Humor: My In-Laws And My Wedding Reception

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As I’ve chronicled multiple times over the course of B&V, I was single until my late 30s. I’d share more of those stories but those records are sealed until 25 years after everyone I’ve ever known is dead. I was slowly getting my act together and turning away from my life as a “rounder” when I met the Rock Chick. She had a daughter and was cautious around me or any other newcomer at first, so things developed slowly. Eventually she realized I was harmless and things began to progress a little more quickly. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s another story.

As I got to know her, I realized the Rock Chick had a much different childhood than I did. I was the product of a solid, Catholic marriage. My parents are together to this day and seem to like each other. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City in what I now refer to as “the bubble” of Johnson County, Kansas. While I would never describe my childhood as idyllic (the struggle is real, folks), from the outside looking in, it wasn’t exactly a difficult upbringing.

My wife grew up in the country, on a farm, in a very small town. I think describing her childhood home as a “town” is actually generous. It was more of a wide stretch in the road. She grew up in the shadow of Kansas City but was far enough away it must have seemed light years away from civilization. At least she could pick up the local radio stations and got a good grounding in rock and roll music. Her parents for many reasons, alas, didn’t stay together. She is, what is now called, a product of divorce.

After the split, as is common, the two warring parties never seemed to get along. The Rock Chick’s mother Rose rarely had anything nice to say about her father Bud and Bud rarely said anything at all about Rose. After the Rock Chick moved to Kansas City her parents never spoke again. Child support was the only thing they spoke about anyway. Soon Rose decided to move out West with her son, my wife’s half brother, to live amongst the Grand Tetons. We rarely see my mother-in-law. On one of her brief visits to Kansas City, for a family reunion, I found myself chatting with Rose. I was hitting the vodka lemonades pretty hard, but I still remember the conversation. We were looking at a wall of family photographs from the past, and she commented, out of nowhere, “I always wanted to be a movie star.” I smiled and responded, “That’s cool… were you in drama, were you interested in acting?” Her response was in my mind, telling, “Oh, no, I just wanted to be a movie star.” Hmmm… Rose was apparently Kim Kardashian before there was a Kim Kardashian.

As a side note, this was the last family reunion my wife subjected me to. I don’t even attend my own family’s reunions, thus is my disdain for the entire institution. At one point, I was talking to her uncle who it seems was trying to win a Wild Bill Hickok look alike contest. He had the hat, matted hair, big mustache and looked frankly, dirty. The Rock Chick, sensing I was miserable, ran up and asked if I’d like another drink, a curious strategy as I was already half in the bag. Her uncle said to me, “I wish I had a pretty woman bringing me drinks…” I smiled and said, in a low, serious tone, “If you really want that, may I suggest a shower, shaving off that mustache and perhaps a wardrobe re-do…” Needless to say, we haven’t been invited back but I digress.

When I first met Bud, my father in law, I was a tad intimidated. He asked me two questions in order to determine whether I was ok or not. Did I like beer, which I passed with flying colors, yes of course. Secondly, was I a Republican? I think I failed that one. Regardless, he seemed to like me almost instantly. He was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We would sit around his cluttered kitchen table for hours, consuming more beer than I should have with an hour drive home ahead of me and talked about subjects grand and small. Eventually I got to the point where I’d go down to see him by myself. It was on one of those trips I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “Well now, she’s the apple of my eye. If you ever hurt her, I’m a marksman and I can kill you and you wouldn’t even hear the bullet coming…” With that he shook my hand and the deal was done.

A while later, I actually went through with it and married the Rock Chick. It was a destination wedding so we had a reception two weeks after that back home. It was a wonderful evening. I can still remember dancing with my new bride for the first time to Rod Stewart’s version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” There were many people who believed I didn’t even want to be happy, so actually being happy was quite a surprise to everyone involved.

There was some tension at the reception however. Both of my wife’s parents were slated to be there. They hadn’t been in the same room in decades. We sat Rose and her half brother on one side of us, on the Rock Chick’s side. And, to be safe we sat Bud and his date (the man got the ladies) on my side. This may have been a tactical error as he had me running to the bar all night to refresh his beer… wait a minute whose wedding reception is this? The tension we’d felt at the beginning of the evening quickly dissipated as the Rock Chick’s parents never so much as spoke. As far as I could tell they didn’t even look at each other.

The next day, as is her usual pattern, Rose said, out loud, “Well, I’m not sure what happened to your father. He’s clearly daft. He looked right at me, and it was as if he didn’t even know who I was. It’s like he didn’t even recognize me, We were married for over ten years. I really think he’s losing it.” Well, obviously this didn’t set well with me. I am clearly on Team Bud. I cut her off in mid rant. “You can say whatever you want about me, but that’s ridiculous. He’s a good man, and he’s not daft.” I was angry and indignant. This pattern of her bad mouthing him was ending on my watch. I went full on Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” mode in defense of Bud. I had hoped to put this feud to rest.

About a month later, I drove down on my own to see Bud and drink some beer. Soon the subject of the reception came up. I had been ready for him to bring it up and had promised myself if he maligned his ex-wife, I would defend her as well. It was only fair. He leaned over the cluttered kitchen table and got a serious look on his face. “I tell you what, man, at that reception of yours, I must be daft. I looked right at Rose and didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even recognize her. We were married a long time…but I didn’t figure out it was her until I was on my way home.”

Well, shit.

So much for my spirited defense of my father-in-law. What have we learned… sometimes people who have known each other a long time, know each other better than I think. Oh, and never jump in the middle of a feud, ever. And last but not least, maybe these two belonged together after all…

My Fever Dream: Dark Days, A Hopeful Wedding And A Glimpse To The Future

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I love the fall. As the Red Hot Chili Peppers once sang, “autumn’s sweet, we call it fall, I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl.” Autumn is usually sweet for me. It’s a time for football and breaking out the dark and murky fluids… it’s my bourbon season. Even the holidays are great. Halloween is always fun (hello to all those Naughty Nurses out there and sincerely, thank you all) and who doesn’t love Thanksgiving. All I have to do on Thanksgiving is show up eat, drink too much and watch football. Besides Saint Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving is the PERFECT holiday.

And yet this year I’m feeling more of the grim determination of the second part of that Chili Pepper’s quote, “I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl,” than my usual autumn joy. It’s been a bit a tough year this year. Things are pretty grim at the office… lay offs and more threatened. I’ve been traveling almost all of October for work and as usual have had my annual bronchial infection that knocked me on my ass. Perhaps it’s my illness that has me down. With the exception of going out west to see my wonderful daughter fall has been a drag.

I must admit that a lot of this dark juju I’m feeling stems from this year’s Presidential Election. I think I speak for everybody who isn’t a cable TV news commentator that I’m suffering from “Election Fatigue.” My wife, the Rock Chick won’t even watch the news any more. Dark pronouncements, anger and contention is really getting to be a drag. Even the local commercials are full of bile, lies and accusations. It’s like being in the middle of a divorce trial. Why is daddy yelling “wrong” at mommy, if you get what I mean. I’m not a political person per se. I never talk about religion or politics, but it’s just been impossible to avoid this year. It’s really set a dark vision of the future.

Against that back drop, my oldest and dearest friend Jack’s eldest daughter got married last weekend. I was honored to have been invited. I know that it makes me sound like a sentimental sap, dressed in a fluffy robe, clutching a half-empty bottle of Maker’s Mark, singing “Send in the clowns, there oughta be clowns…” when I say this, but I do love weddings. I was always that guy people called when they had an extra slot in the wedding party. “We need an extra usher… let’s call Ken, he’s fun… but keep him away from the Vicar…”

This particular wedding last weekend was a beautiful, hippy-esque ceremony, and I mean that in a good way. The ceremony was held outside under a copse of trees on a beautiful Indian Summer day. It was cloudy and a beautiful breeze pushed the leaves around. A gauzy tapestry of green and lime hung behind the make-shift alter. The groom danced down the aisle with a smile that lit up the park. They were playing a rap song I vaguely recognized (Hey, I’m a Stones guy…give me some slack) and there was a palpable sense of joy. It felt like the trees were dancing along with him in the breeze. Jack’s daughter looked glowing in her beautiful gown. The vows were beautiful and emotional. What can I say, I was moved. I felt something for the first time all fall, and frankly for the first time in a long time. I felt a glimmer of hope.

Weddings have always been hopeful affairs in my mind. The joining of two people into one couple, the merger of two disparate families. The wonderful ceremony where friends and family join to witness and consecrate the union. The joy emanating from the couple and their families is always contagious. I’m not a religious person, but weddings and funerals do bring about a spirit of community that’s possibly akin to religion. Despite all the horrible shit that’s happening in the world, these two kids, bravely and beautifully standing up in front of everyone they know, holding hands and vowing to share their lives together felt almost defiant in their hope. And that in turn, gives me strength.

I began to think of the Rock Chick and my future. Our daughter isn’t too much younger than Jack’s eldest. They knew each other slightly when they were growing up. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for my daughter. She’s smart, educated and a hard worker. I don’t worry about her at all. But as I watched this new couple wed last weekend I wondered what that’ll be like when my own daughter gets married. As a step dad, my role in the wedding will likely be largely ceremonial, like paying for stuff, but it’ll be a life changing event. Then, inevitably there will come grandkids some day. I’m hopeful that’s a long way off. I was extremely immature when I married my wife (not that I’ve changed much since), and I like to say my stepdaughter and I grew up together… but grandkids? I’m not old enough for that yet…

I know a lot of people who are into this whole “grandparent” thing. They call themselves P-Paw or Nana or G-Maw… I want none of that shit. My daughter has always called me by my first name, Ken. I’m cool with that, as I never intended to supplant her dad. My vision of being grandparent, and this may seem odd, is based on the movie Cool Hand Luke. I don’t want my future grandkids to call me Grandpa, I want them to call me by the name I deserve – Boss Ken. I envision myself sitting in a big rocking chair out by the pool, straw hat on my head and mirror shades on, a large tumbler of bourbon that I’ll call “Boss Ken’s iced tea” in my hand. The children will call out to me things like “movin’ on into the pool now Boss Ken,” or “getting some water now Boss Ken.” They’ll whisper to each other things like “Don’t cross the man with no eyes…” like George Kennedy did. They’ll wonder why Boss Ken’s iced tea smells like gasoline. For their rapt obedience I shall reward them by teaching them about rock and roll. They’ll learn all of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog. I’ll sit in my rocking chair and say things like, “Wha, wha, what we have here is a failure to communicate. That’s the way this chirren wants it, well he gets it… he’s in timeout.” I’ll have to work on developing a southern accent.

In turn, my wife, who is the most elegant woman I know, should be called “The Duchess.” I think that’s better than Nana. I can see my future grand kids asking their mother, “Do we get to go and see the Duchess this weekend? She always has presents and baked goods for us…but is Boss Ken gonna be there? He said we were going to have to listen to something called “Goats Head Soup” this weekend… that doesn’t sound good.”

Oh yes, Boss Ken and the Duchess… this does give me great hope for the future and it has a nice ring to it. I can see it all so clearly now….Maybe it’s the excess of cough syrup I’ve been drinking.

It’s a long dark ride people. Keep your friends and family close and as always, Cheers!

The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS

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Weddings. Call me an old sap, but I do so enjoy weddings. Of course, in my younger days, I was actually “in” 13 weddings. I was a best man three times, a groomsman in several others and I don’t know how many times I was an usher. I shouldn’t even count the times I was an usher, it’s a bit of a menial role, like a bar back. Some of the weddings I was in, I was just sort of available. It was like my buddies said, “Well, my fianc√© has more friends than I do, we need an extra body. Hey, Ken is fun, lets plug him in there somewhere.” And to be frank, in my early days I was usually idle and had nothing better to do. Why not rent a tux and stand up for a friend. Especially if there was an open bar.

For some strange reason, most of my good friends graduated from college and went to work for a large, Fortune 500 company for a year or two and then quit. Some went back to school at that point, some got jobs at smaller firms. Some of us stop cutting our hair and went to Europe. I chose the latter. Rod Stewart as a youth was sent by his father to Europe “to find himself” and it helped him write the classic tune “Every Picture Tells a Story.” It wasn’t as productive a trip for me, but I did have a good time, but those records are sealed until 25 years after I’ve died. State secrets, people.

I had recently quit my job and started the aforementioned “hair growing” when I got a call from a dear old friend from Wichita, Kansas, Drew. Drew was one of my roommates in college and has been referenced in BourbonAndVinyl many times, my record store friend. We’d always go shopping for music together. I remember skipping class to go down to the record store the day Springsteen’s “Live 1975 to 1985” came out. We went back to the apartment and crowded around Drew’s turntable, amazed at what we were hearing. Drew had recently quit his job and was pursuing a graduate degree down in Wichita, his hometown.

I was sitting around, doing next to nothing as a newly unemployed person, when Drew called. He was getting married. I was honored that he asked me to be a groomsman. It was his goal to have all 5 of us who had lived together in his wedding party. We had dispersed pretty widely by this time. I was in KC during the “moving back-in with my parents” phase of life. We had one roommate who lived in Hannibal, Mo named Denny. One of the others, Pringle, had moved to Louisville. The final roomie, Stretch was still in school at KSU so he’d be easy to find. I quickly agreed. All I had to do was go and get my measurements taken for the tux and off we’d go. I was an old pro by this time, as I’d already been in four weddings by this time, typically of people I barely knew.

Logistics being what they are, it was decided that everyone would convene at my parent’s house and we’d pile into my car to drive to Wichita. Wichita is literally, in the middle of nowhere. Pringle and Stretch flew and drove in from Louisville and Manhattan respectively. After spending an evening toasting our newly departed friend, we piled into my car and weaved down to Union Station to meet the train. Denny, who lived in Hannibal, merely a state away, decided to take the Amtrak over to KC. I think he spent most the time in the bar car, but who could blame him. The guy knows how to live.

We spent the evening in Westport, the local bar district, speculating on what the bride might be like. Drew had not been a big lady’s man in college and we all wondered what this was going to be like. Stretch, Pringle and I were all single so we were hopeful that she had friends with loose moral fiber. I always did well at weddings, but it was probably the fact I was always in a tuxedo vs anything I ever did. Despite what my mother thinks, I do not resemble Richard Gere.

We awoke at my parent’s home hungover and ready for the road. At the time, for reasons inexplicable, I was driving a Chevy Beretta. Every single one of us is over 6 feet tall. We had over 24 feet of hungover groomsmen and we were going to cram into my Chevy Beretta for a 3 hour drive through cow country to get to Wichita. This could have perhaps been planned better. Stretch drove a dilapidated pickup truck that we couldn’t all fit in and everybody else had either flown or ridden the train.

We were young and largely unemployed. Well, Stretch was in college and I was unemployed. Denny and Pringle both had good jobs. We were dressed in “colorful” concert t-shirts. Denny had a pink polo on. Pringle was dressed in a nice beer-themed golf shirt. This was not an impressive rabble. We’d left early because my mother was hovering around and that made Denny nervous. “Kenny, I think your mom wants us out of here…” Actually, she just wanted me out of there, but that’s another blog. In those days, we had convinced ourselves that it was a Kansas state law that you were required to carry a six-pack for every person in the car. In this particular instance that meant a case of beer. I never condone drinking and driving but we were nursing hangovers. And frankly, I wasn’t drinking, I was driving. So, don’t drink and drive, kids.

We were just outside of El Dorado, Kansas when Denny said, “Hey dudes, we’re awfully early, we have two hours to kill. Let’s stop in El Dorado at this bar I know.” Denny sold farm chemicals and used to know every backwater town’s bar in the tri-state area.

I was reluctant. I’ve never been a rural guy. I grew up in the suburbs, for God’s sake. I was thinking it’d be better to get to Wichita, close to where the rehearsal was and then find a bar. But Denny was adamant and El Dorado is only a short drive from Wichita, what could this hurt…

When I pulled into the gravel parking lot of the cinder block “building” that Denny assured me was a “great, little bar” I began to feel the familiar fear rising. The only thing this place was missing was a kid sitting on the roof with a banjo strumming to “Dueling Banjos”. I’d lived in Arkansas for three years prior to this and I knew we were only a few smart-ass comments away from being beaten with axe handles.

We walked into the front door like a conquering motor cycle gang only to find the place was packed with factory workers who had just come off duty. This was a union, oil-processing plant bar. These guys were filthy from work. I glanced at our group quickly, we were all in shorts and tennis-shoes. The locals were in cowboy boots. We looked like a gay dance troupe. The whole place fell silent. An “old whiskey” standing by the pool table, smiled and said to Denny, who was completely at home in this place, “Are you guys some kinda traveling basketball team?” I realized we were taller than just about everyone in the bar, and thought that’ll be a small comfort as they are beating us with tire irons.

Denny just smiled at the “old whiskey” and said, “We’re the New York Knicks…” which for reasons I’m still not clear about, got a loud, unanimous laugh. I turned quickly to Stretch and said, “We are gonna die…” but he was off and headed to the bar. I, for one, was in full panic mode.

We were standing there at the bar, Pringle, Stretch and I, when the locals began to circle around us. One said, “Where’d you get that fancy Van Halen shirt?” This was quickly getting out of hand. I was trying to think of a really macho response when I heard the song start… Denny had wandered to the very back of the bar to the juke box. He was going to “play some tunes for the crowd”. I heard the first strains of piano and I knew our fate was sealed. Suddenly, over the loud speakers I heard…

“Outside,¬†another yellow moon has punched a hole in the nighttime, yes…”

Holy shit, Denny was playing “Downtown Train” and not the Tom Waits’ original version, this was Rod Stewart’s version. Now, I’ll admit I’ve always been a huge Rod Stewart fan, but not in El Dorado, Kansas. I almost screamed to Denny at the back of the bar, “My God man, you’ve killed us, run!” but instead I just stood frozen, catatonic with fear. I did glance, wide-eyed at Denny and he was standing with a hand on the juke box, singing along with a huge smile. I thought, “this is a nice, last image to see in my life… my friend Denny happily crooning to “Downtown Train” by Rod.”

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Pringle stepped up on the bar foot rail. He was oblivious to the musical catastrophe we were experiencing. “This is a great bar! Everybody is drinking my brand, Budweiser, and not that pussy Bud Lite… Bartender, I’d like to buy a round for everyone in the house. Budweiser for everyone!”

I had never seen the mood of a bar change more quickly. There was a loud cheer from the working-stiff cowboys. The “old whiskey” said, “Buddy you could get elected mayor of El Dorado, if you’re not careful” while chuckling though his missing front teeth.

As the beers were being delivered, suddenly, inexplicably, I heard the entire bar, all the voices, singing, “will I see you tonight, on a downtown traaaaain” and I realized, slowly, that we were going to live.

The Mayor El Dorado had saved us. All it took was a round of Bud reds. So if you’re ever in El Dorado during a shift change… Budweiser and Rod Stewart will get you home.