The Wedding issue
Two years ago, I got a job at a catering company that specializes in weddings. Sometimes I'd see two a day. It was surreal and a little disconcerting to lay out one couple's polished rocks and bags of monogrammed candies and then chuck them into a dumpster halfway through the day to make way for the next couple's color-coordinated napkins and shot glasses. I served enough champagne to fill a Cadillac and enough hors d'oeuvres to bury one. I saw weddings that seemed meant to be, and ones I'd give about two months. I saw blow-up dolls dressed as cowboys. Then gay marriage passed, and I started writing a column for The Stranger called Wedding Crasher, which I got paid for, if you can believe it. I went and ate free food and danced with people I didn't know, and then I wrote down my thoughts about how it went in exchange for cash. I saw things I'll always remember, and I cried at every damn wedding. I also saw things I would recommend no one ever replicate. But let's focus on the positive. If you're planning to get married, I offer my observations and my lust for revolving beverage fountains as assistance.
Okay, I guess that's not a very positive way to start, but it must be said: People change a lot during their 20s. When I look back at who I might have married when I was 19, I cringe—a tall can of Rainier wouldn't look good in a wedding dress. I've dated two women who were dissolving domestic partnerships that began in their early 20s, and the paperwork weighed about five pounds. The most worrisome weddings I've witnessed were those of teenagers who looked either like they just wanted a party or, worse, like relatives had pressured them into it. If you're already a married teenager, don't let this scare you—it might be fine. I know a couple, now in their 70s, who got married at 15 and still fall asleep holding hands. But if you're considering having a wedding because you want a big party where everyone dresses up, consider a wedding-themed party as an alternative. You may be shocked by how hot your best friend looks dressed as a priest.
Your wedding food doesn't have to be expensive. Compotes and roulades aren't a necessity, and if you don't have a food that's a family tradition or of sentimental value, I recommend serving whatever food you would most like to bathe in. It's your fucking wedding, after all. Cover a Slip 'N Slide with Kraft macaroni and cheese if it makes you happy. One of the most fun weddings I attended was held in a family friend's coffee shop after hours because it was the only venue the bride and groom could afford. Indian food, candy, pizza, and bottles of Jim Beam covered every flat surface. Everyone there seemed exceptionally comfortable (enough so that one guest came wearing a velvet cape), and a corgi in a tuxedo circled the room getting belly rubs. Another wedding, in a backyard, was catered by Ezell's and Dick's—a dinner that inspired applause from the guests. Whether you serve tapas or Now and Laters, make sure no one is hungry, especially if there's an open bar. It seems to work best to provide some kind of appetizers before the ceremony and a main course afterward. The best thing I ever ate at a wedding was a single butter bean floating in a sauce that may have been made by milking an angel. I sometimes close my eyes and imagine that bean is my apartment.
A small amount of booze can heighten your guests' enjoyment and prevent those less emotionally involved in the occasion from getting bored, but too much booze can result in a Beastie Boys music video/Hieronymus Bosch–type situation. Before the ceremony, serve beer (not out of a bong) and wine (but no Fireball shots). Save the open bar and shotgunning of anything until after you've said your vows. I went to a wedding/luau where bowls of joints with little bows that matched the tablecloths were offered to guests, and this seemed to cause no trouble. Of course, if there is weed or anything more psychoactive than Nutella in the food, be sure to label it. Also, if you can afford to have any beverage dispensed by a small fountain, do it. Especially if the fountain revolves or lights up. It will make everyone feel like they're getting drunk in the past and the future at the same time.
Music is essential, but don't worry about your taste. If you listen exclusively to a mixture of Gucci Mane and barbershop quartets with the person you love, this should be played at your wedding. I attended one wedding where the grooms' friends had assembled a band just to play their favorite songs. One couple found a musician who played classical versions of Pixies, Queen, and Depeche Mode songs for their wedding. At another wedding, the newlyweds concluded the ceremony by performing a duet. I asked a catering company's DJ how to get people dancing after a wedding ceremony, and he said: "Play 'I Like Big Butts.' It's the only song no one can resist." My observations confirm this. The music selection for the liveliest wedding dance party I attended (except perhaps for a traditional Jewish wedding where the newlyweds were carried around on chairs) was chosen partly by the guests—each invitation contained a space for one song request. People dance really weird at weddings. Every wedding. Probably even professional dancers' weddings. If your aunt and uncle start doing the Worm when you put on Icona Pop, it probably just means your cocktails were a hit.
Because BOUNCY CASTLE!!!
This town is full of amazing rentable spaces. My favorites have included a beautiful old ferryboat on Lake Union called the Skansonia, and Georgetown's oldest building, called the Stables, which has lots of sexy exposed brick and a carnival theme (not for couples afraid of clowns or antiques). Your own home is a fine place for your wedding, particularly if you have a pool in your backyard surrounded by Christmas-tree-sized pot plants, or a rooftop garden/private art gallery, OR A BOUNCY CASTLE. The right company can make a driveway just as memorable—or a tree house, or the zoo, or a submarine (which I heard actually did happen in the San Juans in the 1920s). Think less about what a wedding should be and more about the wedding that will make you and the person you love happiest.
At one wedding, there were black-and-white paper straws in the cocktails that reminded me of Beetlejuice's legs. I kept the one from my drink. My friend said, "You know, people will remember these straws for years." She was probably right. It's hard to forget M&Ms with a couple's faces printed on them, or bobblehead dolls made to look like the bride and groom, or a cake that matches the grooms' ties and cuff links. One couple had a huge poster made of the artwork from their favorite album, one had a banner that read "For the greater glory of Satan" in Latin, and one actually had small paintings commissioned for all of the guests. The best thing about all of these party favors and decorations was that they had special significance to the people getting married, either because of family traditions or because of a memorable event in their relationship. On one occasion, the wedding cake was carved, according to tradition, with a sword. That said, I will always remember a piñata full of condoms, bottles of bubbles, plastic jewels, and gummy candies shaped like biblical figures that I really doubt was an heirloom.
On a boat, I watched a man twirl a parasol and then strip off a black spandex bodysuit to officiate for two men who had been together for 20 years. My distraction by the delightful theater of the ceremony made the appearance of these three people and the real circumstances of their lives hit harder, and I began to cry even earlier than I usually do. The officiant, now dressed in a simple, elegant black suit, was a longtime friend of the couple who had many stories to tell about them. There is a Philip Larkin poem in which he describes the individual as a "million-petalled flower," fantastically complicated and impermanent. I think on a visceral level, humans know how improbable their existence is and how complex the elements are that shape an individual. Each of us is the product of all of history, but also of a series of events so specific that it's incredible we can love each other. When people get married, they are choosing to share history. The complexity and number of the events that lead people to each other is miraculous, and it's miraculous how they can change and color the shared events of each other's lives. There's more in a moment with another person than it's possible to ever know or understand, and the celebration of the decision to share time is perhaps the most significant celebration there is. I don't know about you, but it's enough to make me cry into my Fireball shot. I'd say the best ceremonies are the ones that feel both very personal and specific to a relationship and also very universal, but really that's any wedding ceremony. Invite the people you love to speak at your ceremony, whoever they may be.