July 6, 1997 in Features

That Special Day Veteran Of Traditional Wedding Believes It Was All Worth It

Lolly Winston Special To Women & Men

“This will be your special day,” the hotel’s wedding coordinator cooed the first time I met with her. “Ang wah durl ming shoo schnitzel,” she snapped at her assistant, in their secret foreign wedding language. Roughly translated, that meant, “quick, get her non-refundable deposit and sell her on the $350 particle board cake.”

I never learned the whole language while planning my wedding, but I picked up a few words here and there: “Bride” is code for dimwit and “wedding” is synonymous with “400-percent-markup-vendor-free-for-all.”

“I’m paying for my own wedding,” I explained to the wedding coordinator. She had a tiny nose, like a jelly bean. “I lost my Dad,” I told her. I realized this sounded funny, as if he were a stray sock missing from the laundry and I’d eventually find him when I got around to it.

“Oh, that’s hard on your special day,” she said, handing over the food and beverage estimate. Surely, this was the cost for buying a baseball team or a television network of the Falkland Island.

“Can we do without the edible flowers?” I asked her.

“They really make the dish,” she said. “And don’t forget, this is your special day.”

I told her I’d look the estimate over and get back to her. Once home, I contemplated having a simpler, backyard wedding. But my backyard had a balding, kidney-shaped lawn slightly larger than a child’s swimming pool. If I were Martha Stewart, I’d only need egg whites, tulle and a glue gun to transform the yard into a Victorian wonderland. But I am more like Lucille Ball than Martha Stewart. So I opted for the hotel bash.

After I gave the wedding coordinator the $1,000 non-refundable deposit, her perky demeanor shifted into a do-I-know-you-from-somewhere glaze over her eyes. Suddenly her phone always dropped into voice mail and she was at lunch whenever I stopped by her office. I pictured her lounging by the pool in Reno, sipping margaritas and fondling $100 bills that she’d gotten from cashing my deposit check.

While waiting for her to respond to my voice mails, faxes and telepathic messages, we test-drove bands. We found a group in our price range that promised not to play “YMCA.”

But the lead singer asked, “Do you have a song for your special day?” We didn’t have a song. We had only been together for two years and have never even slow danced, because we didn’t know how. We wondered if we were really special enough to be getting married.

In between dress-fittings, I dreamed that I wore a gown so huge that I got stuck in a bathroom stall. I dreamed that my dress was scorched with a black tire mark across the front. I dreamed that 125 hungry people showed up for the reception, which somehow wound up being in my kitchen and the only thing in the fridge was wilted basil.

We paid a visit to the judge who would marry us - a soft-spoken, mustached man whose sunny, serene chambers were a welcome haven from the rest of the wedding industry. His non-negotiable $75 fee was set by the county and he was the only vendor who didn’t refer to this as our special day.

“If we spent half the time we do thinking about getting a good partner on actually being a good partner, things would be much easier,” her mused. For the first time in a year we thought about being married, instead of just getting married.

Finally, I got through to the wedding coordinator’s boss, who said that the dish we picked would be impossible for the chef to prepare for the number of people we were having, the honeymoon suite was taken and there weren’t any rooms left for our out-of-town guests.

I told him that the wedding coordinator had recommended that dish - a nice light risotto for a summer day - and that the wedding suite was part of the package, as were the rooms that had been set aside at a reduced rate for our guests.

He announced that the wedding coordinator had been fired. And then he hissed, “Are you aware that this is a European-style hotel?” I wasn’t sure how this was relevant, but I found myself apologizing to him, despite the fact that he had my money and I had a headache the size of Wyoming.

It was 103 degrees on our special day. Guests fanned themselves and gulped champagne, getting loopy before the salads were even on the table. As we moved into the ballroom for dinner, I scanned the tables and saw that there was white wine, red wine and champagne on every table, but nothing else to drink, not even water. I swished into the kitchen in my wedding dress and asked the banquet manager to serve iced tea and water.

“All right,” he said. “After the salads, we’ll ask around and see if anyone wants iced tea.”

“Please serve iced tea now.” I begged.

“Okay, we’ll ask,” he said, nibbling on a lettuce leaf.

“Now!” I hollered. “IT’S MY DAMN SPECIAL DAY!” The man took a little leap and started clinking pitchers, scooping ice, slicing lemons and nodding profusely, his bow tie bobbing up and down.

Except for the tardy iced tea, the photographer calling my aunt “Grandma” and a few of the groomsmen crashing through the hotel’s elegant Italian restaurant at the height of the dinner hour, hooting and pushing carts of dirty laundry, all went well on our special day. I’m glad we threw a traditional shindig.

Nearly two years later, I still like flipping through the photos, even though the makeup I’m wearing makes me look a little too shiny, as if I’d wandered out of a wax museum. But, if I had it to do all over again, I think I’d be just as happy to get married in a flannel shirt and jeans and order Happy Meals for everyone. If there’s one thing I learned about the language of weddings, it’s that the words fancy and special are not synonymous.

MEMO: Lolly Winston is a California-based free-lance writer.

Lolly Winston is a California-based free-lance writer.

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