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Man of the House by Chris Erskine

May the marriage outshine the toast

May 08, 2008|Chris Erskine

AND I THOUGHT last week's party for 80 teenagers was bad (it was). Now I'm hosting a party for 30 adults. Each week, the celebrations get smaller, more polished, more demanding.

"Did you get the ice?" Posh asks.

"Check."

"Is the music ready to go?"

"Check."

Lately, Posh has been treating me like her personal assistant. I find it sort of thrilling. For the longest time, she treated me like a husband. I don't have to tell you how unpleasant that can be.

"Did you get firewood?" Posh asks.

"Check."

"Citronella oil?"

"Check."

"Did you open some wine?"

Oops. I've been putting off opening the wine. I hate our corkscrew. Like some of the things you get at Brookstone, the gigantic chrome corkscrew doesn't work all that well. I have rarely used it without difficulty.

Ever seen one of these screwy corkscrews? First, it's huge and doesn't really fit in a kitchen drawer. Second, it looks like a dental tool from the 17th century, full of gears and ratchets and an auger. The Germans once used these for root canals. Tim Conway used one to extract Harvey Korman's tongue.

So, as the first guests filter in, I line up the first bottle. Clunk. The auger doesn't drill down like it should. It pushes the cork into the bottle, which is not really the best place for a cork. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer it when the corkscrew removes the cork.

Second bottle. Clunk.

"Let me do that," says an exasperated Posh, whose nephew almost went to MIT. That's how mechanical she is.

"It's not that hard," she insists.

Posh takes the corkscrew. Clunk. The cork not only goes into the bottle, it gushers the red wine out of the bottle and all over Posh and one of our guests, a nice gentleman whose name escapes me. I know he was important because no one laughed. Me, not a drop on my shirt or pants, which just makes matters worse.

"Oops," I say.

Posh says nothing. Pinot Noir drips from her roofline and her pretty chin. There are Pinot Noir freckles all over her favorite white blouse. As guests walk in, she looks as if she has been marinating herself in red wine.

Now, in our dreamy 27 years of marriage, there has been only a handful of times when I thought she might actually murder me. It's been a remarkable run on my part. Who says the institution of marriage is dead? Not me.

"Did her mouth get round like a penny?" asks my buddy Irv, when I later recount the exploding wine incident.

"Yes."

"That's when you run like hell," Irv says.

My friend Paul has different advice.

"You should've said, 'Hold still while I lick your face.' "

Maybe. Maybe not. But from now on, I'm going to always keep my wise guy buddies close by just so I know what to say in difficult situations.

The rest of the party goes rather smoothly by comparison. The food arrives on time. The cake's whipped cream icing doesn't melt, even though it's, like, 1,000 degrees on our patio. All the great events of my life, it's been too hot. My graduation. My wedding day. The incredible evening two years later when I finally lost my virginity. All too hot. I think it's God's way of trying to drive me back to Ireland, where I fit in a little better.

Anyway, the food is great and the torches all light like they should. When the air finally cools, I fire up the fire pit and it burns like Mrs. O'Leary's barn. The necklace of twinkling lights I strung across the top of the new fence glows like 1,000 cheap diamonds.

All is finally well in this pre-wedding party. Someone sings a funny song about marriage (amazing how few of those there really are).

The group offers gifts to Catharine and Carl, our guests of honor, who will soon fly off to Hawaii to marry, even though they're both past 50 and should probably know better.

I find marriage -- like birth, like death -- among our most intimate acts, significant beyond words.

More and more, the world resembles a Joseph Heller novel, with occasional scenes from Dr. Seuss thrown in. Too much uncertainty, too many worries, too much e-mail. So there is something remarkably soothing, grounded and plain-old-wonderful about an impending marriage.

In fact, I find marriage to be the ultimate wager -- that our good qualities outweigh our bad, a bet that loyalty, tolerance and virtue can win out over pride, vanity and selfishness. I find it profound.

That doesn't mean it's easy. So here, after 27 years of study, is my prenuptial checklist:

Patience?

Check.

Humor?

Check.

A really good corkscrew?

Double-check.

Mazel tov, you crazy kids. We're betting on you, too.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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