Our (sort of) “I Do” Anniversary

10MAY03

Way back in 2003 there was nary a state in the Union where gay folk could get married. Hard to imagine I know, but true. However, there was the BRAVO Channel. We are television addicts, the both of us (the TV is our nightlight as we sleep). Instantly we became fans of the reality series Gay Weddings, which aired in the fall of 2002. I cannot credit this show as the catalyst for us to plan our own ceremony, but its timing was perfect and it acted mostly as inspiration for what we would NOT do for our own faux nuptials. We had already exchanged rings privately, but we wanted to formalize what we shared before family and friends in celebration of our commitment to one another.

Deciding where this festivity would take place was a no brainer. For sure I did not want to host it in the city where we live-a tired and colorless place with little flavour. The magical land called Provincetown seemed the only logical choice to me. I had visited it just once before meeting David and that was in the fall during the early 1990s on Women’s Weekend. Although still quite beautiful, it was enough off-season to lack some of the typical gay glamour. David took me there for a long weekend our first summer together in 1996. We joked that it was our honeymoon. We went to the beach everyday, Tea Dance in the afternoons and dining outdoors each night. It was a honeymoon, in the sense that I fell as deeply in love with Ptown as I already had with David. The location was settled the moment we decided on having our ceremony.

Finding the venue and planning the function was going to be the challenge, especially doing it all while living 150-plus miles away. We wanted a brief, meaningful ceremony and then to throw a really fantastic party. Growing up I certainly went to my share of weddings. Those weddings brought together the entire family (from three states) to drink, eat traditional Slavic fare, dance the polka to oom-pah-pah bands, then finish with several relatives fighting over some silliness, only to be pissed at one another and estranged for at least a decade. This would not be that kind of wedding. Our Gay Wedding would be planned carefully and executed with as much good taste as we could afford. Besides, most of my relatives were either dead or not invited and the ones who were, knew better. This was going to be my picture perfect dream and would require my acute attention to every detail. Why? Because I am a self-confessed Type A, that’s why.

In order to host our affair in Provincetown we would have to do it off-season. Our guests would be coming from all over and would need to stay the weekend. During ‘the season’, most guesthouses and hotels require week rentals. Similarly, many venues cannot afford to close for a private function. We chose May, knowing the weather might be iffy. We drove to Ptown in late fall of 2002 to check out possible locales before many closed for the winter.

Cape Cod has some of the best eateries in New England. One reason we spend so much time there is for the great selection of fine dining. Over the years we’ve eaten at dozens of places, though only a handful could accommodate our needs for this celebration. We limited our guest list to fifty, to make it an intimate and very special evening. We had appointments to see a few locations that advertised commitment functions. The largest one had a dark, stale cigarette smelling room reminiscent of a VFW hall. The guy in charge also managed two of their bars and was clueless about our kind of party. The most elegant on the list had nowhere but an outdoor garden for the ceremony portion of the evening with absolutely no provision for the service if it rained. The only large hotel was right on the water, reeked of musty, dead seaweed and hadn’t been renovated since the 70s. The ‘catering menu’ looked even older. We felt defeated before we’d even gotten started.

We headed off to find a glass of wine and perhaps rethink our concept. A favorite cafe was still serving outdoors, so we got a table where we could drink and hopefully figure things out. Across the street was a pretty, sprawling old Victorian with a restaurant on the first floor and a small bar on the lower level. We had been by it countless times but never tried the food. We could see through the windows that it was being readied for dinner that night. What did we have to lose? We crossed the street and walked in.

“Sorry, we’re not serving tonight. We’re closed for a private function”, a wonderfully harried, impish sort of guy greeted us. We introduced ourselves and told him what we were about in twenty-five words or less, because it was obvious he was stressed about something-perhaps everything.  Still he was all smiles and so cordial, primping tablecloths, straightening silverware settings and rearranging glassware as he gushed about the small dining room. It was a commitment ceremony for two gentlemen who had been together for quite a long time he explained to us  “with a different wine with each course and they’ve just added four more people and this room just simply does not hold that many and now where am I supposed to put them?” His name was Benny. He was perfectly in charge of the situation and in less than twenty minutes, he had become our Wedding Planner.

We returned a few weeks later, once they’d closed for the season and had a tasting of various entrees prepared by the chef. Her food was incredible and by evening’s end we’d settled on three courses with a champagne toast to start off. After the ‘cake thing’, we would retire to the Club on the lower level for drinking and dancing. The party portion was set. Benny was knowledgable and endearing and, we trusted, the perfect man for the job. Save the date notes were sent with our Christmas cards and we were off and running.

Next came the ceremony itself. We had plenty of ideas what it would not be about, but were quite sketchy, (other than exchanging vows) what it would include. An old acquaintance is an Episcopal priest and a partnered gay man himself. He always struck me as very cool. He has marched in every gay pride parade in Boston since I’ve known him. He was thrilled when we asked if he would officiate. We met in March for a lunch to discuss what we expected from him and he surprised us with a legal pad full of liturgy, New Testament readings, prayers and such. He was strong-arming us into making this a pseudo sacrament and that was somewhere neither of us ever intended to go. It was an uncomfortable meal in a large restaurant where no one had room for dessert in the end. Now what to do? We would write something ourselves and find a friend comfortable at speaking before a group to officiate. I asked the director of our ESL program who is also sympatico. He too had viewed the entire Bravo Gay Weddings series so of course he said yes.

At this point in my life I was well over my short-lived affair with Martha Stewart. I had sung her praises only briefly after her introductory Thanksgiving Special. She had me when she opened her pantry, displaying her huge closetful of wonderfully unmatched dishes and I have never been the same since. Even though I judged her passe and just a greedy, money-making enterprise, I found myself channeling her through every phase of our party planning. You know, like when Martha decides to make an omelet and begins drafting blueprints for the chicken coop and starts to plant the chicken feed. I’d worked in bakeries and for caterers in my early life decorating cakes, so that would be a given, of course. David is lost in the kitchen, but he works in a party store, so he designed our custom invitations. Neither of us can do a thing with flowers, but a colleague of mine is gifted at putting together unique fleurs and creating wonderful floral art. He consented to doing the table arrangements.

I searched for silver mint julep cups for the table flowers which were last-minute back ordered, so we settled on a taller version vase. I scoured the internet for the perfect boxes for party favors, then drove miles in all directions to find just the right width of fabric rainbow ribbon to tie around them. I will not begin to tell you how long I searched for the right combination of sweeties to include inside. Fire laws prevented lighted tapers, so the vintage candelabra were out and individual votives at each place were in. There were CDs I burned for the entire evening: pre ceremony music while guest gathered, ceremony music, exit ceremony music, two and a half hours of dinner music and a four-hour dance mix-all of it David’s and my favorites which is definitive eclectic. “What a party” I kept assuring him and myself this was gonna’ be.

The week before reminded me of tech week in the theatre. All the pieces would finally start coming together. On Thursday we had fourth row tickets on the floor for Cher’s Farewell Tour. Just how gay is that? I needed it as a diversion or I would have imploded from my self-induced mania and David is a die-hard fan. We packed our cars early on a rainy and grey Friday morning. I had the cake in pieces in my trunk, along with all the frosting and decorating equipment to assemble and finish it at the restaurant. Unassembled, it symbolized all the projects I’d spent half the winter and most of spring concocting for this one weekend.

David had our clothes and necessaries for the next three days and a car full of cut flowers in four twenty-gallon plastic buckets. As it turned out, my colleague was not able to attend. The prior week he ordered enough flowers from a local florist to show me how to put together a sample arrangement. “It’s a no-brainer. You can do nine of these in a few hours”. He ordered all the flowers from the wholesaler and we picked them up on our way to the Cape. “Just remember to fill the buckets with warm water overnight to force them open”. Even though I had carefully recorded how many blossoms of this and how many sprigs of that per vase, it had me worrying. It was about four hundred dollars worth of flowers, but would have easily cost a thousand if we’d had them done by a florist.

We’d blocked rooms at two different locations for our guests. We were staying in a large suite with a fireplace and a balcony overlooking Commercial Street. Almost all the family had arrived by Friday night and our very best friends gave a very lovely rehearsal dinner in the house we rent together each summer. Magically the weather cleared by sundown and the forecast called for cool and partly sunny on Saturday. I took it as an omen that it all would be okay-that my fussy obsessiveness would pay off. I woke early Saturday morning with a mild case of IBS, but it was expected after what I had put my poor self through.

We set to work on our flowers first thing. Indeed, the blooms had opened-so much so they appeared unlike his sample version, nearly trebling in volume. Even reducing the number of flowers per vase, they were coming out taller and fuller. Our arrangements were akin to Audrey II, the plant in Little Shop of Horrors at the very end and I feared they might overtake and consume each table of guests before dinner was done. But they were so beautiful we were certain no one would mind. The day flew by with so much to do we had no time to obsess about trivia. The cake went together without a hitch and looked exactly as I’d planned.

The ceremony would be held in the Club downstairs and in the daylight it didn’t look too much like a bar. The only decoration for the ceremony was to be a huge vase on a pedestal near where we would be standing. The vase could hold forty-plus Gerber daisies which David and I would pass out to welcome each guest as we entered the room. Once the ceremony began, family and friends would be asked to come up and place their flower into the vase, symbolizing their own commitment to us as family. (Truth be told, my main reason for doing this was so that I could carry a huge bouquet of flowers on my wedding day. Why should brides be the only ones who get the chance?)

The Gerber daisies were delivered by a local florist shortly after I finished the cake. Rather than delivering the big vase, Benny came running in with this sad pair of crappy glass vases like those you get from a bargain TeleFlorist bouquet. Our vigilant Wedding Planner phoned the florist asking where our special vase was-that we’d paid forty dollars extra for and she claimed she had no recollection-the bitch! I went totally nutso, carrying on like every crazed banshee bridezilla in TVdom. It was too late to find a substitute, so we went with the pair she sent flanking each side of the wall behind us. As her punishment, I never did send payment for the two boutonniere she made for us, which hardly compensated for her egregious error.

There is a photo we took of ourselves in our suite just before we left for our ceremony. It is one of my favorites from the whole weekend, for it captures the nerves and the fear we both were experiencing. Suddenly it was not about all the things we had been doing, but rather the significance of what we were about to do. We both looked good in our matching tuxedos. Benny was in an amazing black suit, our super Wedding Planner checking last-minute details, reporting all was ready. The kitchen staff was busy upstairs. Guests were beginning to arrive and seat themselves.

David and I were hidden in the back hall as we divvied up the daisies between us. I wasn’t really listening, but it seemed like the first song on the pre-ceremony CD was taking a long time. Suddenly Benny reappears to report a problem.  Calmly he explains the house CD player used downstairs is evidently not able to read a computer-burned CD. It plays the first song only, repeating it over and over.  I see him in his black coat looking so professional, so in charge. His player he brought from home is upstairs in the dining room working fine. It will take a good deal of time and fussing to change players at this point. What do we want him to do? I look down at my bride’s bouquet cradled in my arms and smile, knowing that this is the hand of fate stepping in to put me in my place. How dare I think I can control the universe? I tell him there is nothing to do but give in. Once everyone is there we will enter to our first ceremony song on that CD, do our thing and exit to first post ceremony song (it was Faith Hill This Kiss). It made for a briefer, quieter ceremony, but no one was the wiser.

The remainder of the evening moved flawlessly once I gave in and let it happen. Benny was invisible and yet every time I looked, I saw that black jacket in the corner of my eye, always on the ready. Dinner was beautifully paced, the food was delicious and David and I consumed two bottles of a Mondavi Chardonnay before we cut the cake. That is one of the last things I remember from the evening, other than having an incredibly wonderful time. I danced like I hadn’t danced since my disco days in NYC with absolutely everyone there. If it weren’t for the hundreds of pictures everyone took, neither of us would have a clue about the remainder of the night. It was the prettiest party I have ever hosted and the most fun the two of us had in years. Nor have I ever seen so many of  our family and friends so very drunk.

Yes it’s true, as corny as it may sound, going through the ritual of a ceremony, even one of your own design-your declaration of love in public to another human being does make an enormous difference in a relationship. Just how or why it works that way I cannot say. A little more than a year later we made it legal by marrying in front of a Justice of the Peace, but that did not hold the weight that our Commitment Ceremony did. That’s why each year we celebrate the 10th of May as our real anniversary and usually forget the date we got married in August, often remembering it came and went a day or two after the fact. This year was our Tenth Anniversary and we returned to Ptown for a long weekend celebration as we do every year. The restaurant has changed hands, changed names and menus twice and added a big covered deck in front. Benny works at another restaurant. It would be nice to have been able to have a lovely dinner at the old place again, but even if it was still our restaurant, we could never capture that glorious evening again. And that’s just how it should be too.

lastDance

The last dance of the night

4 thoughts on “Our (sort of) “I Do” Anniversary

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