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 up. 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.
For years, people told me how weddings, for single guys, were one step removed from a university freshers party meat market. “Man, people always hook up at weddings,” they told me. “And they especially love the single ushers.”
I never believed them, mainly because I’d never seen it. At most weddings I’ve attended, everyone either already had dates or was married. There were never enough single people to go around. Plus, it would seem that members of the wedding party would just be too busy to have a fling at a wedding. I mean, ushers have duties to perform. There are pictures to pose for, and, um, er… alcohol to drink, and, um… you know, all the other stuff that ushers have responsibility for.
So when I was asked to serve as an usher at a mate’s wedding a few years ago, with the recent breakup still lingering, and the confusion and depression not having dissipated, the last thing I wanted was any excess female contact. It had been all I could do not to start any conversations with women by saying, “Hi. My name is David. I am a human. I respond to logic, reason, and external stimuli. My life view will be the same in five minutes as it is right now. Please, tell me about your species.”
But people told me to just sit tight. “They’ll find you, mate. You’re an usher,” they told me. “People always hook up. Always.”
And, would you believe it… they were right.
Setting: The reception at Gav’s wedding. I ended up sitting next to an attractive young woman at the front table. (She wasn’t in the wedding party, which I thought meant she couldn’t sit at the head table, but no matter.) After a cursory discussion, I learned that she loved playing tennis and was the best friend of the bride’s sister. We ended up talking a little about Wimbledon, which had just concluded, and had a nice enough time, though I thought little of it. I was just concerned the bar would run out of my favourite rum.
After dinner, I told her it was a pleasure to meet her and went downstairs for the first dance. I danced with the mother of the bride, coiling her round and round until she almost vomited, and then, out of nowhere, the tennis player pushes in. OK. So we dance for a bit — I am a decent enough dancer — and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, right there on the dance floor, in front of God and everybody, she starts to kiss me.
I would have protested, but I was already quite light-headed. Oh, and there was an attractive, athletic girl in front of me. This lasted about two songs. Then, after I socialised a bit, she asked if I “wanted to go for a walk.” I said, sure, air is good, walking stimulates circulation. So we went for a walk, and she started kissing me again. She then asked me what I was doing after the reception. Like everyone else in the wedding party, I said I was going back to our hotel. She smiled and looked me deeply in the eye. “I’m coming with you. Is that OK?”
I did the rest of my wedding stuff, with this woman trailing behind the whole time. (Talking to the guys the next day, I was told: “We were all watching the two of you, thinking, ‘Dave has no chance. It’s like she came here to attack someone, and she chose you. You were a Dead Man Walking.’”) At the end of the evening, we all piled into a large people carrier and headed back to the hotel, with just a brief stop at a bed-and-breakfast where the groom’s parents were staying. (They were next to us drunken kids in the cab, looking nervous while we passed around bottles.)
The tennis player sat next to me, giggling and whispering things in my ear while propping her lovely legs on my lap. The cab cruised on. Then, suddenly, she paused mid-sentence and pulled out her mobile. I heard her call:
“Hi, it’s me. Listen, I’m in a really awkward position right now, and I’m not sure how to get out of it. I need someone to come pick me up. Can you do it? No? Oh, shit. I dunno, I don’t know how this happened.”
Um… Everyone in the cab was staring at me. The guys were mouthing, “What the fuck?!” The girls were wide-eyed. The groom’s parents… well, the look they gave me made me want to jump out of the cab and start running like Gump.
I turned to her, quietly, and said, “Hey, listen, I certainly didn’t mean for you to be in an awkward position. I, um, kinda thought this was your idea. Seriously, you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I’d be more than happy to tell the driver to go wherever you need to go. It’s really OK.” She looked down, then made another phone call. Exactly the same conversation. Exactly the same result.
I repeated to her that the driver could take her wherever she needed to go. She remained silent, staring out window, not meeting my eye.
We then arrived at the bed and breakfast. The groom’s parents hastily said their goodbyes and exited. Then, just as the door was about to shut, the tennis player jumped out. Just like that. The cab then took off. Match. Set. Game over.
(I can’t imagine what the groom’s parents thought of this. They leave a cab of drunken ushers and bridesmaids, and out hops a scared girl, no idea where she is or where she’s going. I must have seemed like Charlie Sheen to them.)
And that was that. I went back to the hotel, dazed and confused, became even more drunk, and I ended up even more depressed. I never saw her again until, quite unexpectedly, I ran into her yesterday. She seemed to recognise me — she smiled and said a cheery ‘Hi’ — and I pretty much ran across the street, dodging traffic and looking over my shoulder to be sure she wasn’t following.
So let’s get this story straight: David meets girl, she’s really into him, she’s all about David; then, suddenly, for no apparent reason, with no warning, she just switches, decides she wants nothing to do with him, and vanishes.
Ha! What the fuck, indeed! Such strange creatures they are…