I cordially invite you to the wedding of Ravi and Laura.
I arrived at the Phoenix airport on time and walked directly to the baggage carousel. Because I am awesome, my bag was right there on the carousel when I walked up. Seriously, I didn't have to do anything at all; I just walked up and took my bag. It was the best-timed carousel ever.
I waited for Shari, who I thought was coming after me but in fact was already there, as she called me. So then I waited for Shari in an appropriate manner, and she walked right by me before turning around and meeting me and giving me a hug. I should note that I have no concrete memory of our hugging; I just assume it happened.
We exited and looked for a shuttle to take us to Enterprise, but there was only a special magical bus that took you to Magic Rental Car Land. On the way, I noticed that the Phoenix logo looked a lot like the Battlestar Galactica logo, which made sense since they were both phoenix-based. I spotted Enterprise when we got to MRCL, and we got in line. The man at the desk gave Shari a free upgrade (on top of the small upgrade Shari was making herself, wanting seatbelts for all her passengers). A cute, slim blonde woman greeted us in the next room. Her name was Esther, which seemed incongruous. She offered us some water, and who were we to refuse free bottles of water?
She led us into the lot. Interestingly, at Enterprise, you get to choose your own car! Shari was drawn to an amazingly fantastic, splendiferously noticeable, ridiculously cute, stunningly posh yellow PT Cruiser. Esther and Shari did a walkaround and noted any scratches or dents, just like when you rent an apartment. Then she explained Shari's insurance options, and Shari took the full coverage so if she crashed into a million dollars, Enterprise would cover it.
As we left, Shari made the sweeping generalization that there were a lot of cute girls in Phoenix. Clearly Esther, but who else? Laura (dragon_gem), the bride, of course! And Lauren, another of our Rice friends who lived in Scottsdale. Three points define a line, right?
Despite a slight misstep, we made it back to the airport, where we needed to pick up Jonathan (barilosopher) and Emily (tigeremme). They were still getting their luggage, so we circled a couple times before chilling in the cell phone lot, which helpfully showed the status of all flights and possibly even their baggage. Shari and I were alternately on the phone with Emily, which was a more reliable method of determining when they were ready to be picked up.
Now familiar with the ways of the circle, we successfully picked up Jonathan and Emily and loaded their luggage into the back of the car. Our fortunate timing streak had ended, however, as we were a little off schedule picking up Alexis (polyhymnia) from Lauren's. Jonathan, on the phone, declared that we were "on the heck the way." Shari said that there was one too many the's in that phrase, and I had a strong sense of déjà vú. It had been over five years since this exchange:
Dave, driving while tall: "I'm still not used to the fact that people being significantly taller than me means they're really, really, really huge."We then argued about which one it was, but "on the heck way" didn't work and "on heck the way" didn't either, so perhaps they were both necessary.
Alexis, making a typically lexical comment: "I think one of the 'really's in that phrase was excessive."
Shari and Me, simultaneously, being on the same magnificent wavelength of absurdity: "I think it was the second one."
I played navigator again, but this time it made sense since I was sitting shotgun and had access to Shari's Book o' Directions. We made it out of the airport and onto the highway, which seemed to have a sinfully slow speed limit. On exiting the highway and entering Scottsdale proper, I was struck by the prevalence of cactus. There was cactus everywhere, as if it were a naturally occurring phenomenon, like trees. It was almost parodic how much it looked like the stereotypical conception of the Southwest.
We found Lauren's house, and out came Lauren, who, I think, was the person (besides Ravi (zetetyc) and Laura) I had not seen for the longest time. She had also not seen me for a long time, for this is how she greeted me:
"You've gained weight."
It was a good thing I wasn't a woman.
"It looks good," she added. It was a puzzling greeting, to be sure, but a complimentary and accurate one. That's Lauren.
We had to do some rearranging and squishing to get Alexis and her luggage into the vehicle, but we managed. The ride to the hotel was pleasant and entertaining. We unloaded at the Country Inn and Suites, which was where most of the wedding attendees were staying. Shari had to go pick up Ryan from the airport, and, after some waffling, agreed to take Jonathan with her for navigational security.
In the lobby, I discovered something about my cell phone that I should have probably figured out years ago. I had called Ravi when we picked up Jonathan and Emily to tell him we'd arrived and ask about my duties as a groomsman. I knew I had to pick up my tuxedo and get to the wedding rehearsal. He told me to call his brother, Neil, when I got to the hotel, and he would hook me up. I asked him to text me the number since I didn't have a pen and paper handy. What I discovered in the hotel was that if I opened the text message and just pressed the call button...it would allow me to CALL THE NUMBER. Brilliant! (I tested it out later to see whether it could actually parse numbers out of messages, and it could!)
Neil told me to come up to room 323 to try on my tux. He would also work on getting me a ride to the church with one of the other groomsmen, Tim, a friend of Ravi's from high school that I had met back at Rice.
As we checked in, another groomsman was at the desk, though I didn't know it yet. He was tall and Indian. Alexis made the comment that, oh yeah, people from Ravi's family would be here.
Except it was Vikrant, a friend of Ravi's from law school.
"We don't all look alike[, Mr. Mars]!" I cried.
Once Alexis removed her foot from her mouth, we hauled the luggage up to the third floor and went down the winding hallway to room 311, where we dumped it. I went down to 323 and knocked.
Neil opened the door. "Hey, long time," he said. He gave me my tux, and I went into the bathroom to try it on. I had never worn a tux before, but the basic clothing parts seemed simply enough to put on. The pants were conveniently adjustable.
I went into the room to see if he had scissors to cut apart the socks so I could try the shoes on, but he told me not to worry about that, the socks would fit. He buttoned me up and adjusted my shirt and moved things around and finally came to the conclusion that, horror of horrors, the jacket sleeves were an inch, nay, three-quarters of an inch short. So I left the jacket with him and took everything else back to my room, which had been turned into the girls' room, meaning my room was now 309. I had gone from a band name to a multiple of
Emily and I were tired from not getting much sleep before our early flights (she and Jonathan and I had earlier attempted to add up the sleep we had not gotten [this is why I love my friends]). Alexis was knitting. I needed to be at the church by 3, so, eventually, we decided to find a lunch place and get me fed posthaste; the rest of the group could meet us there.
In the parking lot, we saw this awesome sign:
I'd never heard of a bait car before! That's awesome. Don't steal a car in Scottsdale, guys!
We adventurously crossed Shea, waiting for a lull in the constant traffic to scurry to the median and then waiting again to complete the maneuver. Our destination was Uncle Sam's, which claimed to have PIZZA SANDWICHES...or possibly pizza and sandwiches. "We want you!" said the restaurant. Good, we replied, because we wanted them!
After telling the hostess that although we were a party of three now, we expected to become a party of six, she gave us a circular booth in the corner. The menu had a lot of choices, but I was drawn to the hoagies and grinders because, well, you don't normally see hoagies and grinders on menus. I asked our very cute waitress what the fastest thing to make was, as I had to leave very soon. She said the hoagies were not cooked, so they were quick. I ordered a turkey-and-cheese hoagie.
We tried to shoot our straw wrappers, but only Alexis succeeded.
Shortly after we'd ordered, Shari and Jonathan and Ryan arrived. Seating order for the old-timers: Ryan, Jonathan, Shari, Alexis, Emily, me. We tried to balance the spaces in between us.
When I could, I went up to the waitress and asked her if they could bring out my food first, and I didn't mean to come off as impatient (I want my food now!), but she reacted as if I did want it right then and told me she'd check the kitchen to see if it was ready. It came out soon enough, and it was a monster. A very oily monster. But tasty, full of meat and cheese and vegetables.
When I was done, I checked the time and saw that it was almost 2:45 already. The waitress had dropped off my check (she had assumed separate checks at the beginning, which was convenient), but I couldn't find her to pay. I took it to someone at the front and asked what to do, and they took care of me. I gave the cute waitress a nice tip for putting up with me. Also, the place was pretty cheap anyway.
It took a confusing series of phone calls, but I eventually got Tim to pick me up on the corner of Shea and 89th, although in the time it took to coordinate that, I probably could have made it back to the hotel and met him there. On the way, I asked him what he'd been up to. He responded, "Do you mean now, or in the six years since I've seen you?" Like Ravi, he'd also ended up in law school. I seem to know a lot of lawyers.
The church was pretty easy to find, but we accidentally parked in the back lot since we didn't know where the entrance was. Inside, we saw some Indian people, so we knew we were in the right place.
It had been a long time (six or seven years) since I had seen Ravi's family (we had had dinner at their house a few times), and I had forgotten exactly what they looked like. There was a teenage girl who I thought might be Anjali, Ravi's younger sister, until I realized she was Dhea, Ravi's even younger sister. Which was totally weird to see because the last time I'd seen Dhea, she was half that height, just a little kid. And then Anjali looked much older than I had expected; she had probably been eleven or twelve and had IMed me in netspeak. It was great to see them again, but it was a shock to see them all grown up, never having seen or talked to them in the interim. It was like time travel, in a way.
Ravi and Laura still looked like themselves, so that was a comfort.
The wedding planner/church lady told us groomsmen to get in the back room, which is where we would come out. We knew that Ravi would be last and Neil would be penultimate, as the best man, but we didn't really know what order the rest of us were supposed to be in. We guessed height order would do—descending, so that Neil wasn't dwarfed by the tallest person—which led to trying to decide whether Tim or Vikrant was taller. They were both quite tall. But Tim, we decided, was taller, making the order Tim-Vikrant-me-Neil-Ravi.
So on the signal, we were supposed to walk out, only turning in right angles, and each stand by a pew, waiting for our bridesmaid. When the groomsman ahead left his pew, we were to advance. When it was your turn, you were to walk up, turn, and hold out your bent left arm for the bridesmaid to clasp onto. It was a good thing my shoulder had healed enough to allow such a maneuver. I ended up getting Allison, one of Laura's sisters, which I thought was hilarious. If my parents could see me now! Walking down the aisle with a white girl!
Except it turned out that, in fact, there was a correct order for the groomsmen! Because, see, Tim was a high school friend, I was a college friend, and Vikrant was a law school friend. I represented four years of college friendship! Awesome! (And this was actually pretty appropriate since Ravi and I did meet in our first semester at Rice. In fencing class.) This meant my actual bridesmaid was Anjali, which was cool too.
Once we had our bridesmaid, we were to walk down the aisle at an appropriate pace. Anjali and I had perfect pace, showing everyone else up. Then we were to break apart and stand in the front pews, turning to face the oncoming bride. When she passed us, we were to turn and follow her. We were allowed to sit when the bride and groom kneeled. Neil pointed out the retractable kneeling cushion on the bottom of the pew. I had always thought those were footrests.
During the ceremony, the wedding planner/church lady said, the maid of honor (Laura's sister Emily, heretofore referred to as Emily the Bridesmaid or ETB for short) was allowed to fluff Laura's dress as much as she wanted. The best man had no such dress to fluff.
When the ceremony was over, we were to escort our bridesmaids (with the right arm this time, thankfully) up the aisle and around the baptismal font, which was in the shape of a cross. After our first try, Neil suggested we alternate sides left-right-left-right. Anjali and I were to go on the left.
Now that the rehearsal was done, there were duties for tonight's Hindu wedding to be handed out. I had somehow gotten saddled with the camera bag, and Tim was in charge of setting up the music. Anjali checked the playlist on the iPod Touch, which was wrapped in plastic wrap and looked like it was falling apart.
I made a comment about my shoulder and the possible difficulty in carrying heavy equipment, and Dhea somehow didn't believe me. I showed her my lack of external rotation, that I couldn't rotate my bent arm out past my side. She tried to push it farther, and I said,"Ow!" (to be honest, I'm not sure she pushed it far enough to hurt; it was a preemptive yelp) Then she believed me.
Tim and I loaded the equipment into his trunk. Ravi's dad said the camera was easy to use, even though I had never used one of those fancy Nikon cameras with the big lenses and the attachable flash. While I kind of wanted to hand off the job to someone with more experience, I also felt special and privileged with an important responsibility that I wanted to keep for myself.
Back at the hotel, I changed into my kuffni (or kurta, which appears to be the more common term). I think this was when Ryan showed me how to wrap the wedding gift. So I opened the bag, wrapped the DVDs in one sheet of tissue paper, and then used the other two to cover it up, all explodey-like. Simple!
Down in the lobby, whom should I see but Erik! I had wondered whether he was coming; he and Laura were dating when I first met them (or soon after). He was also one of my very first co-stars in my theatrical debut. It was good to see him (and his goatee) again. Also present was Dan, whom I didn't recognize at first because of his very different hairstyle. Dan was one of Laura's friends from O-Week (freshman orientation). Erik had been charged with bringing over the wireless mic (what are friends for except to be handed various duties at your wedding, right?). He was staying at a nearby hotel that resembled a prison with its large barbed-wire fences.
I had to get to Laura's house, the site of the Hindu wedding, early, as did Tim, so went over together along with his girlfriend, Jennifer. None of us had brought the invitation, so we didn't have the actual address, just sort of a general idea where it was. When we got to the end of the court, however, we saw some people in saris walking toward a house. That was probably it.
Inside the house, a hostess greeted us, and, eventually, she said the name "Laura," which confirmed that this was right Indian wedding in Scottsdale. They were setting up in the backyard, and...I saw that there was a professional wedding photographer going around taking pictures. So I was really confused about my role. Did they really expect me to take fancy pictures at the same time she was? That felt rude and redundant. I hid the camera bag behind the ceremonial tent and began loitering, since I couldn't find anyone to ask about the camera.
We hung out by the door and talked to some of Ravi and Laura's friends. The hostess (Laura's aunt or cousin, I forget which) asked how they knew Ravi and Laura.
"Online gaming," the girl replied somewhat sheepishly. I don't think the hostess quite knew how to respond.
Vikrant wondered if we were supposed to be outside, ready to be part of the welcoming party. Come to think of it, we were the jaan, right? Part of the groom's side? In a Hindu wedding, the groom has a big arrival heralded by a large crowd and lots of singing.
Word spread that Ravi was arriving, so I ran and got the fancy Nikon camera, still befuddled as to my responsibility. I attached the flash on the way and tried to figure out how the shoulder strap was supposed to go. I didn't really know how to work the flash; even though it appeared to be on, it wasn't actually flashing. My regular camera worked, though:
Ravi was led up the driveway as the women sang the familiar bhajans. On the doorstep, he was presumably smashing a ceremonial pot and all that, but I was more concerned with the arrival of my friends.
That's Shari, Jonathan, Emily, Alexis, and Ryan. Ta da!
I decided it was stupid for me to have the camera, but I did set up the camcorder in front of the tent on a tripod (having no idea how to work any of it, hoping it was so easy a caveman could do it). I was surprised that the camera could be set so low and still capture so wide an angle.
Now for the wedding. This may be best told in three installments.
Since I was in charge of the camera bag, it was my responsibility! For instance, Dhea asked me to get the little Canon from the bag so she could take pictures from her prime seat inside the tent. Later, she asked for the Nikon, and I told her I hadn't been able to get the flash to work. She couldn't at first, either, but then she finally found some switch I had forgotten to...switch. Then she was flapping that shutter like crazy.
I was also obsessive about the camcorder; I kept jumping over foliage and rocks to adjust it. It never really needed adjusting, as the original frame seemed to work well for the entire ceremony except for Laura's arrival, when I quickly released it from the tripod and filmed her myself before once again putting it back on the tripod. While I was up close with the camcorder, I could also get off some pictures from my own camera. I soon realized that since my friends were in the back and couldn't see very well, my pictures were invaluable! I took advantage of my access and let them see the wedding vicariously through my digital camera.
I was also able to get spare batteries for Neil's girlfriend, who was also taking a bunch of pictures with her family access.
Raise your hand if you've been to a Hindu wedding.
Here, have a crapload of pictures.
It's a little hard to see, but that's a curtain in front of Ravi. It's put up before Laura arrives, and the metaphorical barrier remains until it is brought down.
And they exchange garlands.
These guys think it's totally weird. Please note the glowing candle, which took a lot of work to get lit.
That's right. Ravi and Laura get TIED TOGETHER.
And then? Hoo boy, then there's a lot of throwing things into the fire:
Once they've thrown a sufficient number of things into the fire, they get to walk around the fire four times while Anjali and Dhea bang on stuff and make noise:
There's also this bit where Laura's surrogate brother (her cousin) has to hold down Ravi's toe on the last round, and I missed the implications of it, but suffice it to say that the last go-around was on its way to making the union quite official, and it was his last chance to ask Ravi for lots and lots of money...or something like that. The priest was pretty amusing, and he made sure to explain things in both Gujarati and English throughout the ceremony.
Here's some gratuitous Ravi-and-Laura picspam:
Finally, after they walked the seven steps and received some more blessings, the priest was happy to announce the marriage of Ravi and Laura.
So there you have it!
One of the most fun wedding traditions works like this: the groom has to take off his shoes in order to enter the ceremonial area. So the bride's sisters steal his shoes. But then it gets better because the groom's side countersteals and hides the shoes so the bride's sisters have to find them. They have an incentive because, once they find them, the groom has to buy them back. (Of course, I believe it's also possible to countersteal before any stealing takes place. That saves time and effort.)
So I sometimes hung out by Ravi's family, since I could. Anjali asked me where the camera bag was, since she wanted to hide a shoe there. She gave me the shoe, and it wouldn't fit in the camera bag, so I tossed it inside another bag nearby.
I had a better idea, however: what if someone were wearing them? Anjali thought that was cool if I could find someone.
I went back to our table and explained the situation. Jonathan thought he might be able to wear Ravi's shoes. I surreptitiously brought the one from the bag, hiding it underneath my kuffni. Jonathan took a look and assented. Then I spent some time looking for the other shoe, which Anjali had hidden underneath a bush. It was dark now, making that more difficult. Then I surreptitiously brought that one back to Jonathan. He left his own shoes underneath the table as decoys.
For most of the wedding, things were fine. I jumped back and forth from our table to the wedding, adjusting the camcorder and taking pictures.
Then Anjali came up to me and whispered, "Neil needs to talk to you." Oh fuck. Was I in trouble? Was I getting in the way? Was I not supposed to be taking pictures?
No, no, no. It was shoe-related. He told me that we might need to have a contingency plan, as the girls had been given a clue and were now looking at feet. When I turned back to go to the table, I saw the two girls with a flashlight, looking underneath bushes. I was glad we'd moved the shoe from there!
I told Jonathan the score and asked if anyone had something we could stash the shoes in and move them on short notice. Shari said they might fit in her bag.
I went back to the family, my eye on the girls, and talked to Dhea. Since the ceremony was almost over, she'd had to give them some help. She'd told them, "His shoe size fits many other men," but they hadn't understood, so she told them to look at people's feet. They were going to get the shoes, she said, but she asked me to tell Jonathan to still give them a hard time. It's all part of the fun!
Back at the table, we waited to be discovered. Dhea came up to me and said that the wedding was inching ever toward completion, so we might need to move things along a bit and help them out.
As she was talking to me, Emily the Bridesmaid came up to her and asked, "Where are the shoes?!" Dhea, quick on her feet, said she didn't know; someone else had hidden them.
Then, hilariously, she turned to me and, completely changing her tone, as if she were just returning to our conversation before we'd been so rudely interrupted, said, "And if you could help me with that camera thing, that'd be great."
"Oh, yeah," I said, playing along, "it's in the camera bag."
"And where is that?" she asked very seriously.
"Behind the thing," I said, motioning to the ceremonial tent.
It was truly hysterical, and I crack up just thinking about it.
Jonathan has NO IDEA where Ravi's shoes could be. None at all!
Finally, however, some relative of Laura's told Emily the Bridesmaid that the shoes were at our table. I don't know where got that intel! Maybe I wasn't as sneaky as I thought, or she was just very intuitive and observant. Or someone told her.
Emily the Bridesmaid asked our table if any of us had the shoes. We all sort of shrugged noncommittally.
"Can they lie? Is lying part of the game?" she cried.
I suggested they ask us each a direct question; we couldn't lie to that. She asked if I had the shoes, and I said I did not, showing her my sandals. Rather than continue that line of questioning, however, she thought it quicker to just...look under the table.
She brazenly grabbed onto my foot and leg for stability, but her compromising position paid off, for there, underneath the table, were SHOES!
They were so happy and excited until Anjali and Dhea and I all began to express doubt that those were Ravi's shoes. They seemed a little dirty. No, those weren't Ravi's shoes!
Jonathan looked on, nonchalantly. If they weren't Ravi's shoes, whose were they?
Jonathan admitted that they were his shoes. Then they asked the most important question of all: "Whose shoes are you wearing?" Jonathan answered truthfully and handed them their prize.
Now they were legitimately happy!
And that was how Jonathan got to be part of the wedding.
It was only after the wedding was over that I saw Keith, another of Ravi's high school friends that I had befriended while in Houston. I make it a point of stealing other people's friends, since they usually have good taste. In addition to cool friends, Ravi seems to have a lot of tall friends. And even though he was tall, I hadn't seen Keith because he had been on the other side. We didn't have time for catching up, however, since it was finally time for dinner. I grabbed some chicken tikka masala, dal makhni, and saag paneer, along with copious amounts of naan and rice.
While we were mulling about pre-dinner, though, Emily said to me, out of nowhere: "Thank you for that e-mail you sent me...that I never responded to. It was sweet."
I was glad to hear it. I had been wondering whether she'd even gotten it. "Thanks...for saying something, because..." She gave me a little hug or touch or something in response.
This has been a cryptic exchange recorded for Future Sunil. Hey there, Future Sunil. The e-mail was sent on 12/21/2007 at 12:06 AM. It's called "And that was the last I saw of Emily."
After dinner, Jonathan and I talked to Dhea. She was disappointed that he hadn't given Emily the Bridesmaid and Allison a harder time. Jonathan said he had also been told that the wedding was over and they had to get the shoes, and he couldn't think of anything. Dhea suggested that when they asked for Ravi's shoes, he could have said, "But then my feet would be cold." Jonathan agreed that would have been a good tactic.
Then I called Jonathan by name, and Dhea freaked out: "Jonathan?!"
You see, she hadn't recognized him at all. Because he used to have much longer hair. Dhea seemed to be almost as surprised by his shorter hair as I had been at her taller height, even though the latter was logically expected.
Anjali and Ravi walked up, and Dhea wanted us two to evaluate something about Ravi's appearance. "Sunil and Jonathan," she began, and Anjali freaked out: "Jonathan?!"
Wedding pictures were being taken with families and groups. We were all set to take the Rice picture when we remembered to call Erik and Dan over. I handed Neil's girlfriend my camera to take a picture for me. I think it turned out nicely:
Then there was more mulling about post-dinner. I approached Emily and asked her to take some potential future wife pictures. One of the reasons I love Emily dearly is that I could ask her to do such a thing and she'd completely understand everything I meant.
At first, I had a lizard growing out of my head. But then I moved to the left a bit. Then I thought I should perhaps move even more away from the lizard. I smiled and moved, but Emily took the picture while I was moving. I thought it would turn out blurry, but it instead turned out to be the Best Picture Taken of Me Ever:
You may notice my new "I am not a chick" icon, courtesy of hobviously, who delizarded and endashinged the picture.
I did encounter Emily the Bridesmaid afterward, who informed me that they'd gotten $100 out of Ravi for his shoes. Anjali told me they had to keep him from going higher, because he would have. It seemed like a small amount to me, but I'm used to hearing the amount in rupees.
For some time, we talked in our little circle of Rice. We had to cut out somewhat early, though, because Shari was our ride back, and she wasn't staying at the hotel that night.
It was really good to see Ravi again. I hadn't realized it until I actually saw him.
The bride! Who participated in having us leave Indian-style. Because as we tried to leave, we were waylaid by Ravi's dad, who thought that we should introduce ourselves to Laura's family. And then we ran into Laura, who we'd barely had a chance to talk to. This is the way Indians leave, saying goodbye as many times as they can to lengthen the leaving process.
Back at the hotel, Ryan, Alexis, Emily, Jonathan, and I did what all educated twentysomethings do when they have a late evening free: play Monopoly. Jonathan had bought a portable version from the Barnes and Noble across the street.
I said at least two things that were funny. One was my indignance at having to pay Ryan his "twenty-stupid-two dollars" in rent. The other was my calculation before attempting to round the northeast corner of the board after the yellows and greens had been heavily developed: "There's a 66% chance I'm getting fucked."
Emily ended up dominating due to an ill-fated three-way trade that gave Alexis, Emily, and me all monopolies we wanted...without our having realized that Emily had a shitload of money and was able to throw a ton of houses on her properties immediately. And they were the oranges, which are fairly inexpensive to develop but heavily trafficked. Slowly but surely, she killed us all.
After the game was put away, Jonathan whipped up some straws to draw to see who would get his own bed. It turned out to be Jonathan, which was highly suspect, wouldn't you say?
So I ended up sleeping with Ryan. No, not like that. We're not that close.