Look Out. It’s Wedding Night in America.

goats

None of this is true.

All names have been altered to protect wills from being changed to exclude the writer.

Got it straight?

Totally fictional. Wink, wink.

***

First question. Been to any wedding?

Second question. Did you have any fun?

Third question. (especially crucial answer here) Were any family members involved, either in the ceremony or the reception?

Is it just the weddings I go to, but are they mostly affairs that tend to bring out the same traits in friends and fellow members of your family? Holidays and weddings. The two most statistically ripe times for drunkenness, erratic behavior and bad old habits.

Allow me to cite examples.

Instead of taking in a killer concert this past Saturday night with the Why Store, and Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, my wife Amy and I were guests a wedding for one of my cousins.

Oh man. Life’s scariest cliches spring to life. Recognize any?

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.

We pull up in the driveway of the First Church of the Unlimited Giving in Indianapolis, and are greeted by a rent-a-cop decrying all compact cars carrying fewer than three people must park on the other side the lot, which can only be reached by getting back on the interstate and reentering the lot via the dirt road by the down by the river.

Ok. Fine. At least we were on time. We go, park, and I get out of the car, look over and notice my wife is looking at the right front fender.

“When did you get this dent?” she asks.

Huh? What dent?

“This one that looks like somebody leaned too hard against your car.”

I got no idea. Seriously. Great start, though. Oh, and the lot has parking meters. Nice touch.

We walk the nearly two miles to the church, and are greeted my cousin Jason. The cousin who thinks dressing up means clean jeans and menthol instead of unfiltered Camels. “Menthols smell better, right?” he’s been heard to say.

“Sup?” he asks.

“Not much. How’s (Oh, God, what is her name?), uh, life treatin’ ya?” I say. “You remember Amy, right.?”

“Oh. yeah. Absolutely.”

Noticing a leering quality, I decide to push on.

Inside, we run into Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob of the eternally rock hard handshake.

“Well, there’s the kids.” Bob yells. “How we doin?”

He extends his hand. The land of no return.

Crunch.

“You kids in town for the night? Staying close by?” he inquires.

Loaded questions. Better fib.

“Nah. We need to get back to Fort Wayne tonight. Have some work to do at the office tomorrow. What are you doing?”

“Well, you know Alice. She’ll be dancing until they kick her out tonight, so were at the Ramada. Come on by later,” Bob says, volunteering his room for us to crash in, I guess.

“Hey, maybe. Supposed to be a nice reception.” I interject.

“Yeah, I hope drinks are free,” he says.

After these first two conversations, I think “me too”.

Amy and I are escorted into the sanctuary by one of the ushers from the brides side. Seems nice enough. Wonder to myself the relevance of the partially hidden ax tattoo over his right ear. . No problems though, as we walk into a nicely decorated church, with loads of white colors, live flowers and candles.

We’re seated next to by Aunt Karen. We like her. She doesn’t pass judgement on too many people, dresses nicely, at least pretends she likes us and has two daughters, my cousins, both nice and intelligent. We basically lucked out here. We could have the fate of by brother Ryan, who has to sit next to friend of the family, Betty, who has the worst smelling feet in the northern hemisphere.

At least we hope it’s her feet.

The bride is beautiful. The groom is handsome, just as they’re supposed to be.

Neither is Catholic, so no need to put extra money in the meter. Grandmas cry. Nobody passes out. I do. I do, and we’re done in less than 45 minutes.

And the race is on. Who knows the shortcut to the reception hall? Heck, who knows the short cut to our car? Disneyland has a tram for people parked as far away as we are.

Needless to say, we aren’t the first ones to the reception, held at a sweet little country club in the middle of nowhere. On the walk up the driveway, I notice the guys who were earlier serving as the ushers double-fisting beers. I take it as a good sign. Looks to be a party.

Relegated to a back table because of our arrival time, we do get a prime seat to survey the scene. Christmas, reunions, weddings, funerals. The cast of characters is always the same. Anybody look familiar to you?

There’s Crazy Jackie, with her boyfriend at least 20 years her junior. She’s got the DJ around waist, undoubtedly trying to sweet talk him into playing “The Stripper” song during the garter toss.

There’s Uncle Steve and his wife Aunt Christy. Between them, they wear six necklaces, seven rings, have had four plastic surgeries, and six kids. Gotta love ’em, just don’t get too close to Christy. She’ll pinch your ass before you can say goosedown pillow.

Hey, there’s Aunt Mary. Probably the nicest woman here. I walk up to hug her, and she hugs me first. Good feeling when that happens.

Unlike the feeling I get when, later in the evening, I look to the dance floor and see the Johnny Travolta (circa 1978) of the family, cousin Willie, by himself, doing his knee drops and toe spins, and arm waves to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”

Seems like the DJ, in his pink bowtie and pink suspenders, likes it though. That is, until Willie drops a little too hard on the portable dance floor, and causes the CD to stop completely.

Whoops. That’s just too bad.

I wave to Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma sees me, but I don’t think Grandpa does. And shouting will do no good. I’m sure the hearing aid went off about the time KC started singing. Or it might have gone off when Grandma told him 45 miles per hour was just too fast for the interstate.

Here comes the bride and groom, followed by a photographer who looks like he’s been run over by a car and a couple horses.

A video guy comes around with a camera and microphone wanting everybody to give best wishes to the newlyweds. I give directions to the Condoms R Us store in Daytona Beach. My wife slaps the back of my head.

I notice a lady two tables over takes a slug of her beer, and hold the microphone up to her ear like a telephone. I think about alerting America’s Funniest Home Videos that a tape is in the mail.

Some kids come running by, and head into the hallway to do a kiddie version of “YMCA”. I wonder if they know what that song was about when it came out. I sure didn’t until Jim and Tammy Bakker tried to save me by telling me all about it.

So we eat dinner, kick back, play tic-tac-toe with a one of kids sitting at the table. (I get “beat” three out of four games.) We move onto the “I Spy Game”. Again, the seven-year old kicks my butt.

Wallflower Jane, my Dad’s cousin, never moves from her spot at the neighboring table. I think her corduroy skirt has suctioned her too the chair.

A pack of high school girls I’ve never seen flit past our table wearing flowered dresses shorter than a popsicle in July. Of course, I didn’t look.

White wedding cake is eaten. A garter gets thrown. The bouquet is tossed. Some guy is on a table exhorting the crowd to do the “Country Joe and the Fish” cheer.

It’s time to go.

As we walk into the parking lot, and up the driveway, I look at Amy and smile. I mention how it’s nice the most people get married only once and Christmas with this crew is along ways away.

We grab each other’s hand and walk in silence until we get into the car.

“Have a good time?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah. Gotta love the family.” I say, starting the car.

Amy laughs.

So do I.

 

Busted Flat in Detroit

The man, dressed in a black t-shirt, khaki pants and worn loafers, was standing in front of me. He looked rattled, as if someone had just told him a friend decided to leave town.

Yeah, left town. The friend was cash from this man=s pocket.

This gentleman, not more than 35 years old, sporting a black beard riddled with pockets of visible skin, was smoking Marlboro Lights as fast as he could breath. But he was not enjoying the leisurely drag-and-exhale rhythm of a relaxed smoker.

Nope, this man was in the suck-and-blow zone, holding the burning cigarette between his third and fourth fingers of his left hand.

A trembling left hand.

The trembling undoubtedly was related to the $1,200 he had just lost.

Lost may be the wrong word. He knew where it was, what hole it had gone into. It was in someone else=s pocket

The man in black turned and walked my direction, rushing by, going somewhere, eyes looking past me. Maybe he was headed to an ATM machine.

***

While Las Vegas is the glittering land of opportunity, both grand and false, and all of Nevada calls casino gambling legal, Detroit is holding onto hope that casino gambling can cure one of the city=s main diseases – the lack of reasons for people to visit one of the nation=s largest cities.

Within the last 12 months, a decrepit Detroit has become home to a pair of full-fledged, land-locked, could-be-Vegas-after-a-few-drinks gambling establishments. The MGM and the Motor City Casino have invaded territory once and still crumbling, giving Detroiters a reason to believe their city may still be alive. But like Atlantic City before it, Detroit may have simply turned a couple of old buildings into places for state residents to give their money away.

While those who like the idea of casinos in Detroit point towards Canadian city neighbor Windsor as a reason to have gambling (Windsor had casino gambling for a few years before Detroit residents voted to have some too, fearing they were missing out on a giant windfall), one trip to Detroit=s slot and table establishments seems to make one thing clear.

Tourism isn=t what is winning.

No, nearly all of the auto license plates in the new Motor City Casino parking garage are from Michigan. There is no on-site hotel. Both casinos are in situated on a well-worn Grand River Boulevard, hardly a sparkling street full of pedestrian traffic.

Those doing most of the gambling on this particular Wednesday night were residents of the city, and commuters who lived close enough to drive a couple hours back home.

Not that any of the experience is wrong. Hey, it=s your money. Spend it any way you want. Only not everybody starts with the same amount of cash, and those who lose the most usually have the most.

***

Let=s wander over this way, towards the valley of the small-time gambler. The nickel slots, tucked into faraway corners of the first and second floor of the four floor Motor City Casino, are populated predominately by women, though most look like they can afford to lose a couple bucks and still be able to buy a cheeseburger or three on the way home. Coins clink into the metal slot machine trays, lot of noise signifying little profit. A top-end jackpot on these machines might net a player 1,000 nickels – 50 bucks.

Quarter slots are very everywhere, as are 50 cent and dollar slot machines. Most of the folks hopping from machine to machine don=t seem to excited to be playing, other than a twenty-something African-American fellow who spins and wins $600 on a dollar machine as I walk by.

AI=m out, dude. No kidding, I=m done,@ he tells a friend standing alongside as the machine spits out his winnings.

Really, we=re out,@ he repeats, trying to convince himself he needs to quit.

But most people playing don=t get to make that kind of decision. After a couple hours, and a hole $140 deep, I have begun searching for interesting people to watch. I have reached by self-imposed limit and it is time to find others who lose better than I.

***

Sitting at a blackjack table alongside the woman with silver hoop earrings, gorgeous jet black hair and a low cut black dress is a man who could be president. He looks like Bill Clinton, with the same coifed gray hair, similar bit of a bulb nose, and a seemingly endless supply of cash.

Sporting a denim shirt with a button-down collar, here is a guy who thinks he has it going on. While the woman is not with him, he glances at her, especially when he wins a hand. He is betting enough on each hand to make my house payment.

This guy is playing blackjack at a table marked with a A$100 minimum@ placard. He starts most deals with $300 per hand, and he is playing two hands.

He is losing, and doing it consistently.

The woman is not glancing back. Through one rack of cards, lasting no more than ten minutes, he puts more than $5,000 on the table, any is down about $2,000 in the few minutes I have been standing three steps behind him, centered between him and the lady.

Were it not for one spectacular hand that saw him win $800, he would have lost close to $5,000 as I watched. Ten minutes. Lots of green chips, worth 100 buck each, went into the

casino=s rack. Twice, when he lost both of his $300 dollar hands, the Bill Clinton look alike turned around, making eye contact with me. Like it was my fault.

And maybe it was, because it sure was compelling to watch someone lose that much money.

***

But even the thrill of success found through watching other fools Ago toilet@ with their money gets old. Four hours in a room with no clocks, no windows, and no free drinks is enough when you are not winning money. So I left.

On the way out of the building, passing the last row of table games, I spot the man in black again. He=s must still be losing, because he is spinning his body 180 degrees just as I walk by. He must have been dealt a bad hand. His luck must still be bad, because he has the same third-and-fourth finger shaky hold on his Marlboro Light and is still sucking and blowing, as if the harder he smokes, the more quickly his money will magically reappear.

Shoot, maybe he won it all back. He was still playing as I swung the double glass doors open to a lit parking garage. Making tracks towards my car, a man in a tattered Detroit Lions shirt is standing at the end of a parking row. As I walk past him, he asks if I have a dollar. I say Asorry, not today.@

But buddy, just inside the glass doors, that=s where the money is. But most of it isn=t coming into the parking lot tonight. Or any night.

And just for fun, watch a Detroit legend….