Wednesday, February 5, 2014

No. 120 – Tales of Brave Ulysses

Performer: Cream
Songwriters: Eric Clapton, Martin Sharp
Original Release: Strange Brew single, Disraeli Gears
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: Live Cream, Vol. II, 1972.

The day of Paul and Jin’s wedding was your standard Southern California day—not too hot, not too cool and plenty of sunshine. We already set up all the decorations, so we didn’t have much to do until the afternoon when it was time to make one more drive over the mountains to Malibu.

As a bridal attendant, my duty was to stand at the bridal station and hand out programs to everyone who would walk up with Jin. Shani was matron of honor and had to be with Jin, so Scott’s duty essentially was to take care of Leah. After we dressed in our tuxes, they came with me.

A golf cart transported Paul’s parents and my grandfather, although anyone else who wanted to could get a ride. The Tims, looking like Chicago gangsters, kept it classy by taking a ride. Finally, Jin appeared, wearing a simple white dress as Shani dutifully carried her train, so it wouldn’t get snagged on the gravel road. Of course, my sister had to add a personal touch, and it was her shoes—bridal cream white Chuck Taylor high tops. Nice.

I was pleased that of all the people gathered in her area, she came to me first and gave me a big hug. We’d been through a lot together, and I was so glad to be with her on this good day. I told her I loved her.

At the appointed time, we went deathly silent so we could hear the celebrant’s bell, and it rang clearly through the grove of trees. Why is everyone in a circle? No reason.

The ceremony was simple and short. Matt sang a song, and Paul’s friend Laurie did a reading from Khalil Gibran. She seemed very nervous, which surprised me given that she was an actress in Chicago, but I guess it’s more unnerving when you can see your audience and the occasion is auspicious.

We all made our way to the party house for cocktails out on the front deck, which afforded a view, albeit a bit in the distance, of the Pacific Ocean. While everyone chatted and sipped champagne, I watched Leah. She was struggling to climb a steep hill, and I saw that ending badly, so I helped her up and carried her down, then did it again a few more times to her delight.

The dinner was buffet style, but by the time I moved around the party house to the tables on the deck by the pool, I had been shut out of both the family tables and the cool kids’ table where the Tims, Laurie and Sheila, with her date, (Damn!) sat. No matter. I knew enough of Jin’s crew; I could sit anywhere.

After dinner, we did bridal party pictures on the front deck. Our cousin Ryan was the official photographer, but Dad took two of my favorite pictures during this time. The first was a side view of a picture Ryan suggested whereby the four brothers—me, Scott, Matt and Casey, in order—held Jin. The other was a shot of just the four brothers with our arms around one another.

Then we did family shots of Dad’s side and Mom’s side. Finally, the photographic duties were complete, so it was time to start dancing. I lingered for a bit, and before long, I was alone on the deck with only a couple of workers clearing off the tables. That was fine. I wanted a little alone time at that moment.

I looked out over the Pacific with the sun setting, and I thought about how my life had reached this point. I wondered whether I’d ever feel the way Paul and Jin did that day. With a heavy sigh, I went back inside.

The music was playing, and it was Paul and Jin’s first song—It’s All Too Much, by The Beatles, which just happened to be MY favorite Beatles song, too. Now, memory being what it is, it’s possible that I have this all wrong. That said, this is what I remember, and my memory seems crystal clear: Everyone was looking toward the dance floor, except for one person, who was looking at me.


She smiled, and I went up to her. How’s it going? Good. You did a great job with the reading. Thanks, I was nervous.

We kept talking and decided to go somewhere that wasn’t as loud, so we went out to the back deck and began to talk about Chicago. It didn’t take long to discover that we shared many favorites: Penny’s, Ann Sathers, Too Much Light, The Green Mill. Wow, you should come to Chicago. We could hang out together. I’d love that.

We continued chatting through the cake cutting, as guests began to leave, as folks inside started to take down the decorations. Everyone else in my family had long changed into regular clothes, while I still was in my tux with my fading boutonniere and Laurie was in her dress. Uh … OK. Hint taken.

But I wasn’t about to call it a night, if I could help it. I asked Laurie if she wanted to get together later for a drink somewhere. She said she did and that I should call her when I get back to my hotel. You bet.

Well, this was a nice twist of fate. But my joy turned to resignation an hour or so later when I called. Laurie said she had a brutal headache, one of the worst ever. OF COURSE, you do. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her—given my physical history, I have a lot of empathy for someone claiming a headache—it was that I couldn’t believe this new twist, like a knife in my stomach. Well, crap. I knew this was too good to be true. OK, we don’t have to meet up.

But Laurie refused that offer. No, she said. I said I wanted to get together for a drink. If you can come to me, by the time you got here, I should be OK. “Here” was Santa Monica, which was at least a half-hour away, perhaps longer with traffic. OK, I’ll call you when I get there.

This was a dilemma. Yes, I had transportation, but Scott had been positively anal about making sure our rental van was close by at all times, in case of an emergency. I had hoped that Laurie, who had her own car, would come to me.

Seeing no choice, I went to Scott. He already knew the situation and why I was asking for the van. Sure, he said. If I need a car, I have a half-dozen people in this motel I can call on. Yes! Within minutes, I was back on the road, heading over the mountains AGAIN—this time in additional excitement.

When we made the same drive to Santa Monica the day before for the brunch where I met Laurie, the drive took something like 45 minutes. Now, on a Sunday night, it took half that time. When I turned onto the Santa Monica Freeway, the 10, everyone was coming home from the beach. It was smooth sailing.

Laurie’s hotel was close to the Pier, and I parked almost right in front. I called Laurie from the lobby, and after a bit of a wait, she came down, dressed in blue pants, a white blouse and a red sweater in case she got chilly. I wore shorts and an aloha shirt. I asked how she felt, and she said, OK enough. She was glad I came out; a nap helped a bit.

We walked down the Third Street Promenade looking for a bar, and the first one we came to had a bunch of pool tables inside. That drew Laurie in. You play pool, she asked. I’ve played before, I demurred.

Yankee Doodle’s was a massive pool hall/sports bar. We shot a couple of games downstairs, where I confessed after winning handily that I’d grown up around a pool table, before we went upstairs for a final drink at the bar.

A major topic of conversation—and I could not make this up—was Ulysses by James Joyce. Laurie had been in a staged adaptation of Ulysses earlier that year. Of all the things! I couldn’t believe it. It was the second time I’d sat in a bar with a single woman I'd recently met talking about Ulysses. What are the odds?

Well, Laurie still had a bit of a headache, she confessed, so she was ready to head back to bed. Laurie again floated the idea of coming to Chicago to see her, and it didn’t sound like just idle conversation. When we got back to her hotel, we exchanged emails (so 21st Century), and then it was time to call it a night.

As I mentioned before, I’d decided after Cleveland that with regards to romantic interludes, I promised myself that I’d never make another error of omission. If I was going to go down, I would go down swinging. That way there were no regrets.

So as Laurie and I embraced, I planted one on her, good and solid. (This has come to be known by some members of Laurie’s family as THE KISS.) She was surprised but pleased and kissed me back just as forcefully.

When we broke, I suggested we take this somewhere else, but Laurie declined. She wasn’t feeling well and she had to get up early to fly home the next day. OK. I didn’t score, but it was through an error of commission or perhaps just bad timing. No regrets.

And then I drove back over the mountains one last time to the home base, to meet up with Tim and Scott at the Denny’s bar for a quick debrief. There was no question about it: Laurie would be hearing from me again … soon.

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