In Praise of Mediocrity, or A Five-Paragraph Essay on Wedding Invitations

There is much pressure from the wedding industry to “personalize” every last detail so your “big day” feels “extra special.” Everything from the processional music to the party favors should be a perfect reflection of who you are: your personality, your aesthetic, your values (admittedly, “values” is more of a wedding blogosphere concept; the wedding industry assumes you value only material objects), and, most importantly, “your colors!!” This is all very well and good, but what if you have no personality? What if your aesthetic is ugly, dated, or low-class? What if your values are warped? What if  “your colors!!” are dog doo brown and subway rat gray?

If you have ever asked yourself any of the above questions, there is hope for you at MagnetStreet.com. It’s where we designed (read: dropped some text and a photo into a template) our Save the Date magnets and it’s also where we are ordering our invitations. For not a lot of money or hassle, brides with questionable taste can seek safety in damask prints, fleurs-de-lis, and vineyard motifs. There is a good range of prices and paper styles, from the flat, single sheet of cardstock to the multi-layered tri-fold letterpress rainforest killer. Envelopes are included in the price and reply cards are a cheap add-on.

There are some downsides. For example, MagnetStreet seems utterly unaware that there was ever a feminist movement, as you can see in all the samples where the sample groom’s last name initial is the sample invitation’s central theme, never mind that the sample bride’s sample parents are evidently the sample hosts of the sample wedding. Wait a minute, that last sentence sounded really stupid, and not just because I used the word “sample” seven times. Isn’t the wedding industry, and possibly the whole institution of marriage, completely oblivious to feminism? Yes? Moving along, then.

If you like alliteration in your stationery motifs, MagnetStreet will not disappoint. Are you an Effortless Emblem or a Tender Tendril kind of gal? Do you fawn over Flower Flourishes or do you just want to keep things Soft and Sweet? As long as your tastes run the girly gamut, you will have no trouble finding something you can tolerate love.

In all seriousness, is it wrong of me to recommend a wedding vendor that I find merely tolerable? Shouldn’t I use an independent stationer or go the DIY route? Sure, if I want to pay a lot more or use up many hours of my free time. I’m reassured by the assumption that most people will open our invitation and think either “How nice, I’m invited to their wedding” or “Oh shit, I’m invited to their wedding,” not “Ugh, damask is so overdone.”  As for those few who do find fault with our boring invitations? All I can say is they’ll have a field day mocking the rubber chicken and baby carrots at our reception.


Stepkitties

Special Someone is a lucky guy. Come July 30th, he will inherit not only a neurotic wife but two neurotic cats, whom said wife will forever refer to as “his stepchildren.”

Casper is an affable, extroverted neurotic who can be demonic to those who love him most (me). Mary Pat is a skittish, hermitlike neurotic with a constant look of pure terror. Mary Pat is obviously the less charismatic of the two cats, though Casper is the one more likely to end up back at the pound where he came from, especially if he doesn’t cut out this vindictive peeing-on-the-carpet business – and soon.

I believe all of Casper’s recent misbehavior is directed at Special Someone, whom Casper has tolerated and even shown occasional affection toward for quite some time but whose permanence in our lives seems to be a recent and unhappy revelation for this sensitive animal. Special Someone takes Casper’s mom away for sometimes days at a time; Special Someone’s head lays on the pillow where Casper likes to sleep; and Special Someone is not Sanders, my former roommate and Casper’s former best friend. Okay, poor Casper. I am a horrible mother.

Hopefully things will change when we’re all living together as one big happy blended family. Special Someone works from home most of the time, so Casper will have someone to hang out with all day. We’ll probably live in a bigger house with space for an additional litter box AND a new Assistant Scooping Manager (right, Special Someone?). Casper will stop running across the bed at full speed until we wake up and he’ll also stop eating so much he vomits on the carpet four times a week. Isn’t marriage supposed to fix everything that’s wrong with your life???

Anyway, this is a wedding blog, and I keep forgetting to talk about the important things, like hairdos and invitation fonts. So what role do the cats have in our wedding? No, they are not going to stand witness as our maid of honor and best man (although, if that were possible, I would simply die of happiness). Rather, they have become a source of conflict in discussions with my parents about our rehearsal dinner. Usually the groom’s parents take care of this event, although for a number of reasons (all of which are all totally fine!) SS and I are going to host it ourselves at my house. It’s right down the street from the church, so the location is easy, and we’re just going to get some good take-out barbecue, so it’ll be a lot cheaper than dinner for forty people at a Bethesda restaurant.

Sounds fun and casual, right? Except the lingering cat pee odor might ruin the whole night. My parents sort of freaked out about it yesterday, and did not seem reassured by the fact that I have four whole months to conquer the smell once and for all (for all my efforts, the only solution may be to replace the carpet in one particular room). I had to convince them that A) they are not hosting this one, so a feline urine-scented venue would not be a reflection on their taste and B) um, I don’t want our guests to think I live in squalor, either! So it will be taken care of, and that’s my story. I was going somewhere with this, but forgot… inhaling so much ammonia must be causing brain damage.


“I love you but I hate Virginia”: The Maryland Bride’s Lament

Although there are always exceptions, most married people live together. I am beginning to suspect Special Someone and I might end up falling into the “exceptions” category. This does not make me as sad as it should.

He lives in Northern Virginia, which to me is hell on earth; I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, which to many people is hell on earth, but having grown up there and lived there most of my adult life, I find almost a kind of comfort when sitting in traffic on Rockville Pike.

I’ve always talked about getting the hell out of the DC area, but never have. It’s too easy to stick around when I have my parents (who happen to give me a pretty sweet Daughter Discount to rent a house they own), most of my extended family, and a good number of close friends all within a 15-minute drive (okay, make that a 30-minute drive – traffic here is terrible). Also, the job market is better here than in most other U.S. cities, and that’s kind of a huge plus.

People who live in DC think, “Maryland, Virginia, what’s the difference? They both suck.” I don’t have time to suffer fools, people. Virginia sucks, Maryland sucks slightly less. It’s official. I’ll get back to you with some data on that one of these days.

Anyway, the main reason I don’t want to live in Virginia, other than that it is even more sucktacular than Maryland, is that the commute to DC is so miserable (I assure you, there is some logic to the way I think). When connected to the city only by a few bridges and tunnels and a couple of overstuffed Metro lines, there’s really no good way for two million people to get there in snarl-free fashion. Maryland, by no means a model of great infrastructure, at least has geography on its side.

Special Someone generally thinks my complaints about Virginia are bollocks. He is one of those rare native Marylanders (okay, since I know he will point this out: he was born in Alexandria — happy now, SS?? — but grew up in Rockville) who defected to the dark side and seems content with that misguided decision. Luckily, he is willing to return to his Old Line roots for my sake.

Seems easy enough – why doesn’t he just move in with me? You must not know my fiance very well. The man is a collector, not a hoarder — there’s an important distinction — but a collector of very large objects. Items in the Large Object Collection include but are not limited to: three antique automobiles each approximating twenty feet in length; six pinball machines; a jukebox; a pool table; a number of antique televisions; and one extremely gigantic wall poster. Of course it’s great that Special Someone has these hobbies and interests (I mean, what do most other guys do for fun besides play Xbox and fart?), but unfortunately the little 1940s two-bedroom, basement-less rambler that I rent from my parents cannot accommodate them (these hobbies and interests also eliminate the possibility of finding anything affordable in DC). Meanwhile, Special Someone owns his house, which also has a garage big enough to fit two of his three large automobiles, so rented cohabitation at my place is kind of a tough sell.

Our wedding is just over four months away now, and we have no idea where we are going to live. If we don’t find a place we can agree on between now and then, I will move in with him, but only on the condition that I can be a stay-in-bed-housewife until we find something in Maryland, since I refuse to make the 90-minute drive to and from my office every day. Of the houses we’ve looked at in Maryland that are (just barely) in our price range, 2+ car garage-equipped, and reasonably close to the areas of Virginia that Special Someone sometimes needs to go to for work, most of them look exactly like this:

Minus the mountain views and cheerful live-in maid, of course. I’m not complaining and I hope I don’t sound spoiled. In fact, I rather like vinyl and formica; they are durable and easy to clean. The tough question is, do I want to be house-poor all for the sake of some ugly suburban split-level that’s so dated-looking we might not be able to resell it? If it means not having to live anywhere in the vicinity of I-66, the answer is a resounding “More Astroturf, please!”


Baby Carrots As Metaphor

Ballin’ Chain’s excellent post last week got me thinking about an issue I grapple with constantly in wedding planning: the value of things, most recently the value of baby carrots.

I am one of those curmudgeonly cooks who refuses to buy baby carrots since full-grown carrots that you peel yourself are so much tastier, cheaper, and more carrot-like. And although I readily admit I am a bit of a food snob, I don’t think it’s snobby to expect better than baby carrots at an expensive restaurant. So I was rather flummoxed to find them on a $56 plate of food at our reception tasting the other night. It had a small “beef medallion” and a small crab cake (both of which I’ll admit were good and presumably accounted for 9/10 of the value of the plate, before profit and overhead), a small pile of charmless mashed potatoes, a few strips of steamed asparagus, and the wretched baby carrots. Said carrots were also steamed and plain – no butter, no parsley, nothing. Just some naked baby carrots on a $56 plate.

For about a week leading up to the tasting, I was emailing back and forth with the catering coordinator at our reception venue, selecting which items we wanted to try, finalizing a time, etc. It was a lot more complicated than you might expect, since the catering coordinator had to act as the go-between for me and “Chef.” Granted, my restaurant industry experience is limited to one summer spent waitressing at a Tex-Mex chain, but I always thought “chef” was a title, not a name. “Chef is going to get back to me about that.” “I’ll let Chef know.” “Chef would prefer it if you arrived earlier.”

Well, Chef-who-is-fancy-enough-to-need-no-definite-article-or-last-name was not above putting baby carrots on an expensive plate. (Am I ever going to let this go? No.) When we were finishing up the wedding cake samples (conveniently, our venue also does the cake, though this is obviously an additional cost), Chef came out of his kitchen to ask us how we liked everything, which was polite of him I guess, but he seemed annoyed that we were not raving about his humbly prepared creations. He also attempted to give us a biochemistry lecture on why carrot cake and almond cream filling don’t go together (my takeaway: walnut plus almond equals two nuts, *snicker*, and somehow this is a problem), the whole point of which was to discourage us from choosing the carrot cake/almond cream combination for the big day. I wish I had said, “I have an idea, Chef! Let’s take the walnuts you use in the carrot cake, grind ’em up and sprinkle ’em over those pathetic baby carrots – no extra cost to you, Chef, and y’all can feel a little better about charging 56 greens for that artlessly arranged plate” but instead I said, meekly, “Yeah, I think we’re going to go with the white cake anyway.”

I know complaining about wedding food is cliche: it’s practically supposed to be overpriced and mediocre. I also know I must seem blind to the world’s ills to be griping on about something so trivial as baby carrots when many people, say those in the disaster-ravaged parts of Japan where food is becoming scarce, might be grateful to eat anything. But it’s not the baby carrots themselves that are the problem; it’s that their stumpy little presence on a $56 plate is such an easy reminder of how crazy we are to spend what we spend on weddings. When not hosting a wedding, this same venue charges no more than about $25 for an entree and uses more sophisticated ingredients. Yes, for a wedding it has to factor in the cost of serving 200 of the same thing, but I have a hunch that the cost goes up mainly because it can — since fools like us will pay whatever they are asked to pay — and not just because there’s so much additional overhead. I’ve heard the same is true of other wedding services – for example, you may pay about $50 to get your hair done at a salon, but tell the hairdresser it’s for your wedding and the cost nearly doubles. It’s madness!

So what do we do? I don’t know, rant about it on a blog that gets maybe 20 visitors, remind ourselves that these are very first-world complaints, write a gigantic check, and send our compliments to Chef: “Those baby carrots were unforgettable!”


Skeptic Groom: Notes from Ballin’ Chain

The wedding blog world is severely lacking in gender diversity, with the majority of posts written by excitable brides-to-be. After reading the rant below, you will understand why. Grooms are pissed! My friend Ballin’ Chain demystifies the role of the groom, and no, he is not just the smiling prop he’s supposed to be. This post will teach wedding guests to finish that rubber chicken with gusto and raise the roof in ecstasy when “Shout” comes on, dammit all.

The following is rated R for strong language and, um, graphic imagery.

[ATTENTION, MY PARENTS: in case it is at all unclear, your future son-in-law did not write this! ]

 

My parents got divorced when I was seven. My mom got remarried a year and a half later. I wasn’t around for my mom’s first wedding, since I was still swimming around in my dad’s balls, but I did attend my mom’s second wedding to my new stepdad (who had also been previously married and divorced). I had seen what weddings were supposed to be like on TV, and so I was a little disappointed when my mom’s wedding was just me, my brother, a couple aunts and uncles, a pastor, and absolutely no pomp and circumstance. It took me 15 years and a proposal of marriage to my own lady friend before I finally understood why my mom and stepdad decided not to go all out. Two reasons: 1) they understood the value of money; and 2) their parents (my grandparents) had become less concerned about the happiness of their children and more concerned with whether the nursing home cafeteria would be serving applesauce or baby carrots (ie – they’re fucking senile).

Unfortunately, my lady friend and I are not funding our own wedding, and our parents are not (completely) senile (yet). This means that I am about as useless in planning this wedding as is sending Lindsay Lohan to rehab. First and foremost, the sheer cost of this behemoth (behemoth here is referring to the wedding, not my lady friend) is astronomical. It is almost exactly equal, in fact, to the amount of debt that I am inheriting from my lady friend’s student loans. It is so frustrating to know that I am going to be paying for my lady friend’s school for the next thirty years while we are blowing the equivalent of said education in a period of less than 24 hours (Priorities?? Can you please use the word in a sentence?). It has turned me so bitter in fact, that when the big day arrives, I’m going to be scouring the audience for any asshole brazen enough to dare not finish their meal. I’m then going to tie said asshole to one of our polypropylene with deluxe pad folding rental chairs using the caterer-provided embroidered taffeta napkins to restrain them. I’m then going to take the remainder of the asshole’s beef tenderloin/chicken marsala/vegetarian lasagna entrée, and cram it down their stupid asshole throat. Then, if still conscious, I’m going to force the asshole to get out on the dance floor and bust a move to the sweet jams provided by our professional talent agency-hired DJ. But so help me god, if those assholes dance straight through without eating every last sugary bite of our handmade three-tiered butter cream-covered white chocolate mousse wedding cake, I am NOT going to write them a very nice thank you note for the lovely wedding gift they purchased on our Crate & Barrel registry using our A-4 card stock reply cards…fuckers.

Because I am the metaphorical tonsils of this wedding’s anatomy, I don’t have much of a say as to what goes into it. Early on, my lady friend and I decided that it would be nice to have our friends who homebrew (quite a few, actually) to provide their homemade beer for our reception. Now most of our friends produce beer that is quite tasty, and not only were our friends more than happy to volunteer their services, but it was going to save us quite a bit of money in the process. The caterers were totally cool with serving any beer we chose, so it looked like nothing was stopping us from moving full steam ahead…except for the people who were paying for the wedding that is. That’s right, I’m talking about Mr. and Mrs. Friend (lady friend’s parents). I dunno if it’s because Mr. Friend is a retired lawyer, or if it’s because Mrs. Friend is a professional worrier, but they were too worried about one of our guests getting sick off of the home brew and suing all of us. Huzza what?

My first reaction was, “If people DON’T get sick from drinking the beer, it won’t really be a party!” Needless to say, that’s not an extremely convincing argument to your bride-to-be’s parents. My second reaction was to be more logical, “We’ll try all of the beers a couple of weeks beforehand to make sure that they are up to snuff and we won’t serve any beer that’s bad.” Not convincing enough. “Well then let’s just have a waiver that everyone has to sign if they want to drink the homebrew.” As you’d suspect, Mr. Friend noted “you can’t waive negligence!” So then I turned to my last resort – indignation, “Well we’re only inviting close friends and family; who the hell would we be inviting that would want to sue us?” But that argument too was lost on the Friend family. So I assumed the regular position of groom-bitch and shut my mouth yet again.

And so, with our wedding still four months away, I have lost all will to get married. By the time June rolls around, we’re going to have to hire yet another over-priced wedding stooge to stand behind me with their hand buried shoulder-deep in my ass in order to work my mouth so that I can say my vows, because that’s all I’ve been reduced to – a puppet.


The Knot In Your Stomach

I do not mean pre-wedding jitters; I mean TheKnot.com. It’s trying to impregnate you!

My friend Brigid got married on August 28th of last year. Yesterday, exactly six months later, The Knot sent her an urgent notification with the subject line: “Pregnant? New Parent? Trying to Conceive?” The content of the email reads:

Believe it or not, it’s already been six months since we helped you plan your dream wedding!
Did you know that our family of websites also includes two of the top pregnancy and parenting resources on the web? With all the same great features you loved on The Knot, TheBump.com and LilaGuide.com are can’t-miss destinations for anyone even thinking about adding another member to the family. If babies aren’t on your brain right now, forward this email to a friend — she’ll thank you for it later!

Now, I know one frequent side effect of marriage is babies, so I am not attacking The Knot for partnering with the even-more-cloyingly-named The Bump and the somewhat-mysteriously-named LilaGuide. Seems like good business sense to me and, of course, companies have to market new services somehow. I get all that. But THE URGENCY! WITH WHICH YOU MUST PLAN! YOUR DREAM WEDDING! AND THEN! YOUR DREAM BABY! — it’s just too much. Did The Knot really have to send out that email six months to the day after Brigid’s wedding? Did they really have to use almost the exact same concerned headline you might see on a billboard ad for a women’s health center or fertility clinic? (It also made me think of the Archdiocese of Washington’s pro-life “Pregnant? Need help?” bus stop campaign.) We’re talking Maclaren strollers and Diaper Genies, not in-vitro and open adoption, correct?

Oh. I was wrong about that. Well, partly. I assumed The Bump exists to help retailers sell panel jeans, breast pumps, and the like (which it does, with a registry section and its own store). But it also exists to help newlyweds figure out how to make babies – a much more complicated enterprise than I ever realized. See the “Fertility Chart” and scroll down to the “cervical fluid description” section if you thought any Average Joe and Jane could procreate (warning: for strong stomachs only). I’m sorry – I know that fertility problems can be heartbreaking for some couples, and I’m sure I will be cursed with them now. But, um, did you know feminine discharge can resemble “rubber-cement”? My inner twelve year-old is not sure whether to laugh hysterically or throw up. Also, isn’t a fertility chart something you should learn about from your doctor, not from the same conglomerate that will tell you whether a trumpet-style wedding gown is flattering to your figure?

The Knot’s other baby-pushing partner, Lila Guide, seems a bit more useful for the long-term. For one, it assumes your “bump” days are over: the baby is here, now what do you do? With its local event listings, meet-up groups, and message boards, Lila Guide is like a more visually appealing Craig’s List for new mothers. I could see it coming in handy some day when I’m lonely, bored, covered in spit-up, and… Oh God, The Knot and its cohorts are getting to me! Their ruthless marketing has taken hold! I’m not even getting married for another five months and they’ve already got me thinking about which mom groups to join (Baby Loves Disco sounds like a fun one) and where we should send Special Someone Junior to preschool (the co-ops seem like a good deal). You fooled me once, Knot, but you won’t fool me again. Until I need more ideas for our gift registry so, like, tomorrow.