- Ken Picard raises a chuppah
So, you’ve decided to take the big plunge. After successfully navigating years of booze-fueled hookups, speed-dating mishaps and Internet e-flirt sites such as Datemysorryass.com, you’ve landed that Someone Special (SS). Thanks to some cosmic fluke or latent genetic defect, a member of the opposite sex actually finds your innumerable personal foibles — even the chronic belly lint — to be “adorable.” Behold the awesome power of human pheromones.
Then, as you’re basking in the warm glow of engagement bliss induced by your new social identity as a responsible adult male who’s not “afraid of commitment,” it happens: Your sweet little SS broaches the subject of the Big Day.
Ah, the Big Day — what nearly every woman has dreamt about since she was old enough to drape a pillowcase over her head like a wedding veil. We’ve all seen the sales brochures featuring gauzy, sepia-toned images of the elegant bride and groom standing on a daisy-dappled hillside as a horse-drawn carriage clip-clops its way to a Scottish manor in the distance.
And, before you can say “macadamia-encrusted mahi-mahi puffs,” your SS is shopping around for floral arrangements, hand-blown wedding favors and the aforementioned Scottish estate with matching Clydesdales and kilted bagpiper. Within weeks, the two of you have drafted a guest list the size of a Marine battalion — an apt comparison, since your expenses are now growing faster than the Pentagon budget.
Before the month is out, your heart is racing as you lie awake each night wondering, “Holy fuck nuts! How much is this little shindig gonna cost us?” This is doubly true if you’re still recovering from the sticker shock of dropping three months’ salary on an engagement diamond the size of a baby’s head.
OK, brother. Relax, slow down, and take a deep breath. Just because “wedlock” rhymes with “headlock” doesn’t mean it’s got to feel like one.
It doesn’t matter if the only fantasy you ever had about your wedding concerned the number of strippers you could cram in the bachelor party limo. Unless you’re Donald Trump, a wedding will probably be the biggest bash you ever throw. So lose the Neanderthal mindset that “only chicks plan weddings” and embrace the “party” side of wedding party. After all, if you’re going to sink yourself clavicle deep in the hole on a fête of epic proportions, you may as well make it something that reflects your personality, too.
Take it from someone who not only survived recent nuptials but (ahem!) aced the final — many of our guests said it was the best wedding they’d ever attended. I feel qualified to offer a few tips on making it memorable, without blowing an O-ring in the process.
Step one: Pick a wedding site that reflects who you are as a couple, but is also affordable. My wife Stacy and I got married on friends’ property in the mountains near Jeffersonville. Naïvely, we assumed this would save us cash.
Fat chance. Remember, with an outdoor affair, you’re building everything from scratch — roof, kitchen, bar, toilets. Thankfully, we had spectacular fall weather, which made for an unforgettable setting, especially for our out-of-town guests. Still, if you’re planning an outdoor affair between June and August, consider every worst-case scenario, from needing hip waders to sweating like a meatloaf in a $600 tuxedo.
Step two: If you plan to seek professional help — caterer, bartenders, tent company, linen vendor, florist, etc. — meet the staff well in advance and get a sense of how they operate. Our caterer and bar folks were total pros, laidback but fully engaged in the planning process. This meant everything from early site visits to sketching out a meticulous floor plan and schedule for the Big Day. Our tent people, however, opted out of that stuff, which proved incredibly nerve-wracking. We only met them briefly on the day after our wedding.
Step three: Think about your music. Here’s some food for thought: If you made a movie about your life, would the soundtrack include “The Chicken Dance,” “Macarena” and “The Hokey Pokey”? If not, find a band or DJ less generic than a convenience-store burrito.
My wife and I hated the idea of booking an off-the-shelf wedding band. Instead, we emailed a pelvic-grinding funk outfit from Boston who cut their own CDs and play club dates throughout New England. Not only did they rock our guests’ world, but they were no more expensive than the cheesy wedding crooners, even with a guest vocalist. If it’s “memorable” you want, think outside the box.
Step four: Don’t do anything at your wedding just because people (usually well-intentioned but pushy relatives) say, “It’s always been done that way.” If that’s your rationale, ask yourself why you’re not being married off to an 11-year-old stranger in exchange for a herd of goats. Times change, and so do wedding rituals. Consider starting a few of your own.
Case in point: Maybe you don’t like traditional wedding cake. Stacy abhors sweets — a salt lick is more to her liking — and I think most wedding confections taste like spackle. Plus, for the price of serving 200 rectangles of dry white paste, most of which end up in the compost bin, you can buy yourself a new washer and dryer.
Our “cake-cutting ceremony” featured a bag of Lay’s potato chips and a plastic wedding couple planted in a bowl of onion dip. Oddly enough, we saved a few bucks by purchasing the dark-skinned bridal figurines rather than the Caucasian, blonde cake toppers who looked nothing like either of us. I suspect our kids will look at it one day and ask us if we’re Pakistani.
I’m not suggesting that long-cherished family traditions aren’t worth preserving and incorporating into your Big Day. Just be sure they’re meaningful to you and your bride-to-be.
When I started thinking about our ceremony, the only “religious” ornament I wanted displayed prominently was a chuppah, the traditional Jewish wedding canopy. Since I’m not an observant Jew — can you say “bacon double cheeseburger”? — I saw it as an opportunity to celebrate my Hebraic roots while adding a rustic, Vermont-inspired artistic touch.
So I built my own chuppah. After several outings gathering driftwood along Lake Champlain, I had a respectable pile of lumber, which I crafted into something roughly the size of a little league backstop. Stacy’s girlfriends and nieces decorated it with autumnal objects such as Indian corn, acorns, leaves and dried ornamental grasses from Stacy’s uncle’s farm in Rochester, New York. The result? The chuppah was a huge hit. Plus, having a physical task to do the week of the wedding gave me a healthy mental distraction.
Another tradition we tinkered with was the Jewish glass-breaking ceremony. Since Stacy wondered why only the groom stomps the glass — I was told it’s the last time a married man gets to put his foot down — I agreed that we could each break our own. Again, this reflected our belief that marriage is a union of equals.
Since my wife and I weren’t raised in the same faith, neither of us wanted a clergy-person marrying us, nor did we want a justice of the peace we’d never met. Since 2008, Vermont has allowed town clerks to authorize out-of-state residents to perform weddings and civil unions, as long as they’re ordained.
So, we asked my Uncle Skippy, a labor lawyer from New York City and an accomplished public speaker, to officiate. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, he was ordained online in a religious order of his choosing — for which he founded “SKPY,” or the Society for Keeping People Young. The resulting ceremony had not only abundant personal and heartfelt moments, but plenty of humor.
Final word of advice: Lighten up, have fun, and always remember why you’re putting yourself through the misery and expense of planning a wedding. This is especially crucial when things go wrong — and they will go wrong.
Case in point: Our biggest worry was that the tent site, sodden from rainfall, might be too soggy for Stacy’s wheelchair-bound uncle to negotiate. What actually happened was much worse.
Four days before our wedding, Stacy’s other uncle and aunt got into a serious car wreck. En route to Vermont, they were T-boned by a fast-moving dump truck. The initial medical reports were grim, casting a pall of misery over an otherwise joyous week.
As fate would have it, both survived and made miraculous recoveries. We missed the couple and their daughter at our wedding. But several months later, we surprised them at the rehab facility in Rochester where Stacy’s uncle was recovering, and recreated our wedding ceremony just for them.
Stacy’s $28 vintage wedding dress (purchased on eBay) was still mud-stained on the bottom fringe, and my silk tie retained traces of an onion-dip mishap. Still, it was a moving ceremony. We brought along a bottle of Vermont-made maple liqueur, the same one we’d used at the original ceremony, for the toast afterward. Stacy’s uncle gave the stiff drink a hearty thumbs-up, and said it was a perfect pairing with his afternoon Percocet. I have the same hopes for the future of our marriage: that it should be sweet, strong and relatively pain-free.