The morning after the wedding found me standing on the levee while the groom hunted for his bride in the underbrush along the Mississippi.
That was a fun sentence to write but I may be giving you the wrong idea. We had all simply gone for a stroll, and Erin had diverted from the pack to take a look at a pile of river-polished glass she knew of. But the heat was getting oppressive and we all wanted to head back to the hotel, so Greg jogged off to find her and tell her what we were doing.
To start from the beginning, A. and I had dawdled in the room until almost ten before heading downstairs for the breakfast buffet. On Saturday the buffet had closed at ten thirty and we figured we had at least that long on a Sunday morning. We were in the lobby by 10:10 a.m. but this was too late, because, for some reason, the buffet closes earlier on Sundays than on any other day. We waited around for twenty minutes until the main restaurant opened and had breakfast there, instead.
After breakfast, the newly hitched couple invited us along for a walk out on what Erin calls “the rusty old dock where you can see everything.” This turned out to be a disused cargo pier about a half-mile down the levee from the hotel. A rusty metal truckway led out to a massive concrete platform, with the I-10 bridge across the Mississippi towering nearby. Actually walking out along this rusty metal seemed like a terrible idea to me, but it was one of those terrible ideas that groups of people tend for some reason to be ill-equipped to reject. One lone naysayer goes along anyway, muttering things like “this doesn’t seem safe,” sure that he’ll be the first to fall through once everyone else has weakened the metal.
But there were no fatalities and the view was grand, more tugboats tugging past, a river of traffic pouring across the river on the bridge, hobos’ fishing poles bobbing in the grasses along the bank. In the water, at the base of the pier’s pilings, a massive raft of driftwood (by which I mean tree trunks) bobbed in a smear of bright green silt, along with dozens of Dasani water bottles. So healthy and natural to drink water, but then where do the bottles go? Where do they come from, for that matter? Nowhere healthy and natural, I’ll wager.
After the bride and groom found each other, we all walked back to the hotel to shower and change for the afternoon’s eating, a crawfish boil at Erin’s parents’ house, Erin’s parents who do not ever stop. I’d never eaten crawfish this way before – hardly any way, actually – and it was a treat. The basic set up was like a crab feast, for those of you who know those: seasoned, boiled crustaceans are poured in a pile on a table, and you crack them open and pick out the meat. Crawfish are delicate enough that no mallets or crackers are needed, however, and it is pretty fast going to suck down a good amount of the lobster-like flesh. The seasoning involved red pepper (“don’t rub your eyes,” called out the cook for the benefit of the newbies) and something that smelled like holiday mulling spices. The crawfish that hadn’t been cooked yet awaited their doom in netted sacks like laundry bags before being poured out in a bucket for washing and salting. Then into the boiling water with seasonings, potatoes and corn-on-the-cob in a pot the size of a cut-off 50-gallon barrel, over a propane flame that roared like a jet engine. The men took care of the preparations and cooking. Down in these parts there is a strong tendency toward traditional gender divisions of labor, but any kind of cooking that involves heavy equipment and the possibility of explosions is gladly taken on by the men. (And I shouldn’t perpetuate the stereotype: Erin’s dad had cooked the jamabalaya for the wedding and also makes a mean praline, the recipe for which was a deathbed bequest from an old friend of his on the condition that he would never ever tell. And he won’t.) The crawfish was served on an aluminum table custom built for the purpose, about bellybutton high on me with a hole in the middle for a trash chute. One young woman had brought her parrot, which perched on her shoulder and nibbled cheese from her fingers. It made an occasional lunge for some crawfish but she would swat it away.
After the crawfish, people revisited the food they’d loved best the night before. The microwave beeped and whirred as guests reheated jambalaya; there was more potato salad; pralines were brought out on a platter; and alliances were formed for the purpose of eating more cake (“I’ll get a plate with a couple of different kinds and we’ll share”). The conversation turned to the weather and the locals all agreed that we’d been blessed with unusually cool temperatures this weekend. “Usually it’s already oppressive this time of year, and we’ve been getting a lot more rain than usual.” I found myself thinking that no one seems to know what to make of the Baltimore weather either; it can’t quite seem to settle into the expected balminess of late spring in that area. Have we reached some sort of tipping point? Are people all over the country having these kinds of conversations? “We never used to have so many locusts, neither…”
To walk off the food, Erin and her brother led a walk down to the edge of the subdivision and along the bayou, through dense underbrush that at least one guest can attest included poison ivy. The air was still and hot among the trees and two young girls who had tagged along seemed to regret their decision to join us. We finally fought our way back out onto the power-line right-of-way that runs behind Erin’s parents’ house but high grasses kept us from making a straight shot. A local homeowner was upset at our decision to crush down a wire fence for the children to hop over. “Just step on the ‘No Trespassing’ sign,” said one little boy just as a woman walked up in gardening togs and a sour expression. “The fence is there for a reason, you know.” We were sorry but not sorry enough to turn back. Erin’s brother and two others straightened the fence back up the best they could as the woman walked off in a huff. Guess her life hasn’t turned out the way she hoped. Nice garden, though, but that just kind of proves my point.
We passed the long slow hours of the late afternoon and early evening talking in the shade of the tent that had been erected for the wedding. Erin’s brother told us about his tournament bass fishing avocation, and the sideline business he has making custom bass “buzzy bait” lures. Various guests tried their hands at creating frozen drinks with a newly purchased blender (purchased because Erin had had an itch for daiquiris and had taken everyone’s order before she remembered that “the drive-through daiquiri stand isn’t open on Sundays”), and with each attempt the vodka or rum content seemed to rise. It really was only a coincidence, though, when one guest tipped over backwards in her chair and took a whole folding table with her. When I walked inside to use the bathroom, I found the Tennessee cousins sprawled on the couch, ceiling fans humming overhead. The men were watching auto racing (not sure if it was the Indy 500 or the Coca Cola 600) while the women dozed.
After a certain point, I could no longer ignore the dreadful fact that this was the last night of the trip; on Monday, A. would leave bright and early for Arizona and I would catch a later flight to Baltimore and we wouldn’t see each other for another few weeks at least. So we jumped at the chance to catch a ride home from a sociology grad student, a friend of Erin’s, and we were back at the hotel before nine. We watched a few Office episodes that I had brought down on the laptop and received a good-bye visit from Erin and Greg when they got back to the hotel around midnight – after being forced to open every single wedding present for an audience of friends and family, so thank god we escaped when we did. At around one a.m. we set the alarm for six and tried to get some sleep. Can’t speak for A., but it wasn’t the most restful night for me as I (1) regretted we’d be parting ways the next morning, (2) worried that the alarm might not go off, and (3) tried to hurry up and go to sleep before too many more minutes ticked by on the big red digital display, which, if you don’t know, is not a good technique for trying to fall asleep.