The DJ blasted Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" louder than I ever heard any music. As I navigated the winding staircase, I was introduced like an all-star in the starting lineup. The light show reflected from a disco ball, and in addition to concentrating on not slipping down the stairs, I had to put on a happy face.
This was not an announcement of my return to competitive athletics, which is hardly likely at my age; instead, it was an introduction at my brother's wedding. As the so-called "best man," I was in the role call for my brother's "Big Fat Italian Wedding." Okay, make that half-Italian.
Weddings are tough enough to attend as a single. Factor in being the best man or part of the wedding party, and such an event can be excruciating. Bridesmaid anxiety has spawned a cottage industry of books and movies, and even may singlehandedly keep the taffeta industry solvent.
Yes, my younger brother got married. He had been with his girlfriend, now wife, for about five years -- engaged for more than a year -- since they reconnected at a high school reunion. Though they were friendly growing up, they did not really travel in the same social circles, despite the fact that the digital slide show at the wedding made it seem as though they'd been an inseparable couple since grade school.
Call of Duty
The duties bestowed on the best man vary per ceremony. Over the years, the responsibilities as a legal witness to the marriage ceremony has merged into a largely figurehead position, with bachelor-party planning and ring-holding duties.
I'd never been in a wedding party, so I had no idea what to do with this new title. Should I take him and a few of his friends to a sporting event? Atlantic City? A brothel? I had no clue, and so made no offers. Come to think of it, I had never even been to a bachelor party!
Luckily, however, geography also thwarted any type of bachelor-party event. It was tough enough for me to get back to New Jersey for the wedding in the middle of crunch time at work. But I made it back the day before the rehearsal dinner, even if I almost ran out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere near Scranton.
Attending someone else's wedding -- even a brother's -- without a date is always a tough act. Over the years, I've attended weddings with girlfriends and gone to others totally alone. Given the choice, I'd opt for some company, but there was none in my life at that time. And a family wedding is most certainly not a second- or third-date event.
With only my brother and parents, my small family was eclipsed by my brother's new in-laws, with their extended assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins.
My family's group, which included one of my mom's uncles, cousins and a couple of close friends, almost filled three tables.
All I really wanted to do is show up and leave. Enduring a night full of strangers wondering why the older brother was still single was enough to set me back -- not to mention all the stress that the event put on my folks.
The wedding itself was about what you would expect from a venue with a giant marble fountain in the lobby.
My toast, which I had to partially extemporize, began with a reflection on the pyromaniac I sat next to in fourth grade. I got some laughs from those who got the jokes. The scripted portion was more appropriate: "Many people go through their lives without finding a special someone, or as we call it, 'bashert.' They were lucky to find it in fourth grade."
Even though my brother is secular, a rabbi performed the ceremony under a chupah. This was a token to my mom, who insisted on a rabbi even though the only time she's been in a synagogue in the past 20 years was for a neighbor's son's Bar Mitzvah.
The rabbi performed the legal functions minutes before the ceremony with the formal signing of the ketubah and other documents. As the official ring-bearer, I stood up there at the front.
The entire event was an agglomeration of contradictions. Sure, there was a rabbi. As he completed his blessings and my brother stepped on the ceremonial glass, his new in-laws then crossed themselves. The rabbi himself was a bit of a character, declaring that the oversized pile of shrimp cocktail on his plate was nothing more than "pressed whitefish."
Perhaps a few drinks would have made the night a bit more tolerable. But since I had driven there -- alone -- I refrained.
Well, l'chaim nonetheless.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. E-mail him at: www.Lrev.com .