I frequently lose touch with reality, and in the early days of my relationship with Alec I occasionally forgot who I really was and imagined myself a debutante. After all, Alec took me to the best restaurants and when I moved in with him, I became accustomed to being greeted by the doormen in his building, and riding around in his beautiful Porsche. We often had dinner with Sy and Anna Maria in their elegant condo or with his Uncle Lenny and his family in their apartment overlooking Washington Square Park. On the rare occasions when I thought about my own family, I made them less abrasive in my head.
Alec had been in ROTC in college, believing that his poor eyesight would keep him out of combat, and the date he would begin active duty grew ever closer. The Vietnam War was raging and friends were getting shopped overseas, and some died or returned permanently scarred. We recognized that two years apart would be difficult. If he went into the military as a married young second lieutenant, though, we could stay together, so we decided to get married. I thought Army life would be an adventure, and besides going back to Horatio Street with Margie would be unbearable and I didn’t want to look for another crappy apartment.
So we planned a wedding! I had firm ideas for our elegant wedding: fancy hotel, string quartet, chocolate mousse cake from Cote Basque for the wedding cake. Fine wine, delicate canapes, and Moet for the champagne toast. I called all the fanciest hotels in Manhattan and made appointments for Alec and me to see what they could offer: The Plaza, Sherry-Netherland, and the Waldorf-Astoria, among others. I enjoyed meeting hotel representatives in their elegant offices and reviewing the possible menus and floral offerings. It felt like living in a fantasy, and as it turned out, it was.
I kept notes on the various amenities each hotel offered and we planned a trip out to Long Island to show my father his options as father of the bride. Harry burst my bubble in seconds. Who did I think I was? I wasn’t a Manhattan socialite, but a poor girl from Long Island with a father who had never been supportive. “You thought I would pay for a fancy wedding in Manhattan?” he burst out. In a flash I remembered that he had never paid for anything. He tore up my notes and threw them on the floor of his tacky family room. I shifted uneasily on the plastic seat covers on the couch and cried, “What am I supposed to do?”
Harry recommended elopement. “Just find a Justice of the Peace, and you will be done with it.”
I knew that Alec’s family expected the bride’s family to host an acceptable wedding reception. Alec’s brother and his fiancé had already scheduled there wedding at The Plaza on Labor Day weekend, and Dora had insisted that we plan our wedding that same weekend so that guests from out of town could attend both. As luck would have it, though, Harry and Phyllis had married just months earlier and had not had a reception. After some pleading on my part, Harry came up with a plan to get Phyllis to pay for the reception. “Phyllis and I can host a wedding reception for ourselves right here in the back yard, and you can tag on. It will be like a double wedding.”
The contrast between Phyllis’s back yard, albeit beautiful, and the ballroom of the Plaza where Alec’s brother would be married just the night before would accentuate my unfortunate status as unfit to join Alec’s family. “Can I make a few suggestions?” I asked timidly.
“Absolutely not.” came the reply. “This is Phyllis’s big day, and she will decide.”
So instead of the ballroom at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, the wedding took place in Harry’s backyard on Long Island. Guests had to park along the streets of Phyllis’s neighborhood of split level homes and enter the back yard through the chainlink gate. Harry hired caterers who set up a huge buffet loaded with every kind of meat, kishka, smoked fish and hard rolls, and a band who played covers of pop songs as well as traditional Jewish wedding songs. Guests danced the twist and the Hora on the soggy lawn. There was an open bar and guests got smashed in the hot August sun.
Alec’s mother wore a black dress and dark glasses and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. She and Louis and their side of the family clustered together on the ocean side of the pool, away from others, afraid to leave the safety of their group. Sy came alone as Anna Maria was in Italy for the summer and steered clear of his former wife and her family and just drank steadily. At one point my blood ran cold as I spotted Sy and Harry laughing over drinks. I was sure they were talking about what a loser I was and how I didn’t know opera.
My sister was the matron of honor and looked like a sunflower in a yellow minidress. While I looked cute in a vintage white tulle Victorian dress and floppy white hat, Phyllis stole the show. She wore a white silk pantsuit laced with gold threads. The diamonds in her tiara and everywhere else she could find to wear them made her shine like the sun.
Harry had found a man to represent a rabbi in mufti with silk robes and a pencilled on mustache. The tradition in Jewish weddings is for the groom to smash a glass underfoot. Usually a lightbulb is placed in a velvet bag to provide a nice pop like a hymen being snapped open. Phyllis had mistakenly placed a shot glass in the bag, so after Alec had tried three times to crush the glass on the lawn, the “rabbi” opened the bag and sent Harry into the house for a bulb. Finally Alec was able to break the glass and the traditional applause could finally ring out. So we were more or less legally married under the tearful eyes of Alec’s family.
After the brief ceremony, Phyllis stripped off the pantsuit and sparkled in the gold lame bikini she wore underneath. The diamonds stayed where they were. In her wooden fuck-me high heels and her diamond crown, she stood half a head above anyone else in the yard.
Her bikini gave guests from my side ideas, and they began throwing each other, fully clothed into the pool. My Uncle Max, the same person who sat beside me at that other wedding a year earlier when Alec and I met, drunkenly did a cannonball off the diving board. The board snapped off and Max plunged into the pool and had to be rescued by three guests who plunged in after him. The band increased its volume to be heard over the screams of the drunks in the pool. My wedding became more like the wild frat parties I had attended in college than a somber joining of two lives.
I was, of course, grateful to have any kind of wedding at all, but was sure that these shenanigans and the raucous music would send the wrong message to Alec’s family, looking on with horror. I had wanted a string quartet and delicate canapés, but we had Hava Nagelah and pop music and a greasy buffet of meat, potatoes and kishka. I was too nervous to eat, but by the time the guests had left and I finally felt hungry, there was no food left anywhere as the caterers had taken all leftovers with them. Phyllis didn’t allow me access to any foods in her pantry, so I went to bed hungry. Was I being punished?
We spent the night in Harry’s basement where I had been stowed when I returned from college with a broken heart, but we were both so exhausted we didn’t care that it was dank and reeked of mildew. We would be leaving the next morning for what I imagined would be a royal honeymoon: visiting Anna Maria at the beach house in Italy and then a month in Yugoslavia.
As I fell asleep I saw myself as Cinderella leaving behind her rags and cinders to marry the prince. I would be leaving Harry behind as I became a Felder.