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A Perfect Day for a Seaside Ceremony

April 25, 2001|CHRIS ERSKINE

Here, on the very edge of America's left coast, someone is about to get married--200 steps from the slurping Pacific, on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It's an outdoor wedding. The bride is wearing white. The ocean, Dodger blue.

"Nice place for a wedding," I say, without too much irony in my voice.

"This is beautiful," says my wife.

We are so close to the edge of the continent that one crash of a phantom wave and the bride and groom would be bodysurfing.

I assume the wedding guests would gather around the bride and groom as they bodysurfed, climb down the bluffs and cheer on the happy couple as they swam off to Santa Barbara for an early honeymoon.

The band would stand out on the bluff and play "The Hokey Pokey" as the guests danced along the water's edge. They'd put their right feet in. They'd put their right feet out. They'd do the hokey pokey and they'd shake it all about. . . .

"Let us pray," says the minister, jolting me out of my daydream.

My prayer? That this cliff holds out. That the marriage does, too. That the ceremony is short and the reception long and just boozy enough to be fun. That they have those portable heaters around the patio reception area. Those are my prayers.

And before you know it, the bride comes down the aisle on her father's arm, and all the little girls in the audience turn to look. For some of them, it is their first wedding. Magic is in the air. And a touch of sea mist. A twist of lime.

*

It's spring, a good time for a wedding. Back home, the boy's pet rabbit is in heat, hurling herself at the top of the cage and moaning like a teenager. Must be bunny lust. Must be spring.

"What's wrong with the bunny?" the little girl constantly asks her mother.

"She's crazy," the boy says.

"She's in love," her mother says.

"Same thing," I say.

It's spring, and the sparrows are nesting in the eaves in the back of the house. It's spring, and my friend Irv is running off to Vegas to get married. Just like that, without telling anyone.

There is a rampant, terrifying romance in the air, surf-like and pounding in our ears.

On TV, men and women are chaining themselves together in the name of love, which is weird, even as courtships go.

With all that in mind, we come here to the ocean's edge. To a wedding. The ultimate survival show.

"You may be seated," the minister says, and I sit quickly, like a drunk on a stagecoach.

I have been married only once, a huge success in my eyes, but a tossup in the eyes of anyone who knew my wife beforehand.

But I have attended a hundred such ceremonies. In my mind, almost all weddings fit into one of three major categories.

1. The frat boy wedding: Where all the groomsmen look like ESPN anchor boys and the bridesmaids look like Hooters girls. For a month before the ceremony, everyone diets, including the groom. Nobody talks about what happened at the bachelor party. Nobody. Because nobody can really remember. Life expectancy of such a marriage: 15 months.

2. The we've-got-money wedding: An elegant and formal occasion, where the main purpose is to display how much money the bride's parents have. There are trumpet flourishes. Peacocks. Eight maids a-milking. Seven lords a-leaping. A mother-in-law in a pear tree, roaring drunk. Life expectancy of such a marriage: 20 years (or as long as the dowry lasts).

3. The simple, just-friends wedding: Thrown together like a barbecue. Chips. Dip. Brewskies in the cooler. On TV, a ballgame. No band, but around 11, someone throws an old Aerosmith album on the stereo. Life expectancy of such a marriage: 30 years to life.

Fortunately, tonight's wedding falls into none of these categories, which means I have to pay attention. I cannot sleep. If I sleep, I might roll into the ocean, ruining my best and only suit.

"There goes Dad," the little girl would say as I rolled out of my chair and off the cliff.

"And his hundred-dollar suit," her mother would say, then turn back to the ceremony.

The evening is a little cool but otherwise perfect. The minister is witty. Casual. It's a California wedding. The participants look like they work outside, healthy and tanned.

Midway through the ceremony, my wife glances over to make sure I am still awake. While the minister speaks of love, commitment and honor, she looks at me.

I know exactly what she's thinking. "When did he turn into Bob Newhart?" is what she's thinking. "When did he grow ear hair like a mongoose?"

What am I thinking? "At the reception, I hope they have those little meatball appetizers," is what I'm thinking. "Hope I don't have to dance too much."

Up at the altar, meanwhile, this fine, tasteful wedding ceremony is winding down. The groomsmen are relaxed now, thinking about a nice glass of Merlot and tomorrow's golf match.

The bridesmaids are thinking about the groomsmen.

The little girl, two chairs down, is thinking she's never seen anyone so beautiful as her second-grade teacher--all in white up there at the altar, with the ocean deep and blue behind her.

Good luck, Miss Hamrick, the little girl is thinking. Good luck, forever.

*

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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