“$3000,” said Hawkeye, the man who always plays the role of J. Poop Morgan in financing this scheme.
“No way,” said Sugar Ray, the Brad Pitt of our group: pretty to look at, difficult to listen to when not following a prepared script. “No one would pay.”
“Oh, they’ll pay,” said Hawkeye.
“He won’t do it,” said Veetz, one of Tickle’s oldest friends, his shaved white head looking like a sno-cone waiting to be covered in syrup. “K would kill him.” K being my future sister-in-law.
“Actually, for $3000, she might be okay with it,” Tickle said. “It would pay for our honeymoon.”
I knew Tickle was marrying the right woman because I knew he wasn’t exaggerating. I had once asked K what she thought of Tickle nearly crapping his pants for $1000 in Vegas. “Considering how much money he lost, I almost wish he had done it.”
As the bishop in The Princess Bride said, “Wuv, twoo wuv, will last foreveh and eveh.” Tickle had indeed found his Princess Buttercup. And because he knows that, he did not poop himself walking down the aisle. At least, not intentionally.
Beach Blanket Bride
The story of Tickle and K began on the beaches of Florida, many years ago. Tickle, during seven of the more than 2,300 days he spent as an undergraduate, went to Florida with Sugar Ray for spring break. Along the way, they met K and her friends. I have drank a lot with my brother, and I have seen how he is with his friends. At no point have I ever detected even trace elements of Marriage Material. I can only imagine what he and Sugar Ray must have been like in a setting of Jello shots and wet T-shirt contests and MTV beach houses.
Yet, as K told us during her dinner speech at the wedding, she went back to the hotel, called her mother, and said she had met the man she was going to marry.
Wuv, twoo wuv indeed.
The man she was going to marry, however, was going to take a while to marry. He had to finish school—a fate he approached with the speed and energy of slime mold slowly devouring a rotten tree trunk. He then had to move to where she was, as he was a couple of “I” states to the east. He had to find a job and save money and be ready to settle down and all the myriad other things a man has to do before he finally accepts that having someone love him for the rest of his life is not such a bad fate after all.
The Groomsmen Get Groomed
At the rehearsal dinner, Tickle and K whipped out a little something they whipped up to honor the wedding party. It was a sheet of paper, lovingly designed and laid out, that talked about each of us.
K’s side was as sweet as she is, discussing how much her bridesmaids meant to her, how they were like sisters, including my sister, E. It was a hug in print.
Tickle’s side took a different approach. For instance, here was my entry:
Brando: Groomsman and my older, less athletic brother
Origin: Chicago, Illinois
Strengths: Overanalyzing, his brothers, Trivial Pursuit, dancing on platforms in Vegas
Weaknesses: Played lots of Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. He is a member of the fan club for the musical group, Rush.
Fun facts: Recent photo discovery has revealed that Brando actually thought he was Don Johnson from Miami Vice in the 80s.
Quote: “Mom, is my warlock costume clean?”
Tickle gave us all a little roasting, with some lighthearted inside jokes that gave us all a good laugh. But our youngest brother, Snake Anthony, got it the worst of all.
Strengths: Pizza engineering [he’s worked at the same pizza place almost as long as Tickle courted K], growing facial hair [at one point, his driver’s license photo made him look like a roadie for Phish], getting weird
Weaknesses: Bananas, cheese tacos, graduating college in a timely fashion [he is challenging Tickle’s matriculation record]
The cheese taco comment stems from Snakes’s picky, bland eating habits as a kid. He hated to eat most foods, but he loved it when my mom would make a “cheese taco”: a couple slices of American cheese microwaved in a tortilla. To this day, if I ask Snake what he wants to eat, I ask if he wants a cheese taco.
Fun facts: The circumference of Snake’s head has not changed since he was five years old.
This is true. My brother was 11 1/2 pounds when he was born. Ten of it had to be his head. He had the biggest melon of any baby I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t until his 21st birthday that he actually grew into his head.
Quote: “Mom, I’m done!”
This was the coup de grace, the spine-ripping Mortal Combat comment that sent everyone in my family except Snake into fits of laughter. When Snake was a kid and learning to use the bathroom, he insisted on having my mother wipe him when he was finished. He would sit on the toilet and call out, “Mom, I’m done.” He would continue to chant this over and over, like some kind of Buddhist mantra, until my mother appeared. What made it even funnier was how big he was: my brother looked at least 2-3 years older than he was because of the size of his head. So here was this child who looked around six, calling over and over for our mother to clean his bum.
Tickle told me about Snake’s quote before the rehearsal. When I told Snake what Tickle was doing with the groomsmen list, he immediately knew what his quote would be, and sadly shook his large, but now proportional, head.
Commando Sugar Ray
Sugar Ray showed up to the rehearsal in white pants and a tropical floral shirt that made him look like an extra from the movie Blow. We kept calling him Escobar all night.
Commenting on the pants, Sugar Ray nonchalantly mentioned that he doesn’t wear underwear when he wears white pants. It took a moment for this horrifying revelation to sink in. Sugar Ray explained that he didn’t want his underwear to show through his pants.
I turned to Smoke, who gets called that because one of his strengths is “treating his glaucoma.” “I’m not comfortable even when there are two layers of clothing separating me from Sugar Ray.”
Later that night, at a bar after dinner, Sugar Ray sat laughing and talking with Tickle, his legs open and carefree as he rested his feet on two different bar stools. My brother stopped, screwed his face up for a moment, and then let out a cry of disgust. Apparently something much worse than panty lines made an appearance in Sugar Ray’s pants.
The Story of Pancake Z
Z served as Tickle’s best man. He is called Z because has one of those long Polish names that inevitably get shortened, like Coach K. Z is a large, nice guy, easily the nicest of the groomsman. Which is why he gets shit on constantly by his friends.
A few of the groomsmen were staying at Tickle’s house, and the day of the wedding, Z got up and made them pancakes. Smoke started calling him Pancake Z.
It’s usually the stupidest nicknames that stick the hardest. Tickle heard Smoke and also began using Pancake Z. By the time I got to the church, the whole wedding party called him Pancake Z.
“Stop it,” Z said. “That nickname will never stick.”
“I think it’ll stick like batter on an ungreased skillet,” I countered.
Veetz found a poster in the front of the church, an ad for a Catholic periodical. It showed a stack of pancakes with “Food for the body” on one side, and a stack of the periodicals with “Food for the soul” on the other. Pancake Z seemed anointed by God.
When we lined up for photos, the photographer kept pointing and saying “you” to direct us. After she pointed to Z, Tickle said, “you can call him Pancake Z.” She proceeded to call him Pancake Z every single time, except when she shortened it to “Pancake.”
We mixed it up a bit. We tried Flapjack Z, and I also suggested Griddle Cake Z. But we kept coming back to Pancake Z. It’s been over a month and it has stuck. This is why Z’s quote was, “I hate my friends.”
The Cock Lamp
The wedding went off without a hitch. It was a beautiful, touching ceremony, without a hint of irony or smartass comment.
Then the fun started.
The wedding party departed in one of those hotel shuttle buses that had been converted to a limo. We traveled around downtown Des Moines, drinking ample amounts of beer and stopping to have our pictures taken by the very nice but artistically aggressive photographer. At one point, we stopped near a reflecting pool in the middle of some office buildings. The photographer ordered the guys to take off their shoes and socks, roll up their pants, and go stand in the water. The bridesmaids were to hop on our backs for a “fun” photo. We protested but complied, because for some reason, when you hold a camera in your hand at a wedding, it’s like a scepter that gives you royal authority over the wedding party.
I had the added bonus of having my sister E on my back. I decided to make the most of the situation. After stepping into the scummy water and getting the photo taken, I set her back down. “That was surprisingly arousing,” I said.
“Gross, Brando!” E yelled. That made the bacterial foot infection I was bound to get worth it.
We arrived at the reception, and Pancake Z pulled the groomsmen aside to review his master plan for the toast. This requires a little history: Tickle and his friends have long had a habit of stealing things from each others domiciles. Never anything of actual value, but definitely things of sentimental value or items that would supremely annoy the other person. Tickle was one of the worst culprits, and very sneaky in his kleptomania.
Pancake Z decided to get a little revenge at the reception. He and the other groomsmen hijacked a whole bag of Tickle’s possessions. Most of the items were just jokey stuff, but a couple were true treasures of Tickle. One was a commemorative Indiana basketball plate that Pancake Z had lifted months in advance. Tickle knew one of his friends had taken it and was genuinely pissed about the theft. But the true Ark of the Convenant was Tickle’s cock lamp. My brother—30, college educated, homeowner, and soon-to-be husband—owned a lamp showing a rooster crowing. It was a prized possession.
Once Tickle and K were distracted by wedding activities, Pancake Z had the guys bring the booty into the cloakroom. We would strike during the best man’s toast.
As with the bridesmaid/groomsmen sheet at the reception, K’s maids of honor (she had two) gave their speeches first, delivering sweet, lovely speeches. After melting the hearts of everyone with their praise of K, it was our turn.
Pancake Z stood, turned to my brother, and said, “Wow, spring break. Heck of a way to meet chicks.” He spoke for a bit longer about Tickle and K, then turned the mic over to me—Z wanted a family perspective on Tickle’s nuptials and also needed a distraction to fetch our props. I didn’t write a prepared speech, but it went like this:
Many of us in my family did not think this day would come. Or, if it did come, turn out quite like this. You see, when Tickle was a toddler, he used to walk around in my mother’s heels carrying a toy purse our sister had, a purse shaped like a little house. Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right—he looked fabulous. But we had questions.
On top of that, Tickle was already married to a group of men. He and his friends have very close, almost intimate relationships, calling each other by pet names and arguing like married couples. So, again, we had questions.
But one day, my brother departed to search for a bride, as many men do, on the beaches of spring break. There he found K, to which I and the rest of my family are eternally thankful. Not just because K is such a wonderful, welcome addition to the family, but because she is the one wearing the heels and carrying the purse.
After I finished, Pancake Z announced that he had some gifts for Tickle. We proceeded to cover the table in front of them with an assortment of crap: work boots, t-shirts, videos of terrible movies, and a ton of other knick-knacks. We presented the Indiana plate, causing Tickle to launch into a series of “I knew you had this” assertions. Finally, we lifted the cock lamp on the table, setting it in all its frozen crowing glory right in front of the bride and groom. It is doubtlessly in numerous wedding photos.
Tickle gave a speech, one that was surprisingly straightforward for the most part—I think my brother was a little overcome. K spoke after him. She said the immortal words many say during wedding speeches: crying as she said, “I said I wouldn’t cry.” Amid her thanks and joy, she referenced the cock lamp by name, which was awesome beyond words. Addressing my family, her voice made extra high by trying to hold back her emotions, she said, “And I want to thank my new family. I love you guys, and I love coming to Grandma’s for Christmas, because it’s so hot and loud and everyone yells at each other.” It was one of the most touching cases of Stockholm Syndrome I have ever seen.
“I think I should take my shirt off.”
We ate, we drank, and we danced. Hawkeye and Trapper owned the dance floor the same way they did in Vegas, scorching the tiles in tandem with their wives. My Grandma—and one of Libby’s namesakes—got out on the floor, too, boogieing to “Shout” and “Brick House”:
Dad is a funny guy. Growing up, he had been a pretty stern authority figure—a funny man, but not one to put up with shenanigans from his children, who constantly engaged in shenanigans. Yet, as a child, he had practically been a greaser from The Outsiders, engaging in all sorts of hijinks, usually fueled by alcohol. That side tends to make an appearance at things like his son’s wedding reception.
In the men’s room, late in the reception, I ran into him. We were both sweaty and drunk. “It’s pretty hot in there,” Dad said. “I think I should take my shirt off.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” I replied.
Rhetorical questions are not meant to be answered, but my father answered mine by removing his tuxedo shirt. He spent the last hour of the reception in a sleeveless athletic t-shirt, having a grand time, and making my mother laugh despite her attempts to not to encourage him.
The apples didn’t fall far from the trees.
The reception finally came to a close, and we returned to our hotels and homes, trying to soak in that Tickle was now married. That seems much more odd than his ownership of a cock lamp.