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How I Paid $56 for a Pair of Shorts
By Joe Martinez
It seems this is the year that everyone I know is getting married. I’ve been to good weddings, but until recently I’d never been to a bad wedding in my adult life. Sure, there was the Pentecostal reception where dancing, drinking, and frolicking of any sort were verboten, but those were my parents’ friends gone all weird.
There are degrees of good and bad, but this latest nuptial was off the Richter scale of bad. After this, I was in the throes of cynicism for days: Could there be a real wedding after this one?
One of my high-school triumvirate–-let's refer to him as “Rufus,” since he is a lawyer and could easily sue me–-had invited me to his wedding in St. Louis. There was no doubt that I would come, despite the fact that Rufus’s bride–-let’s call her Griselda–-hates my guts but is syrupy-sweet and condescending around me. The trip meant a stop in Granite City (aka Planet Granite) for my daughter and me. It was the weekend before her birthday, so she would go on the mad shopping spree with Grandma and Aunt Nikki while I went to the wedding. It seemed like it would be relatively painless, but that guy Murphy’s been a real jerk to me my whole life!
A little background for you, dear reader, so that this won’t be like looking at photos of people you don’t know. I’ll start with the best man Rob–-this is his real name and he is a contractor, way more useful to the world than a lawyer–-and his wife Kate (real name), because they provided me with a model for a great wedding: Two people in loving equality getting it over with and then having a raging party. These two had been dating since senior year of high school and hadn’t had separate phone numbers in years. It was a healthy thing that everyone saw coming.
Rufus is a lawyer, but I won’t tell you what kind. He is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and to this day he's cynical as a rebellious teen. He is a man who understands the hypocrisies of the world but never makes waves. He is also a complete, raging lunatic in covert thought and deed. He joined a fraternity in college solely for the purpose of getting laid and establishing business contacts. These were the people he’d despised all through high school, yet he managed to create and maintain a brilliant façade to make everyone believe that he was just like them. His excesses are legendary among our friends.
Griselda is the picture of a Martha Stewart fembot-freakazoid. Their home is like a museum, with lots of antiques under glass, tasteful woodwork, and an air of stagnation. What might have been a comfy couch in someone else's home is an off-limits decoration that seems never to have been near a human ass.
Rufus is much like a lizard in that he has few discernable human emotions, but he seems to enjoy having June Cleaver around to take care of his clothing and the house. It comes at a price, however. The nagging is incessant, especially at social functions. Rufus likes to drink alcohol to excess, as do I. Rufus, however, isn’t in it for the long haul. He has a “go nuclear” sort of philosophy. His pattern is to slam beer after beer until he gets incoherent, usually over a span of two hours or less. This has made the few times I’ve gone to his house for drinks rather interesting. About two hours into it, Griselda was at him to quit “acting weird,” which is how she describes having an intelligent conversation. A few disgusting non-sequiturs from Rufus and she fled, leaving me alone with my friend, the drooling idiot wrought by booze.
Being truly drunken and unruly at times, Rufus must sit on a recliner that sits on a special carpet, which in turn sits on Griselda's flawlessly maintained carpet. He is literally chastised for leaving his carpeted area by the lady of the house. To me that spelled doom, with Rufus getting the respectable although vacuous wife and Griselda getting the money-making lawyer with the house (despite his evasive nature and odd proclivities). It would be kind to call her materialistic, and the testament to that is the way she treats Rufus like a cocker spaniel with bladder control issues. Paying a mortgage and putting up with Martha Stewart’s evil spawn while being treated like a recalcitrant puppy added up to a vision of the future that would leave me sprinting for the nearest precipice. If you hadn’t guessed, I was very happy it wasn’t my life, but I rationalized that this might be a perfect karmic comeuppance for such a horribly evil couple.
That being said, I traveled to Granite City and, after a wonderful lunch with my grandmother, found myself facing another conundrum. Having bailed on the ceremony itself (I HATE CHURCH IT MAKES ME INORDINATELY HORNY AND AGITATED), I set off for the reception in the afternoon. I had brought a suit but I decided not to wear it, opting for a very stylish black silk shirt, a pair of spiffy jeans, and some swanky new shoes. I then set out on the high-speed interstate journey from Illinois to Missouri, over the muddy river, which was uncharacteristically low as I passed. I was running on time to the whole thing despite leaving late, but the wide-open highways of the podunk St. Louis suburbs beckoned me to speed anyway. Five-lane highways begged for real traffic flow but allowed me to shoot through the gaps without a hint of brake lights in my wake.
The reception was held at Snottington Acres Country Club in St. Louis. If you aren't familiar with the St. Louis metropolitan area, it’s a polarized place where racism and classism are jealously guarded peculiarities. I must also say that I’m not 100% white, I’m half Mexican and half German. Subsequently I’ve got a very strange racial identity, and have always found myself in a bizarre limbo of beigeness in a community primarily concerned with black and white. My hometown is essentially a huge steel mill with residences for all the workers and little else. The height of culture there is likely reached when a Lynyrd Skynyrd song comes on the radio, and the first time I saw a bidet, when I was 17, I was a truly confused. Having said this, I must admit that I’d never been to a country club before in my life.
Upon pulling up, I was struck with the utterly generic look of the suburb and its attendant country club. It looked nice and all, with lots of well-dressed people streaming toward the big oak doors. I walked in, ready to spend an evening hanging out with this crew of guys that Rufus picked up in college, limp dicks with limp minds for the most part, and successfully flagged down the cocktail waitress. I tipped her well and called her “ma’am,” both of which shocked her, and which ingratiated her to me for the evening. After immediately sucking down a vodka tonic and ordering another, I heard a voice behind me.
“Sir, excuse me, but you can’t wear jeans in the club.” It was a well-groomed 50-year-old man with a full head of slicked-back hair, wearing a decent but overly formal double-breasted suit. He had his hands folded together with the palms in towards his body, as if ready to whip out a gun to shoot me or perhaps a brush to wipe my lapel. It was an oddly servile posture, but at the same time aggressive and guarded. I didn’t want to make a scene (please note I wasn’t so full of booze yet), so I walked into the foyer with him, out of range of the people trying to survey the scene.
“C’mon guy, this is a private function. There was no mention of a dress code on the invitation, and I just drove 300 miles to attend,” I said in my best pleading, non-threatening, friendly, fellow-proletarian Chicago voice.
“I’m sorry sir, we have a strict policy,” said Suitman. “You’ll have to leave.” I gritted my teeth thinking that my suit was about 40 miles away, but responded with a speed and graciousness that shocked me.
“Do you have any pants which I can purchase, perhaps?”
“Yes sir, let’s go get the key to the pro shop. They’ve got pants in there.” Suitman rolled his eyes as he turned toward the stairwell. As we walked up the stairs I got a little lippy with the guy.
“This is a bunch of silly pretension dude, a bunch of stupid whitey bullshit.”
“It's whatever you perceive it to be, sir,” said Suitman, his tone growing more condescending with each recitation of the word sir. “I can’t believe anyone would come to a country club wearing jeans.” I guess he had me there. I guess I wasn’t anyone in his eyes.
“Frankly, I’m a socialist at heart. This all disgusts me,” I said, emboldened to learn of my non-human status. “I’m disgusted that you and your little club are going to extort me out of some money.” We walked past a row of photos of middle-aged white guys in ties, conservative haircuts topping each head. I thought to myself, looking at the guy in the left corner, that’s “Whitey;” if I ever had to pick out a pictorial representation, that's it.
We arrived at the end of the corridor and Suitman opened the door wordlessly, revealing the pro shop. It was conservative, wood-trimmed, with tasteful leather chairs, creating that false homeyness that many retail outlets strive to project.
At that point my goal was to get pants and get the hell out of there. Upon looking at some of the pants and seeing the inflated prices, I searched for something I could wear for work, thinking that I’d make lemonade in this shitty situation. Upon close inspection I saw that the pants were, of course, not hemmed. “Fuck!” I said, my thermometer rising, ”None of these pants are hemmed! What the fuck am I supposed to do? You got any shorts?”
“Yes sir, we have some right here.”
“You gotta be kidding, my hairy-ass legs are more acceptable to you snobs than clean denim? This sucks!” I said grabbing a pair of the least offensive shorts I could find, in this case khakis, and heading to the fitting room. I cursed a blue streak, offending the very wallpaper as I dressed.
I looked in the mirror and realized that I’d been forced into a fashion faux pas of biblical proportions. The khaki shorts and the black shirt actually went together, but then I looked down at my feet. An expanse of black, Italian leather greeted my eyes, and I looked with horror at my white socks. Not only was I wearing dressy shoes with white socks and shorts, but the contrast between the white and black transformed my big feet into Bozo-the-Clown feet.
I realized right then and there that the only course of action for me was to walk tall, remain calm, and get exceedingly drunk as quickly as possible. I knew only a few people at the function, and the groom didn’t deserve my best behavior due to many past incidences of endangerment and general mayhem. We’d done everything barring murder and grave-robbing together. Besides, the booze was free, and someone else was already scheduled to drive my car home for me. The mission was clear. I ran my hands through my hair and stole myself to the coming shame, reminding myself that I shouldn’t give a rat’s ass about these people, being provincial dipshits and all.
“These are 56 bucks. What’s tax? Will you take a check?” I said with a forced, conciliatory smile and a voice ragged with an underlying urge to break something.
“Don’t worry about the tax, 56 even is okay,” said Suitman. I wrote “EXTORTION!!!” on the memo line on the check, making sure he would see it, ripped it out with a perfunctory motion, and handed it to him.
“Thank you, sir,” he said without the slightest hint of gratitude in his voice. I wanted to ask him point blank how much money he made to do this ridiculous shit at a private wedding. I figured I gotta make more money than this stooge and it filled me with a sort of guilty glee. I had visions of him spending huge percentages of income on suits, personal grooming, and accessories. It dulled my pain to think of him wrangling a difficult colic into place at the expense of three hair gels and 20 minutes, only to get into his Hyundai to drive here for his life of wretched servility. My ire against him faded, although my ire at the institution exponentially rose thinking about this level of exploitation.
I strolled back into the reception. I clung tenaciously to Rob and Kate, warning them both that they were my link to sanity and that I’d likely bother them all night. My friend Shawn would be late due to his brother’s graduation, so I was the sum total of high-school buddies there who were not in the wedding party. I’d met all these other fools that Rufus is friends with at his bachelor party (another tale altogether), and I had zero in common with all but one of them. Lucky for me I was at a different table. I would’ve had a seizure if I had to sit with those stiffs and their vain, stupid wives.
The seating arrangements had me in the outermost table in the whole place, right next to the bar. I immediately saw the logic that Griselda had used: She wanted the really fractious, embarrassing types to keep from mixing with the respectable guests. In fact, I was at one of a constellation of tables I saw as a low-rent/high-risk area, populated by poor, embarrassing relatives, frat brothers and wives, and rabble. I was firmly in the rabble category.
The table was ill-populated due to the pending arrival of Shawn and Jo Ann (new girlfriend, supposedly his soul mate). In addition, my lady fair Clare had stayed in Chicago to be with her visiting mother and a sick relative. I’d been very honest about the farcical nature of the marriage, and she wisely bailed. I realized then that her presence would have helped me laugh through stuff that I was gritting my teeth over. Someone to share the total scene with would’ve given me strength. I’d been chided by the bride for reserving a seat for Clare and not showing with her. I bet she could grease up the vase I gave her and shove it up her ass.
Across the table were this random dude and a couple. I realized upon hearing the random dude introduce himself to the couple that I’d gone to high school with him. He now worked with Rufus’s firm and was someone I remembered without malice. As I was about to introduce myself to that side of the table, another person I knew showed up and sat down, extending a hand.
“Hey Joe, how’s it going, how’s Chicago, where you living?” This guy was truly interested in the city of his birth. It was this professor who taught history at a local community college and had lived next to Rufus and Rob during their single years. I’d gotten to know him then. One time I saw Rufus break down this guy’s bathroom door because he couldn’t figure out how to work the lock. He represented a fellow traveler, someone I could talk to, basically a fellow boozer with a brain.
Shaking his hand, I excused myself and got up to get a drink at the bar, which was no more than five feet from the table. I ordered a double vodka tonic, not wanting to be weighed down by an endless succession of beers. I sat back down and recounted the tale of my present living conditions, marital status, kid status, etc. I was sucking my drink through the tiny plastic straw like a man trying to draw his life’s breath from a thin reed, when I noticed that the professor was drinking non-alcoholic beer. This was completely out of character, and my face must’ve registered enough puzzlement to alert the professor that something was wrong.
“Why are you looking at me that way, Joe?”
“You’re drinking non-alcoholic beer. What’s the temperature in Hell today?” I asked.
“Cold and rainy, with a chance of snow. You didn’t hear about this?” he said. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head.
“Well about a year ago, I started getting this horrible pain in my left nut, and it just wouldn’t go away. Needless to say, I was a little concerned, it being my nut and all. Well anyway, I go to the doctor and he gives me all the tests, and I’m sitting there in that little gown, hoping that he doesn’t have to cut off my nut due to testicular cancer. After he shoves the probes up my ass and whatnot, he comes to me and gives me the lowdown. I had surgery on my leg like 10 years ago and they messed up this artery in my leg, and somehow it disrupted the supply of blood to my testicle, and that in turn was exacerbated by my alcoholism. The doctor said literally, 'Quit drinking or lose your nut.' So I quit drinking.“
“Good call,” I said, trying to remain stoic in the face of the testicular horror story. I sucked on my drink, hoping that my constitution would spare my testicles this ultimatum. They would win over booze, but still that’s pretty hard as decisions go.
“But hey, you still teaching?” I asked. This elicited a recitation of recent academic activity that I found both boring and unmemorable. Just as I thought about trying to shift the conversation to something else, the PA blared into life.
“May we present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Nemo.”
They strolled in, they sat, and then the fun began in earnest. Typical speeches took the next 10 minutes, saying nothing of any merit. I finished my drink and flagged down the waitress I’d befriended for another, hoping the speeches were almost at an end. As the drink appeared I took a massive sip, draining the liquor from between the top ice cubes in the glass, and reveled in the fact that I was drinking Swedish vodka tinged with citrus while all this nonsense swirled about me. My tolerance for the affair had, with my third drink, hit a cruising altitude when I hit a pocket of turbulence.
Griselda’s dad got up to speak, and upon hearing his opening sentence, I had vodka shooting out of my nose while I suppressed hearty laughter: “Rufus is a fine upstanding man of the highest possible character, and I know that my daughter is in good hands. Values like these don’t start with one generation.”
In my mind I was on the floor rolling in my own pee, brought forth by the greatest lie I’ve heard since the Bush-Gore election. In my reality, I casually wiped the vodka from my nostril and prayed for brevity among the speakers, trying not to cry from the cold stinging sensation of the vodka and tonic water dripping through my nasal passages.
After the last syllable was wasted, the waitstaff descended on us with bread and wine. ”Wine with dinner, sir? Red or white?”
“Red!” I said, moving my wine glass into position and shifting over my drink slightly. I ate some sort of fairly disgusting Chicken Kievesque confection and a mysterious potato side dish without relish. I was mainly interested in the food as insulation for the evening’s intended debauch, since without a good base layer, vodka tonics cause a core meltdown in the gut fairly quickly. After the food was consumed, the people at my table began talking among themselves, and I found out that my old classmate was doing fairly well. But, then, out of left field:
“Did you hear that (insert the name of high-school classmate) died of colon cancer?” he asked, not morbidly, but with an air of terror, like a man on the eve of a colonoscopy who’d subsisted on dipped Italian beef sandwiches for a lifetime. “Yeah, he died really quickly, and there was nothing they could do for him.”
At this point, the slim plastic straw in my drink was chewed ragged. Had I been a coyote caught in one of those clamping-jaw traps, it would have been the gory stub of my paw. I wanted only to get away, but looking at my watch, I noted that I had to wait an hour for my friend Shawn to show. Loyalty to my friends has gotten me into a lot of trouble over the years and an hour of hellish prattle with a bunch of lawyers was nothing compared to the various car crashes, arrests, and interrogations I’d suffered with them in the past. I stole myself to the horror, resolving that I would remain pleasant enough not to be thrown out until then. By that point, however, I had departed the “drunk” stop and was heading to the “shitty” stop on the train to unconsciousness. So far the evening had brought me such cheery topics as testicles in peril and unhappy, mutating colon tissues, so I was determined to change the tone.
Rob was wading through the crowd of people, eyeing the bar with a gyroscopic swiveling head, never wavering in his path towards the pain duller. It was an hour into the affair and he had had enough. The tux looked as if it were a suit of pain sticking to him like an oily residue, and he walked as if his underwear were made of fiberglass.
“Tell me you’re holding!” he whispered in my ear, begging me for a little bit of weed.
“Sorry man, I don’t ever drive with the kid and weed. It's just bad policy.”
“Damn, I’m dying dude, I don’t care anymore, I want to go NOW. I’m so sick of this, I truly wanna puke. Luckily this won’t go past midnight, and we’ll be at our house recovering soon.” As he spoke his wife, Kate, floated up to us, buoyantly drunk.
“My face feels like it's gonna crack if I keep smiling, but if I stop I won’t be able to start again. Honey, can you get me a drink?” At that request, Rob muscled his way past a couple of the people blocking the bar like a man going for the last lifeboat on a sinking ship.
At this point I started talking to Rufus’s lame frat brothers. When faced with conversing with people I don’t know or care for, I start to tell whoppers–-Turkish prisons, crack deals gone bad, gun fights, nothing is taboo if I’m traveling far from home and think the mark is gullible. The kicker was that I REALLY didn’t like these people and had been pushed over the edge by the pants issue. I had successfully terrified everyone willing to talk to me, and I was busy telling a tale of how my father beat me for stealing his drugs, trying to get one of these dummies to question my suspect veracity, when my friend Shawn hit the door.
I ran to him and hugged him like a three-year-old would a favorite stuffed toy rediscovered after being at large under a piece of furniture for weeks. We got some looks from the plastic fantastic crowd for the male-male hug, but neither of us cared. He introduced me to his girlfriend Jo Ann, a cute redhead concealing her horror at the sight of the crowd. Before you could say “screwdriver,” I had three drinks made to order from our lovely proletarian waitress.
One of Rufus’s cronies had this wife that looked as if she’d been on a rotisserie for some time, her white skin burnt into a sick, pre-cancerous orange and freckled hide. Despite her incredibly toned body and pretty face, her big fake tits and harpy’s personality transformed her into the most unattractive woman there.
“Talking to her made me want to puke blood!” said a very agitated Jo Ann, victim of a conversation with this woman. Her every word had to do with hierarchy, consumption, and status. I found it ironic that she was giving herself skin cancer to have my skin tone, imagining angry skin cells mutating in protest to too much UV radiation. I had no pity for these people and wished that their ilk would be banished from planet earth. These were the people that give Americans a bad name around the world–-consuming, wasting, and condescending.
We sat there watching people faking emotions, especially the groom. I could tell that the emotions displayed were hypothetical, carefully emulated simulations, and it sickened me. There was no reason beyond “supposed to” when it came to this couple. I realized that he had disrespected himself by going forward with this wedding, since it was clear to those around him that neither party had healthy expectations and goals. It's done now, and that’s that. I will likely never see these people again, and if I do it will be too soon.
The reception dragged on and on, and Shawn, Jo Ann, and I found a great deal of delight in watching the guests dance, rooted to one spot and gyrating with no apparent rhythm. I was amused for a while, and then it slipped quickly into disgust.
Near the end of the reception, my animal brain had come into full control of the beast called me, and standing at the urinal in the bathroom, I noticed that the wallpaper was porous and expensive, resembling fabric. A sinister plan, simple and elegant flashed in my mind. I turned to face that wallpaper, a stream of steamy boozy pee coating the wall as I did. I left, chuckling that some asshole country clubber would be offended by the faint odor of urine absorbed into the wallpaper. A little gift to foul the rarified air of the country club from a child of the class that created all the damn wealth the rich enjoy so much.
Copyright©2001 by Joe Martinez.
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