Day #226: Billie Holiday – “Cheek to Cheek”
Caroline and Asaf got married today!
I was about 11 years old when I proudly hopped out of a barber’s seat, saying “Do I look cool or what?” It was the last time I ever went anywhere to get my hair cut. Until this weekend.
I am getting married in two weeks and for once, I have to consider “getting my hair done for an occasion.” In the past, I’ve limited my hair styling accessories to just one: a hat. So, for my birthday Phil gave me a gift certificate to the beauty parlor located in our quaint, old-fashioned Greenbelt neighborhood.
It wasn’t surprising when I set foot in the pink and gray colored shop, that pungent odor of pretzels and hair dye just as I remember it, that I was the only person under the age of 55. It made me nervous that I was going to ask for Eva Longoria’s haircut and walk away with something you’d find on a middle-age woman at a West Virginia gun show.
Their customers had been going there for years, some getting their hair cut every week. The employees knew them by name. Knew what hair styles they preferred. Asked about their family members. Some women were so old, they ambled along at a snail’s pace. One, who might have been in her 80s, was the spitting image of Ted Danson, except with cotton denim capris and cheap sneakers.
I took a seat next to the another woman who struck up conversation when she heard that I also had an appointment with the shop owner who had had to leave all of a sudden and was expected back in an hour or two. Plenty of time to tell me about the history of her hair (lots of perms when she was working and lately, colorings to avoid something called a “mousy” gray), and her health (previously obese though self-described as allergic to just about everything, at risk for sugar diabetes, had severe cataracts removed), and her family (two children, though she spoke more about her daughter, a pilot, and son-in-law, also a pilot, who live in Florida with their kids). She seemed like a lady who just wanted to talk but never had anyone to talk to, which made me wonder if she was just talkative, or didn’t say much to her husband (yep, I even learned she was married to a guy who was born in the same hospital as her).
The sad part was when she said that when she was about to turn 65 (her current age), she was fretting it, not feeling like she has accomplished anything in her life (though raising a family that didn’t turn out terribly dysfunctional must count for something, right?!) It was finally something to which I could, unfortunately, relate. My friends too, having fretted over the lack of life’s accomplishments already in our 20s. Geesh. I just hope it’s something that happens prematurely now and not repeatedly. But, she said, on her birthday, her daughter asked her father what he did or said to her mother… that she had a new.outlook on life. She seemed happy enough, from what I could tell.
In a beauty parlor, you notice everyone’s hair and this woman who was talking to me, was like a five foot, elderly version of Valerie Harper, but with brown frizzy hair that looked like a combed-out afro. She said she was going to a family affair on Saturday to see people she’d not seen in 30 years and for the occasion decided to try, for the first time ever, a French Twist.
I didn’t know what I was about to get. I came in with a few photos on my phone of hairstyles that seemed really great for very pretty women with manageable hair (and why does a Google Image search for “hairstyles” and “women” bring up so many photos of Adrienne Grenier?!). “I’m getting married in two weeks, and I don’t know what to have done, but this is what I like. I totally welcome you’re advice!” One and half hours later, some of which was spent under the hair dryer straining to hear the old woman next to me who said something like “they remember all this stuff” in reference to the women we were watching on the Food Channel, my practice wedding hair was complete, and at that point, I could’ve jumped out of the chair and said, “Holy crap… you tamed the wild beast!” It was kind of an Eva Longoria, but fit for Dweebcentric with only a hit of West Virginia gun show. And damned if you can’t sleep on these things!
My new friend came back to the hair dryers to congratulate me before leaving the shop. “I didn’t know you were getting married,” she said, which sounded funny because in almost two hours of talking to me, she didn’t notice that I had said almost nothing except the occasional “yes” and “oh yeah?” She showed off her French Twist and said goodbye.
The next day, while Phil and I were in the town near where the wedding will be held, we met another talkative woman. That I was moving out of her way in one of those typical great-smelling flowers-and-gifts shops, she saw it as reason to explain why she was rushing about the tiny store. “I always do this on Race Day,” she said (that’s Race Day as in Kentucky Derby, not NASCAR… we were in Horse Country). She was trying to find the perfect flower arrangement for her Derby hat. “My husband always says, aren’t you ready yet? You’ve had a whole year to prepare!” she said and we laughed, as I suddenly realized I was stumbling into domesticated adulthood all weekend. Is this what I have to look forward to?!
Cookie, as the tan woman with the perfect white teeth eventually introduced herself, recommended the florist we were attempting to speak to, but who was tragically busy with filling zillions of Mother’s Day orders. “They’ll even scale down for you if you like,” she said. “Nobody noticed when…” she started, but then qualified with “well, my hairstylist noticed, but he’s gay…” We didn’t even hear yet what it was that people, gay or otherwise, did or did not notice. Phil would later joke, “Does being gay give you special vision? Maybe the military could hire him for enemy tracking.” Instead, the man’s special senses had detected that the flowers used at her wedding reception were the same used at the rehearsal dinner. Gasp!! Her reveal came in a hushed voice like the way old people used to refer to cancer.
And then she recommended the salon next door for wedding hair.
I figured the whole thing turned out well enough the first time around and was easy to reproduce, or something like it, that I could go to the store and find the stuff I needed to kind of do this regularly (rather than paying someone else to do so), and all of a sudden, I entered the complicated world of advanced hair-products (advanced beyond just buying some cheap shampoo and conditioner). Mousse. Gels. Hairsprays. Relaxers. Blow dryers. Straighteners. Curlers. “Intended for wavy hair.” “Intended to sculpt curls.” “Advanced formula humidity and keeps hair light.” “Adds shine.” “Adds volume.” And then all the confusing instructions: “Do not touch hair with fingers after applying. It will frizz.” “Use a diffuser. Do not use a blow dryer.”
Don’t use a what?
What is this supposed to do?
What does this mean?
Where the hell is my hat?!!
I’m getting married in exactly 65 days.* And no, I’m not being the zealous bride-to-be counting down the days. A website ticker keeps me informed instead.
Getting married. That took a long time to really sink in. Well after Phil creatively popped the question. Before walking out the door to embark on our mystery weekend of Phil’s fervent planning, he plopped on the couch, told me to flick on the ceiling fan, and a small piece of paper trickled onto the coffee table. The scavenger hunt had begun.
He’d done one of these before where I had to piece together clues to a reveal the location of a prize. Then, it was a Roku player.
This time, the index cards containing clues relating to things like how we met each had a single word on the back that Phil left me alone with to piece together the final clue. I roughly got it right: “Come see me and your baby in the backyard.” My baby? Expecting the clues to reveal another object this time, I wondered to what baby might refer. For inanimate objects, that word is typically used to describe guys’ boats and cars. I couldn’t think of anything relatively simple and related to me for which that description might apply. At least nothing inanimate.
“Oh goddammit, I hope he didn’t bring home some kind of pet!” was my next thought and I rushed downstairs and out the door to the backyard. Before I rounded the corner to the patio, Phil stopped me and told me to close my eyes. I stood there, sort of wincing, expecting to be handed an excitedly squirming, slobbering puppy. Instead, I opened them to find a vase of dark red roses on the patio table and Phil going down on one knee. And then it clicked. Ohhh, I get it now… He started saying something, but my shock had turned to nervousness and I became deafened by the throbbing of my heart pounding in my ears.
Of course I remember what I said.
My friend Luke, who is planning to tie the knot with his girl two weeks after we will asked me whether I had yet become familiar with the “hell that is wedding planning,” when I told him the news. At that point we hadn’t, though I laughed it off thinking that he was just referring to the expenses of paying for a wedding and the boredom of planning one. I pictured him sitting around all day while his fiancee and mother-in-law poured happily over laminated photos of wedding cake (no offense, Beth… movies and television naturally inform my life). Instead, I would learn that he was referring to a Beast that would dominate our lives for several months. Planning a budget, finding vendors, arranging a menu, picking out the wardrobe, sending out invitations, finding an officiant that’s actually free to perform the ceremony, buying rings, filling out the marriage license… Wait, there’s more! So much more. Phil proposed in September. It’s already the middle of March and we finally got our weekends back to ourselves.
Phil showed me an article on the Knot the other day that almost made me faint: the average estimated cost of a wedding shot up from $18 grand in 2009 to about $24 grand in 2010. I tried figuring out the math and imagined something like the Royal Wedding, but for about 200 guests instead of 1,200 that the bride and groom almost all actually knew. Then I thought of all the things that $24 grand could be better spent on. Even just part of that sum could be put to better use than a few hours at a wedding. We trimmed a lot of the fat on our wedding plans. Paying for it ourselves was probably the best way to force us to keep things simple and thus, affordable.
Some would argue that the exorbitant estimated cost of a wedding is adequate because it’s someone’s “Special Day.” When we were in San Francisco for the Annual Meeting the year before last, I picked up a copy of Anne Kingston’s The Meaning of Wife. The book begins with the author describing the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, something she stumbled out of bed early one morning in 1981 to watch the live broadcast of on TV.
“The groom was nothing on his own. All eyes were fixed on the bride, a fresh-faced 20-year-old, dressed in miles and miles and miles of pure white silk. Later, after the exchange of vows and the ride in a horse-drawn carriage, the prince and princess sealed their nuptials with a public kiss. For little girls of seven to 70, Diana was the embodiment of the ultimate fantasy.”
(From Kingston’s 2005 Sunday Times Post article, which eventually became the introduction for the book).
Of course, it didn’t take long for Diana and Charles to get a divorce, even with all the worries about the tarnishing reputation of the British monarch. I thought about that as Phil and I started planning our own wedding (although, I was mostly on my own with this in the beginning since Phil figured he’d put enough energy into planning a pretty awesome engagement weekend). Kingston’s introductory chapter reverberated with me: the Royal Wedding anecdote being a sort of important lesson to newly-weds-to-be not to get carried away with planning a wedding without giving any thought to all the things that would come after exchanging vows. After all, isn’t that the point?
Wedding vendors are here to sell you a day, and more specifically a day for the bride. The photos in the brochures and on the websites all show these glowing, happy young couples who seem trapped in time, riding tandem bikes or holding hands and watching the sunset on an empty beach. There is no personality and no detectable chemistry. I’ve almost become obsessed with trying to figure out which of the model couples really are making the right decision. “He’s wearing plug earrings! …I give them a year.” I think that just as much as people use wedding planners, we really could do with marriage planners. I’m about to make a life-long commitment to Phil. Selecting and scheduling and paying I can do. It’s the advice on making that marriage last that I could really use.
*The wedding will, according to my coworker and wacko prophesies, quite literally fall on Judgment Day. I just hope all that hell fire and brimstone doesn’t ruin my dress.
Last week, PEW Research Center published another red alert for humanity: the cherished institution of marriage is crumbling! Or at least, that seems to be what all these reports about dwindling marriage rates seem to imply (ironically crushing all the homophobes bullshit warnings about same-sex marriages being the thing that would ruin the institution of marriage). On Friday, it was part of the Daily Number: 26 percent. As in, 26 percent of 20-somethings got married in 2008 compared to 68 percent in 1960. But apparently, it ain’t just the young folks. Stemming from a joint study by Pew and TIME Magazine looking at marriage rates over a period of nearly 40 years, between 1960 and 2008. Way back in 1960, 72 percent of adults (ages 18 or older) were married compared to just a wee 15 percent that never married. By 2008, marriage rates dropped to 52 percent, and the Never Marrieds increased to 27 percent.
Of course, these figures often follow with opinion polls about the perceived state of marriage. More people (though not yet a majority, according to PEW’s results) agree with the statement that “marriage is becoming obsolete.” Commonly held definitions of Family have changed, too, as co-habitation is on the rise.
The last part tends to negate any need for delving into examples of a tragic dating scene. One marred by the perpetual dance with the flighty and egregiously socially awkward (the Britcom Pulling captured all that perfectly), though some of those with commitment in their blood are stuck in that rut. But, apparently, people are getting together. Living together, in fact! And this seems to be a common route I’ve observed at least among many of my friends. The natural progression being… find someone, see if you can tolerate living with them, and considerations of marriage and etc. follow somewhere down the road. Reversing the order of the last two is just crazy talk!
There’s plenty of explanations for the decline in marriages (some are hinted on in the PEW/TIME report). For one thing, a lot of those 20-somethings (and I still get to include myself among this group for another year, and a few more after that when I start lying about my age), and 30-somethings (ahem… ha ha!), were raised by divorcees and grew up in households of second and third marriages. Divorce wasn’t suddenly a naughty word that was whispered. It was common practice, and it didn’t ruin people’s lives en masse. But, it must have had some effect on those kids’ perception of marriage, perhaps dulling the delusion of eternal bliss and providing incentive to seriously think about what we are getting ourselves into if and when we do we finally make that plunge into lifelong commitment. You know, like that nagging little moment at the end of The Graduate where, AFTER Ben’s (Dustin Hoffman) dramatic interruption of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter’s wedding, the two kids are riding the bus and the expression on their faces gradually changes to doubt.
But you know… not quite so negative.
Maybe that explains why these same friends have announced marriages to people they’ve known intimately for six or seven years, and maybe lived with for a good portion of that. So what’s wrong with testing the waters for a few years? In fact, others in those same households of divorcees and second and third marriages may have in the end questioned the entire logic of marriage, not consider those living situations a dress rehearsal at all, but a bona fide performance. For what is the purpose of officiating the relationship? Legal benefit, maybe. Before it was something you did lest you incur the wrath of orthodox followers who saw single kids in love as sinful heathens. But the weight of those institutions have changed.
But marriage isn’t exactly dead, as evidenced by the fact that we can’t seem to find an officiant who isn’t booked for two or three other ceremonies on the day we’re planning to get married. But there’s less of a necessity behind it (even when pregnancy is involved), and for those youngins getting married these days, it’s probably motivated less by “have to” or “need to,” and more for reasons of a symbolic commitment.