riverrun, past Anna and Cary's erstwhile International House, from swerve of shore to bend of Harlem Waste Water Reclamation Project Park, brings us back to the dark blotch that was the Hudson View Diner, now a memory and a boarded-up shell forgotten under the West Side Highway except by aging nostalgists who reminisce and still sometimes feel the old indigestion. A little further downstream from there is perched the quiet apartment of Doug, on 20th Street.
doug worked all night Friday, rented a car Saturday morning and came home to make Blue Drinks and sleep, which he did, fitfully, for about forty-five minutes before getting up to make coffee. Amanda arrived first, with some woman she'd met in the lobby who claimed she was a friend of Anna's. How long since Doug and Amanda had seen each other? Donkey's ears, and now they were roomies. After extensive e-mail confabulation over transport and lodging plans, Doug had secured for them both a hotel room at Stamford's luxurious Sheraton Hotel.
Hard on Amanda's heels was Ellis, who had flown down from Boston the night before and stayed at the Williams Club in town. There had been a huge, raucous bash the night before to celebrate the end of Anna's virginal status. Ellis as a result had asked the Williams Club staff to tread lightly around her door till 1 p.m. or so, at which gracious hour she hoped to rise and make her well-rested way to Doug's, where everyone was meeting at 3. Evidently she did not tip the staff enough, because they came rapping on her door starting around 10, asking her when she was going to drag her sorry butt out of their room so they could clean it.
So Ellis was in a good mood. All that remained was to collect Siân, which we did as we crossed the street to where Doug had parked the car in the shade of a tree. We stuffed all our stuff in the trunk of the car, but not before we'd had a chance to admire the amazing pink hat Siân had made for the occasion. In the hotel room later we got to see the dress, bag, and knickers that went with. Out there in the middle of the intersection of 20th Street and Seventh Avenue, Siân announced for everyone's benefit that she had cramps and expected to be in severe pain for the entire weekend. We gave her a seat with some leg room.
It's about a forty-five minute drive from Doug's to Stamford. After about forty-five minutes this car made it off the West Side Highway and headed east toward the Bronx. Nice day, though, and we had the Blues Brothers in the cassette deck. Nobody had seen each other for so long that we almost didn't notice how slow the trip was, all chattering away and catching up on loose ends.
We got to the picnic, then, just as it was ending. After spending some time figuring our way through Stamford ("The City That Works"), we all piled out of the car and crossed the lawn to see if Hangover Woman had quite recovered from her nausea. She had and was in fine spirits, except for a twinge of embarrassment that promised to pass quickly. (She claims it was really just bile that made her ask Tom to pull the car over and let her open the door on the way to the party.) Anna was happy to see we had arrived. We four left Judy at the picnic and retrieved our unlocked car before anyone skulking around the parking lot had a chance to pilfer our pretzels, and Doug, Ellis, Siân and Amanda headed over to the hotel to quickly check in and ditch our stuff before coming back for the drinking and barbecuing part of the evening.
Finally we were there. Doug and Amanda and Siân pulled up at the yacht club where the barbecue was to take place, across a little boat-filled inlet from where the picnickers were still wrapping up their games of softball and hot dogs, and we strolled along a waterfront path to go join the gang, pausing to compliment a young lady on her attractive, shaggy dog. This was probably the one person all weekend who didn't get to hear that Siân had cramps.
Then back with everyone else over to the yacht club, where Doug finally uncorked the Thermos of blue drinks he'd brought with him, and the evening began. We kicked back around a table with a big umbrella over it, out on the deck behind the yacht club, and prepared to watch the sun go down. Tom started in on Indians and the Bomb. Hangover defended the Indians. Doug maintained that their recent tests of a retro warchest were an homage to Sinatra, atomic Vegas crooner, who had just died. Tom asked for more Windex. The talk continued.
Soon the folks inside started serving up dinner, yacht club burgers and potato salad and a great cake with strawberries in the frosting. The charming country band inspired Ash Woman to comment that Ellis's hair kinda reminded her of Willie Nelson. Our crowd wisely opted to stay outside, except for a few quick dashes indoors for provisions. It wasn't so much the sunset. We just knew our conversation wasn't going to mix well with polite company. Someone came out looking for their little three-year-old child right as Hangover Woman raised her voice to salute the cigar as a fecal fetish. We got that look. Nobody else at the wedding seemed to want to bother us much.
Until Cary's Uncle Don, the evening's host, came out, bearing drinks. We all agreed that Don is in the house--he can hang with us any time. Don had noticed that a few of us kept coming in for more drinks, so he decided to bring them to us instead. He stayed for a few minutes to be sociable, and dropped into a conversation about Pee-Wee Herman, George Michael and such. Someone referred to the Wham! album "Make It Big," and Uncle Don found his opening, leading into a bawdy joke about the sexual customs of Martians in the 21st century. Having entertained us all, he adjourned himself back indoors to where more polite company held sway.
After a bunch of this, we all streamed back to the hotel. Stamford may be the town that works, but it is not the town that has good road signs. Anna and Cary had provided the best instructions possible for getting from place to place--really, they couldn't have been better instructions--and yet Stamford's roadways continued to perplex. (This had nothing to do with the empty Thermos of blue drinks.) A few of us decided to go foraging for some kind of liquor to help us through the night, which is how we learned that in Connecticut you can't buy booze after 8 p.m., even on a Saturday. Even the beer in the grocery store had a plastic curtain pulled down in front of it, so you couldn't reach in and filch one.
In the parking lot, though, there was a sign that more than made up for the lack of liquor. Apparently in Connecticut, it's legal for a store to have a "Solicitation Zone." Doug was somehow persuaded to take pictures of Siân, Ellis and Amanda standing under the sign, looking, um, solicitous.
We reconnoitered in Doug and Amanda's room, then split up to unpack and settle in, agreeing to meet in a few minutes down at--where else?--the bar. There was talk of swimming. The hotel had a pool. None of us took the plunge, but Amanda did get a chance to impress everyone as they toured the hotel's weight room: She can bench-press her own weight. Wow!
Who needs to describe another night at the bar? Just about everyone was there. We were all entranced and amused watching the familial interaction among Anna, Lisa and their mother, Martha. And yup, Hangover, Tom and Doug finished up the night outside the bar (which had asked us to leave, so the bartenders could go home and cry), sucking down the last of everyone else's drinks and taking snorts off the butt end of some fancy-ass cigar Ash and Doug had picked out of a glass case. (The Overhung One, it turns out, is writing a movie that involves cigars, so for her this counts as tax-deductible research.)
Up at about 8:30 the next morning, Doug and Amanda headed down for a well-earned swim. Doug left most of his cigar stench in the pool, which had a little water sprinkled in with the chlorine. Back up to the room for a shower and to scare up some breakfast company. We called Ellis, completely forgetting how much she'd hated being awakened the morning before. Heh. She (surprise) indicated she'd prefer to sleep a little while longer, if that was okay with everyone. Judy joined us, and Siân was going to, but then Siân, who still had cramps, opted out, asking instead if she could try sleeping it off in Doug and Amanda's room. Fine. Meanwhile, in the lobby, Doug ran into Hangover Woman, who had left Tom semicomatose upstairs but was glad herself to have some company for coffee. We went out in search of a diner.
And Caldor's. Judy had some swimsuits she had to return. Something about a fitting problem. Judy was brave all weekend long, putting up with a bunch of people who all knew each other and had lots of old inside history together. We four found a perfect diner, not too unlike the old Hudson View in its hygienic standards, and tucked into a nice set of eggs, pancakes, bacon, toast and coffee.
The conversation continued energetically as we parked, walked, sat, ate, got up, drove again, parked, walked, found Caldor's, waited for Judy to return her swimsuits. Considerable examination of questions about future reunions--where, with what excuses, how often. Florida? Hotels? Camping? Somewhere near New York? Engagement parties? Who would come? The whole weekend had that high-pitched level of conversation that comes when it's been too long since people have seen each other. Another topic we held up and turned around for examination was children--who wanted 'em, who was happier without. It was as if we'd never been apart.
Then back to the hotel to meet Sosna, who had declined to come up with us the day before, and to dress for the wedding. Sosna arrived, and Siân got to announce again that she had cramps. Everyone looked very smart, but Siân was the clear standout, in her flash pink ensemble.
And off to the wedding.
Yeah, that's what we came for. Valets stood in Uncle Don's driveway to whisk our cars off to parking spots God knows where. We--we, the I-House crowd!--were actually the first ones to put our names in Cary and Anna's guestbook. Let the record show we were, for once, on time. A brisk wind was blowing in off the water, so most people (there were lots of summer dresses here) huddled indoors, trying not to knock over Uncle Don's pre-Columbian artifacts from his travels around the world. We gawked and gasped and admired his collection, and this French guy kept coming around to take everyone's pictures. Anna was upstairs primping. We got our table assignments. Hangover Girl, still recovering from yesterday's hangover, slipped and told someone she could pass for a Cuban prostitute. Finally the moment came when we were all ushered out onto the pier, and the crowd waited in hushed anticipation. A classical guitarist played. Three separate people came over to ask Siân if they could take a picture of her in her pink hat.
And then they came. The rabbi. The mothers and fathers. Uncle Don. A dancing bear. A flower girl. Lisa. Cary. Anna. Lisa was ravishing in an electric blue gown with a shock of yellow flowers in her arms and a stunning black hat, broad-brimmed like Siân's but much gauzier. She kept smiling (there had been an orientation session at yesterday's picnic on
how to look eager in a crowd),
then reverting to her customary ironic glances.
A thrill went through the crowd as Anna finally made her appearance, in of course a stately white bridal gown. At first she looked regal, formal, almost not herself, but a quick smile as she passed us in the back row reassured us that there was no cause for alarm; it was still Anna underneath.
There was considerable speechifying, which was all very inspirational; the rabbi noted that Anna had listed Cary's "dependability" among her favorite three things about him. Lisa stopped short of calling us I-Housers hooligans, but she did note that Cary had had a more beneficial effect on her sister's ways than most of the I-House crowd. When asked whether she wanted to take Cary for a husband, with all the various ramifications, Anna answered back with a smart, emphatic, "I do!" It was a real good show. Anna's father said the blessing and broke the bread, and from the thrilled look on his face you'd never guess he had just spent half his life savings paying for an afternoon's dissipation for his daughter's friends and family.
And it turns out that Uncle Don, being of course Uncle Don, has friends on the board at the American Culinary Institute, so the food was incredible. Has chocolate ever been prepared so many ways? (Naturally the Ginger Spice cookies were the first to go.) I-Housers all got Table 1, so we were closest to both the food and the band. We helped hoist Anna and Cary up on two chairs and dance them around in celebration. We spilled wine all over the bright yellow tablecloth, and Doug made a tasteless remark about Siân's cramps. The sun came out; the beach warmed up; kids started gathering shells. A warm rosy feeling descended on us all. All the people who over the years have kept the tradition of champagne nights made the photographer take a picture of them with Anna and a bottle of wedding champagne (which was distinctly higher-class than that featured at girls nights). Uncle Don gave us a tour of his upstairs studio. The band announced that, coincidentally, they were flying down to Puerto Rico that night and would be staying in the same hotel with Cary and Anna.
The sun started drifting down toward the horizon, and the other guests started wandering up the driveway looking for the valets they'd given their car keys to. Uncle Don sat in a darkened room in the back of the house ("the Oriental room," so named for the Oriental art crowding the walls), like a good Don should, receiving everyone's thanks and accolades for opening his house so wonderfully to us all. Typically, we were almost the last to leave. But this time, sadly, the caterers had cleared away everyone else's drinks before we had a chance to finish them.
Every party has to have a finish, and we were nearing ours. After lots of back and forth over how to get everyone home, Ellis found a cab company that would take her to the airport, since time was short and Doug's grasp of the way to J.F.K. was less than reassuring. ("I've got a map of the Eastern Seaboard, which should show most of the expressways between here and there. There'll be signs, right?") The Hunger for Hangovers and Tom had to make their way early because they had to get all the way down to Baltimore, where Tom had to be at work bright and early. As the sun finally went down, Sosna, Doug, Siân and Amanda hit the onramp to Interstate 95, and we were on our way home, tired, exhilarated, after a wedding and a weekend reunion. Somehow we made it through the offramps from 95 to the West Side Highway without blundering across the GWB by mistake, and as we drew nearer to I-House we drove off the highway and down past the old darkened Hudson View, down at the end of 125th Street, on our way to drop off Siân, the first of a string of dropoffs down the West Side. Packages lingering on curbsides in the summer night air, owners squeezing a last few moments together out of warm hugs, farewells. Diminuendo. A beautiful weekend came to a close.
Eternal thanks to Anna and Cary for a fabulous time and an excuse to reintertwine our various paths, and congratulations and best wishes for a delightful marriage!
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