of his decisions, i guess. where if he was supposed to kill himself, then that is what would happen. blacked out. like he planned to. when he came to, he actually had taken some of the pills. but not enough…”
“so…” Korben took another hit of my wine, handed it back. “he was basically sick for an entire week. but at least he knew that he wasn’t supposed to die.”
“took himself out of the equation.”
“a little brilliant, is all.”
“don’t get any ideas.”
“haven’t had one of those in years. don’t worry.” had me some wine. handed it over to Korben. he took his share. passed it on back. i coughed. “hey, K?”
“i know we’re sharing a room, but… should lady luck offer up any of her ladies… i’m fine sleeping on the ouch.”
“sleeping on the ouch?”
“couch. sleeping on the couch. just saying. don’t let the decision involve a crisis of conscience.”
“thanks. same goes for you.”
i took a tug. “it won’t.”
i smiled, watched my cigarette dwindle. “of all the women i’ve ever hooked up with, 50 percent are married, or they have kids.”
“what about the other 50 percent?”
“who knows? 100 percent of them have never spoken to me again.”
the cloud cover finally broke, blessing us with a luminous moon, captured in half-imagination.
Korben reached out. gave my shoulder a tight squeeze. “thanks for the smoke.”
we gave the puddles a few more things to think about and went back to join the party.
out in the building’s isolated backyard, a bonfire had been lit.
Nick and his friends hauled the keg from inside. as flames did their best to kiss the sky, they all gathered together for keg stands. i stuck to the shadows. watched Nick wrap his fingers around the silver rim. muscles bulging as a few helpers turned his body upside down. face going red as the blood rushed south.
the nozzle was secured in his mouth.
everyone shouting out the seconds as his Adam’s apple worked.
i noticed a large Tupperware container resting on the lawn, next to the fire.
seconds later, i recognized it.
courtesy of the lady. in the cafe. just a few hours ago, diligently putting together chocolate, and marshmallow, and graham.
Nick tapped out, and everyone cheered.
the fire kept waiting to be put to good use.
none of us listened.
or for fucking free in digital
so long and thanks for all the pish.