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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

TILL DEATH DO US PART

I blame the Romans for what happened in New Hampshire last September, and the nearly fatal disaster last weekend at Dante’s in Queens, and, in fact, for all of the shattered expectations and bruised hearts and broken knuckles over the last 3,000 years. True, it was the ancient Egyptians who invented the wedding feast, with the music and the dancing and the drinking, and it was the Greeks who used to chant a prayer to the Goddess Hera as the wedding party left for their honeymoon; “Ho, Hymen! Ho, Hymen! Hymen Alous! Ho!” And that is not a prayer designed to lower expectations. But it was the Romans who put it all together into a full day potent with rising tensions, distant relations, recriminations, pretensions and hypertension that, by evening, whips everybody, including the bride and groom, into a frenzied drunken breakdown of all civilized behavior. This is the joining of man and women in holy matrimony. And you should always remember that the word woman comes down to us from the old German “yifmann” meaning a wife, and the old Norse “hus” (meaning a house) and “buandi” (meaning to dwell in) being the schmuck that she marries, from the Old French “maritus” (meaning to be martyred). Allow me to give you an example or two from recent history.
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We will begin just after midnight on Sunday, September 9, 2007, in the small village of Hampstead, New Hampshire (population 8,297). A 911 call of a man stabbed drew the police to the Granite Rose Function Hall at the top of Garland Drive. There officials found between 50 and 100 members of a wedding party whaling away on each other in the front parking lot. Having a small police department (their annual budget is barely half a million dollars), Hampstead called on neighboring communities for assistance: Sandown, Danville, Fremont, Kingston, Newton, Brentwood, Plaistow, Atkinson, Salem, Derry, and the State Police. Once all 30 officers were in place they charged into the melee. They found no one stabbed, and only one individual injured seriously enough to be taken to Parkland Medical Center in Derry for treatment. But the police did find lots of black eyes, cuts, bruises, scrapped knuckles and busted lips. The cops did not find out who or what started the fight, and, frankly, once it was over they didn’t care. By 3AM the parking lot had been cleared, and another young couple had gotten a cheerful start to their new lives, with the loving support of their families. John Gotti would have been proud.
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Not long after things calmed down in Hampstead, they started heating up in nearby Salem. Officer Jim Fox was were called to Margarita’s on Keewaydin Drive. The restaurant and bar was jammed with another wedding party, with a large group waiting outside because of capacity limits. According to the staff 34 year old Terry Eaton took offense when the bartender cut off his alcohol supply. Working his way through the crowd, Officer Fox confronted Mr. Eaton and asked him to step outside to discuss the situation. Mr. Eaton became physical and Officer Fox was forced to Taser him. As he was handcuffing the stunned man, a drunken woman leapt onto the policeman’s back and began to scratch him. Officer Fox was able to dislodge her, but she then disappeared into the drunken rowdy crowd. Then, as Fox was leaving the restaurant with his “perp” he ran into the angry crowd outside and decided he ought to call for backup.
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Four New Hampshire State Troopers, two officers from Windham and one from Pelham responded and with Officer Fox quickly brought the crowd under control. And, then, just when it looked like things were about to calm down for the night, a bus carrying one of the warring factions from the rumble at the Granite Rose pulled up at a neighboring hotel, and Salem police were forced to roll out yet again in response to noise complaints. Still, the evening ended with only Mr. Eaton under arrest, but he made up for lack of support by trying to kick Officer Fox during booking procedures. Eaton was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and two counts of assault on a police officer. He posted $5,000 bond and was out of jail by Tuesday afternoon. It must be every bride’s dream to have their dream day celebrated in such a gay family fashion.
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The Online Etymology dictionary tells us that the word bride comes from the Old English “bryd” or “bruthiz” meaning “a woman being married”, while “bridegroom” comes from the Old English “brydgruma” meaning “suitor”. And this week, a wedding party in Vallejo, California got so out of hand that police arrested both the bryd and the bruthoz. The second time the cops were called to the party they Tasered and arrested the bridegroom and his cousin, (from the French word “couisner” meaning a relative who encourages you to get plastered and act like a jackass), for resisting arrest and the bride for public intoxication. Or I could tell you about Kevin White of Chicago who traveled to Cincinnati to marry Jetaun Wilson. Problems arose however when Kevin decided to raise a little cash for the honeymoon and is now under arrest, charged with possession of heroin with a street value of $200,000, driving with a suspended license and running a red light. (Why do people carrying drugs always break the traffic laws?) The bride is also under arrest and charged with “permitting drug abuse”, and the wedding is on hold until they can come up with $510,000 in bail; ten grand for Jetaun and half a million for Kevin.
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But I don’t want to give you the impression that all weddings end up in jail. Sometimes they just end up in the hospital. This past weekend 22 year old Sharon Strack was finally married to her longtime boyfriend, 28 year old George Quenneville, at Dante’s Catering Center, “…a family owned establishment with over 35 years of experience” located at the corner of 75th Street and 31st Avenue in Queens, New York. As the company tag line promises, “Share your dreams with Dante…They’ll make them come true.” But what came true for Sharon and George had a little too much in common with Dante’s Inferno. The actual ceremony went fine, at least until the happy couple was about to cut the cake. Then, according to Sharon, “…all of a sudden his mom went down.”
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The groom, who had stepped out for a cigarette, was notified by his new brother-in-law that “Your mother is down.” (They make her sound like a horse.) He rushed back inside. A few minutes later Sharon’s sister passed out in a bathroom. Other revelers became dizzy, complained of headaches and began vomiting. The staff of Dante’s called the fire department, and they found the hall had filled with carbon monoxide from a faulty dryer in the basement. George’s mom had to be treated in a hyperbolic chamber to force the odorless gas out of her tissues, and the newlywed couple’s 2 year old daughter had to be kept on oxygen for three hours. All told 38 members of the party had to be treated at hospitals. The bride, still dressed in white gown, tiara and oxygen mask, also took a ride in an ambulance. The next morning Sharon could afford to be philosophical. “They say everything’s going to go wrong on your wedding day. But…my whole wedding party was in the hospital!”
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As to be expected the New York Tabloids had a field day. The Daily News labeled Sharon “The Bad Luck Bride”, and headlined the story, “Bride Fumes Over Gas. Spent Wedding Night in Hospital”. And the Post went with “Fume Doom for Honeymoon”. The owner of Dante’s promised to install carbon monoxide detectors and reimburse the customers. He even offered to throw another party for Sharon and George, free of charge. But Sharon said she really didn’t want to go through it all again, taking Dante’s at their promise that a wedding held there would be a “…once in a lifetime experience.”



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