I’m not a rabbi, but I AM a “minister.” She sent me a legal document that declares I can perform a proper marriage ceremony – my alumna, who met a boy in Rome and brought him to her nice little cul-de-sac in Brooklyn. (The home purchased long ago by her midwestern parents.)
“Midge” wanted a wedding without guests or families, only two correct witnesses and one person of the cloth, civic, not clergy. It was all very RISD and arty, and quite daunting. So I file the following report. (I warn you, it contains mostly kvetches.)
On the Acela train to New York, a guy talked business on his cellphone all the way from Providence to Penn Station, nonstop except for Stamford. I hate cellphones, but wait, please, there’s more. I got to New York, but where were the groom and “best man” (witness, that is, and also a RISD alum) to meet me and take me to Brooklyn?
Since I had no cellphone, I went to the police and information booth and paged myself. “Who is looking for Mike Fink?” shouted out the loudspeaker to the entire crowd at Pennsylvania Station. Well, of course, in due time, the two young fellows found me, hugged me and guided me to the tight little quarters where we all dressed up for the big occasion. I was told to wear white, and managed to come up with an ivory outfit, consisting of snowy-clean summer trousers, plus a woven linen shawl – rather like a tallit – from Ethiopia that I had purchased in the Holy Land at an absorption center.
Now, this was by no means a Jewish, nor any religious, tying of the knot of matrimony. The bride was in a beautiful beige design created by a textile major, Emily, her former classmate. “Luca,” the fiancé, refused to put on pale colors and had chosen to produce a sort-of “Celtic” poetic ritual, featuring white lace ropes to bind their hands symbolically/metaphorically. Okay, let’s go.
The traffic over the bridges to the place where such an original elopement could take place was horrendous. “Shall we simply do our thing on the roof of our apartment?” asked Midge, the wife-to-be. “Let’s take a vote.” The husband-in waiting said, “No,” so we looked for the nearest twilight public garden and found The Cloisters. It was closing, and the light, in the late December solstice, was fast fading. As, likewise, was my patience.
Midge bought 10 fancy candles in the gift shop of the Cloisters museum as it was about to lock its gates. She arranged them under a tree in a magic circle. I read a few words I had prepared, mostly about the meaning of the names Midge and Luca. Midge derives from Madeline, which means “tower” in Hebrew. Luca means “light” from the Latin but also comes from “Lucifer” so watch out! And then, I quoted that useful line from Thirteen Clocks: “Remember Laughter.” That was it. There were plenty of tears, a load of quick snapshots before the horizon – the firmament – turned totally black.
They put me up at one of those pensiones – they’re called Airbnbs or something, and it was rather grim and had no phone that I could find no matter where or how hard I looked. I made for the bed and slept till the a.m. Then, I was to take a taxi back to Brooklyn Heights to catch up with the witness couple who would drive us back to Providence. I hailed a hack – a cab – without delay and said simply, “87 Columbia Heights, please!” The driver tried hard to find the destination but failed utterly. His cellphone was out of order. We both panicked, chauffeur and client! I was reduced to opening the window and asking pedestrians for help and rescue.
We managed, but not until I had gone through a sense of choking claustrophobia and a kind of calm desperation. “You are a nice guy not to be angry,” stated the cabbie, and he meant it.
My tale of woe is almost, but not quite, over. We munched a quick bit of food, mostly “gluten-free” – a concept I deplore! – and then, I remembered, our car was very, very low on gas. It’s not easy to fight that traffic nor to find a gas station, and I once again experienced that falling feeling, plus a wild hope that we could find rest rooms before too long. Ah, there IS a gas station in Brooklyn, after all.
Now, the voyage northeastward to New England and Rhode Island was a long nostalgic trek. Each signpost brought back a poignant emotion and elicited a tale from a chapter in my life. I AM a Yale man. My roommate DID come from Stamford. I looked at the harbors, a gull or a heron, the trees, the structures and bridges, and offered some anxiety-producing observations about the couple we had just united and some prophecies about their likely future together.
Then, the signposts spelled out “Welcome to Rhode Island,” and my service as a parson was nearly over. Until I entered my front door and faced my wife and our son.
“Why didn’t you call?” “There was no phone.”
“How about an email?” “I couldn’t impose on the rush to get ... where? Anyplace we could set up our gypsy camp.”
And so, dear reader, you see that I can turn New York into an isolated outpost of the true realms of the busy and crowded world. I am alone and cut off in the city that never sleeps and like Jonathan Bing in the British poem, I guess “home is the best place for people like me.”
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.