"EYEE… TAAAAKE… THEEEE… TONEEE… BAYELORRR… TOOOOOO… BEEE… MYE… HUUUUSSSSSBAAAAANNNDDD…"
Fortunately, my fate will not be that of an artist whose masterpiece passes unnoticed into antiquity. The octogenarian seated next to me—a kindred spirit, it seems—has shown substantial interest in my turtleneck, while I in turn have become taken with the monstrous plumed hat perched hazardously on her pale, withered head. Given the intrinsic nature of such a flamboyance (think Puss in Boots, Captain Hook) it is probable this ripe old contessa has spent most of the last week at her assisted-living complex breathlessly anticipating the day when she would get to wear this hideous thing in public. Otherwise she must be part of a club, a band of merry widows—the God-awful Hat Society—and is their chosen representative for the occasion. One can imagine such a spirited group of gals reenacting H.M.S Pinafore together over shortbread cookies in their cat-filled houses, or invading Denny's every Sunday to split pancakes twelve ways and demand separate checks.
It's comforting to think this lady might not be alone in her eccentricity as it is equally depressing to imagine the converse: her in her nursing home cell, putting her beloved hat on the shelf with a tear in her eye before blowing through a bottle of cooking sherry and singing Gilbert and Sullivan all by her onesy. But then it's possible she's thinking the same about me, that I am merely a younger version of what she has become: the president—and possibly sole member—of the Wretched Turtleneck Association. That I wear this abomination to play in badminton tournaments, hit on girls at a drama club mixer. It's possible she's mulling whether or not to broach the idea of a pact, an alliance, her people with my people. Or, if we're stag, perhaps we two misfits might just strike out together, travel the world, and fight tyranny.
This would be why I avoid eye contact, although I can't help but let mine wander over the rest of her person, in the hopes of seeing some kind of scabbard or pirate boots. And while I am momentarily delighted upon seeing her pointy shoes, a closer look reveals that for whatever reason they're not nearly as exciting as pointy shoes should be.
As for her eyes, they have stopped lingering on my turtleneck and are now mesmerized by the brown lunch bag positioned neatly on my lap.
During a lull in the ceremony (best man mock-pretends he can't find the rings in his pocket to the laughter of no one), my broken-down baroness whispers to me. I have decided to keep a count of how many times I get this question, and she, fittingly perhaps, is the first to ask it.
"A wedding present," I answer politely but firmly and press a shoosh-finger to my lips. Given the impatient harrumph and seat-fidgeting that follows, it would appear my answer has accomplished little more than whetting the fossilized fussbudget's curiosity even further. In addition to her fondness for kitschy headwear, it's likely she suffers from the paranoia endemic to her demographic, quick to turn the most suspicious of eyes toward even the most mundane and innocent of situations: a man in an overcoat and dark glasses, sitting on a park bench—he must be up to something! The milkman is late this morning—he must've been murdered! The Sunday paper costs six cents more—they're squeezing me because I'm Jewish! The TV has those wavy lines again—Oy vey! Aliens!
But if my analysis of her character is accurate, this will in fact be the first time she's not overreacting.
I am up to something.
I latched on to my idea right away and clung to it, like a skittish kid in class waiting as his teacher goes around the room, asking each student to name something from a reading assignment to prove they did it: a type of prehistoric sea creature, a battle from World War I, an American president. This was my Shastasaurus, my Gallipoli, my Millard Fillmore.
Angie's ideas were more elaborate, more complicated, and she couldn't make up her mind about any of them, which was par for the course.
After the parameters for our little what-if exercise were established, she had her everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-and-toaster-oven plan. First, she would bribe the wedding organist an exorbitant amount of money to mangle the bride's entry music. Next, she would give some wandering vagabond alcohol and/or prescription drugs in exchange for his interruption of the vows with a one-man reenactment of the Dresden firebombing of World War II. Come the reception she would shake jerk seasoning all over the wedding cake ("Wouldn't that be appropriate?" she said), replace the champagne with kombucha, and pay a barbershop quartet to sing "March of the Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails. If the woman I was marrying instead of her had had an unfortunate Fat Girl Phase, Angie would acquire the photos and have them blown up to billboard-sized proportions and posted in the reception hall. Lastly, in place of the obligatory, cheap and sappy video montage featuring the history of two young people coming together forever, there would be just that home movie of me—drunk, in canary yellow sweats and sporting an erection for the ages—telling Angie (on her knees, holding the camera) to "pucker up for papa bear."
At the conclusion of this convoluted mess, I took it upon myself to graciously explain to her the logistical nightmare such a formidable undertaking would be. That bribing wedding organists—who were probably a fairly ethical tribe—to screw up the music would be more of a challenge than she thought. That finding a hobo, true, wouldn't be all that hard, but keeping his scrambled, gasoline-fume/Robitussin-addled mind focused on making explosion noises along with the screams of roasting German citizens could prove tricky, not leaving aside there's always the outside possibility of some hidden dignity popping up at the last second and seizing the poor desolate soul with stage fright (also: peeing; he might pee at some point, but Angie said she would be fine with that). I said good luck finding a local barbershop quartet to sing something with the kind of graphic language typically found in industrial rock (not laying aside either that most of the music of Trent Reznor does not easily lend itself to four-part harmony). Moreover, any pictures of a chubby teenaged girl would have been long destroyed by the time she thinned out and grew up (or kept under security that would rival Attica). And as far as that video goes, I said, I'm going to get rid of it right now.
All right, Angie said, how about this? She'd show up in the middle of the vows, wearing the exact outfit Dustin Hoffman wore at the end of The Graduate (white jacket, white pants, loafers, blue shirt), and tuck her blonde hair up in a wig fashioned after his 60's dork-Beatles haircut. She would then have two assistants carry a plate glass window to the center of the church, calmly ask them to hold it in place, and proceed to bang on the glass, crying out Elaine! Elaine! I, overcome with a rush of remembered love for her, would look over at my mother, my almost-a-wife, and my father soundlessly mouthing out hatred, scream out Beeeeennnnn! and race into Angie's arms. Together we would swing a jumbo-sized crucifix at the enraged wedding-goers as we would back out of the church, barricading them in once we'd made it outside. Then, for the finally final, we'd board a bus parked at the curb, sit in the back, and glance at each other awkwardly as the other passengers would serenade us with "The Sound of Silence."
A little too shot-for-shot for my tastes, I said, but an improvement. I then reminded her of the elegant simplicity of my idea, which was not only easier to achieve, I said, but still jam-packed with meaning.
To my surprise, Angie turned rather nasty at this and roundly mocked what I considered to be the most precocious of all my brainchildren, opining that it was neither elegant nor meaningful, but "like, really really lame," and that that was saying something considering its scatological origins. Her point: contrary to what I thought, what I came up with was—at its essence—no different from your everyday dumbass fraternity prank. It was puerile, pedestrian, tiresome. No Shastasaurus here but the tired, too-oft-referenced Megalodon. No Gallipoli but Pearl Harbor. Millard Fillmore? Please. I was akin to the other twelve kids who said, "Uh… George Boosh?"
"You could never pull it off anyway," she said, resuming a more playful stance, tickling my nose.
"And why not?" I said, resentful, sneezing.
"Because you're the unluckiest guy I've ever met."
The ceremony is almost over and the bag is starting to smell. A problem, yes, but one I have anticipated. From out of the pocket of my khakis I produce a tiny spray bottle of aftershave, and when Mendelssohn explodes from the sanctuary sound system, and Angie and TONEEE BAYELORRR face the crowd for the first time as man and wife, I give the bag three good squirts. The cologne serves two purposes: (1) to temporarily stave off the stench; and (2) give the bag a combustibility that rivals a government housing project, a necessity if I am to complete my mission as designed.
But the solution to this problem appears to have created a bigger one, as God-awful Hat Lady is now staring ever so harder at the bag. I do my best to sidetrack her with my most charming, disarming smile, but to no avail. When she sniffs the air pointedly, like a bloodhound picking up the scent of a buckshot-filled bird in the underbrush, I know the jig is up.
"Is that…is that…?" she says.
No. This will not be where it ends. I will kill this hag if I have to. I will perform a backbreaking chop to her spine; thrust the palm of my hand through her nose, slam the bone into her brain.
"…is that…Aqua Velva?"
My eyes (which had been narrowing), and my lips (which had been twisting with lethal determination, the herald of what would have been my vicious attack upon her person) retreat. I follow this with an attempt at a not-so-murderous smile, but the facial contortions I perform are consistent with the same that might occur if I were to unexpectedly feel a caterpillar wriggling down my throat.
Nevertheless, I go with it. I lower my voice three octaves. I seductively raise my eyebrows.
"Why, yes, it is, ma'am" I say.
"Mmmmm…" God-awful Hat Lady says. "The lawnmower boy wears that."
Suddenly reeling with repellant images of God-awful Hat Lady in a see-through nightgown (hat still on), hand between her legs, moaning as she leers out of her bedroom window at some sweaty teenager mowing the nursing home's mangy backyard, I sit down to keep from blacking out. When I find the strength to look up again I see that God-awful Hat Lady is now turned away from me and is waving at the happy couple striding—practically prancing—down the aisle.
"Aren't they just the perfect couple?" God-awful Hat Lady gushes, her gargantuan hat blocking me from Angie's view.
Still locked in fierce battle to keep my wits intact, I smile feebly but nothing more. God only knows how close this horrible creature just came to death. God only knows how close I did.
As far as the Question goes, two through six happen to be a few of Angie's friends who remember me as the guy before TONEEE BAYELORRR, number seven is the priest (somewhat unrelated perhaps, but he looks like an Army Ranger who in the course of a top-secret assignment was required to take on the guise of a man of the cloth—i.e. he's a little too good-looking for the part and I have my doubts entirely as to his celibacy).
The minute I arrive at the reception, the first person I see is Angie's niece and Angie's niece sees me.
Which is uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because not only is Angie's niece seventeen and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her days, but even more so because she likes to joke about her condition as often as she can. She says she only makes light of it to help everybody loosen up around her, but since these jokes tend to be about how she'll never be able to slide down the banister like her brothers and sisters, or how she wouldn't be able to run for her life if she were chased by a murderous lunatic, I don't think I've ever seen anyone do this loosening up. I know I never have.
Anyhow. Niece is staring at me. And not at turtleneck-and-bag me either, but me me—as in "the depths of my soul" me. This makes me even more nervous because I can't remember her name, and I desperately don't want to be the sort of person who forgets the name of the girl in the wheelchair whom he has known for years, and whose name he should remember and should have forced himself to remember, because my god, she's in a wheelchair.
"The hell are you doing here?" she yells from across the room, her arms opened wide for a hug.
Keeping enough distance so as to respectfully decline her embrace, I warily approach and offer a hand that she promptly scoffs at. The good news is since she's dispensed with formalities, I no longer have to prove I know her by name and can instead afford to be twee.
"I woke up in a daze, followed a butterfly, and somehow ended up at my ex-girlfriend's wedding," I say. "The hell are you doing here?"
"Oh, the usual, living vicariously through others," she replies. "Contemplating my own marriage, the one where I'll be forced to do it with some psycho fatass twenty years older than me who's out for my father's money, and will probably hurl me down a flight of stairs someday, Kiss of Death style."
She pauses so I can laugh. Instead, I cough.
Then she's serious. "You didn't really answer my question."
"I was invited." I say.
Scoffing again, Niece-in-Wheelchair grabs hold of my belt and pulls me close. "Whatever it is you're doing here I want to know."
"What? I'm not doing anything," I say. "I'm paying my respects."
"Bullshit. You'd never wear that snazzy pink turtleneck in a million years unless something was going on," she says. "You've always been trouble."
"Oh, this?" I say, tugging at the sweater. "An inside joke. I'm keeping a promise."
"Well, duh, and what's the rest of it? Maybe start with your lunch there."
Man, am I really this transparent? First God-awful Hat Lady and now Niece-in-Wheelchair. I search the room frantically for some means of escape but Niece only pulls me closer, my crotch now centimeters from her face. Quickly ascertaining that this doesn't make for the most appropriate visual, and yet powerless to unpeel her grip, I spill my guts, the whole scheme. As I do, Niece releases my belt and regards me with pity, as though I'm the one in the wheelchair who just got as a birthday present a pair of ice skates from some tactless uncle.
"That's really screwed up," she says as soon as I'm done. "You should just let it go. Let her go. Walk away." Then she laughs. "Pretty ironic, coming from me… you know, because I can't."
I cough again. "You're not gonna rat me out, are you?" I say, taking hold of her chair handles, preparing to lock her in the nearest mop closet.
"Not at all. In fact, I'll help you."
"Really? And what can you do?"
"You insensitive dick," Niece says. "As it just so happens you don't stand a chance without me."
Then she's off. Two quick wheel-strokes to the buffet line and an old lady lets her cut in front.
"Thanks, grams," Niece growls. "How about that hot priest, huh?"
All right, here goes: I, clad in this pink turtleneck, am going to throw this bag of shit—which I will light on fire shortly—at Angie on her wedding day, with the obvious result that doing so will destroy her life forever.
I understand this will probably take me off the short list for any U.N. peacekeeping missions, and I doubt anyone will be looking to add me to the appendix of Profiles in Courage. But you've got to believe me when I tell you she deserves every bit of this. That aside, here's the method.
To start, there is the kind of shit you want. You may think this an easy decision to make, but as there are many different kinds of shit out there, not just any will do. For instance, the fecal matter of our fine-feathered friends would be quite unsuitable, as it is a time-consuming, frustrating task to accumulate enough just to fill a Ziploc baggie, let alone an entire lunch sack. Combine that with the smell, which—while never to be confused with that of say, honeysuckle or freshly baked bread—certainly isn't as foul as shit should be.
So after considerable thought and meticulous research on the matter, weighing the pros and cons of each animal species, the makeup of their excrement, and the plausibility of acquisition (panda shit, though certainly exotic and exciting as a possibility, would have been difficult to procure, and in the end it is doubtful it would have been appreciated as panda shit should be) I came to two choices: my own shit or dog shit. Cat shit had been in the running for a while for its grainy consistency and bitter, rancid smell, but in the end I opted to stick to the old standbys. Canine and hominine shit are legendary for their classically distinctive odors, their imaginative incarnations.
What settled everything once and for all was when I decided to mentally run through the rigors of acquiring either brand. While my own shit was easier in theory to obtain, to get it would have demanded that I either evacuate my bowels directly into a paper sack; or, after an especially satisfying dump, reaching a gloved hand into the toilet to draw out the dripping log from the bowl. Since these ways—even in the best of times—can easily lead to emesis, and when adding the wrinkle that, leading up to the wedding my stools were not log-like at all, but had taken on a revolting mustard-colored liquid quality due to my affinity of late for triple cheeseburgers after midnight, I came to the conclusion that to appropriate my own shit for this would in all likelihood be more trouble than it was worth (not to mention chucking a bag of my own sloppy turds at Angie would make me the mayor of Nutsville.)
So dog shit it was.
The trick was in finding the right expression (I had settled on the pastel milk chocolate variety, known for its instability, ghastly smell, and penchant to stain indefinitely), and the dog capable of producing it—no easy task. See, in my quest for the most feculent of doggy-deuces, I learned that much like myself, the form the shit takes depends a lot on diet quality. Unlike myself, however, the kind of droppings preferred here were those of an animal whose feedings allowed for a considerable portion of fast food, or whose primary staple consisted of canned dog foods whose labels had lots of exclamation points, and words like Beef!, Lamb!, and Bacon!
So you can imagine the extensiveness of my shock when I discovered that in the lower middle-class neighborhood I inhabited the dog owners here actually gave a damn about what their pets ate, a truth made clear by the poor yield of their crap (a forbidding fuscous color, corporeal, solid, usually dry and stale after a few minutes time, weak smell). Since the shit would have to somehow stay in a relatively soft, mush-like state before it petrified and became all but unusable (firm shit, rattling around in the bag, would do little more than mimic rocks, when what I wanted was something that would be unmistakable, not something that would require extensive examination by the victim to determine what it was). Thus was the shit of vigorous, healthy animals deemed unacceptable.
Basically, what I was looking for was the one slob on the block: the one jackass who fed his dog hunks of cheddar and pork rinds, let the pooch drink beer. But after more than a week spent monitoring the dogs in the vicinity, I had yet to see one fatty amongst them. Not one dog that listlessly dragged their belly across the ground, or beached themselves out on a porch, too full of trash to have the energy to frolic and romp. Instead I saw thoroughbreds. Soldiers. Athletes. The Master Race. Striding back and forth, their neatly trimmed coats revealing finely tuned muscles, their jaws steely, their barks deep and strong. Their waste: proud, rigid, and tough. With sinking heart, I determined I was either going to have to widen my net and head to more promising environs, or undermine the health of one of these fine specimens. And since widening that net and conducting a hard target search for the nastiest pile of dog shit I could find would have cost me much more time and headache than, say, a bag of burritos and a laxative, I wisely chose the latter.
I would at this point like to give a shout-out to Frederick, Mr. Koehler's German Shepherd from four doors down, who made quick work of the fifty dollars' worth of Taco Bell and castor oil I strategically placed outside his palatial, Hohenzollern doghouse. Because of him I got exactly what I needed, along with some royal poochie puke as a bonus.
All apologies to PETA, of course.
Well, I suppose this was bound to happen:
An elephantine woman has just stampeded the length the ballroom and is now accosting me with an asphyxiating hug.
Angie's mother. Molly. She's always liked me.
I would bet she bitched out Angie something fierce after we hit the skids. I would also bet she's the one who lobbied the hardest for me to be here today, and yet, I am not all that thrilled to see her, and not due entirely to the extent of her physical magnitude, but because it means not too far behind is...
He who—out of infinite gratitude, I'm sure—deposited a boatload of cash into Angie's bank account after the breakup. Probably threw a huge party, used the expensive scotch, and oh, how I'm sure he enjoyed his victory cigar.
Anyhow, this vile, turtle-ish man trails after Molly—remaining back a few paces once he gets within a yard or two of my personal space, regarding me with the usual loathing. And when Molly motions for him to join her, he wastes no time getting right to it. No hello. No nice to see you again. Just straight to the point.
And speaking of points, he is pointing, with jabby finger, right at the sack.
"Medicine," I manage, pulling it away, having realized he could just reach out and rip the bag from my hands. One of my ancillary tasks—a side quest, if you will—is to come up with a new and strange answer every time someone asks the Question, naturally so as to cement my place as the brilliant mastermind who bamboozled everyone right to the very end.
He said it was hummus because there's no true vegan option at the reception…
Really? He told me it was a special kind of wedding rice from the West Indies…
I can't believe I gave him a hug when he told me it was all her old love letters to him…
But my reach might be exceeding its grasp this time, as Harold isn't buying my story about the bag being full of pills I picked up from Walgreens on the way.
"Osteoporosis? But you're a man. In your twenties."
"Yeah, but I've always used an electric blanket. Plus, I'm, like, addicted to Diet Coke."
"Why did you have to bring the pills with you here?"
"Ah, well, I. . . "
"I saw this bag with you at the church too."
"I was, uh, late and I uh, needed to take a pill."
"So why do you need the bag now?"
"It's almost time to take another pill."
"A pill every hour?"
"Just in the beginning. Soon it will be one every three hours, then one every six, then once a day. As long I progress."
"Can't you just put the pill container in your pocket then?"
"That would leave me with an odd-looking protuberance coming out of my pants, sir."
It's obvious. Harold wants to seize the bag, open it, shove it in front of his wife. See? This is the kind of man he is! He, much like Niece-in-Wheelchair and God-awful Hat Lady before him, perceives something is afoot, but then this is nothing new in regards to our relationship, which was doomed from the start (possibly because of the sizable gaps in my employment record, or it could be the two grand I borrowed from him years ago, a debt that to this day remains in arrears).
Needless to say, I'm trapped. In the space of the protracted silence there is me: trying to keep my poise; Harold: eyes flicking from the turtleneck to the bag, left hand like a claw; then Molly: still smiling—though red-faced now, embarrassed. Bless her heart, she tries to save me.
"For god's sake, Harold, he's got a condition."
Displeased with his wife's abiding loyalty to me, Harold squints at her.
"Molly, leave us," he says.
"Didn't you hear what I said?" Harold says.
"I heard you fine. But squint at me again and see what happens," Molly says, before casting a sympathetic look at me and heading off.
"Nice to see you again, Molly," I call out to her receding, waddling form, before phony wincing from a fictional pain only imaginary medicine could alleviate. "Sir, I promise it's pills," I wheeze.
To which the old man responds with a smile so hateful I am filled with wonder.
"Son, I don't give a good goddamn what you have in that bag," he says. "I just want you out of here."
"Don't worry," I assure him, thinking I should perhaps reach out and pat his shoulder (I decide against it). "I'm not staying long."
"Just give your regards to Angela and then slither the hell out. Think you can manage that?"
"As a matter of fact, sir, that's the plan."
Once dinner is done and the toasts are toast, Niece-in-Wheelchair and I huddle up so we can find something for her to do to help me. Given her obvious mobility issues, we decide she will keep TONEEE BAYELORRR involved in interminable conversation. She informs me he hasn't solidified his position in the family enough to justify blowing off the crippled niece just yet. If worst comes to worst, she says, and TONEEE gets away from her or anyone else gets too close to me, she'll fake a seizure.
As far as her motives go, Niece tells me she can't stand TONEEE, thinks his teeth are too big; whereas with Angie, Niece thinks it's about time she answered for all the hearts she's devoured through the years, mine especially.
For the time being though there is nothing for either of us to do as TONEEE is up on stage, talking with the band, and Angie is slamming champagne and nattering up a storm with her grandparents. Both are laughing and waving their hands around as they communicate, practically synchronized. It occurs to me that I never do anything with my hands when I talk, and I wonder if perhaps this was one of the reasons I got 86'd. He makes no hand gestures when he speaks, Angie muses during an ill-advised reflective moment. And so I will leave him with no prior warning or discussion not two days after declaring my never-ending devotion.
Meanwhile, a gathering of sorts has developed over by the buffet, as men with scowls as black as their tuxedos project an official-looking menace in my direction. They behave as though the President of the United States is going to pop out of the wedding cake, and they are there to make sure he's not gunned down by any potential turtleneck-attired Lee Harvey Oswalds. They include: Harold, Angie's brother Ray, the best man—whose name I have learned is Doug—and two other large-ish groomsmen. They are spread out roughly the length of the table, glowering, daring me to lay siege to what's left of the prime rib, the Caesar salad, the two-tone chocolate fountain.
His confab with the band finished, TONEEE struts over to the microphone and flashes those prominent chompers Niece is so fond of. A few of the girls in the audience catcall and he acknowledges them with a nod. I suppose I should begrudgingly add that TONEEE is what most sentient beings would agree is an ideal physical specimen of the human race. He's tanned, tall, and muscular, and that would be the reason for the catcalls. For comparison's sake I have been on the receiving end of catcalls exactly one time. I was six years old and being fitted for a blue tux for my Aunt Vicki's second marriage (I was the ring-bearer) to a man named Phil Flum. The catcallers that day consisted of my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, and Phil Flum. Since then? No catcalls. I'm not sure what it was I had at six that was worthy of catcalls, but I have since lost it.
"Hey, hot stuff," TONEEE says into the microphone. "I need you to come up here for a minute."
The "hot stuff" he's speaking to, the one in the wedding dress, my first, last, my everything, drains an entire glass of champagne before making her way up on stage. Bowing obnoxiously, TONEEE takes her by the hand and leads her to a throne-like chair where she daintily sits, glowing.
"I hate to put you on the spot in front of all these people, sugar hips, but there's something I gotta give you," he says.
TONEEE hands her the microphone and takes off his jacket. More hoots from the girls. Angie joins in.
"Oooh, baby-babe," she says. "You know I want it, but do you really think you should… give it to me in front of all these people?"
Angie turns and winks at the crowd, which roars its approval. Even her mother is cheering as loud as anybody, apparently fine and dandy with the crass reference to public sex that would leave just about any other decent parent aghast. Other than me, the only one in the room who is not amused by the tasteless banter is Harold—but this may only be because his attention is still focused squarely on yours truly. And in the off chance I am at all confused about the swift departure his unbreakable stare is recommending, Harold lifts his left arm and taps on his watch.
I'm of a mind at this point to lift my own arm and via the extension of the finger of everlasting friendship, make known my feelings about Harold's hope for my timely exit, but the screams of what sounds like every woman in the known universe interrupts me as TONEEE breaks into song. Elvis. "I'm All Shook Up." His less than mellifluous voice is assisted in no small part by the skill of the band, but he has the swagger and the shake of the King himself. His newly minted wife is blushing, and I know that blush and its portent.
She wants to pucker up for papa bear.
The fact that I am wearing what I'm wearing and holding what I'm holding has never felt more pronounced or more humiliating. For the first time it occurs to me to ask myself why I thought pink was the perfect color in which to clad myself for the occasion. A sleek black suit and dark sunglasses would have been more stylish—and did it have to be crap? A bag of homicidal meerkats would've been better. Same with a hand grenade.
Angie jumps into TONEEE's arms at the end of Elvis, something she would have never done with me (he has a weak back that requires many trips to the chiropractor, she ruminates, continuing her imprudent relationship inventory. And for that weak back I will dump him almost immediately after the best sex ever, where I will tell him I want to breathe in his very soul, and have so many of his children that we'll populate other worlds). Elvis turns into Johnny Cash, and Angie joins TONEEE on "Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire." In between these numbers, with the band vamping behind them, they break into more corny, innuendo-filled badinage that is reminiscent of the kind a provincial country singer would have with his tambourine girl, complete with terrible Southern accents. TONEEE says he would sure love to rattle Angie's bells, to which Angie sagely replies that the only bell TONEEE answers to is of the dinner variety. This is a hackneyed reference to a time all the other married people in the room know well of, a time when the husband's sex drive mellows while the wife's becomes ferocious. Laughing and cheering, dozens of women in the room wag a finger at the nearest male, and over the din I can hear God-awful Hat Lady shriek, "It's true—it's so true!"
Angie follows this with her solo piece, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." She purrs and groans and shimmies on TONEEE as he sits on that throne and whistles, all but giving him a lap dance. And right around the point where she swings her legs around and assumes the pleasurable position known in erotic jargon as the Reverse Cowgirl, I swear the bastard looks right at me and smirks.
Thankfully, things get a little less skeezier for the finale as they do some McCartney. "Maybe I'm Amazed." It's not half bad, to be honest—though Angie's voice does crack deliciously when they attempt to take it up an octave at the end. Still, one can only admire the amount of work put in on this; and from the way Angie and TONEEE kiss each other at the end (she in a swoon, held in his arms), and bring down the house, it is obvious this is exactly the way they had dreamed things would go, and that everything is perfect.
I have no idea how she got up there, but we're not five minutes past the Angie and TONEEE BAYELORRR Variety Hour and Niece-in-Wheelchair is already on stage jawing the latter's face off. So I, emboldened by the courage of the physically restricted, go up to the former.
"No way! Omigaaaaaaa!" Angie screams and jumps on me, spilling champagne down my neck.
"Urgh…" I grunt, and nearly drop the bag.
"Ooooooopssss," Angie says, sliding off. "I forgot. The back." Then she smiles, bites her cheek, and I almost expect her to toe the carpet. "I didn' think you come here," she says, garbling her words as though in the midst of taking repeated blows to the head. "Wha's it been? Six million years?"
"Uh… sure," I reply—and stupidly. In my preparation for this moment it never dawned on me that she'd be blotto for it.
"We always said… always friends. Buds. Come what may, right?" Angie says, lurching to take another glass of champagne off a passing waiter's tray.
"Yeah, we, uh, totally did, didn't we?" I say, going along with her despite the fact that at no point in our relationship did either of say such a goddamned ridiculous thing.
"This means something," Angie says, balancing herself on my arm, eyes now blundering around the room. "Surprises are theeeee best."
Hm. So I guess it's safe to say her liberal partaking of the free-flowing bubbly has kept the meaning of the turtleneck and the bag from registering, otherwise, we would've gotten down to business already. Instead Angie's blathering about how she can't believe I'm here, and how happy she is to see my face, which, admittedly, wouldn't be too horrible of a thing to hear if she would actually look at me. Add to this the flippant, soused way she's saying everything and it all can't help but underscore why I'm here, and why—for the sake of all that is right and good in this world—I must throw shit at her.
"I'm glad to be here too," I say, crinkling the bag a little, relieved to finally get a word in. "Honored, even."
Realizing we're not alone, Angie blinks uncomprehendingly at my companion, but that's it. Then she's frothing over again about how she loooves being a "fesical therapiss" and how TONEEE adoooores being a "corperte loyal-er", and how Harold just bought them a new house, and is bankrolling their six-week honeymoon through all the best parts of… somewhere, and ohgoodgodhowtimehasflownbyandcouldIbelieveshejustgotmarrrrrrrriedwheeeeeeee?!?!?!?
I catch Angie from toppling backward and raise the bag directly to her eye level, my smile a little strained now. I don't care how drunk she is, how could she not know what this is? For months we bantered back and forth about her dressed up as Benjamin Braddock and me all pinked out, her with her plate glass window and me with my shit-sack.
If she would only go, Oh, ha ha, I can't believe you did this (there's not really anything in there, is there?), maybe I wouldn't go through with it. Maybe I would just wish her the best, kiss her on the cheek, and slither away per Harold's demand. Toss the bag and the turtleneck in a trash can; go home and blow my brains out (or maybe just get over it already).
But not now.
I light the bag, Angie burps out the Question, and takes her place as the last to ask, number nine. In numerology, I don't know the meaning of nine, but in my world, it means shit all over your wedding dress.
It's only too bad I'm not capable of saying anything badass like that to her at the moment, as the bag becomes fiery and hot in my hands a little too quick. The Aqua-Velva, having been merely adequate in covering up the odor, has apparently opted to redeem itself by turning the sack into a raging ball of fire.
The upside here is that I seem to have more of Angie's scattershot attention. "Hey. Heeeeey," she says. "That's on fire."
"I'm aware," I say.
"Are you… cooking som'thin? We have food, dude. Wedding food. That smells… not good. None for me, thanks."
"Don't worry. I promise not to make you eat it."
Despite Angie's continuing failure to apprehend what is about to happen to her, the danger she's in has been acknowledged by others. Harold, Ray, and the rest of the Secret Service are now shoving their way through the conga line on the dance floor, but it's like they're running through caramel; they'll never make it in time. TONEEE also seems rather perspicacious as well and is making to leap off the stage, come to his beloved's rescue.
So what the hell is Niece-in-Wheelchair doing?
Not a damn thing.
No seizure, no attempts to draw TONEEE back into inescapable dialogue. No, she's been compromised by the hot priest, who is on stage with her now, chatting over wedding cake.
I guess it's true what they say, you can't count on invalids for anything, but it doesn't matter at this point. TONEEE's got no chance either.
I quickly scan the immediate area for any remaining would-be heroes. God-awful Hat Lady, a few steps away, is hopping up and down and clapping. "A magic trick!" she exclaims, pointing at me. "Yummy!"
A little farther back is Molly, highball halfway to her lips, an et tu Brute? look on her face. I have betrayed her trust. Right after she defended me no less. I want to tell her that at her advancing age she should be used to the treacherous ways of the world, but first things first.
Harold yells for Angie to get out of the way, but she doesn't hear him. She's now transfixed by the remaining champagne backwash in her glass, unaware of the doom about to fall on her; and it is here I allow myself to vent a little of the swelling glee within me and cackle.
I am victorious. My smile knows no bounds. I am Shiva's Trishula. The Sword of the Lord. Allah's Pink-Sweatered Scat Bomber.
Very few things in life can be as satisfying as this.
I pull the bag back, my arm now a catapult, my payload the roaring culmination of all her broken promises; the justiest of deserts for disappearing in the dead of night leaving behind her reeking urine in the toilet, the garage door open, my ten-speed knocked over, and ITS [sic] OVER SO SORRY! scrawled on the driveway in yellow sidewalk chalk.
Oblivious to the last, Angie slobber-sings a bit of "Stayin' Alive" with the band before asking me something about her hair; and though I wouldn't mind offering my two cents on the ubiquity of her highlights ("It's a little something blue, sweetheart, not your entire fucking head…"), I'm out of time, and so I decide to let my bag of burning justice do the talking. Let's listen:
Now, I'm sure there are a number of things that go through a villain's mind when their maleficent scheme has been thwarted; the most popular being your basic, uninspired, fist-and-ass-clenched, ARRRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH! But I would like to think that somewhere out there, there's a scoundrel much like myself who, when foiled, says what I did before three hundred people. At the very least, there's me:
"No. Fucking. Way."
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I didn't miss. The bag, when it left my hand, had one and only one destination the laws of nature would allow: the front of Angie's dress. I didn't get fumble-y, nor did I get so worked up that I winged it over her head.
I was two feet away.
I couldn't miss without a miracle.
And if my brave little bag had been allowed to complete its righteous trajectory unmolested, history would have taken a different turn.
So what happened? Simple. The Dipshit Assfacker Pissdicker TONEEE. Remember how I said he was making to leap off the stage, come to his wife's rescue? Well, I never thought he could make up the distance that fast, and that is why I allowed myself the exquisite pleasure of slowly pulling my arm back, a fatal mistake. By the time I finished with my dramatic windup, TONEEE had jumped off the stage, closed the gap between us with startling speed, and thrown himself in the path of the missile.
What a guy.
I'd like to think that the tongues of fire leaping out of the bag were hungrily licking Angie when TONEEE the Human Shit Shield horizontally arrived. I'd like to think that.
But okay then, so the bag hits TONEEE and not Angie. Big deal, at least one of them's covered in shit, right?
The bag didn't hit TONEEE's tux or face—which would have qualified as acceptable secondary targets—it hit his fist, which he had thrust out at the peak of his dive, punching the bag out of there, sending it end over end away from the two people who deserved molten dog shit all over them more than any other married couple since Bill and Hillary.
Hence me, eyes wide, in disbelief: "No. Fucking. Way."
(I barely get "way" out before I am rushed from the room.)
And the sack? It did hit someone. Do you really have to guess who? Think. Who would be the last person in the world I would want to hit with a bag of shit? Right you are. The one person in the audience who, at least besides me, will not be walking anytime soon.
I hit Niece-in-Wheelchair.
Right before I threw the bag, she must have realized she'd failed to keep TONEEE's attention, had turned and hastily wheeled herself back onto the floor, just in time to be on the receiving end of my deflected vengeance.
Yes, the bag hit her in the face. Yes, the bag burst apart magnificently—as it had been designed to. Yes, there was gooey dog shit all over Niece's dress along with a bit on her chin. Yes, her hair caught fire.
As they haul me away, I can hear her laughing hysterically as the priest throws his jacket over her smoldering head. "Made it, Ma!" she screams. "Top of the world!"
In the hall, the best man Doug is walking alongside those aforementioned large-ish groomsmen who are dragging me to the back dock (where I presume I will be beaten quite bloody and tossed in a dumpster). The smile on Doug's face is conspicuous, though bloodthirsty in quality. In normal circumstances I'd be worried about such a look, but for now I have my hands full pondering the state of my immortal soul. Maybe I'm being overdramatic, but outside of mass genocide or offending a college student I'm pretty sure hitting someone in a wheelchair with you-know-what is about as close to a surefire one-way ticket to hell as you can get.
Ah well. I was probably going end up there anyway. At least now it's with distinction.
Gamely accepting eternal damnation, I turn my attention back to my current predicament and try to soften Doug's malignant look with Sad Eyes, perhaps win over one of my impending assailants with our shared humanity. Not having it, Doug brusquely looks away.
I then attempt to escape reality via fantasy before great and terrible violence is visited upon me. I try to picture Angie, with shitstains on her dress, groveling at my feet in a grassy field, but not even my imagination will cooperate with me as all I'm seeing is her and TONEEE dancing, clothes sequined and shiny.
"This is why, you know," Angie says, jitterbugging.
"Why what?" I ask.
Angie throws out those sugar hips of hers followed by a quick cha-cha: "TONEEE wouldn't have missed!" she says.
"I didn't miss!" I yell at TONEEE and Angie as they tango across my goddamned grassy field.
"What was that, queef?" Ray hisses, yanking me out of my reverie, his breath hot and garlic-y.
"Nothing, Ray-Ray," I reply, not at all happy to be called queef. "It's kind of none of your beeswax."
Thinking otherwise, Ray grabs my hair and lifts my eyes to his. "Oh, you're gonna make it my beeswax, asshole. Now why the fuck would you do this?"
"Ho-ho! I'll never tell yoooooou!" I say, and stick out my tongue. Ray reacts to this by attempting to rip the organ from my mouth, but I dodge his greasy fingers, bare my teeth, growl, snap at his hand, all the while knowing this is likely to be the high point of my afternoon
But then the strangest thing happens:
"Oh, for chrissake, just tell him," a weary, thoroughly female voice says.
Everybody freezes, except me, as I've already been immobilized. Headlocks tend to do such things.
"Angela," TONEEE says. "Get back to the reception. We've got this."
Through the throng of snarling faces and balled fists I get a glimpse of Angie, sober somehow, her eyes on me, her expression unfathomable.
"Only Daddy calls me Angela, TONEEE," she says. Then to me, her voice back to low: "Go on, say it. Finish it."
As you should recall Angie had the signature line Elaine! Elaine! to go with her wrathful ruse and so of course I had to come up with something for mine. In keeping with pattern, when I had finally settled on that something, Angie had astutely judged it to be, and I quote, "super dumb," but now that the moment has arrived I find I am not ashamed in the slightest to say it.
Why not? Because this is victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, my friend. Angie remembers.
"SO SAY IT ALREADY!" she screams. "SAY IT YOU SON OF A BITCH! YOU'VE RUINED EVERYTHING!"
"You better say it, queef," Ray says.
"Now how can I say no to such a wonderful audience?" I say, pausing briefly to bask in this unexpected glory. "Everybody ready?"
And just before Doug boxes my ears, TONEEE bites my arm (what kind of person, in their first move in a beatdown, bites an arm?), and Ray goes back to yanking my hair, I nod a fond farewell to Angie, grin the last grin I ever will with a full set of teeth and say:
"Revenge is a dish best served… poopy."
Raconteur, accomplished curmudgeon, baseball fanatic, David Skinner hails from the badlands of suburban Colorado Springs, where he lives with his wife, Jenn, and pug, award-winning snuggler and chewer-of-things-that-are-not-his, Howie. When he's not derailing worthless internet political discussions for his own amusement by accusing any and all contributors of Hitlerism, Mr. Skinner typically produces a story of some kind. His latest is the comic novel, The Antichrist of Kokomo County. Find him at http://tdavidskinner.com and on Twitter.
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