Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Not the best man
It was January 1963. Oh no it wasn't. That was something completely else.
It was the week before Christmas 2004. My brother was going to the USA to get married to a darling girl he'd met in one of the Carolinas whilst he was on exercise there. He's in the Royal Marines.
Mark, my brother, asked me to be his best man. Delighted at being asked, I accepted.
He'd been married before and the ceremony was outwith the UK on this occasion, too. The first wife being Norwegian and he being British, they decided that getting married in a third country would be best. If they married in Norway, they might put some British noses out of joint, if they married in the UK, some Norwegians might get pissed off.
No, they went off to The Bahamas.*
Throughtout his teenage years and his early adulthood, he always said he'd like me to be his best man if and when he married.
I must admit to being slightly sad that I couldn't fulfil my rôle, but it was for the best.
The marriage didn't last and they were divorced within a few years.
Better luck next time.
On accepting this invitation, Ian and I booked return flights for ourselves and my Mum to Pittsburgh, which was the nearest international airport to our final destination, Rivesville, WV.
Our flight was very early in the morning and, I think, we had to check in at something like 06:00. My poor Mum is not very good on her pins, and forty eight hours with very little sleep was not an option, so the night before, we checked into an airport hotel, along with my brother. He's yet to pay me for that accommodation, but that's a whole other kettle of fish...
The next morning, we headed off on our first flight of the day, to Chicago.
It was a fabulous flight. BA really look after you very well indeed. Coming in to Chicago was unreal - the expanse of water, a few very tall buildings very close to one another... It all seemed quite futuristic.
We changed aeroplanes in Chicago for Pittsburgh and Mark lost his pith helmet (he was getting married in uniform), blaming everyone but himself. Tempers were beginning to fray already.
We arrived in Pittsburgh with my brother in a complete stress over his helmet. He went straight to the lost property office, ignoringMarci, his girlfriend, and Buck, his Father-in-law-to-be, to ask if the helmet had been handed in to the lost property office in Chicago airport. It hadn't.
It never turned up.
So, anyway, Marci and Buck were there are the airport to meet us. They seemed very nice people.
Buck is a Methodist Minister. Ever so slightly worrying for a gaymo. He offered to put Ian, Mum and I up during our stay. I told my brother that if there was the slightest chance of trouble, he should tell us now and Ian and I would book into a hotel. My brother told me everything was cool (how I hate that word). Not only was Buck and Nancy, his wife, ok about Ian and I, they were putting us in a double room (albeit on a fold out sofa). It really wasn't an issue. And there wasn't a hotel.
Rivesville wan't a very nice place to be frank. It was tiny, rough and scary. It looked like something out of Boys Don't Cry and the Matthew Shepherd story kept playing on my mind. Indeed, a neighbour of Buck and Nancy's invited us in for a bite to eat. They were complete rednecks and seemed to make their obvious lesbian's daughter a living hell. She was as butch as you like, a fireman (her own words fireman and not fire-fighter) and single. "She's not got a boyfriend, yet," the grandmother said.
The whole place made my flesh creep. I'd have thought such a working class town would be heavily influenced by Democrat politics and be quite liberal. I was wrong. All of them seemed to think Dubya was a hero. They were narrow minded, right-wing biggots.
Yet Marci's family seemed strangely different. Something wasn't right.
My sister, her husband and two children arrived a couple of days after us, having spent a week in New York City. They were at each others throats in the shopping mall where we met them. Things hadn't gone too well in New York. Everybody wanted to do different things and they're all as mean as you can get. Not a very happy combination.
However, Emily, my niece, seemed jolly and up-beat. She's learned to deal with her viscious bitch of a mother over the years and nothing really gets her down. You can see her in the photograph above with one of Buck and Nancy's wee dogs.
My sister and her bisexual husband don't know how to make a good impression. He told the Americans lots of racist jokes, mostly about Chinese people and my sister said, "I didn't like New York. The shops could have been better. They were mostly for blacks."
A couple of days before the wedding ceremony, we did a run through, a rehearsal, if you like.
Ian and I were groomsmen, a concept I'd not heard of before, and am still not sure if Americans know what a Best Man is... Anyhow, Ian was stood next to me. Todd, Marci's brother, said he should be standing next to me as he was more important than Ian in the wedding hierachy. I was puzzled by this statement. It didn't make sense. I was the Best Man. My partner was standing next to me. Who else should be standing next to me other than my partner?
After said rehearsal, my brother asked Ian and I to go out and buy some presents to give the Mothers, which we did, taking my niece and nephew with us.
One of the things I like about America is all the free drinks you can get in a restaurant. I had my fair share at a Subway outlet, I can tell you. I must have drunk two litres of root beer in twenty minutes. But that's another story.
My Mother is fabulous. Marci's Mother was not fabulous. She was quite rude, in fact... She constantly told me what she needed me to do. For the love of Christ, hen, did no-one teach her any manners? "I need you to go into the woods and collect some pines," is rude. "Would you be so kind as to go into the woods and collect some pines?" is polite. She needed the soap. She needed me to get her a chair. She needed this, she needed that, thank God she didn't need the other.
This could all sound quite petty, but it was not, and is not. For much worse was yet to come.
In-between the rehearsal and going out to the mall in Morgantown, there was something of a wedding breakfast rehearsal. Buck introduced the locals to Mark and his family. I was his brother, Lorraine was his sister and Pete was her husband. Ian was our friend. Not even my close friend, simply a friend of the family.
I asked Mark if he was sure that Buck knew about Ian and I. "Oh, yes!"
Ian mentioned to my sister, Lorraine, that he was slightly upset. He wasn't included in anything and only referred to as a friend of the family, like some waif with nowhere else to go.
She responded, "Perhaps he can't handle it. I know I can't tell anyone I have a gay brother and I certainly don't tell anyone he has a boyfriend."
Later that evening, we went to bed. Marci has a lovely sister called Buffi who has two adorable children. Buffi is not married. Her Father is a Metodist Minister. He didn't speak to his own daughter for seven years. You get the picture. Anyway, one of her children burst into our room at eleven o'clock and said we were supposed to be sleeping somewhere else that night, "Only ladies are sleeping here tonight!"
I wasn't getting up for anyone. But I was awake now. I laid in bed, thinking.
Next thing, I hear my sister and Buck talking outside our room.
"They were supposed to go out and collect the pines. Instead they went shopping," said Buck. "But what else do you expect from people like that?"
"I know," replied my sister.
People like that??? Like what? Is the word gay so terrible that you can't even say it, you cunt???
"I heard all that!" I called out.
The next morning, my sister was very off with me. She knew she'd been rumbled, couldn't look me in the eye and was very snappy.
"Come along, Michael," she said to her son, "All the men are at the hall putting the tables out. You run along and help."
"But Lorraine, all the men aren't there. I'm here with you and Ian is in the bathroom."
"Don't bloody well start with me!"
"Don't speak to me like that!"
"Don't fucking well speak to me like that -" and then began the most vile, foul mouthed tirade I'd heard in a very long time.
I'd had enough at this point. Ian and I went into our room, quietly packed our things, put our cases into the car we'd hired and left.
Oh, yes, just let me get this off of my chest, too. Not only has my brother never paid me for the night he stayed in the hotel, he's never paid me for his share of the hire car. He was at pains to tell everyone he'd paid for half of the rental and he was going to use it, whether Ian and I wanted to go out or not... Gggrrr! Don't big yourself up, dn't bully people and don't swagger about mouthing off, when, deep down, you're nothing but a lying coward.
We'd already reserved a couple of rooms in New York for a few days after the wedding. It was going to be a lovely trip away with Mum. Obviously, then, that wasn't now going to happen. We'd have to go to New York alone.
We drove back to Pittsburgh that day, had a look around the city, stayed in a motel over-night and headed off to NYC very early the next morning. The roads were a complete mess. There had been heavy snow and we could only drive very slowly. But we got there nonetheless, safe and sound.
We tried to have a good time in New York, although deep down inside, I was a wreck, very upset, sometimes shaking.
Ian and I had given kilts to one another for Christmas (early) with the itention of wearing them to my brother's wedding. I wasn't going to bring my kilt all the way to the USA and not wear it! So I did - as did Ian. We went out into New York City wearing our kilts. Not sure if it was such a good idea. I've not known such cold in a very long time. Now, dear reader, you know what a true Scotsman wears under his kilt? I know... It shrivelled up and died. I really thought the poor thing was going to drop off! I can't remember exactly now, but it must have been about -10˚c.
It was quite funny, though. We did get a few comments and a couple of people actually wanted their photograph taken with us. Hilarious!
We went to the top of the Empire State Building again. I was just as frightened as the first time. Phyllis wasn't bothered.
Ice-skating in central park was fabulous! I used to love it as a teenager and would go to the local rink religiously, every Saturday afternoon.
I thought ice-skating would be like riding a bike. It isn't. Once Ian and I had the hang of it again, it was time to go. But it was still fabulous. I'd always wanted to go ice-skating in Central Park. It was something of a dream come true.
We also went out to see The Producers and had a couple of really lovely meals.
We also boughtabout a dozen CK briefs at Macy's, paying as many dollars as we would pounds in this country! A bargain!
Christmas shopping in New York City could have been wonderful, but the events of the past few days hung over my head like the blackest of clouds.
New York loooked wonderful by night. Ian and I stood in Times Square and sang New York City Boy, "Where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway..."
Then it was time to go back to Blighty.
We drove to Pittsburgh, returned the car, and went to the check in desk at the airport.
We were going to spend Christmas in Rivesville with Mark's new family, but that was obviously out of the window, so we changed our tickets at the cost of £150.00 each, to arrive in the UK on Christmas eve.
The leg of our flight from Pittsburgh to Chicago was not with British Airways, but with, I think, American Airlines. They had no record of our booking. We'd done it over the telephone, so there was no paperwork we could show them. They told us we'd need to contact BA. Why couldn't they do that? We found a public telephone and Ian called them. He was on the line for AN HOUR before he got through to someone. A complete nightmare. They'd really ballsed up the booking, called me Roy Phillips and Phyllis was called Ian Tapping. And, they'd only changed my booking, not Ian's, the lead passenger. Confusion wasn't the word.
The flight was a non event. We were stressed and very sad. I don't even remember changing planes in Chicago.
We went down to Bournemouth from Heathrow to spend Christmas with my other sister, Christine, and her family. They did their best, but it was one of the worst Christmases I've ever had.
*I've been trying to think of countries beginning The. I've come up with:
The Czech Republic
Can you think of any others, dear reader?