Monday, December 08, 2008

Speech for Keryn's wedding


Mawidge is a dweam wiffin a dweam!

Some of you aren't laughing, but that's okay. It's probably because you have never seen "The Princess Bride" or read the book. And if you haven't seen the movie, then you obviously didn't grow up with Keryn and me, because one of us would have strapped you down and forced you to.

You see, my relationship to Keryn, like my relationship to many members of my friends and family, is largely defined by the entertainment that we have shared. We both love musicals, and cheesy melodramas, and fantasy movies. We have seen so many of the same movies, and played so many of the same games, that now I usually just have to say one single phrase to make her break down laughing.

To give you an idea of what new friends have to go through, Keryn has a neighbor named Charity, a young woman who recently turned 18. In the few years that Keryn has known her, she's forced her to watch a variety of stuff ranging from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to "Fraggle Rock" to the musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". It's part of the cultural background of knowing us, and there WILL be a test later. If I say "Imagine you're a deer..." then you'd better be prepared to sit still for several minutes while Keryn reproduces Marisa Tomei's entire screechy diatribe about animal rights from "My Cousin Vinny." The only way to cut her off is to jump to the punchline and yell it first, so she can't get more mileage out of the rest of the speech.

That's the kind of relationship I have with my little sister, and I love her very much, even though she is, like all sisters, a little nuts. Let me tell you how nuts she is. Keryn asked me to serve as the Badchan for her wedding reception. Now unlike Keryn, I am a terrible Jew, I barely even knew what a Badchan is. She told me, but I forgot. So I did what any nerd of the information age would do: I looked it up on Wikipedia, which we all know is always 100% accurate and perfectly infallible. Wikipedia says that a badchan is "a joker or clown, who traditionally entertains before and after Ashkenazic Jewish weddings." Riiiiight. At least I figured out how to PRONOUNCE Ashkenazic.

But when I heard that Keryn wanted me to present a major speech for her wedding, naturally my first reaction was, "Are you insane? You know what I'll have to say about marriage right now, don't you???" As she knows very well, I'm in the process of a divorce, and I've been living in Keryn and Michael's guest room since late July. In fact, it was kind of a running joke for me, because several couples I knew appeared to break up within a few weeks of each other. So I speculated that I am the carrier of some kind of rare virus that destroys long-term relationships. I told my theory to Keryn, and she didn't miss a beat. "GET OUT!" were her exact words.

Yet somehow, even after Keryn and Michael have been exposed to my virus every single day for five months, they're still getting married. Ask me why. Go on, ask the divorced guy how to make a successful marriage.

Well, I don't know. How well do I really know Michael? After living with the guy for several months I should know him better than anyone else in my family does, but Michael is a remarkably hard guy to get to know. I mean, here's a typical example of an exchange with Michael, when I used to come home from work and he was watching TV.

Me: "Hi Michael!"
Michael (mumbling): "Uh."

Are they together because they share the same set of values and beliefs? Um, well, you tell me. One of Keryn's many endearing features is that she's a vegan. Not a vegetarian, mind you. Vegetarians don't eat meat but they can eat eggs, milk, and sometimes even fish. Vegans don't eat or use any animal products. And Keryn, because she is against any exploitation of animals, won't eat Jell-o because it contains traces of boiled animal bones -- no really, look it up. She has to ask for details about french fries because sometimes they are cooked in the same oil as other food including meat. She won't TOUCH anyone wearing leather, and she is at least somewhat squeamish about honey. Because of the captive bees, you know.

So Michael comes home one day with a bag from Whataburger, containing... a TRIPLE cheeseburger. Now I'm an enthusiastic carnivore myself, but even I feel like going into coronary arrest just from LOOKING at that much meat in one place. Michael doesn't just want to eat this massive thing, though... he makes a point of sitting in front of my sister and going (lip smacking) "Mmmmmm, this is so good!" Keryn just loves that, I'm sure.

Actually, though, it's not true that I haven't learned anything at all about my new brother-in-law from living with him. Michael has a great sense of humor. At least I THINK he does. Quite honestly, it's often impossible to tell whether he's joking or not, because Michael's style of humor is completely deadpan. He doesn't care whether you get the joke or not. He's like Andy Kaufman: he is happy just to entertain himself. Let me show you what I mean.

I went to a Round Rock Express baseball game with my son Ben, and Keryn and Michael, and a friend of ours named Andi. Andi is a woman who just loves sports of all kinds. Takes them very seriously. Keryn and I grew up in a non-sports household, so Keryn had to ask about the rules. Yes, she didn't know the rules of BASEBALL. Even I know how baseball works. Michael explained the rules in a way that, to me, was very obviously wrong. Only he didn't do it with a smile or a wink or a sarcastic tone of voice. He just told her very directly about the role of the halfback and the center guard and whatever. Finally when he got tired of answering questions, he told her "I'll tell you more at halftime."

Later, Andi pulled me aside. She was fuming. She asked "Did you hear what he said? He'll tell her at halftime. Halftime! THERE'S NO HALFTIME IN BASEBALL!" I paused for a moment and then said "Um... Michael was joking. At least I THINK he was." But Andi insisted: "No, I heard his tone of voice. He wasn't joking. He's completely serious. He has no idea what he is talking about."

Now I thought I understood Michael's personality well enough to see through the delivery, but she actually managed to make me doubt him. So I finally had to ask him: "Hey Michael... you really were kidding when you were talking about halftime in baseball... right??" And finally Michael's facade cracked, and he grinned real wide at me. Yes, of course he was joking. But if I hadn't asked him, I think he would have been just as pleased with himself if no one got the joke.

What do Keryn and Michael see in each other? Keryn drags Michael to dance lessons, and Michael goes along with it. Michael decides to join a country club, so he can, I don't know, play golf and wear a monocle and say "I say, let's have dinner and cognac at the club tonight." Keryn goes to the club.

These are two people who like to share life experiences. Okay, fine, so they're DIFFERENT life experiences. So what? To some extent they are both very open people, who will go along and try new things just to be participating in an activity together. They scuba dive. They watch reality cooking shows. I don't think Michael really likes Renaissance Faires, but I'm betting he went along with Keryn only because she agreed to make out with another girl in costume... oh yes you did! Now the story's out!

And they both love cats. BOY do they love cats. It's a good thing that Keryn is getting married, because it prevents her from being the crazy single lady with a house full of cats. These two poor kids had to cope with the death of not one but two cats in just the last few months. I feel very sad for them, they were wonderful cats... but now they're still left with six. And you know, I was surprised when Michael was hit just as hard emotionally by the losses as Keryn was. Sometimes Michael masks his emotions so well that I didn't realize he loves his own cats so fiercely.

The truth is, I am grateful to have Michael and Keryn in my life -- not least because of their overwhelming generosity in letting me stay at their place while I am still paying mortgage on a house that I'm not currently living in. Also, as I've struggled to settle into a job that will make the best use of my Masters Degree, Michael has been a great help in giving me interviewing tips. Of course, some of his tips involve the creative use of exaggeration... which is actually a polite way of saying "He told me to lie more often." In all seriousness, Michael knows how to get and keep a job, and he really helped to change my perspective. I realize now, more than I used to, that job interviews are just as much about showmanship and presentation as they are about raw technical knowledge. I am a better person for his advice.

And while I used to think that Michael maybe didn't like kids, he's warmed up to my son Ben in some surprising ways. Part of it is the annoying way that he tells Ben to steal candy from the cabinet when I'm not looking. But Michael also recently learned some magic tricks and spent a solid chunk of time using Ben as his guinea pig audience. Ben actually bonded with Michael a little bit. Don't worry, though, I'm not very threatened by a potential hostile takeover yet.

I'll admit that there have always been periods of time when my sister drove me crazy. But also, she's sent me a lot of pictures of us two as kids together. When you look at those pictures, you would think that there was never a time when I wasn't reading to her, or she wasn't hugging me, or we weren't having a great time being in each other's company. When Keryn was born, I used to wonder whether she would ever learn to talk. When she was three, I used to wonder whether she would ever stop. But after all the things I can see we shared together -- trips to Disneyworld, and completing enormous 3D jigsaw puzzles, and skiing trips -- I guess I have to accept that we loved each other a lot, and still do.

And Michael? Well, he's not Jewish. I don't care -- did I mention that I'm a very bad Jew? Like Tevye, I'm supposed to be offended that Keryn is marrying some goy. But I'm not. I suppose it's lucky for us that we have no surviving relatives in attendance who would really care about keeping the blood pure. Besides, did you know? The name "Hawthorne" actually comes the Yiddish word "Khaw-torn-im" -- which means "people who really love reality cooking shows." So Hawthorne, Jewish. There you go.

[Side note: Keryn's pre-wedding festivities included renting a theater to watch "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and anyone who saw that will get the reference.]

In sitcom parlance, I now have a wacky brother-in-law, and there are worse things to have. So I wish Keryn and Michael the best success in keeping their marriage alive, and I hope you have a great trip to Fiji. You lucky dogs.