Inviting me to a recent wedding in Virginia, the proud parents asked if I would do some sort of officiation. It would be my second turn in this role, having acted as priest/judge at a rural splicing here in the Northern California backwoods some years ago. On that occasion I wrote up a laicized version of the wedding ritual in the sixteenth-century Book of Common Prayer, shorn, naturally, of the bit about her obeying him. Then the couple nipped into a back room, where there was a real judge on hand to make it legal.
This time, beside a pond in a green field in rural Virginia, there was no judge, but none was necessary, since the couple had already eloped back in January, getting married on the bus the bridegroom’s film collective uses on its cinematic ventures.
Why, you ask, would anyone ask a raffish antinomian of 1960s vintage to preside at any ceremony beyond the increasingly familiar one of throwing the ashes of some deceased lefty comrade over the back of a boat or off the top of a mountain? Maybe it’s all those years on the road giving booster talks to radical groups, raising money for all the good causes. I’ve learned how to look a crowd in the eye, speak as though I mean it and not mumble.
The male guests at the affair in rural Virginia were all in black tie and dinner jacket. It had been years since I put on a tuxedo but I found one in an old trunk, given to me by the daughter of a British diplomat. I’d kept it for possible use at Halloween. Taking it to the cleaners I noticed that the poor fellow, an ambassador, had spent so many years resting his wrists on the table at a thousand dreary official dinners, mumbling “fascinating” at the anecdotes of his neighbors, that the cloth on the buttons of his jacket cuffs had entirely worn away.
As officiator I reckoned I ought to distinguish myself from the common herd of tux wearers, and so I threw around my neck a white silk scarf with a Japanese motif picked out on it in crimson thread. Later my old friend Seymour Hersh came up to me and said he’d arrived a bit late, hurried down to the pond and said to his wife, Liz, as they craned to observe the ceremony, “Now I’ve seen everything. Alex has become a rabbi.”
My officiation went smoothly. I kept my remarks brief, imparting to the crowd the news that the couple were already married and had demonstrated their progressive commitment by getting spliced on an instrument of mass transit, which was also a temple of the arts. I stuck in words like “witness,” “solemnize” (a prissy word, I know; I wanted to say “comedify” but thought it too tricksy) and “celebration” to lend a tinge of formality to the event. Then I yielded the floor, or rather the pond-side, to the couple, who spoke to each other, and the crowd, with glorious feeling and eloquence about their love for each other.
No stumblings here! Their professions of love had the grace of an aria in Mozart. If the younger crowd can talk like that, I’ll stop wailing about the grossness of hip-hop.