Monday, August 27, 2012

Nobody Got Blown Up In A Car

FishwifeA couple of Saturdays ago Ralph Lee's youngest daughter was married. Her wedding took place on one of the roof decks of a famous art building in the West Village and the reception was in Queens. The lion's share of the guests were to take the subway from one place to the other. About a week before the ceremony I got an email asking me if I would come, get costumed up, and assist for part of the festivities. The instructions were vague but, as with any Lee Family production, I just said yes and tried to ask all the right questions before it was time to go on.

I arrived on time and wove through the crowds in the apartment. When someone sings out, "Who needs prosecco?" you know you're in a good place. There was some confusion about which parts of my costume (pictured) went over the other parts but once we got that sorted out it was easy. I had my pick of four masks and chose mine based on which one fit over my glasses best. If I'm going to stay in a defined area I can ditch the specs but we'd be wandering a lot for this, it would have been too dangerous. (Note to self: Just get the damned contacts for performing already!)

As go time neared another woman and I, in our fish wife gear, were led down winding hallways and up secret stairwells until we got to a door that hid an abandoned elevator shaft which houses most of the costumes and masks from Mettawee River Theater Company's decades of performing. Were I a nosier person I could have gotten into some awesome trouble. "Whatever you do, don't lift that grate!" were my friend, and elder Lee daughter, Heather's parting words as she pointed to the iron slats we were standing on. We didn't. We gazed out the window that faced down on the ceremony site and chatted about how we'd come to know this family of makers.

Our first official item of business came during the recessional. As soon as the trumpet and accordion (yes, seriously!) began to play we leaned out that window as far as our short legs would allow and waved like mad with our gloved hands and pristine white dish towels. The bride and groom waved shyly as they exited and the guests followed suit, squinting up at us high above.

When the last guests had climbed the iron steps back into the building we made our way out of the shaft and back through the halls to the working elevators to wait for a ride to the ground floor. Since everyone else was going down, too, it took a while but even with my glasses crammed under the mask the stairs weren't an option.

In the courtyard below we milled about with guests for a bit. Then someone distributed homemade noisemakers. Tin can timpani and paper plate shakers were tentatively rattled and banged. Finally  our compatriots, Mr. & Mrs. Bunny and The Robber Bridegroom arrived, the music began and we danced with each other and with any guest we could strongarm into it. The noisemaking got a little bolder then, the laughter louder, and the camera flashes more frequent.

The parents of the bride were the last to descend. They each carried tall poles with long, fabric fish banners on top that swayed in the breeze above our heads. After a little discussion the happily newly coupled realized they ought to lead the procession so they headed out with us close behind.

What followed was something out of the movies. Do you remember this scene from Michael's sojourn in Italy in The Godfather? It was as if Terry Gilliam had remade that. A long snake of revelers wound through the streets of New York City banging on cans and rattling their cups of beans. The accordionist and the trumpeter played and played. Guests spontaneously began to chant the names of the newlyweds. Every few feet we heard a spectator ask, "What is this?" I wish there was a way to scour the internet for photos and video of the event because nearly everyone we passed took a quick shot. If they didn't have proof I'm sure no one they knew would have believed them.

As our parade crossed the first street the light began to change. There weren't any cars coming but I decided to stand sentry. The line was so long the light changed again and it was still moving. Cars began to come so I turned and held out my hands. I had to believe that only a fool would viciously run down an old lady made of paint and plaster and I was right. I also had to believe that I wouldn't keel over in my 4 layers of clothes and pointy hat, and ancient plaster mask while I ran back to the head of the endless column of cheer. I didn't!

I urged traffic to wait at one more spot but by that time the procession had taken on a life of its own. We confidently walked up the center of cobblestone streets and cars waited for us, even smiling as we waved our thanks. The only people who, perhaps, didn't see the humor in it were the ones trying to come out of the subway as that steady stream of guests plunged down the stairs. We just kept waving and dancing and playing, though, and it all worked out.

Dancing in a wedding parade through the streets of the meat packing district is a once in a lifetime experience. This is why I always say yes to the Lee family.  I'm wildly lucky to have been part of it.


  1. that sounds utterly awesome! and you looked fab. hope to see more pics somewhere ...

  2. wow. that sounds like it was totally awesome. what a wedding!