Anne Marie and SungWon getting married was an event, enough to attract the rare Wilco visit along with the rest of us more common loot drops. Sarah exploded with excitement when they announced their engagement, and made a point to ask if she and I could be part of the wedding party.
I was fairly nervous about her imposing by asking. Anne Marie and SungWon’s wedding was going to be a far bigger event than the one Sarah and I had, with various tangential family ties ballooning the complexity of the ceremony to critical stress levels. I’m honored they decided to let us be grooms men and bride’s maid anyway. Though the running joke was that Sarah would be held accountable for any and all wedding catastrophes regardless of what happened.
Also up until the point of our departure, Sarah harangued Alex to retrieve the air mattress from SungWon’s placed we’d used during the preceding meet up. Alex procrastinated since he could do this easily at any time, which did not help Sarah’s mounting anxiety about it. Her constant queries to for Alex to retrieve it probably led him to put it off to the very last possible second.
Sarah spent a fair amount of time hunting down the ideal Bride’s Maids dress and special ordered it online months in advance. Only problem was that it got delivered to the wrong address. There was a span of weeks where we walked to the neighboring house it’d been shipped to, which looked like an opulent mini mansion, on a daily basis trying to catch the occupant and get the package in time to arrange alterations. With increasing desperation, we knocked, left notes, and called the residence. A package WAS on the doorstep, frustratingly not ours, but strangely ALSO delivered to the wrong address. There were realty signs up, and the interior appeared immaculately clean and dark. We became paranoid that no one lived there at all, that the owner was so rich they could just bail on the house and not care. Sarah went so far as to contact the shipping company, the realtor, and the company that sold the dress hoping to figure out where the dress was and how we could get it. The realtor shrugged and indicated the owner kept weird hours. Things began to look so dire that we caved and ordered a new dress and ate the cost.
Of course, not long after that, the owner returned from a month long vacation out of the country. Sarah had been salty before, speculating that the resident was some smug rich monster who might have burned the dress or used it for dish rags out of spite. This melted away when she actually met the man, who was a sweet tempered pediatrician who was very apologetic for our inconvenience. Sarah made the most of the extra dress by sending it to maid of owner Elizabeth so they both could match.
I had the usual hell-week that happens whenever I request lengthy time off from my employment at the crisis line. Excitement to see friends and the prospect of a respite from an onslaught of nasty work days made the start of this vacation a tremendous relief. We were also under yet another water boil advisory in Corpus, and facing repeated major floods in the city, so our escape was a big deal. Though there had been lots of reports of airport employees striking due to severe understaffing, which worried us.
The plan was to fly into Cleveland and group up with Reno and later Wilco before we all drove out to crash at Alex’s apartment for the few days leading up to the ceremony. I was delirious for most the traveling, since we left immediately after my overnight work shift and I am accustomed to day sleeping. We peppered our luggage with puppy stickers to make them easier to spot and retrieve from the baggage claim. We had remarkably short layovers, so we had to hustle at the sprawling Houston airport to catch our connecting flight. The first plane we took was a tiny little squirt, followed by a cavernous behemoth. The only adjacent seats left were in the very, very back of the plane, so when we arrived Reno had to circle around the airport far too many times while we waited for literally every other person to vacate the plane.
Reno is arguably the best host among my long distance friends. Anxious to be accommodating, grateful for the company, generous with what little he has, with a spacious home loaded with an armada of affectionate cats. Ric’s latest obsession was the game Overwatch, which ate up most of our time prior to departure. I’ve been indifferent to the game, but Sarah instantly became enamored it. Our brief stay at Ric’s was basically a crash course in the game for Sarah followed by binge hotseat play. I amused myself by petting cats. There was a new one named Fern, who is as impossibly social as the rest. We ended the ending with a nice dinner at Barrio’s taco joint courtesy of Ric. The place was loud and crowded, but with slick Día de Muertos décor. They were excellent spicy tacos.
Wet shaving had been something Reno had discovered recently and had much excitement for. He gave me a passionate tutorial on the virtues of switching to a finer, higher quality shave. Sarah had been bothering me to switch to wet shaving already, so the two ganged up to try and push through my impregnable apathy. Reno mentioned how he hoped to make a brief detour on our route to Michigan to stop at Maggard’s, a wet shaving emporium which Ric had been wanting to visit for a long time. Sarah was on board, and their mutual excitement and my derision warped the whole concept into this golden religious pilgrimage. For the remainder of the trip we referred to Maggard’s as the Mecca for shaving and we continued to overblow its significance as time went on.
Ric’s wife Jessie prepared an ample breakfast of bacon and eggs, but Sarah sabotaged me by objecting that I hate pork and it would impossible for me to enjoy the graciously provided meal. Wilco was fished out of the airport following breakfast, conveniently in the same Aperture Science jacket we had seen him in last time we met. We escaped the congested airport and loaded the rear of the van to bursting with luggage before departing toward our destination of East Lansing Michigan.
Wilco filled us in on various minutia of his life while we traveled, and he was immediately on board the shave train and ready to behold the holy site. Wilco was in a relatively good place in his life, with a good job, a house full of friends back in Australia, and plans for the future. Having just flown stateside last year for the cruise with Sarah and me, he was a bit financially tapped. We weren’t likely to see him in the country for a few years, but he was happy to be here for the event. He also told us a bit about his visit to Boston to see Siro, which was the most news we’d heard of him since he and Wiggy separated from our circle of friends.
We stopped at a rest stop Ric had traditionally frequently on the long drives to Indiana to visit with Jessie’s family, as a matter of ritual. Wilco sampled Popeye’s chicken for the first time. I discouraged him from making the Wimpy joke out of pity for the employees. Sarah had been craving Popeye’s for months, so I was shocked when she opted for Panera instead. I bought extra because I knew she would change her mind mid-meal.
When we finally rolled into the parking lot for the holy land, the group’s anticipation had reached a fever pitch. I’d strained myself rolling my eyes. Half way up the steps, we realized the place had closed early. The group was devastated, especially because it would be impossible to swing by again during our return trip on Sunday due to their hours. The group couldn’t help but comment at my joyful, smug satisfaction at our incredible misfortune. The only thing that could bring back up the morale was arriving at Alex’s apartment.
Alex was strikingly thin. Sarah and I have only gotten fatter with time while Blue kept at his exercise and diet with discipline. I suggested the fat had merely been displaced to the rest of the group. We unloaded our luggage into his apartment, which was about three times the size of the one Sarah and I share in Texas, and settled in. His salary is also greater than what Sarah and I make combined, so I guess the computer science degree was a good investment. I made fun of the smirk he wore in his company ID though. Alex had to text Anne Marie when Sarah inevitably asked about the air mattress yet again. I had the impression someone had lost a bet. Alex did indeed come through on getting the air mattress, so Sarah and I were able to sleep on Angel’s Wings.
There was plenty of room for everyone in the apartment, which was great. However, being a bachelor, Alex was limited in terms of other accommodations. We made a grocery run the first night to buy pillows and snacks, mainly cereal, and another air mattress for Ric. What we failed to account for is that Alex only possessed one actual bowl. He asserted he owned at least two, but we discovered no evidence to corroborate this claim. At no point did we cease to express mocking outrage at his bowl deficiency. When we got back, I hand pumped Reno’s air mattress before he had a chance to do it himself. He objected, saying he should do it himself. I insisted out of petulant kindness.
I’ve largely lost track of what happened when prior to the wedding. What time we spent at Alex’s apartment was predominantly spent watching Cut Throat Kitchen, much to my dismay. Off and on we must have watched at least half a season of Alton Brown embracing the role of cackling sadist. Alex had already jumped on the Overwatch bandwagon, and went so far as to move his computer into the leaving room so the group could hotseat rounds of the game. Reno also talked us into watching a good chunk of the Netflix Original Wet Hot American Summer, which managed to get good after the show jumped the rails into a bizarre government conspiracy plot with talking cans of soup.
Sarah had been introduced to Ric’s mechanical keyboard in Cleveland, and again with Alex’s in Michigan. Discussion of the virtues of the clacking luxury keyboard escalated into typing test competitions. SungWon arrived during this bizarre scene, and quickly joined to completely dominate the rankings. The typing test had a quirk where if a space was missed a whole slew of words would be counted as errors, and that could really screw with us. One test describing the rules of baseball included “Spalding’s Baseball Guide” which caused consistent typing train wrecks, to the point we characterized Spalding as a villain out to ruin our WPM score. Excerpts from the Wizard of Oz were astonishingly boring, and paragraphs describing zebras focused on latin scientific naming which tripped us up in different ways.
Reno had intended to run a tabletop rolling playing session of Call of Cthulhu while we were in Michigan. I was excited for it, but it didn’t wind up happening. There was too much else going on and we got distracted. Not the end of the world, but I never get enough table top gaming.
It did not take long for Alex to be converted to the Wet Shave cult. He, Wilco, and Ric conspired to drive the hour and half back to Maggard’s while Sarah and I were attending the wedding rehearsal. Religion can compel a man to do strange things. Sarah was upset she couldn’t join them because she had to participate in a dumb wedding.
Most days we had groups running in two cars. Reno became readily familiar with the stretch of road between Alex’s place and Bigby coffee. I routinely acquiesced shotgun for others every time. East Lansing was still dotted with tourism billboards trying to pitch the phrase Pure Michigan. We took to describing the shallow pools of rainwater in the roads and parking lots as the Pure Michigan, excreted from deep blow as slime fresh every morning.
The first night in, there was debate over where we all should go to have dinner. SungWon presented us with the options of Hopp Cat or Korean barbeque. Alex urged that Hopp Cat was the correct choice as he was craving their Crack Fries. Naturally we opted for the opposite choice. I’m not sure if Ric had ever had Korean food before, so I felt it was the right choice. It was one of those places where you grill the food yourself at the table, which is interesting but I think I prefer just having the food fully prepared ahead of time.
We did have Hopp Cat another day, naturally WITHOUT Alex present. The crack fries were quite fantastic, so he was right to crave them. It was a good burger place, though we hadn’t realized it focused on its beer selection. We’d presumed it was a jumping cat, as opposed to a Hopps as the in plant beer is brewed from.
During our meal, Sarah asked to see my wallet. Seeing as how she is my wife, and I both love and trust her, I did this without thinking. She reached into my wallet and threw cash at Reno pleading with him to buy me a full set of wet shaving supplies. I was betrayed! Reno took the funds and vowed to provide me with a full set of wet shave supplies as condoned by The Order.
Reno had never had bubble tea before, so we made a stop. Wilco had protested, he was no fan of bubble tea. Because this is our group, this escalated into mimicking Wilco cursing “those dastardly orbs” and those “revolting spheres.” Sarah was nearly broken, laughing hysterically. Somehow our time drinking bubble tea drifted to discussion of the existence of ghosts. Sarah is deathly frightened of ghosts. I, on the other hand, only wish ghosts were real. Sarah was outraged. I’m religious. I should definitely believe in ghosts. Instead I merely pine for evidence of the supernatural. The go to argument is that there are plenty of anecdotal reports of ghosts, but that does nothing for me until I am actually being harassed by poltergeists.
We spent more time with Anne Marie and SungWon than I was anticipating, given they had work and wedding preparations to attend to. When we did visit, we got to see their new shared apartment. It was basically like if SungWon’s previous apartment had advanced one stage in pokemon evolution. Bigger, with more frills courtesy of Anne Marie, and probably angry eyebrows somewhere. We played multiple hands of “Mochi Koro,” which is this board game SungWon introduced us to about business. You buy cards which have effects triggered by dice rolls which causes you to earn or steal money, among other effects. It was very strategic, and Wilco dominated every game he was involved in. The one time he sat out, he coached Sarah D as her treacherous vizier, and by no coincidence she won handily that round. It was all in service of stabbing her in the back to seize her empire later, of course. SungWon had played the game up as being short and snappy, though each hand took us over an hour to play out due to having the max number of players.
It’s a lot like monopoly in so far as once you start to grow the gap between players can be hard to close. When I played, I languished in dead end strategies where I failed to keep up. Getting a little too real there, Mochi Koro. Ric said more than once he intended to get his own copy of the game. I’d wanted to play more board games with the group, especially Dead of Winter which SungWon had lauded in past skypes, but time and energy did not permit.
One morning we made a point to go for a long walk to get coffee before Alex got home from work. The walk proved uncomfortably long since we are all flabby nerds. Naturally the next time we went out like this we stopped at Quality Dairy and everyone bought too much ice cream. It’s notable that ice cream is a weakness of Alex’s that he’s had to prevail against through force of will for his fitness goals. Sarah barely touched her ice cream and we all left half eaten pints in his freezer to torment him. For what it’s worth, Alex’s success at losing weight seems to have motivated Sarah to get us to the gym more often.
The day of rehearsals, Sarah and I got dumped off at the family church of SungWon. His father, the minister, would be officiating. SungWon would comment on the surreal nature of having all of his social circles collide for this event. His goofy Internet friends were here, Anne Marie’s family and his own were mingling, among other friends. I tried not to be super embarrassing.
SungWon’s family was basically exactly how he’d described them. His father was very serious, though rather goofy in his own way. He dropped his microphone several times during rehearsal. He was weirded out when Anne Marie and SungWon were insistent on there being a kiss, which apparently is not a thing in Korean weddings. Sarah had spaced out during several prompts to turn. The ring bearer and flower girl were especially difficult. The flower girl had dumped all the flowers out all at once, which I wish she had done during the actual ceremony. During the real deal, the children botched the job and started crying. Their father had ducked behind a pew with suckers in hand hoping to curry their cooperation but it did not pan out. SungWon’s father grew exasperated with our gaffs, but the final performance benefited from the practice.
I had only minimal contact with SungWon’s mom. She made an awesome meal for the rehearsal, with heaps of amazing Bulgogi. She had snaps of sarcasm, which is genetically where SungWon gets it. SungWon’s brother SeungWon was best man. Seemed stiff, but friendly. Not as awkward as me, though. Wore a Fallout shirt in spite of having never played the game. I made a Mario Brothers comparison since SungWon is shorter, stockier, and more confident. The three of us spent most of our time after rehearsal camped in the office where it was adequately air conditioned.
I had a very brief interaction with Anne Marie’s mom, mostly just talking about Texas and other states. Sarah shared later that when Anne Marie’s mom learned they hadn’t yet acquired a garter, she’d over reacted to the situation as “unacceptable.” Her brother, David Salter, was very anxious to talk to anyone about sports. He had the misfortune to be surrounded by video game nerds. My only real encounter with Anne Marie’s father was eye contact, where I suspected he was assessing how much of a doofus I was.
At the rehearsal dinner, we demolished several pitchers of lemonade and I was introduced to Elizabeth and Adib. We talked about SungWon and I’s sacred pokemon brotherhood. I probably didn’t make the best impression, as I introduced myself by being comically smug about my complete pokedex and was later socially withdrawn at the reception. Adib had been described by SungWon as being the friendliest and nicest guy in the world. SungWon was very excited for Adib to be reunited with Wilco, who is also the friendliest nicest guy in the world. My impression of Adib was as very social and animated. I had a hard time getting a full impression of Elizabeth.
Wilco, Ric, and Alex returned from Maggard’s triumphantly, with bags of scented soaps and razor kits. I had to sit through a lecture on lathering. At SungWon’s, a night was spent with a group too large for board games. Alex, Adib, Reno, and Wilco had a raucous and high stakes match of Mario Party. SungWon, Elizabeth, Sarah and I had a more civilized game of Hearts. Sarah made several attempts to try and shoot the moon prematurely, and we had to explain with increasing exasperation why this is not a strategy you go for directly out of the gate. I was obnoxiously smug whenever I managed to get through a round with zero points, but failed to place first.
When the day of the ceremony rolled around, Sarah had went out early with Anne Marie for breakfast at Soup Spoon. The boys and I had a crisis in the mean time, where Alex’s suit had disappeared. We joked that Alex had no bowls, no suit, no nothing. Wilco was sorely tempted to chat this issue to the group. We eventually found his suit in the bathroom, which we weren’t able to search while people were using the room for showers and ritualized shaving.
I was dropped off at the church, and the three of them teamed up with Adib for a secret mission where they had to try and get a garter to her on time. This sort of side quest was necessary to get the S-rank ending for the wedding. I wasn’t there for it, but apparently Adib broke an automatic door at Michael’s. The three were dressed to the nines in their tuxes, so they rolled with a narrative of secret agent hitmen with archetype personalities. They also had donuts.
I was introduced to extended family members of SungWon’s and tried my best not to be overwhelmingly awkward. We mostly chilled again in the office. I let SungWon know that, as a grooms man, I was of course prepared to die for him when the moment came. Like a Person or Fire Emblem support guard.
SungWon had asked his father multiple times not to have the sermon during the ceremony run to long. So, naturally, during the ceremony, his father called him out for his impatient and implied he would provide an extra long sermon. It wasn’t too bad, more for the joking threat. Anne Marie had gotten emotional during the vows, and that was sweet. There was probably more prayer than Sarah was comfortable with. We got to stroll back down the aisle arm in arm and then vacate to separate gendered rooms.
Since Sarah and I were in the wedding party, we couldn’t group up with the others. We had to hang back until the bride and groom were permitted to head over to the reception after too many photographs. The reception was at a rather verdant country club. We were able to snack on appetizers in the bar area until they were ready to announce the wedding party into the main area. They started right away with the first dance, and Sarah and I were expected to dance along too, which we were NOT prepared for. We teetered around until we were dismissed. On the bright side though, Anne Marie and SungWon’s first song was to Melodies of Life from Final Fantasy IX, which is pretty badass.
Sarah’s Panorama shot.
They spent the bulk of the reception at their fancy table off to the side. All the nerd friends were seated together at the same table, a fun sort of quarantine. Conversation at the table was a bit tricky since it was loud and hard to hear people not immediately adjacent to you. We got up to dance a few times, most at Sarah’s urging. Me on the dance floor is a disaster. At best I will improvise absurd moves like shrugging elaborately or attacking an imaginary victim, which we did as a group. At worse I’m just a gyrating train wreck radiating embarrassment.
At the garter toss, Wilco managed to snatch the garter out of from under the tearful grasp of Alex. I joked that he should return the Garter to Michael’s now that they had gotten the full use out of it. Wilco was obliged to dance with the woman who caught the bouquet, who happened to already to engaged. Wilco’s dance partner was swapped out a few more times with different relatives and it all kind of undermined the theme.
Elizabeth and SeungWon, as Maid of Honor and Best Man, were obliged to give speeches. Elizabeth was absolutely paralyzed with anxiety about this. Ultimately both expressed, haltingly, that Anne Marie and SungWon had been together a long time and both wished them a long and happy marriage. Which is really all that needed to be said.
Sarah and I were introduced to the custom of banging on wine glasses with silverware to make the bride and groom kiss. Neither of us had heard of this before. Dance, puppets.
The group met up near the bar as the reception was winding down. Sarah started a Bloody Mary trend, which she cited as her proudest moment. Adib started a rather intense, inflammatory, drunken argument about impressionism that got deep under the skin of the art school girls. It could have easily escalated into a brawl.
I had mentally checked out by this point. Too much noise, too many people, and I have issues with alcohol, so that didn’t help. I ate too many cheese cubes and bided my time as designated driver. Other people kept asking me if I was okay to be the designated driver, which was a ridiculous question to me because most everybody was sloshed. Aubrey, Anne Marie’s friend and the wedding photographer, was chatting up a storm with Alex. Wilco and Adib were both gregarious. Adib, Elizabeth, and Aubrey all agreed to meet up later at Alex’s place for more drinking and fun times.
I can’t provide too much detail about what happened at Alex’s place. We had another impromptu typing competition (Drunk Edition) and watched History of Japan. I sequestered myself to a side room to chill in the quiet as I was had a huge migraine from the noise and crowds. I made people worry needlessly. Adib, Wilco and Sarah swung by to verify things were okay. SungWon had better luck, letting me talk and eventually just chatting about One Piece.
By the time I emerged, Aubrey, Elizabeth and Adib were getting ready to leave. Aubrey, Alex and Ric were still the most wasted of any buddy and we all had to talk Aubrey out of trying to drive herself anywhere. Anne Marie and SungWon made sure she got back to her hotel okay. The Aubrey-Alex hook up didn’t happen like fans were speculating, and Alex indicated he wasn’t really looking for anything long distance.
With most of the group still pretty inebriated, apart from Wilco who has some sort of Chosen One super-liver, I decided to contribute to the group again by being a bad person. I started showing weird pseudo horror adult swim stuff on the TV (This House has People in It, Sculptor’s Clayground, Too Many Cooks), which was interpreted as my retribution and the worst thing to watch when you are mostly drunk. Sarah urged me to end this madness and go to bed.
The morning of our departure, we had an Asian buffet lunch until Anne Marie and SungWon were available and spent a bit chatting with them before having to make our departure. Ric was anxious to beat the weather and the traffic, so we left a bit earlier than SungWon and Anne Marie would’ve liked. We had a very early flight to catch.
Once we got back to Cleveland, we had a Game of Thrones premier party with Reno’s friend Nick, and had fun dissecting Bran’s visions frame by frame and speculating about what would happen next. We were starved and tried to make a late run to grab some fast food at McDonald’s, but it turns out every McDonalds in Cleveland apparently closes after hours. We caught a scant number of hours sleep and made a bleary trip to the airport to say goodbye to Ric and Wilco. Reno, Sarah and I spoke more about how we want to go to Austrailia to visit Wilco for a change, even if this is financially difficult goal.
Wilco would go on to stay with Reno for another stay before heading off to Chicago to see an old chess playing friend before he hops the pond. Sarah was dreading returning to work, and I faced another hell week to make up for lost time at my job with a screwed up circadian rhythm. Still, it was all worth it to see friends and share this momentous occasion.
Anne Marie and SungWon were finally married. After all the stress to prepare for, plan and execute the wedding, they get to toil in the purgatory of writing thank you cards. Eventually they will be released to enjoy the banal day to day of being married to a nerd they met on the Internet. I hope their relationship remains as happy as it seems, and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to see these two tie the knot. I want the best for these beloved friends, and I believe they find that in each other.