duck-shaped pain

 
 

16 August 2001
An Unexpected Evening

Surprise outing last night.

I got off work early, spent the late morning and early afternoon doing some much-needed paperwork, and laid down for what I hoped would be a long, restful nap.

Settle in. The phone rings. Since I am now relaxed (and naked) I don't jump up to answer it. Answering the phone is what I have to do at work -- at home, I can just let it ring and ring without noticing. I sleep some more, and it rings some more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Then it rings again. Call volume such as this is rare in the late afternoon, so I figure that someone is actually trying to reach me, instead of it just being a random assortment of telemarketers and wrong numbers.

Get dressed (one of the drawbacks to have the phone stationed right next to a big glass door that overlooks the whole neighborhood is that I have to wear clothes to answer it), get up, and find that after all that racket, there is only one message on the answering machine.

It's my aunt, sounding sort of panicky. "Can you call me AS SOON as you get home? It's urgent!"

Okay, I'm thinking. There is some sort of emergency. My grandpa had a heart attack or one of my cousins cut his arm off with a chain saw. So my mind is racing and I'm getting panicky, too, as I dial around and try to find her.

Finally, I reach her at home. "Hello," she answers. "Do you want to go to N.'s bridal shower?"

N. is marrying my cousin J. next month, after going out with him for basically forever. This is the first I had heard of a shower.

"Um, okay," I replied.

"Good. I'll pick you up in an hour. Do you have a gift?"

No, I did not have a gift. My aunt offered to come up with one, but I said I'd see what I could do. I didn't want to think about what she would come up as a gift from me to N., really -- I could imagine her opening the present and us both seeing the chosen item for the first time, and how awkward that would be. So, if I was going to give a gift, I was going to pick it out myself.

Not like I have any idea what a proper bridal shower gift might entail, seeing that I've never been to such an event before. All my friends who have gotten married so far (at least in the huge-ass ceremony sense) have been male -- as a friend of the groom, your sole responsibility at any wedding festivities is not to get too drunk. There is only one gift involved, and the whole thing is much simpler. My female friends tend to be either completely opposed to the whole marriage idea or the type to just sneak off and do it quietly in the woods or on a shrimp boat somewhere. Thank God. So there's this whole group of etiquette and ceremonies that I, so far, have completely avoided. [1]

Anyway -- back to the gift. I thought, what do I have that someone else would want? I've only met N. a couple of times before, which makes things a little more challenging. CDs? No, not for someone that I don't know that well. Kitchen items? Well, none of mine even come close to the "gently used" category, so that's out. Okay -- I have lots of books!

Books can be a tricky gift, though, when you don't know someone's taste. It has to be informative, not too personal, not too thick or frightening, and it has to look fairly new. Plus, you want something that looks good to the other guests. So, no "Surprise! I got you the Oxford Companion to Food!" [2] or Infinite Jest [3] or even Savage Love: The Book [4] or anything else that I had lying around.

I finally decided on a cookbook. Inoffensive, useful, and appropriate. Plus, I have a nasty habit of buying cookbooks and never using them, so I have quite a few practically brand-new ones handy. I selected Vegetables by James Peterson, which is a really useful book for someone else, someone who doesn't already have a bunch of vegetarian and vegetable cookbooks around. Plus, it has nice pictures and my copy had never, ever been used. [5]

I put it in a nice gift bag, along with a recipe of my own (my aunt's other request -- she said that all guest had to submit a copy of their favorite dish -- so I wrote down my curry noodle soup [6] recipe) and made myself look semi-presentable.

My aunt arrived and picked me up. On the drive over, she told me that L., my cousin J.'s grandmother, hadn't been able to come and because she didn't want to be the only representative of our family there, she invited me to come along. She admitted to me that she also had never been to bridal shower before, either, and had no idea what went on at one.

I tried to fill her in as best I could with advice learned second- or even third-hand from others. There is punch, sometimes cake and cocktail weenies on toothpicks, there are games and then presents are opened. The "games" part is what gets me worked up -- it just reeks a little too much of Enforced Fun, especially when you're surrounded by people you barely know. Didn't I decide to grow up and become an adult just to avoid parties with organized games?

So I told my aunt about the worst bridal-shower game I had ever heard of [7] -- this activity where guests take turns dressing each other up in "wedding dresses" constructed solely of toilet paper. I remember thinking when someone first told me about this, "Actual non-drunk adults do this to each other?"

We get there, and the atmosphere seems pretty low-key. Mostly aunts, grandmas and cousins of N., plus some other assorted relatives and my aunt and me. A big table of presents, folding chairs in couches, your typical bunch of people hanging out in your typical living room. It was a surprise shower, so we all sat around and waited for N. to show up.

She was late, which was not her fault, but rather, the fault of the dessert staff at the restaurant she went to for dinner. But if there's anything worth waiting for, it's flan.

I thought I wasn't going to know anyone there other than my aunt (and the bride-to-be, sort of), but J., someone I went to high school with was there. For a while, I couldn't figure out why she was there, but near the end it dawned on me that she had married N.'s brother, who I also knew in high school but who, up until that same moment, I hadn't realized N.'s brother.

We talked for a bit, mostly small talk about what we've been up to and what some other people have been up to. She mentioned people who were coming into town next week for the reunion ("Damm," I said, "I already had plans made a long time ago, so I'm not going to be able to go.").

So N. finally shows up, surprised at all the people in the living room. Some talking, some introductions, and then the words that I don’t want to hear: J., announcing that we can now start all the games!

"For the first game," she said, "everyone has to get a buddy [8] and choose which of you is going to be bride and which one is going to be the dresser. We're going to make wedding dresses out of toilet paper and then N. is going to choose the best one."

Aiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeee.

I couldn't believe it.

And guess who had to be the bride?

My aunt did a decent job, coming up with something that had the basic shape and spirit of a dress but which was also sadly lacking in other necessary parts. Not like anyone else did much better, though. Most of the dressed ended up looking like hooker mummies. Anyway. We didn't win, and then it was over.

"Bridal bingo" is a frightening phrase. [9] I got to hear it used in an actual sentence, though, as cards and pens were passed out to us. Our objective (and I realize that some of you have probably played this many times -- but I felt like a fuckin' anthropologist here, studying some newly discovered tribe) was to fill the blank spots with the names of gifts we think N. would receive that night.

I filled in "cookbook." And my aunt's gift - "cookie jar." The rest I was sort of lost on. "Lingerie" seemed obvious and I added "whip" on top of that. Then, what? "Generic home décor" and "smelly frilly thing" and "something ceramic" each got their own space, although I'm sure the intent here was for me to be more specific. I filled in the rest with things I'd like to get as gifts - "gift certificate," "money," "8-piece set of Wusthof knives." The woman next to me wrote in "sex manual," which made me think Savage Love: The Book might have been a good idea.

Everyone finished up and the present parade started. Kitchen things, fondue pots, glassware, photo albums, lingerie -- all the usual suspects. My cookbook got a nice ooh-ahh, which was nice, and N. said that I wasn't required to give her a hand-written recipe, since I have given her so many hard-bound, nicely printed recipes. After it was all done, there was a lot of stuff.

Finally, there was cake. Since I had not eaten dinner (no time, what with the short notice I got and since the event started at 7, I figured there might at least be snacks), I was very happy. Ate cake, drank some punch, mingled slightly, and then it was time to go.

It was a pretty acceptable time -- some bad parts (the toilet paper wedding dresses) and some good parts (everything except the toilet paper wedding dresses). Still, if you had told me even a few hours earlier what I would be spending my evening doing, I would have just stared at you like you were speaking Urdu or had just sprouted a third head.


[1] I've never been a bridesmaid, either, which is something I am more thankful for than I can express. No butt bows or seafoam green for me, thank you.

[2] Like I'd give that away.

[3] Which I've actually read twice. You may be able to tell.

[4] Which actually could be a decent bridal-shower gift, but in someone else's family.

[5] Really, my first choice for cookbook-as-present (especially for a wedding present) would be Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything (which does what it says), but my copy had chicken shmutz on it, so no last-minute gift there.

[6] I'm a show off. I figured that all the other recipes would be for casseroles or baked goods and you know what? I was right.

[7] You who go to more bridal showers than I do have probably heard of worse games.

[8] I don't think I can adequately explain the degree to which the phrase "get a buddy" (or its close companion "find a buddy") irks me.

[9] Not the most frightening, though. That honor goes to "Renaissance faire."

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