SAN DIEGO — Midnight.
"Laurel Ann? Just keep her away from me. On my wedding day. That's all. I beg you."
She's in tears. Hysterics.
"Of course. Don't worry. Things will turn out fine. Now, it's going to be a big day tomorrow. Get some sleep."
Laurel Ann spends 10 minutes calming her down. It's tomorrow's bride, and Mother is her problem. Mama's been trying to make this her wedding. Her daughter has given in on a hundred things and feels the whole wedding's being hijacked. It's turning into Mother's Big Day, the wedding that life denied Mom when she got married.
So that will be part of Laurel Ann Meadows' job tomorrow. Maybe the most important but, by no means, all. Not by a long shot.
"You want to know what makes weddings work?" she says as she arrives at midday to set up and hover over wedding No. 401.
She opens a big box. Inside is EVERYTHING--Band-Aids and aspirin, typewriter white-out to cover spots on wedding dresses, button-extenders for grooms who arrive with collars too tight to do up, jeweler's screwdrivers for eyeglasses that fall apart, a flower-arranging knife so she can make two bouquets out of one if the florist has come up short, a special needle to pull back snagged threads.
"Success in arranging weddings comes from foreseeing crises," she says. "Most aren't big ones, but a bride's day can be bled dry by a thousand little crises. Now these, these are two lifesavers."
She picks out two white cans--Wink (a stain remover) and Wrinkle-Free (a spray-on for the groom whose jacket has got crushed in the limo)--some deodorant (of course), safety pins, rubber bands, glue for fingernails and another piece of magic, Hem Film, a sort of tape for trousers and skirts that are too long.
"You'd be amazed how much I've used each of these," she says.
These are instruments for the Last Act, the actual wedding day. But that's the tip of the iceberg. For a wedding consultant , the wedding day is the climax of months of work. What is the beginning of married life for the bride and groom is the end of a long and often intimate relationship for Meadows.
Meadows' Comein Up Roses is one of 25 or so businesses that have started appearing in the Yellow Pages under the listing of "Wedding Consultants," ready to move in on modern marriages to advise, arrange, counsel, organize. They are a relatively new phenomenon in San Diego. Meadows claims she was one of the first full-service consultants. But these days even most of San Diego's big hotels include in their catering departments a staff member who spends as much time arranging weddings as setting up conventions.
At the Hotel del Coronado, the catering department is a warren of partitioned cubicles and patient counselors.
"Dance floor?" Karen Creason is listening to a bride-to-be and her mom. "Well, Bill doesn't really want to dance. Of course, others may want to. What do you think?"
"Now, the question of champagne," Sandy Ranck is saying next door. "One hundred eight people: That would be 15 1/2 bottles at seven glasses per bottle, so let's say 23 bottles basic . . . and before, of course, you want cocktail waiter service on a no-host basis?"
"The belly dancer will come on," Debbie Childs-Young says from her cubicle, "right after dinner. 'The Incredible Desiree.' Right. Not a word to anybody!" She puts the phone down. It rings again. "Oh, no, honey, honestly, we can't refund the money at this late date. This is $3,000 to $5,000 we're talking, 150 guests. You mean you've just seen this other guy now after how many years with your fiancee? Look, everybody gets cold feet before the wedding. Come down tomorrow for the rehearsal, as we've planned, and we'll talk after. Yes, privately. Hey, this is supposed to be a happy occasion! Don't panic!"
Wedding arrangers have in a way replaced the mothers and aunts and grandmas of the old extended families who used to love to do all this arranging and planning and counseling. But perhaps the most comprehensive filler of that void is the full-time consultant like Meadows, who goes far beyond arrangements surrounding the wedding day itself.
Her job is simple: to guide a bride through the most crisis-prone months of her life, from the first decision to marry to the last bill for the reception. That usually takes nine months to a year. In that year, she has to be everything from financial consultant to sex therapist, but above all diplomat.
"Ninety-eight percent of my skills are related to diplomacy," Meadows said. "There are so many potentially competing factors. From the very first day, for instance, it's up to the consultant to successfully weigh the dreams of the bride-to-be against the pocketbook of the father."
What of the thorny problem of the occasional pushy mom who can't let go?