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It Was Perfect, Until . . .
By Stephen Leon

An assortment of wedding mishaps, glitches and bloopers that the couples could laugh about later

The weather is gorgeous, like the bride, who arrived on time. So did the groom, all of the attendants, and the minister, who performed the lovely and thankfully brief ceremony exactly as you had discussed, without rambling off into his own personal spiel on marriage. The reception hall looks as splendidly festive as you had imagined it, and dinner was sensational. Your plane and hotel reservations are all set, and your passports arrived yesterday. Your wedding, to this point, has been almost . . . you don’t want to even think the word, lest you jinx it . . . but so far, down to the last detail, your special day has been . . . well
. . . there is no other word . . .

But then you notice a commotion, look up, and see Uncle Marty—who hit the open bar early and often—dancing the jitterbug a little too exuberantly, a little too unsteadily, a little too . . . close . . . to . . . the . . . cake . . . Uncle Marty! . . . UNCLE MARTY!

Incautiously inebriated guests toppling the wedding cake? Only in movies, I hope. (Although if you received my e-mail soliciting your best wedding bloopers, and you withheld a true-life Frankie’s-face-in-the-frosting story, shame on you.) But nothing in life is absolutely perfect, and your wedding day probably won’t score 100 out of 100 either. Fortunately, most of the little things that might go wrong don’t have to spoil your day, and probably will be laughed about later. And anecdotal research shows that the number of embarrassing moments or procedural glitches at any given wedding offers no reliable prediction of the longevity and happiness of the marriage being celebrated.

The ceremonial exchanging of rings presents a prime opportunity for mishap, those darn things being so small and easy to misplace. One groom’s best man was so nervous that instead of handing the groom the ring to slip onto his bride’s finger, he put it on the groom’s finger instead. My own biggest bumble in a wedding came when I was as an usher, and someone handed me the groom’s ring for safekeeping because she had no pockets and couldn’t find the maid of honor. So into my pocket it went—and stayed. I didn’t realize I still had it until we were all assembled in front of the altar, me the farthest out from the groom in a line of several groomsmen. I decided to pass it up the line, but when I tapped the shoulder of the usher in front of me, he took it as a sign to step forward. The bride did hand the groom a ring, and I watched in horror as he tried to put it on, his face twisting in confusion—it clearly didn’t fit. I later learned that the maid of honor had substituted her own wedding ring.

Unusual or unexpected circumstances can lead to an embarrassing situation, as in the case of the groom who married his wife in her hometown, where her friends and large extended family packed their side of the church, while he had a small family, and had deliberately downplayed the wedding to his far-flung friends so they wouldn’t feel obligated to travel. “Nobody bothered to tell the ushers that bride-side/groom-side seating was not a good idea in such a situation,” he explains, “since my parents and sole sister ended up sitting by themselves on one side of a vast basilica-style Catholic church, while the other side was packed with my wife’s extended family and local friends from her childhood. It made for interesting audience shots in the wedding album, the South Carolina contingent looking like pariahs in their own little segregated enclave.”

And yes, pictures can tell quite a story—as with the couple who rented an art space for their reception, and insisted that the gallery director not go to the trouble of taking down the current exhibition—which featured images of violently dismembered bodies painted in aggressive oils. “All of our wedding pictures have, as backdrops, hacked-off limbs and free-floating heads behind the faces of friends and family,” she says. At another wedding which already had seen a range of problems—including a setup delay because chairs were locked in the church basement, and a citywide bike tour that held up a number of guests in traffic—the happy but harried couple posed for pictures under the board announcing that week’s sermon topic: “To Hell and Back.”

Other bloopers and glitches people offered to me include: a ceremony that featured lighting of candles, at which the participants forgot to bring matches (a smoker hopped up from the pews to save the day with his lighter); a wedding planned at a couple’s home on their fancy new patio, which almost wasn’t finished in time for the ceremony; and the couple who hadn’t actually met their justice of the peace prior to the ceremony—and had no idea he was an alcoholic. “He reeked of gin. Leaning back against the altar for support, he held the prayer book with his left hand while keeping his trembling right hand by his side and rattled off a boilerplate “Dearly Beloved” spiel that was over in about 90 seconds.”

And then there was the young couple who kept the cost down by hiring a friend to cater the reception—but she cut her hand badly a week before the wedding, and had to cancel. So the bride, “in thrall to forces of foolishness I’ll never understand,” decided she would cater the wedding (hors d’oeuvres for 80) herself. After two sleep-deprived days in her mother’s kitchen, the wedding went off all right. But the craziness wasn’t over: A few days later she had to take her master’s orals, then the couple hopped on a cross-
country train home. “We smuggled a bottle of leftover champagne on board with us and popped it softly beneath the blanket we’d brought along with the vague idea that we’d grope each other quietly beneath it while pretending to read,” she recalls. “But that never happened. We downed that champagne between Utica and Rochester and after that slept the sleep of the dead until we pulled into Denver, two days later, married and exhausted.”

What if they gave a wedding and no officiant showed up? That’s what happened to a couple in New York City who had hired a well-known minister to perform the ceremony. As the hour of the wedding came and went, and a half-hour passed, then an hour, guests wondered where the wedding party was. Well, they were frantically flipping through the yellow pages—this was before cell phones, and they had no idea where the minister was (his plane was held up in fog in Chicago). “At the last minute,” a friend recounts, “the bride discovered that her aunt had brought a justice of the peace as her date. They threw a robe on him, handed him the book and—presto!—instant minister, with none of the guests realizing that a stand-in was faking his way through his 15 minutes of fame as the prominent preacher.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it sure made a good story.

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