Did any of you ever go to a summer camp as a child? Could anything better summer camp? For anywhere from one week to two months, whoever you were at home — whether you were the youngest in a family of eight, a nerd with no friends, or just a regular boy looking for a change of pace — none of that mattered. You could completely reinvent yourself because you were with people who didn’t know you from Adam.
Your friends at camp weren’t the type of people you usually hung out with; they were just the guys who happened to be in your group, or the guys you were assigned to activities with. As far as they knew, you were the most popular guy at your school. You could actually be cool, for a week or so.
Gav got married a few years back, and his wedding was about as close to summer camp as this adult will ever get. On the grownup hand, everything was gorgeous, the bride looked ravishing, the food was fantastic, the reception was at this Devon hotel with a stunning, picturesque vista, or something. On the other hand, it was one big huge tequila-soaked party. That’s my kind of wedding.
Will is American and in some sort of sales. He went into greater detail about what exactly he does the night of the rehearsal, but it was loud at the bar and I couldn’t really understand him. He spent a lot of time on his mobile, though, talking about accounts and end-of-the-month sales goals and quotas and dammit, Joanne, just file the papers, file the freakin’ papers. Will is an excellent golfer, nearly bald, and lives in Philadelphia.
Josh is about to get engaged, I think. I’m told he’s in a serious relationship, and it’s only a matter of time. I couldn’t tell you what he does for a living. Something in engineering, maybe. Josh is a terrible golfer, even worse than me, is rather tall, and lives in Ireland.
That pretty much sums up all the personal information I have on each. Oh, and Will has this really loopy father who wears tweed jackets, writes books on American history, and actually tells knock-knock jokes with a straight face.
And for four days, Will and Josh were as close a group of friends as I’ve ever had.
Will and Josh were the other two ushers. Gav’s brother was the best man. (Isn’t meeting lifelong friends’ siblings a fascinating experience? If my friend Gav had chucked the corporate life and became a long-haired primary school teacher, he would be his brother. It was like Bizarro Gav.) But he brought a date, and, as tends to be the case, he was preoccupied with her most of the weekend. (Gav’s brother aside, considering his girlfriend was pretty and nice, I ask, why do we bother bringing casual dates to weddings? They’re always more trouble than they’re worth.) Will and Josh were dateless, like me. So, essentially, it was summer camp. Three guys, with everything paid for, with endless fountains of alcohol, scrubbed up real nicely and ready to stir up some shit.
Whatever you do when you’re home, when you’re thrust into the decadently formal chaos of being an usher at an out-of-town wedding, the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. It’s a world of endless free booze, attractive women in tight, sparkly dresses, and everyone in a raucous, joyous mood. The outside world doesn’t matter anymore.
And it was basically the three of us. Gav was busy, you know, getting married, so we were on our own. Almost immediately, it was us against the world. There was a wedding going on around us, but we were in our own world: three guys, drinking, talking girls, sharing old stories about the groom like we’d known each other forever.
We picked enemies, whether they deserved it or not. Most of the other guys in the wedding party were the brides’ friends, not the groom’s, and we, not to put too fine a point on it, found them insufferable idiots, total snot-nosed kids whom we ultimately labelled “The Yahoos.” We joked about which bridesmaids were the hottest. We sucked tequila shots off the table. We sat in the corner and snidely mocked anyone, really, who wasn’t us. Because we were the only cool ones.
It had the feel of a locker room. To be honest, it was a lot like a sports team, actually, to the point where we even started using sports clichés to describe what made us such excellent ushers. We talked about “giving 110 percent” and “leaving it all out there on the altar.” We stayed up late and blabbed every night. All we were missing was towel snapping.
Hanging out with Will and Josh helped me to understand why people join fraternities. Just a bunch of fellas, causing trouble, being guys.
The night before the wedding, after the rehearsal, the entire wedding party shambled over to a nearby watering hole and commenced more heavy drinking. Will and Josh settled in with a group of attractive women, of course, and I caught Gav’s eye. After a few shots of tequila, we decided to go outside and get some fresh air, and, the night before his wedding, talked for about two hours, man to man. When we both came to London, around the same time, we were the two single guys with no girls around, ever. And here he was, almost a married man.
You know that point when your friends make that leap into true happiness? When they put themselves in a position where you know they’ve got it, they have it all figured out? When they become a man? That was Gav that night. I’d never seen a guy just grin like that. It was all he could do not to start jumping up and down, twirling about, shouting, “I’m getting married tomorrow! To her! Me! Woooo!”
It was really something to see. I felt honoured to have the opportunity.
Ultimately, the wedding came and went, we all drank, I had the strange experience with a tennis player, and we folded into the hotel room. I was quite intoxicated and, thanks to my recent breakup, rather depressed.
OK, a lot depressed. By the end of the night, with Josh, Will, Will’s wedding hookup, and another friend in the room, I had decided to lie down on the floor between the air conditioner and the bed because “I didn’t deserve to be anywhere but on the floor, like the pathetic worm I am.” Many of my friends would have left me there, or tried to reason with me, or told me about how they’d had troubles with women too. Not Josh. He walked over and blurted in his Irish brogue, “Jeezus, David, get oop. Christ.” And I did, and we talked for three hours, and he pulled me out of it, and the Ushers reigned triumphant again.
The next day, everybody left to go back to their lives. I shook Will’s hand, then Josh’s. I made them promise to invite me to their weddings, eventually. I’m sure they won’t. I’d be surprised if I ever see either of them again, to be honest. But, for one weekend, we were the Three Ushers. We left it all out there at the altar. We pushed ourselves to be the best. And we drank. Oh, how we drank!
I was chatting with Gav and asking after the other guys a few days ago which is why, perhaps, this whole piece has the feel of a postcard, a note containing nothing but in-jokes that only those involved would understand. That’s fine. That’s the way it should be. That’s summer camp.
After watching a debate about religious fundamentalism on BBC1’s The Big Question this morning, just before heading out to enjoy the sights and sounds of London, I was reminded of this commentary I wrote just over a year ago…
Late at night in the A&E reception, my tired eyes kept tripping back to the three children playing.
One white and two black, all aged around five, they fooled around and squealed as if nobody was sick and the whole world was a playground. As one mother went to help the nurses move her husband, the other mother kept watch.
“You know, I think we can get beyond race,” a Jewish friend whispered to me while watching the children. “It’s religious differences people have a hard time getting over.”
Religious differences, he reasoned, lead to all kinds of wars; the military conflicts that are all over the globe at any given time as well as the “culture wars” that infuse domestic politics. Religious differences stir up anger, he said, because one person’s rejection of another’s beliefs is perceived as an insult.
When you don’t subscribe to someone else’s religion, they perceive that you’re declaring their beliefs to be wrong or stupid. Faith, by its very definition, involves things that can’t be proven. But people are always trying to prove their faith is the right one. They “prove” it, one might suppose, by shunning and, in some cases, eliminating those with different beliefs.
That might be true. I don’t know. The problems of race and religion both are complicated — complicated by class, economics and opportunity. Complicated by culture. Complicated by history. In sociological circles there’s a theory that race is a “social construct.” The idea, as I understand it, is that racial differences are based not on biological distinctions but cultural ones, differences of language and socialisation, experience and expectation.
Considering the migrations and interminglings that have made up human history, I can see the logic. Each of us learn what it means to be black or white, Vietnamese or Japanese, and we relate to the rest of the world accordingly. That’s why it’s possible for people with barely a trace of African ancestry to identify as “Black” and for the world to relate to them as such. It’s why, in places such as Africa, the Middle East and Bosnia, tribal and religious divisions transcend biological similarity.
In hospital waiting rooms, these differences tend to be suspended. There, love is vulnerable and raw. Worry settles like fog, and death lurks in the hallways. Families look across a room at one another and what do they see? They see themselves.
The only way we can live together is if we say the celebration of our differences requires us to say that our common humanity matters more. – Bill Clinton
Give me some spirit. Give me some fire. Give me some soul, brother! Give me something that works me, that makes me want to jump around, live, breathe, laugh, dance, fuck, snort, inhale, walk around on my hands, upside-down jumping jacks, a-one-and-a-two, work it work it, make me feel it, make me want it, make it worth all the shit and piss and bile. I can spew alone no longer. Make it worth it. I don’t want to fidget, sigh, fret, or sulk. I want to be! Can I be? Can somebody give me an amen?! AMEN!
I am waiting for something to inspire me. I want it to lurk behind the bushes and then leap out at me, injecting me with vigour and spice and mirth and fervour, jolt me out of my doldrums, hold me by my feet and shake me, get that loose change out, strip away all the bullshit and make me go go go go GO! Is it out there? How about you? Can you provide it?
I’m tired of work. I’m tired of struggle. I’m tired of waiting around. I’m tired of cordial hellos and Oyster cards and pension plans and proper work behaviour and that’s-a-nice-haircut and increasing Tube fares and matching outfits and rising interest rates and X Factor wannabes and quick download times and The Only Way Is Essex girls and shoe polish and corrupt bankers and hospital superbugs and killer fish that walk on land and the controversial Jeremy Kyle. I want no part of debates on feminist theory, or which pizza is best, or coalition governments. I do not care about Coke Zero; I don’t care how I, too, could be a winner; I do not care if I can hear you now.
I want you to take all that shit and rip it out of me, stomp on it, dissolve it, let your saliva disintegrate it, like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.
I want to run down the street naked covered in ice cream and chocolate sprinkles. I want to do a somersault into a newspaper stand. I want to stretch a rubber band to Groat’s End and douse it with Vaseline. I want to impersonate talcum powder. I want to go belly-flopping in the ocean with these people. I want to irrigate my ears with iodine. I want to take part in the BCFC. I want to surf cornfields. I want a tattoo of a bum on my bum.
I want to wrap my penis in pancake mix and have sex with Betty Crocker. I want to make birds explode with Uncle Ben. I want to get Joey Barton, Dereck Chisora, Kerry Katona and one of the Geordie Shore girls in a room and discuss intestinal gas. I want them to provide enemas at Starbucks.
I want to believe. I want to sit alone in my room and create something beautiful, something that makes your eyeballs roll back in your head, your testicles contract, your pubic hair fall out. I want you to renounce all your worldly possessions and follow me, in this new world, where plants grow goatees, where children are born with rainbow-coloured nipples, where we boil footballs for Christmas.
Let’s go clay shooting with protective cups. Play croquet wearing leather pants. Gargle with antifreeze. Teach octopi to play the piano. Start a professional supermarket trolley-racing league. Carbon freeze dwarves and make them into bobblehead dolls. Make pudding from the ozone layer. Wrap up in bubblewrap and mail ourselves to Mali. Start toenail-clipping collections. Win a million pounds and join 100 million record clubs for a penny. Make love to life-size cutouts of Ann Widdecombe. Marry an albino black man. Make prank calls to the ghost of Elvis. Dye our skin hot pink. Splice our souls. Party softly. Slumber loudly. Molest penguins. Burn rubber. Peel out.
Do you get it? Do you?
Dammit, I just want to do something! Don’t you? Before it’s too late?