We're having a wedding at our house Sunday. My job is to buy the rice. The nuts proved too complicated.
"I want enough nuts to fill three large bowls," my wife said. "Good, fresh mixed nuts. Don't penny-pinch on this one, Elmer." She calls me Elmer when she wants to make a point. As in Elmer Teenez, my slurred name.
"What kind of nuts?" I asked.
"You didn't hear? Mixed nuts. Good nuts."
"Cocktail or deluxe? Salted or unsalted? With or without peanuts. . . . "
"I'll buy the nuts," she said with a sigh. "You buy 10 pounds of rice to throw at the bride and groom. Think you can swing that?"
"White or brown? Short grain or long grain? Pork-fried or steamed. . . . "
" Out! "
My dog and I headed to the store. The dog's name is Hoover and he's short. The reason I have a short dog is that I'm short. I don't want people to point and say there goes a short guy with a tall dog.
You can't see Hoover from outside the car because of his diminutive stature. Even when he's on the seat next to me, he's below the window line.
So when I drive along talking to him, passers-by think I'm talking to myself. Another crazy old fool babbling back to the voices in his head.
The wedding is for Marty and Lisa.
Preparations are awesome. A preacher, a musician, a limo, champagne, flowers, chairs, rings, food, nuts, rice, and so on.
With the mind-bending logistics of putting it all together comes pre-vow panic. The bride cries, the groom yells, the in-laws fight and everyone has doubts. A typical start to any marriage.
It's at the height of the fray that I am sent to the store.
"They didn't kick Kissinger out of the house when he was trying to bring peace," I say as I go out the door.
"That's why the communists won the war," my wife says.
She's got a point.
"No rice," Franco the store-owner said.
"That's impossible!" I argued. "No one ever runs out of rice."
Franco keeps a wife named Rita shackled in a back storeroom. He hollers to her occasionally and she hollers back, but in 12 years of shopping at his place, I have never actually seen her. That's why I figure she's a prisoner in the storeroom. Not a bad idea.
"We got rice?" Franco called to her.
"No rice!" she called back.
"You buy noodles," he said to me.
"You can't throw noodles at a wedding," I said.
"Why not?" he demanded.
I didn't know why not.
"I think it has something to do with a celebration of poverty in China," I said. "Marriage and poverty went together in the old days."
"We got noodles!" Rita yelled.
"Nice elbow noodles," Franco said, holding up a package.
Groucho Marx' advice to a young couple was "Keep smiling and keep the bean barrel full."
I tried to explain to Marty that morning what to expect from marriage.
"What did you tell him?" my wife wanted to know.
"I told him frozen burritos would give him gas."
" That's your fatherly advice?"
"Oh, no, he keeps eating those frozen burritos and I. . . . "
"What marital advice did you give him? Something from the dark ages of male domination, no doubt."
"I told him his job was to take out the garbage and her job was to keep the kitchen clean."
"That'll ring down through the ages."
What I did was paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, the mad dog prince of gonzo journalism.
"Son," I said, "drinking vodka and gin and whiskey and scotch is no way to solve your problems, but they've always worked for me."
"Wonderful," my wife said.
On the way home from Franco's I stopped for a bottle of trial champagne. It was the fourth brand we had tried in order to determine what kind I would buy for the reception.
"Too dry," my wife said.
"Too wet," Marty said.
"Too wet? "
"I'm kidding. I liked the second brand best."
"I don't really like champagne that much," Lisa said.
I began to speak but my wife silenced me.
"You are not," she said, "going to pour martinis into the champagne fountain."
The woman reads my mind.
"Brand No. 4 then?" I asked.
We all agreed. It was a small but significant indication that the wedding might come off as planned.
"Did you get the rice?" my wife asked.
"Well," I said, indicating the brown grocery bag, "Franco didn't have any rice exactly."
I shrugged. She studied me suspiciously then opened the bag.
"Made without eggs. They're approved on our Pritikin diet."
"Noodles?!" If she says it three times I'm in trouble.
"I don't believe it. Noodles!" Three times. I'm a dead man.
"You better find some real rice," Marty suggested.
"White," Lisa said, "long grained, uncooked."
My wife, who had been holding the macaroni and staring at me, found her voice as I sauntered out the door.
"And take your short dog with you!" she called.
Come on, Hoover. Heel!