Sunday, August 19, 2007

fifty years ago, or, yesterday

Standing in the wedding aisle of the Hallmark Gold Crown Store for People who Love Porcelain Figurines and are Suspicious of Imagination Saturday morning, Mr. Ben and I tried to figure out what card to bring along to the celebration we were headed to. Friend wedding, fireman wedding, former Catholic priest wedding ...

"Where," I grumbled, "is the Unofficial Step-Sister-in-Law section?"

The card was for Lizzie, the daughter of the man Mr. Ben's mom has been with for over a decade. She and her three brothers and Mr. Ben are all basically the same age. Lizzie got married the weekend after we did -- awkward enough timing that Mr. Ben and I couldn't go. We could, however, make it up to her and that side of the family by attending Celebration #2 in the Catskills, hosted by Lizzie's grandparents for their friends.

We ended up grabbing a blank card with a picture of children pawing at each other on the front, which was really the only respectable choice.

The lakeside community where Lizzie's grandparents live half the year is only about 90 minutes north of New York City but oh, my friends, it is a different WORLD. The party was held in the upstairs room of the synagogue, the kind usually used for the kiddush after Shabbes services; upon entering, we discovered it filled with 90 senior citizens, Lizzie's grandparents' closest friends, all of whom migrate north for summer and south to the same communities in Florida for winter.

At first the party felt pretty low-key. Us kids (the under-40 set) huddled at either ends of the main table, eating potato chips and, once they emerged, cold cuts off of large platters, while the spry oldsters danced to the musical stylings of Hy on the saxophone and another tired-looking fellow on a synthesizer. By 9:30, we were beginning to yawn and wondering privately why we'd been told this event would go til midnight.

Then -- oh, mercy, THEN. A synagogue rep got up to introduce the evening's "entertainment," a woman named Ricki who bounded forward. The room buzzed with excitement; the kids' corners buzzed with confusion. Was it possible that the dumpy middle-aged Israeli lady in the synthetic, BeDazzled bell-bottoms and the mullet was going to sing for us?

"Hello, hello, hello!" she crooned, taking the mike and launching into an extraordinary rendition of the "Itsy-Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." Although she possessed about as much sex appeal as my 9th grade Hebrew teacher, she moved her hips like she was channeling a slow-motion Elvis. Step, step, thrust, thrust, step, thrust, her chained glasses bouncing against her bosom. Mr. Ben and I watched in horror as, to illustrate the song, she described her own bikini line in the air, first on one side, then the other.

Ten minutes later, Ricki had butchered several other standards, including "Non, Je Ne Regret Rien" in the original French, and she had chided guests for getting up and dancing before being invited to. Now, the still-hostile Ricki declared, she was ready for people to dance, starting with the bridge and groom. "Where are Lisa and Greg?" she bellowed. "Come up to here! I need Lisa and Greg!"

Lizzie, being a trooper, went up grinning with her new husband, intended to whisper her correct name. Ricki didn't give her a chance, either then or after. She took us all back to the glory days of the Borscht Belt with stand up routines made out of bad puns and Jewish jokes. She made us form a congo line (headed by "Lisa," of course). She reintroduced us to the Electric Slide. "Unchained Melody," "Runaround Sue," "Besame Mucho," and "I Will Survive" all withered and died under the hot sun of her attention. And not ONE of her jokes was funny.

In essence, it was our anti-wedding, cheesier even than any bar mitzvah I can remember, and so thoroughly memorable that had Ricki been GOOD she couldn't have made the party better. Finally at 11:30, as she was trying to teach Holocaust survivors how to line dance, we slipped out.

We had a great time laughing and doing the Hora and not being the center of attention, although we did have to accept some secondary congratulations for having recently been wed. "So!" boomed out Felix, Mr. Ben's unofficial step-grandpa. "How does it feel to be Mr. and Mrs. [Ben's last name]?"

"We aren't, at the moment," said Mr. Ben. Then, responding to the confusion on the good man's face, he hurriedly explained, "I mean, we're still married, but Ester's kept her name. She's Mrs. [Ester's last name]. I mean, Ms.!"

This was not the answer Felix was expecting. Three hours later, he tracked me down and asked me again, "So! Mrs. [Ben's last name], how do you feel?" I answered correctly, grinning: "Great."

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