I sat up last night and counted. Nine seems about right. In thirty-five years of life, I have been to nine weddings, including my own. They all followed the same format: A selection of Ave Maria sung by the bride’s best friend; a few words about love in general, God’s love in particular, and a plea for each of the congregants to help the couple preserve their marriage; a first dance and the cutting of the cake. Sprinkle on some liquor, a few cigars, some kente cloth or a bagpipe for the sake of diversity (depending on which part of the globe you find yourself) and poof! You’re married!
None of that happened at the wedding I attended this weekend – at least not in the order one who has attending her share of weddings has attended. For you see, just like Indian weddings, Ghetto weddings are in a cultural class of their own. Had someone warned me, I would have spent more time enjoying the event and less spectating like some avid bird watcher on safari.
June – my 27 year old neighbor and mother of three – has been trying to get her baby daddy to marry her for years. She’s not religious and comes from a broken home herself, but has recently come to acquire strong convictions about the way she wants her children to be raised and what kind of example she wants to set for them as a parent. Although I have only met him twice, I am sure that these new convictions came as an inconvenient surprise to Craig, who was very much content to screw his girlfriend during the week and skip off to the club on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. And yes, I said “screw”. One look at Craig and those gold fronts and there is little room for doubt that he’s ever even considered making “passionate love” to his paramour.
Early last year, Craig gave June an “engagement ring”. He slipped it on her finger while she was asleep on Mother’s Day and presented her with a small bouquet of balloons. When she didn’t wake up, he shook her and told her to look at her finger. She saw the ring.
“Oh,” she said, feigning delight.
When she showed me the ring I shared the same response. The ring, like the proposal was lacking in all luster and uninspiring. June told me they would probably go to the justice to get married, hopefully before the baby was born. At the time, she was due in September. She wanted me to come. I said of course.
September 2012 came and went. The baby was born and her oldest son was now in kindergarten. Had I missed the wedding? I asked her in the early part of the summer.
“No, you didn’t,” she replied flatly. “I’m leaving Craig, I can’t do this anymore, Malaka! I just can’t!”
She laid out a list of grievances. Craid didn’t help out around the house. All he ever did was spend his money on clothes. He never helped pay for groceries. He couldn’t fathom the idea of watching his own kids for an hour while she went to get her nails done. He spent more time at the club than with his sons. In fact, he had never even bothered to teach his sons to pee like men.
“How am I supposed to teach Jabari to pee standin’ up? Huh? His Daddy could at least teach him THAT!!”
I told her I understood. If I had to live like that, I’d do much better on my own! I told her I’d miss her, and by the end of the night, she was indeed gone…
Only to return two weeks later.
There was rap at my door.
“June? You’re back?”
“Yes girl. Craig’s auntie found us and fussed him out in front of the whole family,” her eyes bugging with excitement as she retold the tale. “He gave me THIS, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him properly.”
“THIS” was a 2 carat emerald cut diamond set in a white gold band.
“Right,” she said, pursing her lips.
Three weeks later Marshall and I got a pretty purple and white invitation in the mail box, requesting our presence in order to “celebrate the marriage reception of June & Craig.” I should have known by the use of those semantics that we were in for trouble.
June had asked Marshall to shoot the wedding, which he offered to do gratis. When he arrived at the Othello, a reception hall neighboring a set of train tracks and a strip club/grocery store/sound studio, he sent me a text.
Oh God. This place is in the HOOD. And it smells like grain alcohol.
I arrived at six o’clock. We were not seated until 6:35, which is an eternity by any standards. June’s family, who were all decked in their Sunday best were grumbling about CPT in the corridor. Clearly uncomfortable in their attire, they made more than one disparaging remark about the bride, who had requested ‘formal attire’ be worn to the event.
“You don’t understand. My family is really ghetto,” she informed us solemnly.
Coming from someone who Marshall and I consider residing on the cusp of ghettoness herself, we wondered what level of rathcetness we were yet to encounter. We soon found out.
The nuptials had been performed offsite, so we were only there to eat and dance. June walked into the reception hall, treading demurely on a white runner on the arm of her ‘grandfather’. Knowing that all her family has either lived or died in New Orleans, I wondered who this adopted elderly man was. Craig neither smiled nor frowned at his glowing new wife. Nothing at all seemed to please him. His exhausted 6 year old son, who was now weeping for want of a nap, certainly exasperated him though. He callously ignored the boys need for a tender hug or encouragement “just to hold on until the event was over.”
I’ll skip the rest and just get to the best parts, which I will present to you in pictorial form:
The first dance was an abysmal affair – a mockery of every first dance ever performed. It was joyless and cumbersome. Craig refused to hold June close, and went so far as to jutting his arse backwards and away from her as they swayed awkwardly to some smooth jazz selection.
“Get closer, mane!” his father heckled from our table. “What? You afraid you gonna get her pregnant?!?”
Snickers and cackles erupted across the room. June was aghast and ducked her head in embarrassment. Thank goodness for the deep brown of her skin. She might have turned bright crimson otherwise.
There was no real order to the reception. Marshall jockeyed with another photographer for shots. The man in turn growled and cut his eyes my husband whom he saw as his foe. There really was no competition – after all, this was my husband’s gift to our neighbor. Marshall ignored the man’s orders to “watch out” for the remainder of the night, sitting down to eat eventually, because he was a guest.
Dinner was pineapple juice, roles, saffron rice, steamed chicken, salad and steamed whiting. I didn’t care if it was gourmet or not. It was not 7:15 and I was starving. I wolfed my plate as delicately as possible. The groom’s step-mother, a woman adorned from hair follicle to toe-nails in Barney-esque purple fanned herself furiously with one of the plastic dinner plates.
“Too hot up in this b*tch,” she complained. “And this chicken ain’t done,” she continued, pointing to a small pink spot on her chicken breast. “I didn’t come here to get sick!”
Well, Southern Black Americans are very much like their West African counterparts: Meat must be cooked until all evidence that the animal was ever a living, breathing entity is eradicated. Traces of pink will not be tolerated under any circumstances, what-so-ever.
I looked around the room and considered the motley crew assembled therein. The most interesting had to be the enormous man dressed in red linen, shod with black and red shoes. He looked like a used Tampon, or Negroid Carrie, after the prom. After being summoned Yolanda, by the groom’s sister, to give an invocation, he jocularly declared that “dis righ’ heah ‘I buuful, know what I’m sayin’? You done did it cu’, dat what it is. I luh ya shaw…”
He gave the mic back to Yolanda and strode back to his seat amidst appreciative applause.
Second most interest was the grandmother, who leapt to the floor in an all red ensemble, sashaying and switching, twisting and twerking, bending and bobbing to the Cupid Shuffle. I don’t know much, but I do know that THAT was not the Cupid Shuffle. This would not have been so devastating to watch had her breasts been secured appropriately within her dress. Instead, her mammaries dangled lifeless just above her navel, drawing in the gaze of all in attendance.
I eyed the cake longingly. I needed something sweet to choke down the bland taste of the carb-fest I had just endured. But what was that structure to the left of the 3-tiered wedding cake? It looked like three crudely assembled rectangles. I leaned in and whispered in Marshall’s ear.
“Babe, go take a look at that cake and tell me what it is.”
He dutifully got up and when he returned he leaned back in his chair and let out of wail/chortle.
“Oh my God. It’s two stacks of money. Hundred dollar bills.”
“Money? You mean like ‘Benjamins’?”
He nodded and buried his face in shame.
In the absence of an agenda, June’s family had declared that it was time to start drinking. The event planner grabbed the microphone and implored them to refrain from doing so just yet.
“If we could all wait until the champagne toast, the bride would greatly appreciate it,” she announced.
Grumbling erupted all over the room. Don’t e’rebody drank CHAMPAGNE, y’know! The groom’s father, Craig senior, said he was not about to be bossed around. He went outside and filled a white Styrofoam cup up with liquor that he had stashed in a cooler in his trunk.
“Here you go, Daddy,” he said, passing the cup to the grandfather. “Anybody else want some?”
We declined. His wife fanned herself furiously. Although she only drank wine, she could not afford to drink it now. It would only make her hotter. It was hard to tell if the heat or the fact that should couldn’t drink because of it was vexing her more.
At long last, it was time to dance, and dance this bunch did! Shoes came off, and a variation of moves so sexual in nature that I fully expected someone to give birth soon emerged on the dance floor. I have never seen the Wobble performed in a manner that made me that uncomfortable.
Alas, it was soon time for me to leave. I had to pick up the kids. Marshall stayed behind to finish capturing the special moments. Apparently, the wedding was closed out to a special selection.
“Some song called ‘Versace’,” he informed me, holding his head in denial.
“You heard me. ‘Versace’. And that’s all they said for the entire song:
Now, as bad as this was – the boy with the yellow sagging pants, the girl with the ripped jeans and gold front, the woman who said her career path at Walgreen(s) was coming to an end because they keep scheduling her for weekends and she just don’t come in to work – I have come to understand that this is not as ghetto as it gets. Some people have actually served Kool Aid at their receptions.
Have you ever been to a memorable wedding? What made it stand out in your mind? I certainly will always be struck by Yolanda’s insistence that her 16 year old son do a slow drag with his girlfriend to a nasty Drake song. “You ain’t gon’ come here and act like you ain’t gon’ dance!”
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