Cast of Characters
Groom, co-host, medical tubing magnate
Co-host and lovely bride
Four teenage boys from Winnipeg
Who watched TV in their room all weekend
Five other preteens
Expert screamers and runners
New Hampshire caterers
Skilled and forgiving, all
The one-handed piano player
Mary and Frank
The adopted grandparents from Sonoma
Retired from the air cargo industry
The dog who hates to have his ears scratched
Bob and Linda
Later caught in the laundry room
Imagine a scene from a Wes Anderson movie. You’re in Martha’s Vineyard, on a 100-year-old sailboat about to play host to a wedding. It’s full of characters you’ve never met, each with distinctive quirks. Samir, the portly friend of the family who speaks with a French-Arabic accent that none of the kids can understand. The old high school buddy of the bridegroom, introduced (falsely, it turns out) as the track and field star who fished for trout with his javelin. And the bridegroom himself, realizing the improbability of it all, exclaiming, “I had to sell a lot of medical tubing to get here.”
Even the background characters are rich: there’s the quiet, methodical oyster shucker, hired to ensure that there is always at least one oyster available at any moment. There’s a ruddy-faced caterer who exclaimed to a colleague, “it’s not a catering job ’til I’ve dug through the trash!”
Now, imagine a minivan with 12, 14, 16, and 18-year-old boys—plus me—traveling to that boat. The dad urges his kids to pick out some music for the drive, something with either a “nautical” or “wedding” theme. After mercilessly making fun of his dad for having such idiotic taste in drive time music, the 18-year-old picks a song he feels strikes the appropriate tone. The camera moves with the passengers in the van; as we weave slowly through the Vineyard’s summer traffic, each rider ponders the gravity of the ceremony about to take place while Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers remind us,
“What I got you’ve got to get it put in ya! What I got you’ve got to get it put it in ya!”
We left Friday afternoon during one of the most violently hot days I’ve ever experienced in NYC (102° with 110% humidity) and arrived via ferry about five hours later in Martha’s Vineyard. The ferry is the most convenient way to get there short of a private jet, but not necessarily the most comfortable: after the boat snuck out from behind Long Island, we were in the open ocean for the last two hours of the trip and got seasick. Charlotte threw up, I damned the Heineken I bought, and even the sure, confident Maggie had to shut her eyes and replay old episodes of Roseanne in her head. Everyone regretted sitting next to the ferry bathrooms.
An exuberant Tim greeted us on the dock and he and Elizabeth led us back to their house, a short walk from the ferry. We arrived to find out that the power had gone out in the house during the stifling heat. In pitch black, we lugged our stuff into an unfamiliar house, dodging kids we’d never met, and collapsed in our room upstairs. We threw the windows open and, thankfully there was a breeze, which eventually cooled us off enough to the point where sleep would have been possible had we not still felt the rocking of the boat.
The wedding was quirky and memorable and gently resisted the light structure it had been given. The whole thing ran an hour or two behind schedule, much to the consternation of family members who cared about matrimonial punctuality. After our ferry ride, less time on a boat was just fine with us if the bride needed more time to get ready.
The ceremony was short and sweet, the sort of no-bullshit affair you’d expect from people who had been on this voyage before. After congratulations and pictures, everyone mingled on deck and we sailed around the harbor with an eye on a thunderstorm that had cropped up. It eventually soaked the boat, but not before presenting us with three things:
- Some dramatic views
- A real taste of the below-deck experience
- An opportunity to declare, “the sea was angry that day, my friends!”
A word about the food: classy. Lobster rolls, Katama Bay oysters, deviled eggs (Charlotte ate three), champagne. Among some other sweet stuff, there were peanut butter cookies (Charlotte ate three) for dessert. The entire experience was well out of our league. Like the .200 hitter called up to the majors on a temporary assignment, we were just happy to be there, around the professionals.
After the wedding, we headed back to the house where we changed into lighter clothes. We had a few hours before the reception began so we went into town in search of our next iced coffee. When we got back, Charlotte got in the first of a million reps on the front steps. She learned that if she squats and says “Jump!” when she’s on the steps, she gets a huge reaction from Mags or me. Great fun for all, except us.
The reception, like the wedding, was casual with little touches of opulence. There was more lobster and I worried about what it meant that Charlotte at 21 months had had more lobster than I had in my first 21 years. There was live music courtesy of a one-handed piano player, and Charlotte turned her attention to the steps inside the house as the night progressed.
The heat broke on Sunday night, but not before we got a little beach time in. Charlotte overcame whatever fear of the ocean she had in Brooklyn, venturing into ankle-deep water to throw rocks. While she and Mags horsed around in the water, I ventured out on a jetty to take a couple of pictures and make obscure Joe Pernice references.
And that was the weekend, at least in literal form. Someone—Elizabeth’s brother-in-law maybe?—grabbed me on Sunday night and told me about a practical joke he played on Elizabeth’s brother during the wedding. Apparently, when I arrived at the boat, the brother had asked him who I was. Maggie and Charlotte had traveled separately, so it wasn’t obvious who I was with, only that I didn’t look like I belonged with the teens from Winnipeg. He explained, matter-of-factly, that I was the poet laureate of Martha’s Vineyard and that I was coming on the boat to read a poem Elizabeth had written plus one of my own (because as we all know, poet laureates are exceptionally good self-promoters). The brother didn’t believe the poet laureate part, but he didn’t disbelieve the rest, either. So, through the whole weekend, this guy truly thought I was a poet who might bust out my latest poem for everyone at any point.
And why not? I spent a lot of time this weekend navigating around this group of strangers, figuring out who belonged where, estimating appetites for my brand of humor, trying to remember to speak to kids like adults. In a setting where you only have time to get to know the first and most superficial things about someone you may never see again, it was fun to have my own role handed to me. I didn’t have a script, but what poet needs a script?