Just like I hate missing the opening band at concerts by arriving late I dislike arriving late to weddings. Missing the opening band at a concert is forgivable but missing the chance to fress like a vilda chaya at a smorgasbord is a different story. I thought of this as I pulled up to the Great Neck synagogue last night about 20 minutes after the smorgasbord had started. I was profusely sweating thinking about what foods had already ran out as they do at most weddings. As I was rounding the bend past the valet parking stand I noticed a Maserati and my fears elated as I realized that at fancy weddings they tend not to run out of even the best spreads.
Upon entering the room which sounded like a gymnasium with the clanking of metal forks on glass and the steady movement of peoples jaws from screaming their hellos and forcing down massive quantities of the free food that may before them. I scanned the crowd and looked for an opening, saw my chance and pushed through the throngs of folks waiting at a table with neatly stacked pumpernickel slices waiting to be donned with sliced raw fishes and capers.
As I ventured toward the end of the room eying the prize that awaited me on the far side, I saw the bar and wished secretly to myself that someday I will truly appreciate the idea of an open bar, by becoming someone who actually enjoys anything but ice cold mountain dew and the occasional micro brewed beer. Throngs of gray haired men with neatly placed Windsor knotted ties and handkerchiefs in their suit jackets were milling about, gently sipping on brown liquids while the ladies drank colorful drinks and clear martinis.
I swooshed passed the drunken crowd and kept on a straight path. I stopped at nothing until I reached the holy grail, the sushi table. I should not even consider myself to be a sushi fan, first of all the only use I have for chopsticks is gouging out attackers eyes, and stabbing helplessly at the pickled ginger plate with hope that I can make do with only one arm. My chopstick skills are like that of a recently amputated person, maybe worse.
I gazed at the slanty eyed folk behind the table with their latex gloves and mumbled ever so loudly that I needed a fork. I can tell a few people felt that to be funny and like always some good Samaritan decided to give me a quick “chopsticks for dummies” lesson. After that frustration one of the kind sushi rollers decided to lend me a helping hand covered with a white latex glove. She deposited piece after piece of sushi adding to my ever increasing mound until it threatened to topple over onto the floor. Satisfied with my opening feast, and wanting to save room for the real food, I tried in vain to retrieve some ginger and wassabi with one chopstick, it didn’t work and when no one was looking I used my hands.
I like sushi, but since it is a food for the economically advantaged I rarely ever buy it. I tend to only enjoy this curious delicacy when it is offered for free by others, usually at weddings, people’s houses or by me grabbing some off a friends plate. I can never stomach the thought of eating dollars literally every time I bite. I tend to go for the meat instead anyway. After finishing off my mound I began the real fight, a fight to eat as much as possible before the chupah started and I learned very shortly that I had little time to waste.
Across from the sushi table lay a table that was making mooshu duck. The person behind the display would pour sauce on a white wrap, throw some scallions in and then give you a big dollop of Asian duck and proceed to wrap it up for you, as I was taking my first few pieces my father came rushing over, “Heshy this stuff is very good” he said with a mouth full of food, and then pointed to the grill where he said the burgers were very good. Off he went girlfriend in tow to the next food table.
I had scarcely looked up when I saw some folks I knew, they wanted to chat, and even as they had started I shooed that away and said I had business to take care of. I could not waste valuable shmorg time, we would have the meal- which regardless of how fancy it was usually sucked compared to the shmorg.
I glanced at my plate and wondered why they never even offered full size plates at these things. I wiped a smudge of sauce from the edge of the dish that had begun to drip onto my hands as I continued to plow food faster then the snow plows on the New York State Thruway. I was eating a pile of the most delicious oiliest penne pasta. I had three different kinds, fresh spinach and basil, sun dried tomato and pesto. I was having a grand old time when from the corner of my eye I spotted a man with a plate of piled high meat, carved meat to be exact and my heart jumped for joy. I asked the man where these treasures lay and he directed me with a smile.
I arrived just in time at the carving station and begged for a pile of smoked pastrami and prime rib, I dumped some smooth brown deli mustard on the side and proceeded to the bar all the while stuffing food into my mouth. I was surprised at the ability I had retained from my youth to think completely straight when it came to food. Nothing could faze me, I was fully attentive to the task at hand, beautiful women, old friends, and the chossons tish could not get me to split my focus.
I tore into my meat like all eat eating hungry men do, I dropped my fork on my plate and just went to town. The pastrami was amazing and the prime rib appeared to have been made from recycled latex gloves sprinkled with some great sauce. I abandoned the prime rib and focused on the pastrami for about two minutes, until I looked down and saw the grilling table. Lines of burgers, Portobello mushrooms, and frying salami lay sizzling like tourists in Death Valley. In front of them lay an immense sauce bar and I became frustrated while trying to guess what each sauce was. Something clicked in my mind and I calculated the time measurements to guess each sauce and decided to take a bit of each, that was a good choice. The Salami worked well as did the mushrooms, I could not se any reason to waste valuable stomach room for a simple burger. I grabbed some shoestring fries reminiscent of McDonald’s and leaned tiredly against a wall, contemplating my next strategic move.
The duck wraps were good and well worth it to try some more, sushi was in abundance and that would last, fries were good but not worth the space they took up and the meat beckoned me over for second helpings, maybe I just liked the way they gently carved it and stacked it on your plate. I loaded my plate and went to the bar for a simple sprite. I then rushed off to the chossons tish- which for some reason never has good food.
I have always wondered why the chossons tish always lacks the food choises of the kabalas ponim. After all the men always appreciate and eat more then the women, so why do we get shafted, instead of sushi they have some hot dogs and kugel, and some booze. I would love to sit at a chossons tish and enjoy the same amenities as outside, minus the cheek pinching grannies and annoying little kids blocking the fastest path to the sushi table.
It doesn’t look like an orthodox shull, but the small wooden divider was in fact the mechitza, though one really couldn’t tell. The room was tall yet small and beautiful wooden paneling covered the lower portions. The chupah was a simple affair, save for the 8 piece band of brass and string instruments. The music was beautiful, although I never understand the whole obsession with sad funereal like music as the folks about to undergo their most happy lifetime transition. Maybe they are just trying to warn the people about to go through with it, not to.
My father once again, not giving a crap about offending people and not really noticing if he was anyway, proceeded to debate loudly with himself over the cost of the wedding. He tried to figure out plate prices and how much the band and flowers were, weird I know, but funny as hell- here is a picture of my brother and father laughing about it.
Unlike most weddings I did not have the urge to jump up during the procession and scream something to the tune of “Dude your gonna get laid tonight.” First of all there were some big folks in the crowd, and I realized that the wedding folks may have already gotten laid in the past. This line only works at frummy weddings, where the folks probably never did more then heavy petting (whatever that means) prior to marrying each other.
I scanned the crowd; it was what I would call a suede yarmulke wedding, a few kipa srugas could be seen in the see of black leather as could several hat wearers, most of whom were the folks assigned to the brachos under the chupah. At the last several weddings I have been to, I could not understand a word of what was said during the whole chupah, the announcer always had to have a thick yeshivish/Yiddish/Monroe style accent of which one who didn’t hang around Chassidim or charedish folks much could not understand.
The choson took his place at under the chupah and his brother Jerry proceeded to don his gartel and tie it. He was having enough trouble to make me compare the whole situation to gelila- but even more awkward as he was backing up the procession of old folks who always walk down the aisle, as if they had missed their float and still wanted parade time.
Suddenly the glass was broken and the couple began the long an I would think awkward dance to the yichud room- the mysterious room where first kisses and break fasts happen- but the minds of sick folks like me always thinks quickies and kinky stuff involving seltzer and kichel goes on.
The Main Meal:
The room was very nice, the flowers were even nicer and the food looked like art- this of course had absolutely no bearing o the actual taste of the food, which seemed to taste more like art then like food, but for myself it was enough to ensure that food stayed within the pornographic arts.
For starters the tables were set with this weird looking flavorless plate of salmon, rice and sprouts, it looked good enough to take a picture of, but one bite proved that it was probably made for a really expensive garnish. The dancing began and I noticed that no soup spoons meant only one thing, that the main meal would be it and based on evidence from the lackluster first course, the second course would probably be more like a beautiful woman who was a lesbian, eye candy, and nothing more.
For once the newly minted couple fresh from their presumably first time alone experience ran into a song other then the Final Countdown, my brother who has more normal friends which seem to be getting mowed down by the clutches of marriage every week now- told me that the current song was the entry song of choice. I have all these ideas of what I want to march into during my wedding most recently being Cherry Pie by Warrant and Bang Your Head by Quiet Riot. Just the thought of every one air guitaring in their suits to some80s hair metal turns me on.
Then the band struck its cords and busted into the classic repertoire of Jewish wedding music that has not changed in the last 25 years save for a few clever insertions of secular music riffs like Living La Vida Loca and On Broadway, funny because I thought secular music was bad for your soul. I don’t dance much at weddings, I like to watch, this wedding was no different, my friend Jeremy and I discussed the merits and cons of marriage with or without nida and then all the sudden I was eating a mini cone filled with luxuriously creamy strawberry sorbet- hey I thought strawberries were banned- I wanted to scream, but after a few bites I figured I better shut up for my own good.
It was kind of weird to see all these classy folks munching on cones of ices that were instead of the soup course, but I happily ate several of them in eager anticipation of some clever shtick and the main course. Like I said before this was a suede yarmulke wedding and unfortunately that classification always puts a damper on the leibadick department. Yes the wedding was happy and exciting and fun, but it was lacking clever shtick and greasy yeshiva guys with big smiles bouncing around in front of the chosson and kallah during the event that takes plays at all orthodox weddings called “white yeshiva bochrim can’t dance for shit.”
I even filmed a video of Big Jerry (chossons brother) as he was known in the days before the low carb craze, and me dancing in this short video clip. The dancing itself was a regular old affair until some men found their way into the women’s section, no one seemed to mind and the mechitza was not berlin wall style and allowed for easy transfer and watching of both sides.
The main course was just exactly as I envisioned it a great looking sculpture of meat, veggies and chicken combined with decent taste, but in no competition to the shmorg. A thick rubbery steak and a grilled piece of chicken were stacked over a mound of mashed potatoes and a bundle of asparagus, looking good yet tasting merely mediocre.
The desert however was exceptional, it looked like a mini apple pie, but tasted brilliant and reminded me of warm evenings spent in the outdoor hot tub over looking Killington on past ski vacations- before I figured I could sleep in my car to save money. Of course after all that food I began to feel sick and would not recover until the next day, although I did regret my gluttonous decent into fresserdom.
I think this was the first time I came to wedding and I did not just sit at the edge of the mechitza like a starved wolf with my drool gathering at the sides of my mouth while I stared at potential girls for myself. Why I did not enjoy one of my favorite pastimes was for several reasons. First of all I have been seeing someone for a month now and since it has been going pretty well, I have no interest in even looking, now I will contradict myself- the ladies weren’t all too special looking and since I probably couldn’t see past their inches thick barriers of makeup I saw no point in it. Furthermore I like the frummies and being that as I said before this was a suede yarmulke wedding AKA modern orthodox to the Liberal side, many of the girls were showing a bit too much skin for my taste, though fortunately the muffin top factor was on the low side.
This was one of the first weddings that brought together the old time upper west siders. The guy who got married is a family friend who I have known my whole life. Jays mother and my old man used to be partners in a Mount Snow ski house in the 1970s and have been friends for close to 40 years. On top of this they are from the upper weezy as we call it these days.
So naturally we talk a lot about how much the neighborhood has changed both Jewishly and in general, like how Broadway loks more like a strip mall every time one of its classic stores like Shakespeare and Co or Morris Brothers closes. We talked about the good old days of MDS and Sunday Softball League and of the shabbos afternoons spent playing ball in Lincoln Towers Park.
Many of the Chossons friends besides us upper west side natives were his yeshiva buddies from Yeshiva Ohr Dovid in Israel. That made an interesting dynamic, since I got to meet similar folks like me, and the same age who really had no plan in life and just got by day to day. Warehouse managers, pizza store workers and plain old slackers at Touro seemed to make up the bunch.
Something very disturbing has to take place at every wedding and the rather disturbing mind scratching event that happened here was that the entire wedding was mixed seating besides for the single people. I know it sounds polish and counter intuitive, and for the life of me neither I nor anyone else including the chossons mother could figure it out. It was definitely not a matter of frumkeit, since the kallahs family was very modern, and the only other excuse that the guys and girls would feel uncomfortable was blown out the water by the fact that the girls were mostly Hafter girls and the guys, well guys are guys. So what gives, especially during the so called “shidduch crisis.”
If you like wedding posts be sure to click these links to past weddings I have written about, these are made for the folks who like my classic long stream of consciousness writing style.