Last night, I found an old mixtape lying in the car. It was one I'd grabbed a long time ago from the box of old cassette tapes in the garage to bring along on a drive.
This mixtape was labeled "Honeymoon." It was the tape I'd made in the days before Sweetie and I got married, a tape I wanted to bring along on the road trip we were going to take to New York -- hence the label.
One of the things that is now more or less lost to time is the process of creating a mixtape -- the hours spent selecting the songs, deciding the order to put them in, then fastforwarding and rewinding on a dual-cassette deck to get the songs to the right part and then recording them, making it all as seamless as possible, trying to find songs to fit into that last 1.2 minute section at the end. All that time and thought to freeze in a certain order all the songs that one liked at that time and which related to the theme of the mixtape: a tape for jogging and exercise. Or a tape for the person you loved. Or a tape to take on a road trip to New York with your new wife and too little money. That moment in time, forever set this song after that song after that song, a pattern that will never change and will embed itself into your memory.
The song selection had to be just so. Put a song on there that you didn't like a week or month or year later, and it could wreck the mix, weigh it down -- cause you to not choose that tape anymore, because you didn't want to keep fastforwarding past that song, not in the days when that required more than a quick click with the thumb.
But once it was done, the mixtape served as a mnemonic device: listening to it over and over in certain situations helped cement memories in place: "I always hit this song at about mile 2, by that big hill..." or "this was for prom night," or "this was the song that was playing when we got to the scary hotel in Cleveland."
This is the story of that mixtape, and our honeymoon, song by song.
Part 1: The Cheesecake Truck:
Anyway, I decided the only thing to do would be to eat all the rest of the cheesecakes and hide the truck somewhere and leave town
And I miss everybody a lot, but I'm not very sorry,
because they were very delicious cheesecakes.
And I miss everybody a lot, but I'm not very sorry,
because they were very delicious cheesecakes.
Sweetie and I began our honeymoon the way we have celebrated all important events in our life: with pizza.
We ordered a pizza for dinner, our first dinner as married people, and had it delivered to our hotel room, because we were starving. Everybody I knew had all sorts of advice for me about my wedding, about marriage, about life, but one thing that nobody told me about the whole process was this: You probably won't get to eat at your own wedding.
I didn't-- not much. We had an hors d'ouevre wedding, one of the many unpopular choices we'd made for our wedding, and one of the many things that we'd opted to do and then backed up by telling our families If you don't like it, you can pay to do something else.
We had to say that a lot. Our families were under two misimpressions, at least, about our wedding. Misimpression number 1 was that it was for them, and misimpression number 2 was that we had the money to pay for things. Neither could be more true. We had almost no money at the time. When Sweetie and I got married, on May 13, 2000, she was working as a legal secretary, and I had my own practice as a lawyer, a practice I'd opened up with an operating budget, at the start, of $900 -- that being all the money I had in my savings account in June, 1998, when I was sworn in as a lawyer. Since that time, I'd been trying to build up my practice mostly doing low-grade divorces and small cases, and taking assigned cases from the State Public Defender's office -- assignments that paid the remarkably low sum of $40 per hour and didn't pay until the end of the case, meaning that I could work and work and work and not get paid for months, or years.
On those meager earnings, we had to support not just us but also the three older kids -- Sweetie's from her first marriage -- all of which left a budget of approximately zero for the wedding.
When money is tight, you learn to do two things: First, you learn to prioritize and decide what's important and what's not. We made those decisions daily. Wedding photographer? Out. We'd buy disposable cameras and have people take pictures, and get a friend who was good with a camera to take the formal shots. Fancy reception hall? Out. We'd rent a pavillion in the park near our apartment and hold the reception outdoors. Dinner? Out: it was finger food and beer by the barrel and, under pressure from relatives, some wine provided by the caterer who would do the hors d'ouevres.
Those decisions, as they continued being made, prompted a flurry of protests and what-ifs. What if it rains? People asked. There's a roof, I told them. What if it's cold? People asked. Bring a coat, I said. What if it snows? my brother Matt asked me, to which I said If it snows, if it SNOWS on May 13, then, in that unlikely prospect, the entire wedding will simply go find a bar or restaurant to hang out at and we'll live with it.
From our moms, we heard What about decorations? My mom asked if we wouldn't like some rented trees strung with Christmas lights to dress up the park pavillion a little. You can pay for them if you want them, I told her. Candles? Flowers? Sweetie's mom asked. She got the same answer.
From my dad, in response to the news that we'd be having hors d'ouevres: People are going to expect a plate of food! That was news to me; every wedding I'd ever gone to, I'd dreaded the dinner. I've never had a good meal at a wedding, although I did like the "mashed potato bar" at one Sweetie's cousin's wedding. I said "They can fill up before they come."
And so we arrived at our wedding day, Saturday, May 13, 2000, a day that arrived clear, and sunny, and non-snowy. And so we arrived at our reception, where it continued to not snow and not rain, a reception which had been decorated, somewhat, by our families, and a reception which was filled with people who had somehow overcome their keen disappointment at not getting a plate of food. And so we spent our wedding reception having fun -- and talking, and being interrupted, and doing the wedding march, and doing our wedding dance, and dancing with the mother of the groom and mother of the bride and fathers of the groom and fathers of the bride and tossing the garter and tossing the flowers and cutting the cake, and toasts, and more toasts, and dancing, and more dancing, and even chicken dancing, which I'd hoped we wouldn't do at my wedding but which I then decided was okay to do at a wedding because everyone else liked it, and through it all we talked to more and more people, people I didn't know, people I now barely remember, people like Sweetie's grandma, who came up to me and announced that she was the oldest person there, and people like my nieces, who wanted to dance with their uncle.
Periodically in the reception, I would go get a couple of snacks on a plate, and then would talk to my Uncle Joe, or my friend Eric, or someone on Sweetie's side, and would set the plate down, and then would have to go dance, and would forget where the plate was or forget that I had a plate, and that went on as the night wore on, as people took off their suit jackets and put on sweatshirts and continued to dance as the air grew colder, as the lights from the park pavillion shone out onto the dark wet cold grass around the park, as the snack mix and mini pizzas and egg rolls disappeared one by one, as guests began to leave, and I forgot, as things went on, that I was hungry and instead concentrated on the fact that I was having fun, and that I was married -- married to Sweetie, who laughed and danced and hugged people as she walked around in her wedding dress, the wedding dress that was her second choice.
I've always felt bad about that. To this day, I feel bad about Sweetie having to get a wedding dress that was not her first choice. She looked beautiful in it, and it was a beautiful dress, but I can't forget that it wasn't the one she really wanted. I'd prevented her, accidentally, from getting the one she first wanted.
Sweetie and my mom and possibly her mom had been looking through catalogs of dresses before our wedding, comparing them and discussing them and trying to choose, and Sweetie had asked me to look through them and see what I thought of them. I resisted, at first: I told her that it didn't matter what I thought because she was going to wear the dress and she had to like it. I said she'd look beautiful no matter what she wore, so she should choose one she liked.
But she persisted, and so I flipped through a couple of the pages and remarked on one or two that I liked, and then I opened to one page and said "Now, this, I don't like." I then went on about how I didn't like the fact that the dress was "antiqued" (their word for it) because it made it look yellow and moldy and I didn't like the details on the dress and in general, I thought the dress was awful.
That was Sweetie's first choice. Had I kept my mouth shut, she'd have gotten that dress and everything would have been fine. When she told me that, I told her to get the dress anyway, and said that if she liked it, I'd like it, and that she'd look beautiful in it. I tried to convince her of the truth, and the truth was this: I didn't particularly feel strongly about ANY of the dresses; I just felt like I had to say something. Sweetie wanted opinions, so I gave her some opinions. I just as easily could have said that the dress was great -- I had just been trying to give her some feedback of any sort and I didn't know what to say.
But the damage was done, and so she'd gotten her second choice, and I watched her at our reception, glowing in the evening lights in her white dress, glowing and smiling and happy and dancing, I watched her as I talked to people and danced myself, sometimes with her and sometimes with others, and I watched her, later, as we got to the hotel where we were staying that night, watched her as she walked in still wearing her second-choice dress.
We weren't leaving for our honeymoon until the next morning, technically, but we were staying in a hotel that night and leaving the kids with Grandma back at the apartment, so that our first night as a married couple wouldn't be spent mediating fights between the girls over who was better, the Backstreet Boys or N'Sync, and wouldn't be spent chasing the hamsters that The Boy was always letting out of their cage. And we were staying at a secret hotel, one we didn't tell anyone about. We gave nobody the name of the hotel we were staying at, and we even took evasive action when we finally left the apartment and the remaining guests and kids who had left the reception and followed us home. We drove off in a random direction, and made some turns and twists before heading to our secret hotel, to make sure that we were not followed, because we didn't want hangers-on to come and insist that we keep partying, that we keep receptioning, that we not let the night end.
It was that fun of a day. It really was; nobody had wanted it to end, which is why we had to take evasive action to get away from the group of people overflowing our apartment. Nobody had gotten a full plate of food, but it hadn't snowed or rained, and the photos had been taken and the DJ had played and everyone had enjoyed a wonderful time that they never wanted to let go. "Stay around a little more," they'd said. "Come over tomorrow morning for a gift opening," they'd said. "Let's go out for drinks," they'd told us. "I think the hamsters escaped," we'd heard. To them all, we'd said, "Thanks, but we've got to get going, we're starting our honeymoon."
We wanted to be alone, on our first night as newlyweds. We wanted to enjoy a sweet, quiet, loving night together with no relatives, no guests, no kids, no hamsters.
In the dead of night, we walked into the side door of our hotel room, the honeymoon suite. Sweetie still had her dress on. I had my tuxedo shirt and pants and shoes still on. We turned on one lamp, and Sweetie looked at me and smiled and said "What do you want to do first?"
And we decided, together: order pizza.
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