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Then I Ate the Centerpiece: The Story of the Best Wedding Ever

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This is a blog post about what I did Memorial Day weekend, 2014. It’s also about the best wedding I’ve ever attended, ever. It’s shorter than it looks and worth the read.

Thursday night. I’m exhausted but I still need to pack for the weekend. Things are going very, very slowly. I’m taking breaks, which is slowing things down even more but I can’t think straight. I need formal clothes, and clothes for the pool, for brunch, for the rehearsal, and for Sunday afternoon and for the flight home. My uniform of jeans + black shirt won’t work in the desert. I have to assume I’ll sweat through everything. There’s a better way to do this, isn’t there? I’m sure there is, but I can’t think of it. I am so tired the idea of making a list never crosses my mind. When I should’ve been sleeping last night, I was on the red eye home from San Francisco watching commercials because the nimrod next to me refused to turn off his seat’s screen. I’m paying for it now.

Friday. We arrive at the Parker. Still haven’t slept and I’m toast. The rooms aren’t ready, familiar faces are trickling in from all quarters, I’m not really sure where we’re supposed to be for the rehearsal, where the pool is, or where are room is. I haven’t figured out yet how to navigate the Parker’s signless, hedge-maze layout, I don’t know when we’re supposed to be wherever it is I’m supposed to be next, people are introducing me to people and I’m failing to register what’s happening, I’ve already forgotten the name of the resort, and all I want to do is get my kids to their cousins and my wife to the pool. We find the cousins in the restaurant.

Seidens. Goldblatts. Goodness.

Family goodness.

There’s a salad and a mojito and an annoyed niece as I steal a bite of her mac and cheese. Now I’m in the room, unpacking, looking for my underwear, not finding any, watching my wife waffle between annoyed and amused because this is not the first time. I’ll have to buy underwear tomorrow. Just like I had to do the day of my own wedding when I forgot to pack any.

Now I’m in the pool, with my kids and nephews and nieces climbing on me, no longer tired, but happy, and wet, and unable to breathe because climbing five year olds don’t understand about necks and airways. Before I know it, it’s nearly hot o’clock, which is when the rehearsal is called for, and time to change. I run into my brother-in-law and meet his brother and some of his friends. Everyone’s memorable. This is a good sign.

The group that’s assembled for the rehearsal is fun, real, and committed to the bride and groom. The officiant is a friend of my brother-in-law (who will henceforth be known as my brother or the groom or my sister’s husband). Because of his name and the role he’s playing, we’re all calling him Shabbi. Shabbi’s an actor. He doesn’t last five minutes before the groom, a director, takes over orchestrating the rehearsal. (The wedding planners don’t even try.) By the time we’re done, three things are clear: My brother is very good at his job. There is a 100% chance that this is going to be an amazing wedding. There is a 0% chance that the wedding will happen as rehearsed.

Practice makes perfect.

Not really rehearsing.

After a brief interlude, we meet at my parents’ house for the rehearsal dinner. This being a destination, it’s a big affair. The house at the Parker used to be Gene Autry’s. I get a tour. The rehearsal is outside. Mom confirms that I’m taking emcee duties. Absolutely. I finish my second champagne and get the schedule for the night. I recognize a few names as people I’ve met today, including someone who I have a hunch will be a great closer. I make a speaker order. My lips tingle. I realize my job will start when the guests sit down for dinner, which means I won’t eat, which means I’m on my third glass of champagne on a mostly empty stomach. I find the food and scarf down 2 veggie burgers as they’re setting up. I wash it down with champagne number three. I can hear my mom kicking things off.

The preliminaries are over. All the parents have spoken, and all the nieces and nephews from both sides have been introduced. I’m up. We have 11 speakers and we have 1 hour. I make an executive decision not to tell the speakers their order or to tell guests how many people will be speaking. I can hold them for an hour, and this will give the night a sense of adventure. I tell a brief joke and introduce the first speaker. She’s amazing. They’re all amazing. I have the guests stand and stretch halfway through. More amazing speakers. The last to go is indeed a fantastic closer. My wife comes up to say a few words. She’s also fantastic. I like to think that if I were giving a speech, I’d’ve said what she just said. I make the night’s final toast, honoring the bride and groom by acknowledging the strength of the relationships they’ve formed. Because if you can judge people by the company they keep, then judging by tonight, my sister and her husband are indeed incredible company.

After party at the bar. Tired. Saying final good nights. People telling me I did an awesome job. Me ignoring them because to an LA crowd, “You killed!” is too easy a lie. My brother thanking me for killing. That compliment I’ll take, because I know his tell when he’s being polite. He’s looking forward to me putting an exclamation point on things tomorrow night. Oh, I will.

I promise.

Saturday. A walk with my younger daughter. Talking with an old friend of the family. Breakfast. Hellos. More friends of the family. New friends. New family. A friendly waitress. A Target run with my dad. Underwear! The late shift arriving to breakfast. Swimming. Saying goodbye to my wife as she goes off to get her hair and make up done. Rehearsing the speech with my girls in the room. Re-thinking it. Both girls napping. Walking the grounds, alone. Walking to where they’re setting up for the ceremony. Seeing the blocking in my head. Finding the ballroom. The planners expressing their displeasure at my being here. Playing through. Scanning the room to get a sense for the logistics of what I want to do. Working with them on adjustments. Promising to say nothing to anyone.

Sitting by the fire pit. Shaking. Feeling more nervous than I have in a very long time. Walking because motion is the antidote to thinking. Knowing how my brother is feeling, wondering briefly if I have emotional telepathy. Calmer. Sitting in the sun. No headphones, listening to the resort. Seeing my speech in my head.

There’s so much I’m not saying. It doesn’t matter. This will be so much better. This is right. All I have to do is not mess it up. After last night, I know I can pull it off.

And now, at last, I am focused, thinking about what I’m doing here in Palm Springs. I am quickly overwhelmed and asleep in the sun.

Saturday afternoon. My alarm, which I’d set for a half past damn hot in the afternoon, doesn’t go off, but I’m only three minutes late waking up. To the room. My daughters waking from their naps and showering. My wife making an appearance and looking amazing and disappearing again, taking the girls with her.

Everyone gone.

Shower. Tux. Wrestling with cufflinks. Ready.

Getting to my brother’s room just a few minutes before heat. Other groomsmen arriving. His brother. My dad. His dad. My other sister’s husband. The next generation. Friends. Photographer and videographer.

Who’s setting up the Skype for Nonny Zelda? My cell phone pressed into service. A cousin picking it up. Passwords. Scotch for all to settle the nerves of one. We’re missing a gift—oh, there it is: Gingham ties with silver tie bars. Mine is engraved “Vanilla Ice.” Note to self: pay attention to the details, they certainly did. Photos. Jokes. Music. Walnuts. An amazing groom’s tux with piping. Wives’ socks and other random items being taken out of pockets and handed to a wedding planner to be put under seats. Teaching a nephew how to use a nutcracker. Tie adjustments. Standing around. Last minute details.

The girls with their cousin and my mom, ready to go.

The girls with their cousin and my mom, ready to go.

It’s time.

We make it to the house at the edge of the croquet field a few minutes before Thank-God-It-Cooled-Off-a-Bit. The women arrive, my sister stays outside. I talk with my brother, standing so he’s looking away from the women. There will be no accidental bride sighting before it’s time. Lining up now. Shabbi walks out. The groom walks out. The parents walk out. Vanessa and I walk out. Almost everyone walks out. The bride waits behind.

People have gathered and fill the chairs. My sister’s friend Shoshana is singing because that’s what she does for a living. Another friend is playing guitar. The grass feels good. It’s beautiful.

Everything stops. My sister walks out. She’s a mess. He’s a mess. Parents are a mess. So are guests. Tears and kisses and hugs and cell phone cameras.

This is going to be great.

And it is.

My wife and I share a moment before the processional.

My wife and I share a moment before the processional.

Shabbi takes over. It’s his first wedding and he runs it like it’s his 100th. He smoothly gets people to put their cameras away. He thanks all the right people. He has everyone say hi to Non. He makes us all feel good.

He presents the ketubah, which our other sister made. It’s stunning. Four of us sign it. This will be official in the eyes of the state and that makes me smile. Hummingbirds flutter about everywhere. Friends present the seven blessings. One talks about humor as a virtue. He recommends props. He has props. He is dressing the groom in a wig and sunglasses and boa and Harpo Marx horn. This was a surprise. The groom’s owning it. Pictures, laughs, honks.

Another couple talks about gratitude. They show their arms and ask who else tattooed their virtue on their arms. Clearly, they win. Another couple leads a chant.

I’m not making any of this up.

A glass is stomped on. Shabbi says “husband and wife.” A kiss. It’s amazing and it’s perfect and it’s over way, way too fast.

Saturday night. Photos. Champagne. Hugs. Small talk. A mission to find out what that too-handsome-for-real-life guy is about—I promise he’s an actor. Champagne. Braised short rib on toast. A conversation with a woman who looks familiar who I’ll later recognize from a movie. Stories. Chicago connections. Easy repartee. Describing branding to two actors as the corporate equivalent of media training before a junket. (Now they get it.) Getting ushered across the field and into the ballroom. Air conditioning that can’t compete with all the bodies and dancing.

A grand entrance. Speeches. The groom on one knee. My sister singing. Tears. Dancing. Dinner. The best man’s speech. Things just slowed down. The sister of the bride called to speak. I’ll be called next.

Except my sister asks me up now. I wave her off. She insists. Now we’re both up there. She warns the crowd she might not make it through her speech and says she needs a moment to steady herself. She looks at me. I take the mic and introduce myself. Cheers! I ask for one more round of applause for Shabbi. I have the groom stand up—today’s all about the bride, but doesn’t he look amazing, too? More applause. My sister looks a bit more composed. I give her the mic and she dives in. Did her hand just shake? I step in and put my hand on her back, leave it there. Imagine steel running through me and around her and into the ground, just in case. She knocks it out of the park. I wait while she hugs the bride and groom then call her back up. If I’m here for you, you’re here for me, sis!

I begin. I share the origins of one of my karma songs. It’s a risky, revealing, 2 sentence story. As soon as I tell the bride and groom I’d like to “give” them this song, they think they know what’s coming. They don’t. I can’t sing the way my sister does. But maybe if everyone helps me? The guests applaud to signal their willingness to help. My daughters finish handing out lyrics and join my sister and I on stage. I call up my wife, my sister’s husband, their kids. The groom’s brother and his family. Parents. The combined family is all on the dance floor together. I ask the bride and groom to come up, too, and stand awkwardly while we all sing to them. I cue the band to start the iPod.

A simple, cliché little song comes on that I hope is exactly the right cliché for this moment. I hope. We tell the bride and groom, “Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be alright.” Chorus verse chorus. I’m under a speaker and can’t hear anything. Is this working? The bride and groom have joined us and are singing themselves. We’re all standing arm in arm. The bride is mouthing to me “Did you know this is one of my karma songs, too?” I hadn’t, but of course. Both families, together. The song fades. Hugs and kisses. A first dance. Father/daughter and mother/son.

A party.

A party with actors and dancers and people who know what to do on a dance floor! Sweat and fun and laughter and circles around kids and horas and breakdancing and little cousins tearing it up and old folks living it up and the five year old twins sleeping under the head table and an ice cream bar for dessert and people outside and back inside and no more band and an iPod plays and sliders are being served and the tables are covered in fruit and I’m eating the tangerine centerpieces that I’m now noticing for the first time and I’m reminded again about how nothing was overlooked and lights are up and that’s a wrap and my younger one is proud she made it the entire time and hugs and goodbyes and “I’ll see you tomorrow’s” and plans for an after party I won’t make it to and that’s how you throw a wedding and bed.

Sunday. Brunch. I put on as few articles of clothing as possible, as brunch as been called for sweat-your-balls-off-o-clock. It’s a low key affair, no visible drama, a few hangovers, and coffee so hot volcanoes are jealous. (Recipe: put hot liquid into metal container, place  in desert sun. Makes 80 small fires.) At least we have parasols and fans.

An afternoon by the pool. Naps. Dinner at a vegetarian place in Palm Springs with my wife, kids, and parents, during which I change my sister’s last name in my phone. My head explodes.

My older daughter convinces my parents to let her sleep at their house for the night.

Yes, chocolate cake for breakfast.

Yes, chocolate cake for breakfast.

Monday. Our younger daughter has gone to pick up her sister at my parent’s house. This is the first time my wife and I have been alone since last week. We meet up for breakfast, Parker style: chocolate and peanut butter and caramel and butter and peaches and bananas and blueberries and raspberry Hollandaise sauce (what even is that?!) and crispy French toast and waffles and cake and one veggie egg white omelet because wife. Conversation, Seiden style: explaining to our pre-teens what a douche is so they’ll understand what the other kids at school are saying, even if they don’t know what they’re saying. The eleven year old puts her head in her hands, gives it a shake and says, “All this time…”

Packing and checking out and a short cab ride to my new favorite airport and an easy, if delayed, flight home. A ride home.

I’m home.

I’m rested now.

I’m even up four pairs of new underwear.

But most of all, I’m thrilled for my family, for my new family, and for the amazing couple who brought us all together.

Jackie and Jason, I love you, I appreciate you, and I know I’m one of many when I say that whatever you need, I’m here for you! Thank you for letting me be part of the best wedding of all time.

And yes, dear reader, I have no photos of the bride in her dress. It’s the sign of an amazing wedding that I never had the chance to take one.

by Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing.

3 thoughts on “Then I Ate the Centerpiece: The Story of the Best Wedding Ever”

    1. Jason…great story and read. I am also getting married for the first time( in 3 short)weeks…outdoor wedding and neighborhood street dance/reception… I hope to create similar magic…. thanks for the share!

  1. Beautifully said! I was so nice and lovely to relive the special moments all over again! XO

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