My friend Smacky had been engaged for many weeks, and I was on tenterhooks waiting for him to ask me to be in the wedding. He doesn’t have that many friends, I thought, and certainly none besides me who ever watched ALL the “Friday the 13th” movies with him. Finally, with just three weeks to spare, he called and popped the question: “Do you have a black suit?”
I told him I did not, guessing at his reason for asking but not wanting to presume anything. He asked if I thought I could find a black suit without spending too much money, and I said I could probably find one at Goodwill. He was OK with that. That is why we are friends.
Having gotten the basics out of the way, he arrived at the point. He wanted me to be his groomsman. Not the best man, of course; his brother Jared would be the best man. I would be the second-best man, the groomsman, whose job is to stand next to the best man and be slightly less best than him. Honestly, I didn’t feel slighted. Smacky is closer to his brother than he is to me, and besides: It would be a truly sorry situation if, of all the men in his life, I were indeed the best one.
Smacky and his fiancee, Amelia, were having something of a non-traditional wedding. The men were wearing suits and ties instead of tuxedoes. Amelia and her bridesmaids were still wearing dresses, but they were going to be unusual in some way. Maybe topless or something, I don’t know. The important thing is, I only had to find a black suit, not a tuxedo.
My first visit to a Portland Goodwill store proved discouraging, however. They did have a few suits, but none the right color or size, and none priced below $80. Yes, $80 for a secondhand suit at Goodwill. If you had $80 to spend on clothes, why would you be at Goodwill? I left the store disgusted, more so than I usually am upon leaving Goodwill.
I called Smacky and reported that finding a black suit might be more difficult and/or expensive than I had imagined. I knew bridesmaids usually buy their own dresses (which is why they’re so ugly) (the dresses, not the bridesmaids), but I thought the groom generally paid for his guys’ tuxedoes. When I was best man for a friend a few years ago, I’m pretty sure I didn’t pay for the tux, because I’m pretty sure I would remember that. I would probably be complaining bitterly about it to this day. So I was hoping Smacky would volunteer to assume the cost of my black suit.
Well, as it happens, Smacky is nearly as poor as I am. He said (without me asking) that he would love to pay for the suit but that the wedding was already costing a lot of money. He had this good news, though: “If you can’t find one, don’t worry. My brother Rodger has a black suit, and he can step in for the ceremony and the photos. But you’ll still be the groomsman in my book!”
What I was getting here was that it didn’t really matter who the groomsman was, as long as he was wearing a black suit. It could be me; it could be Rodger; it could be a hobo; it could probably be a mannequin. The important thing was, the wedding could not go on unless there was a full complement of black suits standing at the altar.
I have to say, I think my feelings were a little hurt. That doesn’t happen very often. If it was so important to Smacky that I be in the wedding, and so important to him (or, more likely, to Amelia) that I be wearing a black suit, then maybe he should help me buy a black suit. But no. I came to the cold realization that when someone asks you to be part of their wedding party, what they’re really saying is: “In addition to the expense of traveling to the wedding from out of state, and in addition to the gift you must buy for us, we would also like you to buy a costume. Don’t you feel honored?!”
Now more disdainful of weddings than ever — I’m behind the idea of marriage; it’s WEDDINGS, with their expensive, excessive slavery to ridiculous traditions, that I think are silly — I set out in search of a black suit. I could not afford to buy a new suit, period, even if I had actually needed one apart from the wedding. I HAD to find one cheaply. Yet I felt some comfort in knowing that if I couldn’t, all would not be lost. Second-best second-best man Rodger could step in to take my place if need be. I would miss out on the honor of being in the wedding photos and standing at the altar next to my friend as he tied the knot — but I would also miss out on the hassle of having to be there early, having to mingle with bridesmaids, and having to meet people’s relatives.
Other Goodwill stores turned up suits that were cheaper, but still not the right color or size. I was about to give up when I hit on an idea: The wedding was to be held in Utah. Utah is home to many thousands of men who 1) wear suits regularly and 2) get too fat for them. Utah is also home to Deseret Industries, a Goodwill-style chain of second-hand stores. No one in Portland wears suits anyway, let alone give them away. But Utah! Land of the church-going and home of the fat! Used suits are probably a dime a dozen at Deseret Industries, perhaps even literally!
My mom happened to be in Utah that week visiting my brother and his family, so I put her on the case of finding me a suit, since I wouldn’t arrive in enough time to find one myself. Great mom that she is, she went to D.I., braved the gauntlet of retarded employees — and I mean D.I. hires ACTUAL retarded people, not “retarded” like Wal-Mart hires — and found me a suit. A very sharp-looking one. For $14. Which she didn’t ask to be reimbursed for. SCORE!! Screw YOU, back-up groomsman Rodger! You’ll have to wait for another brother to get married, sucka!
* * *
The venue for the wedding was the beautifully decorated backyard of the house Smacky and Amelia are renting, which Amelia had already moved into. I arrived a few hours early so I could help with whatever preparations were left, but since a squadron of women was already buzzing around the place and seemed to have everything well in hand, mostly I hung out with Smacky in the basement. His best man, Jared, was running errands for the reception. Smacky was nervous, as should be expected, but not the cold-footed basket case you sometimes hear about. I was mildly disappointed at this, as I was at Amelia’s being calm and rational instead of a complete bridezilla. Seems like whenever you want a little mayhem in your life, there’s no mayhem to be found.
Anyway, Smacky and I chatted the way best friends normally do: with a lot of joking and laughing that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, often on topics that you’re not supposed to joke or laugh about. True, the fact that he was getting married in a couple hours did loom over the conversation. It was like trying to have a normal breakfast on the day the jury’s supposed come back. But we were happy. We live in different states now, so it’s not like we get to hang out all the time anyway, regardless of his marital status. I was glad to be useful for once, keeping him occupied so he wouldn’t have time to freak out. Then we got into our suits and I did my actual groomsman job of grooming him, which in this case meant telling him his hair looked OK.
The wedding commenced at 5:35 p.m. Smacky was already waiting at the altar, as per custom. I assume this is to symbolize the many times in a man’s life when he must stand around dressed up waiting for his wife to get ready. Jared and I escorted one (1) bridesmaid apiece to the altar. (I met mine as we were linking arms to walk out, and told her she looked very lovely. She said thank you. We never spoke again.)
Then Amelia emerged, escorted by her father. A beautiful woman on a normal day, she looked dazzling as a bride. I instinctively looked at Smacky to see his reaction. He had successfully avoided seeing her all day, as per custom, because if you see the bride on your wedding day, you both catch small pox and die. Here he was, laying eyes as if for the first time on the woman he loved. Over the years I’ve seen Smacky in a variety of emotional states, but it occurs to me now that I’d never seen him truly, completely HAPPY until then.
As the ceremony proceeded, I realized (with some self-reproach) that in fact I’d have been willing to pay whatever it cost, and to leap through whatever traditional nuptial hoops were laid before me, if it would help bring about such happiness for my best friend. Buy a suit? Drive 800 miles? Jump in the sewer? Kill a nun? Blow up a school bus? If that’s what it takes, bro. You got it.
You don’t like to be one of those people who cry at weddings, but honestly, a couple of kids so much in love, so obviously devoted to one another, so overcome with joy — well, if that doesn’t make you tear up a little bit, you’re dead inside.
In addition to crying, however, I was also sweating like the proverbial whore in the proverbial church. Let me remind you the men were all wearing black suits on a June afternoon in the middle of the desert. It was 90 degrees. We were facing due west, so the sun at 5:35 p.m. shone directly upon us. Smacky and Jared’s faces were shielded slightly by the canopy, but I was on the end, getting it full-blast. It seemed possible that I would catch on fire before the preacherman finished his inspirational message (of which “marriage is awesome and you should be nice to each other” was the gist). But would I have gladly spontaneously combusted if it would bring happiness to Smacky and Amelia? Whatever it takes, dude.
Once they were pronounced man and wife and the bride was kissed and all that, Amelia hugged her bridesmaids and Smacky embraced his two-man entourage, first his best man and then me. (Surely Rodger, his other brother and back-up groomsman, wept bitter tears as he looked on from the congregation.) I said, “I love you, Brett” — because that’s his real name, you know — and he responded in a like manner.
It’s not very often that you feel totally happy for someone else. Pleased, delighted, congratulatory, sure, that happens. But really, truly happy? For someone other than yourself? That’s a great feeling, no matter how you’re dressed.