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My Big Fat Geek Wedding

I'm sure that the weeks leading up to any wedding-barring, perhaps, one following on the heels of the bride's escape down an extension ladder-are hectic, but Cheryl and I made matters worse by scheduling her move from St. Louis to Dallas in the same month. Being the male in the equation and not really much good in matters concerning colors of bridal bouquets or ribbons for pew decorations, I was inconvenienced only insofar as Cheryl chose to exact her vengeance by dragging me, whimpering, into discussions of such matters. I learned to anticipate the preface, "Honey, I need your opinion on something" with much the same degree of dread as one might feel upon hearing that he's being audited by the IRS or being told "This won't hurt a bit."

Now imagine Cheryl trying to get me, a 41-year-old male who hates change, to help her unpack her entire household's worth of boxes and somehow merge her stuff with mine. Still, she's a trooper and dug in to get all the loose ends tied up, so that by the time wedding week rolled around, we were pretty well set to drive up to Missouri on Wednesday, so that we'd have a few days to complete some last-minute tasks before the wedding on Saturday.

Monday, I got in my car to leave for work, and the check engine light lit up and stayed on. A trip to the Honda dealership, a three hour wait, and $150 later, the spark plugs that had been replaced only 20K miles ago needed replaced again. My fault, according to the service advisor. Contrary to the owner's manual's instruction to use regular old 87 octane unleaded fuel, he insisted that it was necessary to burn premium grade fuel in my Civic and that my failure to do so had resulted in the fouling of the spark plugs. Can't wait for that satisfaction survey to show up in the mail. Late to work, grumpy about rush hour both ways. Moan, bleat.

Tuesday went a lot better, right up until my morning commute brought me about 100 yards from the building where I work, at which point a woman in an SUV [significant pause] rear-ended my car, shoving me out into the leftmost lane of the frontage road. It turned out that she worked in the same office building as I do, on a different floor... for an insurance company. Wheels turned quickly, with repair arrangements in motion by later in the afternoon, and I counted myself lucky that I wasn't broadsided and killed. The slightly buckled and hunched hindquarters of my little car didn't seem so major, viewed in that light.

Slightly before lunch time, I received a phone call from Cheryl, which began, "Now Honey, don't be mad, but..." Never an encouraging way to start a conversation. It turned out that the white trash neighbors who live on the other side of the alley behind my house had backed through my fence. Again. This would be the same fence I'd paid $2500 to have completely replaced, just last year. This time, the (sorry, I can't help myself) gate crasher was a visitor, who shakily came forward to take responsibility and promised to make small monthly payments for the repairs, as she didn't have insurance and was a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Bless her; my neighbors had advised her to drive away without claiming responsibility for the broken post and shattered pickets. I haven't heard a peep about the incident from those Bible-thumping hypocrites.

Wednesday. Cheryl and I somehow crammed ourselves and a pile of stuff that didn't quite include the kitchen sink into "Gilbert", Cheryl's ironically female purple Civic hatchback. We elected to take the slightly-longer-but-all-interstate-highway route, and I was pleased to find that the turnpikes in Oklahoma have a posted speed limit of 75 mph (120 kph). That meant I could run my usual 80 mph without much fear of well-intentioned officers of the law. About 11 hours later, we arrived at the Residence Inn where we would be staying. It was only months old, the staff were wonderful [note to self: mail glowing feedback response card], and the suite was very nice.

Thursday, 4:50am. Loud noise, flashing lights... disorientation. What the @*&%!?? The adrenaline kicked in, and I slowly realised the racket was a fire alarm. Cheryl, in her sleeping attire, was groggily trying to transfer from the bed into her wheelchair, while I hopped all over the room, looking for my shoes and pants and desperately trying to remember where I had set my eyeglasses down. The room lights wouldn't come on, and the strobing of the visual alarm lights felt like Satan's Disco. I banged the heck out of one of my shins and hustled the two of us out into the hall where, thankfully, the lights were on. We made our way quickly toward the stairs, where I prepared to heft Cheryl onto my back for the three-floor descent—just in time for the alarm to stop. We made it half way back down the hall to our room before the alarms started blaring again. After another round of this, the alarm finally stayed silent, leaving us with no hope of getting back to sleep. We later learned that the cause of the alarm was that there was insufficient venting in the kitchen, and "sometimes, when they're cooking sausage, it gets smoky and sets off the alarms." We were assured this didn't happen daily and, thank heaven, it didn't.

Thursday, 11:30am. We made our way to downtown St. Charles to pick up our marriage license from the courthouse. We were in good spirits and all atwitter about this very official item on our wedding checklist. When we had parked the car and had got Cheryl transferred out of the car into her chair, she asked me for the keys. She had never given them to me, and this request kicked off a fruitless 20-minute cavity search of the entire interior of the car. No keys. Maybe they'd fallen down the gap under the emergency brake lever. Maybe it was some sort of Bermuda Triangle thing. We didn't know, but I thanked God that I had changed my mind and brought along the spare key that Cheryl had given me (just in case). Perplexed, we got past it and went on to have a nice lunch at Tony's On Main before going to the courthouse to pick up the license. As we were leaving the courthouse, Cheryl decided to make a 'pit stop', during which she discovered that she'd somehow dropped her keys down the back of her jeans. [cue relieved laughter] We then headed to the mall to pick up my tuxedo—without, I might add, further mishap.

Friday, morning. Off to the hair stylist's to get Cheryl a trim and a manicure, and me a much-overdue haircut. We'd be out of there, she told me, with plenty of time to meet my best man, Joe, for lunch at noon. At 1:30, we finally got away from the salon and zipped back to the hotel, where we found Joe quietly sitting in the lobby reading a book. No harm, no foul. My groomsman, Dwight, and his significant other arrived soon after, and we all headed back to the mall to pick up their tuxedoes. My tuxedo vest was 'Champagne'; theirs were supposed to be black. "But it says in the computer that theirs are Champagne," the doe-eyed 12-year-old (okay, maybe she was 16) at Men's Wearhouse whined. Another entry in the list of cock-ups, though a minor one, I concede. On to Max & Erma's for a nice lunch, and the vests were forgotten. Mostly.

I do have to stop here and confess something to you, though you have to promise not to tell my wife. For months, she had been making this huge fuss over how she couldn't wait to see me in my tux, and I'd been making at least as big a fuss about how I feel awkward in a suit, how putting me in a tux is like wrapping a bow around a... well, let's just say a piece of garbage. I'm a denims and sweatshirt kind of guy. What I have to confess is that Men's Wearhouse not only provided what looked like a brand-spanking new suit, but it was definitely the best fitted such garment I've ever worn. These factors combined with the lack of a bow tie and the type of vest (all thanks to Jim at MW for the guidance) put me in the position of having to admit that I've never looked so good. That still may not be saying much, but it's a heck of a lot better than I would ever have guessed!

Friday, evening. We arrived at the church for rehearsal, late because we underestimated the time it would take to do... well, pretty much everything [note to self: learn to compensate, in future]. Everyone was there, waiting, except Dwight, whose reckoning of time tends to rely heavily on the suffix "-ish", and Kyle, who sometimes runs behind. We got sorted and started working our way through the rehearsal. Dwight showed up in time for the run-through; Kyle never made it, and I began to worry. Before heading out for the rehearsal dinner, I gave his cell phone a ring and learned that there was some problem with his flight—which was supposed to arrive in St. Louis at around 9:00am, I think—and he had only just checked into his hotel room. He said it was a long story and that he'd tell me about it when he saw me. We went on to Trailhead Brewing Co. (a local microbrewery/restaurant), and everyone seemed to have a good time.

It turns out that Kyle missed his flight after being detained for two hours by federal marshals who had some sort of beef with a bit of spilled salt in the briefcase he'd brought with him. And then there was a problem at the rental car agency, which caused Kyle to have to take a cab, and some lost luggage.

By this time, Cheryl and I had begun to wonder if we shouldn't consider calling off the whole thing, if only for the safety of our guests.

Saturday. It was a beautiful day, and I kept busy reading my novel and absently watching something on HBO. I laid out my tuxedo contraption on the bed and set myself a time of 11:15 to begin dressing, in order to be ready when Joe and Russ, another longtime friend, arrived at noon. They were a bit late, and I found myself with too much time (about 20 minutes) to think. It suddenly felt very lonely around the room. Finally, the guys arrived, and we had just enough time to make our way to the country club to drop off Gilbert (the purple Civic, as in "What's Eating GILBERT Grape") and make it to the church by 1:30. Traffic was sluggish, but I'd figured that into my plans, and we got to Sts. Joachim & Anne church just at 1:20, only to find that Cheryl and her retinue had only just arrived in the limo. Joe and Russ drove me around the parking lot several times, so that I wouldn't catch a premature glimpse of my bride and exacerbate the already questionable luck we'd been having. "Oh, look! A hydrant!" "Hmmm... what chain do you suppose that fast food wrapper's come from?"

Just so you won't worry, just about everything else from this point on went splendidly.

Okay... so once the gals were out of sight, we guys went on in to the church, where all the representatives of my family—Mom and Dad, my two sisters, one brother, one brother-in-law, and an aunt and uncle—greeted me. It occurs to me that I don't see these people nearly often enough. The florist pinned a flower to my lapel, I visited the men's, and then it was a matter of 20 minutes spent hanging out at the front of the church, greeting people and answering, "No, not really" when asked if I was terrified yet.

And I wasn't, until Cheryl's dad walked me up the aisle for The Chat.

Then, it was time to get the show on the road. One of the somewhat nontraditional things Cheryl had planned was for me to walk up the aisle with both of my parents, so I had to gently ask my mother to cease and desist with all the mushy chatter that was threatening to crack my cool-and-collected facade.

The happy couple
Mr. & Mrs. Schwitzgebel pose for posterity.
I turned to face the back of the church and watched as my bride entered. Oh man, she was beautiful. I had to bite the inside of my cheek hard to keep from choking up, right there. Fortunately, that did the trick, and I was able to make it through the rest of the very personal ceremony without losing it. (Later, Cheryl would remark that I looked like I was "constipated or in pain or something" when she first saw me at the front of the church. Perceptive.)

When the ceremony and Mass were over we walked, beaming, back down the aisle and prepared for pictures. Of course, nearly everyone ignored Cheryl's request that those going to the reception not hang around to congratulate us. My best man's eyes were wet as he gave me a bear hug and told me how happy he was for Cheryl and me. Lots more hugs and handshakes from people I couldn't recall ever having met, but to whom I am probably now related. Aunt Jean clicking away with her Wal-Mart disposable camera and vying with the hired photographer for the best angle. Dwight brandishing the silver flask I'd given him the night before and prodding me, "Ready for a drink yet? Huh? Are you ready now?"

All a happy blur.

With the formal photography out of the way, the wedding party piled into the limo with its waiting bottle of champagne, and off we went to the reception. We arrived to find the cello, flute, and oboe trio my father-in-law had hired happily playing a piece I couldn't name, but which I recognised from a TV ad for expensive cars or brokerage services. The clock was running on our two-hour food and drink setups, and it was only when the photographer pointed it out that I realised no one was eating. I grabbed my new wife, and we kicked off the food line by loading up our plates with the first food of our married lives. I wish I could tell you what it was, but that's a blur too.

Soon, Joe delivered a toast that had him and most of the rest of the room teary eyed, and the maid of honor—Cheryl's sister—delivered the coup de grâce with a lovely toast of her own. The groom's cake was a spice cake and kicked booty. I think the bride's cake was chocolate, under the white icing—wait... didn't we order yellow cake?—but I was too busy stuffing my face with spice cake to be bothered to find out.

Again, I have to confess that, despite all the frustration and worry about how the reception might come together—or, more to the point, how it might not—when it came right down to it, order came out of chaos and all the guests seemed to have a great time. My only regret is that there wasn't more time to visit with my friends and family while fulfilling my obligation to accept congratulations from Cheryl's many friends and family members, who attended. But I guess that's the way it goes. There's never enough time to be with friends and loved ones, when you're separated by large distances.

On to the after-reception reception at Dave & Buster's. I was tempted to gloat a bit over this one, because Cheryl, who had lobbied so hard to keep the party going after the reception, was tired and would have liked nothing better than to call it a day. We continued on, though, caught our second wind and had a good time with the folks who joined us there. I started to stress out when our rather snotty waiter informed me that he'd taken the liberty of combining everything on to one tab for me and that an 18% gratuity had been added in for my convenience. You know how it can be, when you have a large group: last guy in line gets stuck having to chip in more than his share if the pot falls short of the tab. In this case, though, everyone put in more than was required and, since the waiter had shot himself in the foot by being a horse's patoot about the single check, I pocketed the surplus $50 that my friends and family refused to take back. I wonder if 18% would have seemed such a windfall if he'd known.

Later that night... well, actually that's none of your business, now that I think of it.

Sunday, we got up and around, put on the 'Bride' and 'Groom' T-shirts that Joe's wife, Beth, had made for us, and had a leisurely breakfast. Afterwards, it was off to the mall to return the groomsmen's tuxedoes, and then over to Cheryl's parents' house to open gifts with them and my parents. We're grateful to all the people who thought of us, but God bless those who made gifts of money and saved us having to rent a U-Haul to get everything back to Texas.

Bottom line? When it all came right down to it, everything worked out all right, which is all to Cheryl's credit. She put in a lot of hard work, and it showed. We had a good time, but we're glad to have it all behind us, and I'm just glad I won't ever have to do it again!

(27 Sep-5 Oct, 2003)

Almost exactly a year after the wedding day, we went on our honeymoon. Why the delay? Well, I'd managed to use up all but a day or two of my vacation time, for one thing. Add to that the fact that the chaos of getting Cheryl moved to Texas and dealing with the wedding preparations had left us in no mood to travel, and it seemed like a good idea to hold off on the honeymoon for a while. But we finally got around to it in time to celebrate our first anniversary.

We couldn't decide whether to take a cruise or do something on land, so we compromised and did an eight-day land and sea package, during which we spent five days at Disney World and three days cruising the Bahamas on the Disney Wonder.

Our trip started on a Saturday around 7am, when Super Shuttle came by the house to take us to the airport. Everything went smoothly until we arrived at Orlando Airport to discover that Expedia had botched our bus transfer arrangments. Fortunately, there were some people from Disney Cruise Lines hanging around at the time, and one of them gave us our first lesson in The Disney Difference. She took us in hand, rescued our luggage and got it headed toward Port Orleans Riverside resort where we were staying, and sorted out our transportation situation. Her name was Ellen, and she was only the first of many "cast members" who bent over backwards to make it a great honeymoon for us.

By the time we arrived at Port Orleans, it was 4:30 and we were running late because of the problems at the airport. We had 5:30 reservations for the luau dinner at the Polynesian resort, and we still hadn't checked in to our room or purchased the tickets for the luau. Add in the bus ride to the Magic Kingdom and transferring to the monorail to get to the Polynesian resort, and there was no way we were going to make it. Normally, you'd think that we would simply be out the $98, but once again, Disney stepped up. When I explained to Linett (guest services at Port Orleans) about the not-so-good start we were off to, she smiled, requisitioned a wheelchair-accessible van, and drove us to the Polynesian resort herself! When I tried to express my gratitude for bailing us out by giving her a $5 tip, she smiled and said, "Thank you, but we can't accept tips. And anyway, it was my pleasure."

I don't think we're in Kansas any more, Toto.

We spent the following four days checking out Downtown Disney, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and MGM parks and having a blast. For me, though, the most fun wasn't the rides or the attractions so much as the people. We met and chatted with people from all over the world, tourists and cast members alike, and it was a blast. Then, on Friday, we took a bus over to Port Canaveral, where we boarded the Disney Wonder and spent another three days meeting interesting people. We both felt like we would have done better to stay on the ship when we stopped at Nassau, Bahamas, but other than that, we had a blast and are ready to go again!

Oh yeah, we have some pictures, in case you're interested.