Sunday, October 30, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 278: Tucker Mythology - Worst Best Man, Pt. 6

Tucker Mythology
Worst Best Man

Part Six, Beheaded

I had a planning tree in my mind, branches off of branches and secret branches to spare. Tucker was gently pushing my plan off the outermost branches.
 
Before his bachelor party, there had been three times in my life when I'd gotten black-out drunk. My body had stayed awake - or so I'd heard - but my thinking self had flunked the brain chemistry exam of basic human existence. My body couldn't form long-term memories, just a scattering of brief images. Even the images felt separated from me emotionally, as if they'd happened to someone else.

As the evening wore on, Tucker and Adam kept handing me drinks. In retrospect, I didn't have to accept them. I did, though. I was 23 and I pretty much kept going with whatever my friends wanted to do until there was an emergency. My friends asked me to drink, so that's what I did. What I can remember from the late night portion is:

1. Dancing at a bar with a short, curly-haired woman who kept leaning in toward me. She wore a purple dress, plain cloth, nothing fancy. Her smile and her cleavage at the top of the dress looked great. I had the sense this was our third or fourth dance.

2. Standing in a dark corner, wood paneling visible in front of me. A woman's voice whispering in my ear, "You're not going to remember this."

3. Sitting at a table surrounded by members of the bachelor party and bottles of beer. To my right, the lights were bright and out of focus. Someone laughing.

4. Riding in the limousine. Tucker complaining about something. Everyone sympathizing.

5. Arriving at The Brickskeller, a beer house in Georgetown, DC. The fresh air was feeling really good as we walked from the limo to the door. For a moment, I was starting to get sober.

6. A wall of beer bottles and cans, probably in The Brickskeller.

7. Adam asking, "How do you feel?" as I was realizing that I felt pretty sick. "You keep mixing whiskey and beer."

"I hate beer." Sounding drunk even to myself.

"That's why I asked how you feel."

7. Feeling surprised that it was eleven at night and Tucker was still awake. Getting irritated that I'd miscalculated. He was proving to be way more into the drinking than I'd imagined. I'd thought we could meet his midnight curfew easily but it was going to be hard if he stayed awake.

8. Feeling even more ill. Tucker looking wobbly. Him laughing about it.

9. Standing in a line outside somewhere with other men, next to a six or seventh bar, and someone saying, "Fuck it, let's go home." There was no breeze where we were standing. It smelled like an alley in the city. "Yeah, that's a wrap."

#
 
Retrospect:

I hadn't planned enough about one aspect of the evening and that is how I mostly got dances just for Tucker. A few times, I snagged dance partners for other men in the bachelor party but mostly, I didn't bother. I figured the others would fend for themselves. They should have. But the hitch was: they didn't want to. Not everyone is comfortable with asking women to dance.

In parties at Amherst College, Smith College, and around the Northampton area, I had friends who demanded that I be their wingman. It was a role I sort of understood. Did I always make things work out the way my friends wanted? No. But I knew how it was supposed to go in a rough fashion.

1) Let your friend show you his crush.
2) Pick out another girl from her group and take her onto the dance floor.
3) Now your friend can romance his prospect onto the dance floor with a better chance of acceptance.

There was more to it sometimes but that was the basic scheme. You had to expose yourself to some embarrassment and that's part of why it failed for the bachelor party. Some of Tucker's friends didn't want to dance. Some didn't want to get turned down. Generally, they seemed to want to go drink together at a place that specialized in beer. They bought me whiskey and I got too drunk to argue against their plan. Also, maybe no argument would have worked. Tucker really wanted to drink.
 
On top of everything, a couple friends in the bachelor party weren't invited to the wedding. That seemed odd. We were hanging out with folks who Tucker had explicitly uninvited. Really. Tucker's father or his fiance, either one, didn't like those friends. Bad feelings about those decisions came out in the beer. We spent too much of the evening bitching about our lives.
 
We returned Tucker to his fiance an hour late, at one in the morning.

#

A clergyman dressed mostly in black whispered to Tucker. Both of them smiled, so it must have been a joke. Then the clergyman stood taller. In a louder voice, he recapped the plans we had heard during rehearsal. He indicated with his left hand that I should stand closer to Tucker. After we had stepped through our script, he leaned close to Tuck to ask about his health. Then he took him by the elbow and directed him to stand in the wing of the chapel. I followed.

He gave Tucker a remonstrative glance as he closed the doors on us. Tucker sighed.

We stood alone in an off-white room. Tucker folded his hands in front of him. After a moment of rest, he straightened the lapel of his pearly tuxedo. I was surprised by how good he looked. His blondeness shouldn't have looked so smart with such a bright color next to it. But for him it didn't matter. He wore clothes well. Only his face betrayed a slight sense of his drunkenness. 
 
None of our mutual friends seemed to be on the guest list. We were the groom and best man, alone, waiting for the ceremony to happen around us and sweating in the ninety-degree heat. We had no allies. We had arrived home after his midnight curfew and his family had greeted Tucker with a shouting match. He didn't seem bothered about it. I was. He eyed the solitary window as if considering whether to open it. He gave me a reassuring smile.
 
"It's kind of hot," he said.

"It's Maryland." We lived in a state that was moist and oppressive. Ninety-five degrees felt like one hundred twenty.

Tucker nodded. He peeked between the doors to study the guests as they took their seats. After a while, the organist started to play. Tucker backed away from the apse of the church.
 
He turned to me and said, "If I ever do this again, man, I'm having my ceremony in the winter."

I stared at him. My head hurt. My mouth ached. My body was slow to react. In contrast, Tucker had sarcasm. Or maybe he was being oblivious. A moment later, he burst into laughter.

"I shouldn't say that in the wings of the chapel." He nodded to himself. "Kind of terrible."

"It's okay." That meant it had just slipped out, I guessed.

"Nah. I should have a better attitude."

"Do you feel okay?" He looked better than I felt.

"I'm nervous. A little hung over, too, but mostly I'm hot. And nervous. Fuck, this suit is heavy."

We both chuckled. He complained about the heat for a minute more. We fell quiet. The organist stopped. We heard talking, a distant mumble. A minute later, the clergyman cracked open the door. He invited us to come forward. Tucker strode out into the front of the church with me beside him.
 
Next, we did all of the things we had been scripted to do. Among them, Tucker took his vows to be faithful forever.

#

My girlfriend and I followed a train of cars to the reception. It was a complicated route but I was accustomed to long caravans on rafting trips. I blasted through yellow lights. I kept my position in the line.

We ended on the grounds of a place that I realize in hindsight must have made its money from weddings, formal balls, and similar events. I'd never seen anything quite like it before. The private roads were paved but unpainted. Around us, we passed open, green fields of freshly cut grass, strands of trees in the distance, tan pavilions, white gazebos, and a series of parking lots, each a quarter to a third of a mile apart. Many of the mysterious but pretty buildings we passed had gentle paths and parking spots carved out next to them. I followed the cars in front of me and, in two minutes, came to a young man in a suit who gestured to a woman in suit who, when I reached her, showed me where to park.

Inside our destination building, there seemed to be multiple event halls. That was an extra complication I hadn't expected. My girlfriend and I had to follow directions there in order to find ourselves in the grand hall meant for Tucker's wedding reception.

"This place looks expensive," Andrea said. She bit her lower lip.

"I guess it is?" I squinted at it, not quite sure. Tucker had half-heartedly complained over the phone about Laura's preparations and the costs. I hadn't paid much attention. I hadn't understood, really, and he'd told me that it mostly didn't affect him. Laura's family had paid.

We wandered around as a couple. The walls were an odd shade of pink. The furniture seemed to be mostly polished stainless steel, although sometimes with a wood base, and nearly everything bore white cushions or white tablecloths. In the center, there was a dance floor of white tiles. Some of the tables had been placed on the dance area.

It was odd to find myself at a large gathering where I didn't know anyone. Tucker's family seemed too busy to talk except for his mother. She stopped to re-introduce herself to Andrea and ask how we were doing. It was a pleasant minute. She was busy, though, and moved on to other guests. After her, I had a hard time finding anyone who was willing to even look at us. Tucker had gone missing.

According to the seating charts, Andrea would not be sitting with me.

"This is horrible." Andrea said. She hardly glanced at her assigned table. Her gaze fell on the raised platform covered with a white tablecloth. That's where I had been assigned to sit a couple spots from Tucker. "Well, it's for Laura. I almost wish I hadn't been invited, though."

"I'm glad you were," I replied as I imagined a party of two hundred where no one at all wanted to talk to me.

Andrea and I drifted toward the serving trays that sat on the side row of tables in the back. The staff, though, motioned for us to back off. They brought out plates of finger food.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" I asked Andrea as I took something from a tray. I didn't know what it was but it smelled fine.

"I grew up in a really small town," she answered. I understood the answer was no, she hadn't. She peered suspiciously at a cracker and olive combination.

Finally, when I wasn't looking for him, Tucker appeared through a side door near us with his bride on his arm. She saw me and let him go. He eased the rest of his way across to us. 
 
"What have you got planned for the toast?" he asked.

"What toast?" I actually looked around to see if there was bread.

"You know, the best man gives a toast. A speech."

"I'm supposed to give a speech?"

"Haven't you even thought about it?" He leaned back. It was the first time he'd seemed startled or even completely awake today.

"For weeks, two or three months now, really, I've been asking you what I should do." My voice got dark. I took a breath and kept calm. "I wanted to know all my best man duties. I asked for them. I asked twice a week. More. How many times? Seriously, how many times did I ask?"

Tucker paled slightly as he replayed the phone calls in his mind.

"It doesn't have to be a long speech," he said.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 277: Tucker Mythology - Worst Best Man, Pt. 5

Tucker Mythology
Worst Best Man

Part Five, Executed

"Are you ready for tonight?" my girlfriend asked as I hung up the phone in the kitchen.

"Not really." I paced from the kitchen to the hallway. Adam had called me with details about the limousine. I had expected Tucker to do it.

The details were turning out to be different than I'd hoped. All of the women who I had arranged to meet us two weeks before had cancelled. We had gotten a different set of Tucker's old and new friends coming with us. I didn't know some of the newer ones but Tucker seemed happy for their presence. He'd made promises to visit some of his buddies in different bars at different times, so that put us on a schedule. I hadn't wanted to have a set list of bars to visit, really. I'd wanted the freedom to stay a long time in one nightclub if we were getting lots of dances. I'd hoped to get Tucker home before midnight, too, the way his fiance wanted. 

"Don't let him get too drunk," Andrea warned me.

"Yeah." I'd heard it before. Tucker seemed set on having a few beers, though. His friends were backing him up. "A few of the guys are set on cutting loose and doing typical bachelor stuff, though. Tucker seems good with it."

"Maybe that will end the evening early."

"It might." I had shared with her one aspect of Tucker that gave me hope for his natural restraint. He had a history of passing out at around eleven in the evening wherever he was, whatever he was doing. He could fall asleep on his feet. He had almost never stayed up to midnight.

"Didn't you say the limousine will be here at six? You've got less than an hour."

"I guess I should shower."

#

The first nightclub I'd chosen was the hottest place in Gaithersburg. It was my plan to move south as we danced our way through the night. After the Gaithersburg club, I'd steer us to one in Rockville, another in Rockville, Bethesda, then a series of DC clubs. As usual, I had a planning tree in my mind, with branches off branches holding secret branches as backups. That was the way I worked.

We arrived to the first place in the daylight, though. That's not the best time.

"No, I'm not interested in dancing," a young woman told me. She was short, with long brown hair, and an extremely pretty face. She was the second one to turn me down. Although it was early, my plan seemed to be off to a rough start.

The first rejection had resulted in laughter from the guys. The second had gotten eye rolls and a flash of concern.

I surveyed the room and tried to figure out who would respond well. Oddly, I found myself drawn back to the first woman who had rejected me. She was taller, almost Tucker's height, and wore conservative, shoulder length hair. Her posture looked razor straight and her expression seemed prim. Her sleeves, I noticed, were buttoned despite the heat. But I still felt she was just right to say yes.

I approached her again and her gaze met mine. After I gave her a nod, she leaned toward me.

"Is he the groom?" she gestured to a group of men and, at the back of them, Tucker.

"Yeah."

"Right." She studied him for a moment as he drank half a beer. "He's kind of cute. You know, I hate to be the first out on the dance floor but it's a special occasion. Tell him to come over here and ask me himself."

"Sure." I had to chuckle.

"He's not going to hit on me, is he?" She caught my elbow before I could leave. Her brow furrowed. Her arm shook a little and I noticed how her other hand gripped the edge of her table. It looked like she needed more reassurance.

"We will give him so much shit if he does."

Something in the way I said it seemed to help. She barked a laugh. The plan had launched.

We followed the first dance with another, then another. I wandered from table to table begging more dances and, as a result, I got out onto the floor with a few women myself. I suppose we could have stayed in Gaithersburg but the night was young, hardly even started, and we had places to be. When we threw money on the table and headed for the limousine, the woman who had danced first with Tucker grabbed him again. She demanded one more time.

"This is really working." Tucker smiled in calm amazement as he left the dance floor.

#
 
"Nope. Nope. This isn't good," Adam announced as our limousine pulled up next to a white plaza building.

"No way, man," said another of Tucker's friends from the opposite seat.

I leaned forward. Outside, I saw a eggshell-white building. On its sides, I looked into dark restaurant windows. The setting sun reflected in them. This was the next stop on our itinerary. Between us and the destination lay thirty feet of asphalt with a few white lines painted on it.

There were not many cars in view. Not many people, either.

On the left side of the building, the south, the windows were transparent. They didn't catch the sun. I could see through to the front of the restaurant. The lobby was empty except for a doorman in a blue, button-up shirt. No one sat at the seats of the bar behind him. I could see the edge of the dance floor. It was white and clean. The whole place looked neat. 

"Isn't anyone in there?" Tucker asked. He leaned forward and blocked my view.

"Nope," said Adam. 

"Sorry," I said. "This place has a good reputation. I guess it doesn't start filling up until later."

"Too late," said Adam. He knew our schedule. 

"The next place is two blocks south," I volunteered.

"Driver!" Tucker shouted. "Take us two blocks south!" He leaned back and chuckled as if he'd been waiting to say something like that.

"Wintergreen Plaza," I murmured to the driver. 

We arrived at our Rockville dance bar just after the sun disappeared below the horizon. The clouds to our west burned red and purple. I burped as we were parking. Tucker kept telling me to drink. He and Adam talked about how much we used to have as teenagers at Shakey's. Both of them seemed to feel that getting drunk was part of the traditional bachelor party experience. And Tucker wanted that. 

"Have more beer," Adam told me.

"I already had half a glass," I replied. "At the last place. And half a bottle in the car."

"Tucker had to finish those."

Of course, he hadn't needed to do it. I started an irrelevant argument about that for a minute and finished with, "I don't really like beer."

"So have something you do like." Adam grinned and made an arm twisting motion in the air. "They have whiskey here. Anyway, Tucker thinks you should drink with us."

I glanced at Tucker. "Is that true?"

"Hell yeah." Tucker hadn't stopped smiling for half an hour. He seemed like a different person than he'd been for most of the summer. "Relax. Have a few."

"We're not driving tonight," Adam said. "You don't have to be responsible. You can tie one on. That's the whole point of renting a limo."

"I guess."

Tucker nodded. For him, clearly, it was the point. His line about supporting his buddy's limo service had been a justification for what he wanted from his bachelor party. It weighed on my mind for a moment that we were doing exactly what his fiance said she didn't want from us. Of course, if Laura had wanted to put us on her side, she would have needed to talk with us. She didn't seem to have spoken with any of Tucker's friends for a few months. It meant no one in our group was interested in her point of view.

Apparently, that included Tucker. 

Inside, Adam and Tucker each ordered me a whiskey sour. I had one in my hand as I made the rounds. Fortunately for me, the dance floor had a few couples on it. I didn't have to be the first one out there or to persuade women to be brave. The overhead lights had dimmed. The disco lights swirled around us.
 
"You're not asking me to dance?" the young woman said, slightly shocked. She was tall and naturally blonde with a willowy body type Tucker seemed to like. 

"Nope. I'm with a bachelor party." I leaned in closer and pointed to our group off to the right. "I'm getting dances for the groom. He's over there."

"Why isn't he asking?" She didn't seem offended. Her mouth hung open after she spoke as if she were puzzled.

"He's shy. But I want to get him dances. They're his last ones with single ladies." That had been a big selling point at the last place. I was pretty sure it was going to work here, too. "Will you give him a dance?"

Her eyes narrowed on me for a minute. "Are you really with a bachelor party?"

"Yes."

"Are you the best man?"

"Um." I glanced around at her friends for a moment, three of them around a squarish table. From their mischievous smiles, they seemed to have figured out the situation, They nodded to me. They probably could have answered in my place. "Yeah, I am."

"Okay." She rose and strode toward the bachelor party. I took a deep breath.

Before I could say goodbye to the table, one of her friends got up. She was a cute, dark-haired woman and she took my hand. Her grip was smooth and warm.

"Come on," she said. "You dance too, right?"
 
"Sure." It almost came out as a question, I felt so surprised.
 
"Your best friend can't have all the fun." She shook her head to the side. A strand of long hair crossed over her smile.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 276: Tucker Mythology - Worst Best Man, Pt. 4

Tucker Mythology
Worst Best Man

Part Four, Stranded

I hand-cranked the window down on my Honda Accord. It was 1989 and that was how most car windows worked. My girlfriend had asked me to pick her up from her job at the health spa. She had also requested that I not walk into her office. I had to drive up and wave. So I lowered the window and stuck out my hand. A few seconds later, she saw me. She waved back.

"It's been a day," Andrea said when she hopped into the car. "I made three membership sales. It would have been four but my manager took one away from me."

That made the second time her manager had done it. Maybe she didn't like Andrea. Maybe there was something else going on like the manager had to avoid paying Andrea a bonus or she wanted to get a bonus herself and considered it fair.

"Sorry," I said.

"Everything got slow after lunchtime," she said, shrugging it off. She clipped her seat belt and motioned for me to drive. "I had time to follow up with Laura."

"She called back?" 

"No." Andrea grimaced as I pulled the car from the curb. "She's been a lot like Tucker. Never returns calls. I caught her while she was home."

As I pulled away, I listened to her recount the conversation. There hadn't been much. Laura had deflected Andrea's offers to help with the wedding. 

"She seemed a little hostile," Andrea said. "What does she think I've done?"

"You can't have done anything," I said. "We haven't seen her in a year."

"More, I think." She gazed out the window.

"Yeah. But she liked you whenever we were together."
 
It was less than a mile to home. Andrea and I had settled on a townhouse in the Bennington development in the north end of Gaithersburg. We found the rents to be reasonable, as good as a Frederick apartment with the bonus that we could sublet to roommates. That was a feature we hadn't gotten in Frederick. Of course, we continued to shop for Frederick apartments but the pressure was off for a few months.

We turned into the development as we speculated about the wedding. Andrea had almost decided on her dress. 

On either side of us, we saw lawns that had grown lush over the summer in front of each townhouse. The sidewalks looked as white as if they'd been bleached. A few of the townhomes had been built with two stories of brick front. Most, though, had bricks or a stone fronting on the ground floor with the second floor covered by aluminum siding.

Andrea, a small town girl who had grown up and gone to a small college still felt awed by the fact that the drive into the development had four lanes, two to a side.

"This is a major highway where I come from," she said. She shook her head.
 
I nodded. I had visited the New York state countryside enough to know she was right. We pulled up to our unit, a place with stone fronting and aluminum siding.

"Next time you talk with Tucker," Andrea added, "ask him if I've done something to offend Laura."

We got out, grabbed our backpacks, and trundled through our door to sigh and collapse a little. Before I sat down, though, I added a note about Tucker to my written list of priorities. Handwritten lists were my way of keeping track. Nevertheless, over the course of almost a week it would take me several tries before I reached him again. I had to go through his family, first. When I got his mother on the phone, she said, "You should reach him at work. Nowadays, that's what we do."

"I don't have the number," I replied.

"Wait just one minute," she said. She put down the phone and returned with the number. I used it right away. A little while later, I tried again.

"Hey, man," Tucker said when he called me back. "Don't call me at work."

Initially, I laughed. On the other hand, I knew he was serious. When I asked him about whether Laura was mad at Andrea, he said that he guessed not.
 
"I don't know what's going on," he admitted. "I thought she sort of liked Andrea. But she doesn't like any of my friends much now. Maybe that's all it is. Probably that's all."

"Any?"

"You, too."

"What did I do?" I protested. In my kitchen, I turned and faced Andrea. My hand shook the phone. I threw up my arms to the limit of the phone cable.

"Nothing." Tucker's voice sounded distant. I pulled the handset closer. "It doesn't matter. She doesn't want anything to do with you. In a way, it's nothing personal."

"Except it's kind of personal." And I was in his wedding.

"Well, that too."

"Fine." My legs started pacing me in a circle. "If I can't call you at work and I can't call you at your parents' house because you're never there and I can't call you at home with Laura, how am I going to get hold of you?"

"I don't know, man. We'll think of something."

"There isn't much time left."

"What do you mean? We've got weeks left."

"We said that a lot of weeks ago. It doesn't seem like much anymore." My pacing took me next to the kitchen stool. I pulled it out and sat down. 

By our standards as teenagers, we had a lot of time. But we were older and anyway, I could see how this was trending. A month had passed in Maryland while I still hadn't sat down with Tucker. He mostly didn't return calls. When I tracked him down in any way at all, in any setting, he seemed tired and unwilling to talk about the wedding.

He wasn't excited about getting married so much as he was resigned to it.

"Give me a date for the bachelor party," I said. "You have to agree on a date. You keep putting it off."

"Okay. Anything except the night before the wedding is fine. That’s the only choice that would really piss Laura off.”

"How about Friday, the twelfth? That's a couple weeks before the wedding."

"I'm tired on Friday nights. It's a bad idea."

"Saturday, then."

"Yeah, that's all right.”

He didn't exactly show a fun loving attitude but at least I’d gotten him to set the date.

For the next two weeks, I called all of Tucker's friends including some I had never met. I got everyone to agree on the bar-hopping, dancing-only itinerary. There were a few men who said they were going to drink and expected Tucker to drink with them. Even Tucker seemed to think some drinks of celebration were called for. I found myself talked into it, partly because we would have two weeks to recover. Still, dancing was the biggest part of the plan. 
 
Aside from my confidence that I could get strangers to dance with Tucker, I had time to think of failsafes. I called up women. I got a few of them to agree to meet us by accident and have last dances with Tucker. Some of the women were mutual friends. Others barely knew him. They took convincing. In the end, four of them agreed and a fifth said maybe she could. 

Two days before the bachelor party, Tucker called me to firm up plans about the limousine. That was his idea and he was making the arrangements.

"I'm going to reschedule the limo," he told me. "The whole thing, actually. Eric, I can't make it."

"You can't come to your own bachelor party?" 

"I know it's not convenient but my boss wants me to work that day. So I need to change the date."

That sounded outrageous. It was weird, too. I foresaw a lot of phone calls and apologies in my near future.

"Do you still want a bachelor party?" I asked, doubtful.

"Absolutely," he insisted.

"Okay, when?"

He mentioned a possible day, then he eliminated it before I could respond. He mentioned another day.

"No, that's not going to work, either," he said. "Damn."

"Well, can you take a day off work or something?"

"Not really. The job isn't that secure. Not as much as I'd like it to be, anyway." He tapped his chin. His voice grew stronger. "That leaves the night before the wedding."

"But ..." That was exactly the date he'd said not to pick.

"It's the only one that works. Doesn't it?"

Tucker had started insisting that he wanted to drink. But going out the night before sort of put an end to that. We were back to sober dancing. Sober-ish, at least.

"We'll make it work," I agreed. I started checking my handwritten lists for all the people I needed to call.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 275: Tucker Mythology - Worst Best Man, Pt. 3

Tucker Mythology
Worst Best Man

Part Three, Ghosted

When I hung up the phone, my girlfriend gave me a sympathetic look. She modified the sympathy with a scowl. Her arms crossed over her chest. She hunched her shoulders and leaned forward before she spoke.

“Didn’t you already leave that message?” she asked.

“It’s been a couple of days. Everything is the same, no response. What else can I do?”

She sighed and touched the collar of her shirt. She shook her head.

I had expected Tucker to sit down with me and talk. I'd thought we'd meet the day after I returned to Maryland. It hadn’t worked out that way. So far, I'd gotten a one-minute phone conversation with him and no invitation to meet. He cut off the conversation early because he was tired and told me I should call him back. I did, but he never returned the second call. Or the third, or the fourth.

After leaving a half-dozen messages on his answering machine, I got my return call from Tucker. It came during a rain storm. The view through my parents' living room window was dark as I picked up.

"Hey, man." Tucker said. "Your messages are bugging Laura."

"What does that mean?"

"I think she's erasing them. From your last one, I'm pretty sure there were more before this one, right? Anyway, I don't have the energy to think about this stuff right now. We've got a month and a half. No worries."

"Well, no worries if we get together soon. I mean, I'm not sure what I should do."

"Do the usual best man stuff."

"All I know is that I'm supposed to be there with the ring." I wasn't clear on what the best man really did during the ceremony. None of my friends seemed familiar with it. Young men are not necessarily born knowing what to do as a best man, of course, and no one else in our circle of friends had gotten married. I had no relatives who could give me advice. Tucker would have been an ideal person to tell me the right level of expectations.

"Don't worry about the ring." Tucker replied. He hesitated a moment and his voice turned quiet. "I mean, you won't be doing that. Laura told me she's going to take care of it."
 
"So in the ceremony, I won't hand it to you?" It was starting to look like I'd have no job as best man. Or the responsibilities would be a surprise. Or they'd turn out to be vaguely defined and I'd have to make it up as I went along. 

"You know, I'm not sure. I'll ask Laura."
 
"So all I'm doing is organizing the bachelor party?" At least that would be no problem. It would be a natural thing, given how we'd grown up.

"I guess you could do that. But no. I forgot. Laura doesn't want me to have one. My dad said something against it, too."

"Is that what you think?" We hadn't talked much but I was starting to see a pattern. The wedding was all about what other people wanted. It was reasonable in a way, too, but Tucker seemed to be taking his just-getting-along approach to the extent of letting it make him tired and unhappy. "What about you?"

"I’d rather have a party," he admitted. "You know, a last bit of freedom. But I can only do it if we keep it tame."

"No trips to strip bars?"

"Nope." I could almost hear him roll his eyes at the suggestion. "That's something Laura mentioned specifically. No strippers."

"Okay." Those were the only two 'best man' duties that my friends and family had suggested: stand there holding the ring and before that, organize the party. "I'll think of something."

"Call me and let me know what it is."

We hung up and I went back to looking at ads for apartments in Frederick. That was how I spent my summer when I wasn't working at temp agencies or trying to make arrangements with Tucker about his wedding. 

Every few days, Andrea and I drove to Frederick to grab newspapers. We thumbed through the classifieds, kept an eye out for cheap musical instruments and art supplies, joked about the personals section, and highlighted apartments we liked. Andrea had exacting specifications in mind. I had price limits. Sometimes, when we called the landlords we found the places we wanted had been rented out to someone else.
 
As we went through the apartment-hunting process, I considered the problem of Tucker's bachelor party. It wasn't enough to be tame. It had to be fun. The party had to make Tucker smile. Playing games wouldn't be enough. Drinking was dumb. It was exactly what Tucker expected but also what we shouldn't do. We had to get out and be social but not be totally stupid.

One morning, I woke up with the right idea. We could treat it like a bachelorette party. Go bar hopping. But without the drinks.

After a week of calling Tucker, I gave up and called his family to leave a message. When I didn't hear back, I called them again to pass on another.

"Hey man," Tucker said when he called me the next day.

"I've got the bachelor party lined up," I said. "It'll be easy. We'll go bar hopping but we won't drink. We'll do a bunch of dancing instead."

Hearing the concept actually made him laugh. Tired as he had sounded all summer, it was good to hear.

"I don't know, man. I mean, I kind of like dancing. But women say no to me when I ask. A lot, man. That's no fun. It isn't the way I want to spend the night."

"I will get you a minimum of three dance partners at every place we stop." I held up my fist. "Guaranteed."

"How are you going to do that?"

"You won't have to ask. I will send them to you. Believe me." I could envision asking other women to dance with him. Easy as anything. It was definitely going to work. Tucker was going to have thirty or forty last dances as a single man.

"Shit." He laughed again.

"You know I will get you those dances."

"Holy crap!" He smacked his own cheek. It was the first time I could hear a smile in his voice all summer. "Okay, then. If anyone can ... yeah, okay. Let's do it. I'll go dancing. And you'll get the women?"

"Lining them up now," I said. 

He chuckled and let out a sigh. And so it was decided.

Really, I thought it was decided. As it turned out, there was a part of my plan that Tucker didn't like and that was the lack of drinking. It took me a couple weeks to find out that he wanted to modify the plan and that's because he still didn't return my calls. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Not Even Not Zen 274: Biomythography - Note 34, No Rock Music

Biomythography - Note 34
No Rock Music

There was no rock music allowed in my house until I reached fifteen. Even then, the rule didn't change. What happened was I got better at sneaking in music.

It was my policy to change the parental policies of the house. That was why, following my personal code, paragraph 2, subsection 1, I protested against the No Rock Music rule by wearing my parents down as much as I could, forcing them into a state of resignation like a well worn groove in a record, a record I played over and over. I started by sneaking in transistor radios and listening to Casey Kasem or Dr. Demento late at night. I had my first radio confiscated when I was seven. The second one, too, a year later. But after the second, they stopped talking them away for very long. Eventually, four radios into my rebellion, my parents gave up trying to overhear my station choices.

Sneaking in records was harder. In theory, a transistor radio could be used to listen to news. I often pretended I was doing that. But a Beatles record could not be used to play Mozart. There was no reason to have one except to be a no-good, long-haired hippie. Regardless, I wanted the records.

In this home environment, the first rock album I decided to buy was Jazz by Queen. I spotted it in a Montgomery Ward department store. Amazingly, about half of the albums in the Ward music rack, which did not have a great selection - it was about as wide as my arms outstretched - included a picture of the Nude Bicycle Race as a special bonus poster inside. (There was a “warning” sticker on the special editions to let parents know not to buy them.) I had to have it, partly for Fat Bottom Girls, Bicycle Race, and Don’t Stop Me Now, but also for the poster.

I couldn’t drive. There wasn't, not ever, a prospect of getting into any store by myself. I knew I had to buy the album and hide it from my mother at the same time. Inspired by the sticker telling me about the extra-forbidden poster, I went elsewhere in the store and got my mother two Christmas gifts. Then I told her I was buying gifts, which was what we had come to do anyway, and I warned her not to come to the register. I bought the album at the same time as her gifts.

She tried hard not to look at my Wards bag. She was honest. For sure, she was more trustworthy than me. I took the bag straight down to my room and tucked the album away. Then I got out the holiday paper and innocently wrapped presents.

That night, I turned my record player volume on low and lay next to it as I played side one of the Jazz album again and again. I fell asleep, woke when the music stopped, put the needle back to the start, and lay down to rest about three inches from the forbidden sounds of rebellious, non-classical, non-big-band, non-religious music.

It was wonderful. I memorized it all, poster included.

When there was only a week to go before Christmas, I decided I had to buy my uncle a copy of the album with the nude bicycle race. He was only three years older than I was and he desperately yearned to date, kiss girls, and maybe see a girl in the nude sometime. I totally sympathized. And he lived with his mother, who frowned on even the mention of such things. So his cause became, as with so many causes before and since, a sort of holy mission for me.

“I’d like to get an album for Mark,” I mentioned to my mother in the kitchen the next morning. I knew this stood a chance of blowing my cover.

“It’s not a rock album, is it?” my mother asked.

“It is,” I admitted, “but uncle Mike has rock albums. So Mark is allowed.“

“I guess he is,” my mother said with a slightly surprised gasp.

Off to Montgomery Ward we went. I desperately strode to the music section there and prayed that they hadn’t sold all of the Queen albums. I was in luck, or Mark was. There were five albums left, two of them advertising the nude bicycle race poster inside.

I must have let my guard down because, right then, I got caught.

“You can’t get him one with pictures of nude women in it,” my mom said over my shoulder.

I jumped, startled.

“Oh, that’s no problem," I said. I set down the copy that had the pink sticker. “They have most of these without the poster inside, see?”

I held up one of the Queen albums that sadly did not contain a poster and she inspected it carefully.

“This one is creased, though.” I pointed to the corner of the cardboard. Someone had bent it a little.

“You’re getting a different one?” She let me slip the one she was holding out of her hands.

“Just a nicer copy.” I put back the album with the sticker and pulled out the next album from the stack. My mother yanked it from my grasp and checked it. There were no stickers except for the price. When she was satisfied, she gave it back.

She followed me all of the way to the register, watching. Even as I was buying it, she turned the album over twice to make sure it wasn’t hiding a sticker in the wrong place. When I wrapped it at home, my mother handed me the wrapping paper and watched me start the job.

On Christmas morning, at my grandmother's house, Mark opened up his gift, the Queen Jazz album. His mother scowled. My mother scowled. Mark beamed with delight. I had hardly ever seen such raw, relaxed joy on his face.

“Everyone at school has been talking about this!” he exclaimed.

The adults around us slumped. They let down their guard a bit. Even our parents understood Mark's desire to fit in more, to be more cool.

“Let’s go open this in your room and listen to it.” I put my hand over his to prevent him from ripping off the plastic right there.

“Quietly!” my father yelled.

“We don’t want to hear it,” my grandmother added.

"Too bad you couldn't get the special edition," Mark whispered as we walked down the hall. He opened the door to his room. "That's what all the guys are talking about."
 
I yanked his door closed behind us. I took the album from his hand, ripped off the plastic myself, slipped the poster out, and swung it onto the top shelf of his closet. No one could see it there.
 
"Was that ...?" he trailed off.

"Put on the record," I said.

"But."

"Didn't we say we were coming into your room to listen to the album? Let's listen."

"Okay."

A minute into Mustapha, the first song on the album, my mother opened the door to Mark's room. She popped her head in and looked around. It took a moment for her gaze to calm down and find us, her son and her youngest brother sitting calmly on the bed next to the stereo. We weren't doing anything wrong as far as she could see.

"Is that the music?" she said. She glanced at the record player.

"Yeah."

"Sounds sort of Arabic." The realization seemed to set her back. She spent a moment actually listening.

"I think the singer is Turkish or something. It's a tribute. The rest of the album is rock songs."

"Okay." She stepped out and closed the door. A moment later, she opened it again. "Lunch is almost ready. Come out in ten minutes."

"Sure," Mark said.

"Ugh," I muttered. My grandmother was not a great cook. She boiled everything except the pies. Sometimes she thought mincemeat pies were a treat, too. It wasn't polite of me to let my opinion slip out. But it was normal. And I was striving for normal.

My mother gave me a warning look. She'd given me plenty of lectures about politeness and food. Then she closed the door again. This time, we heard her footsteps in the hall as she walked away.

"That was close," Mark said.

We sat and listened to the album for a while. We got through most of side one before the adults called us to the lunch table. Of course, we got seated at the kids table. That was normal for us. This time the kids got put slightly off to one side of the basement in the laundry room. Mark and I discussed music and school there for a while. Mostly, though, we had to talk with the younger kids about their games. After lunch, we played cards.

I didn't see Mark again until a month later. He came over for our joint birthday party. After the song and cake, he trudged down the stairs to my basement. His gaze turned left to my stereo system as he walked in. At the front of it, tilted to one side, lay the Jazz album by Queen. I had snuck in two other rock albums, too, but the first one was my favorite. I'd left it on my player.

He sat down on my bed and picked up the album cover. I turned on the stereo, picked up the phonograph arm, and moved it to the fourth track.

"Thanks," he said, and gave me a sly smile. "I really liked the poster."

I stood there and he sat there, listening to Bicycle Race. We grinned at each other. As we listened, our grins got bigger.