Saturday, May 10, 2014

Night Clinic Wedding


“I don’t know why we’re getting married here at the Clinic. We could have had the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton for nothing. With our luck, the preacher will probably get mugged on his way here,” I commented to my expectant betrothed. “And I still think we should have waited until you delivered. A couple of weeks wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Miss James gave me a look which said, “We’ve been through this a million times, don’t bother me anymore,” and then she spoke, “I do not want to have my daughter called a bastard, even for a few weeks.”
“I know, I know,” was all I could say. “It won’t be much of a honeymoon,” I muttered under my breath.
“Did you say something?”
“I said I hope Curley and Cupcake can still carry a tune,” I replied loudly.
“Uh huh. Oh, here’s my mother. I’ll see you shortly.”
“OK, lovely nurse,” I replied as Miss James met her mother outside the exam room I was using to get dressed. “Wait, wait, I need you to help me tie this …,” my voice trailed off as she vanished, “…bowtie.”
I’m in trouble now. Where’s that card with the step by step instructions.
I wrapped the black strap around my neck, crossed and folded just like in the diagram and ..nothing, at least nothing that resembled a bowtie.
Whoever invented ties hated the human male; probably the same person who invented high heels, some sort of equal opportunity tormenter.
I fixed my cummerbund and made one more effort to tie the bowtie, once again without success; I looked out at the arriving guests. I saw Daniel arrive with the Cichellos, faithful mutt Becky at his side, and motioned for him to come over.
“You look pretty spiffy,” I pointed out. “Everything OK at your new digs?”
“Can’t complain, three meals a day, warm place to sleep, cable TV,” he answered.
“Good, good,” I said. “Listen, can you do me a big favor? We’ve got about an hour until this shindig starts. Do you think you can run over to the thrift shop and see if they’ve got a black bowtie, one that’s already tied? Here’s twenty bucks, keep whatever you don’t spend. And remember, pay for the tie, don’t steal it.”
“Sure thing, Dr. Barnes.”
He and Becky ran out the door to Aaron’s Thrift and Smoke Shop; I threw the troublesome bowtie in the trash. Once again, I peeked out into the clinic waiting area, which now was a makeshift wedding chapel, and saw guests milling about. Mona  “I’m a wedding consultant, not a planner” Avery was adjusting flowers on the crude altar which had been erected at one end of the waiting room. She turned around and watched as our guests filed in and made their way to their seats or chatted with each other. Mona’s eyes grew wider and wider as this bizarre assortment of visitors arrived.
First there was Mrs. Cichello, with Andrew, then Crystal Blue and the Wicked Queen, each dressed in spandex body suits, followed by the seven dwarfs from the Enchanted Emporium. A few seconds later Evella, Goddess of the Night, arrived, dressed in bright blue fishnet instead of her usual black. She took a seat near the front next to Caleb, who was sitting with his ever present sketch pad and colored pencils. Policemen, winos, addicts, hookers and some who just looked curious passed through the doors and took seats near the back. I heard the familiar “Da, da, da, daaa…” chiming as Captain Surgery and Dr. Cloud alighted outside the door and took their seats close to the front. The massive figure of Roachman with Super Rat perched on his shoulder burst through the doors and marched to the front, taking a seat in the second row. I suppose it was all too much for our wedding planner, all these curious, odd and extraordinary folks we called friends, because I saw Mona sneak out the back. We never heard from her again.
I felt a pull on the tails of my tux and turned around to see Daniel, waving the bowtie in front of me.
“Thanks, kid,” I said, “Uh, you can stop waving it, I see that you were successful.”
“I’m trying to get it to dry,” he replied. “They only had a pink bowtie, so I bought some black paint and painted it black, but it’s still drying.”
I touched the bowtie and a black spot of paint dotted my finger. As a matter of fact, paint was dripping onto the floor and spots of smooth silky pink were appearing. I looked at my watch and thought it might be best to try to tie my original bowtie one more time. I went over to the trash and found the waste basket was clean as a whistle.
Just my luck, they don’t empty the trash for weeks and today some unseen trash gremlin decides to actually clean up a bit.
“Looks like I’m stuck with your black and pink bowtie, kid. Thanks for your troubles. I’ll see you at the reception.”
I hung up the tie in my makeshift changing room, over the sink and sat down for a few moments to collect my thoughts.
A bride who is eight and a half months pregnant, her mother fresh off the ship from the jungles of Africa, a wedding in a dilapidated store front medical clinic, the most motley crew of wedding guests one could ever imagine, and the prospect of spending the next thirty or forty years mending, prescribing and caring for the dregs of society, is that what I really want? Look at them all; they look so happy, so excited and there is such an air of anticipation. I guess we really do some good work here. And, Miss James, lovely, wonderful Miss James, she truly is my anchor. Too late to change my mind, I guess it’s on with the show.
I touched the bowtie and a new black spot on my finger appeared. I gingerly wiped off the back of the tie so that wet paint would not mar my shirt and then I snapped it in place. I bent over to put on my shoes and then I looked at myself in the mirror. Black paint adorned my chin, which I wiped off, most of it, anyway.
This won’t work.
I took off the troublesome bowtie and wiped the all paint away, leaving a pink tie with a few black streaks. I rubbed and buffed until all the paint was either removed or dry.
Pink it is, I guess.
I admired myself in the mirror.
It looks pretty good, actually.
“Definitely your color,” came a voice behind me. “Black tux with a shiny pink bowtie. If it was my poor Lizzy, may she rest in peace, she would have postponed the wedding until I found a proper tie, but Miss James is eminently more practical and will press on, I’m certain.”
The voice belonged to Vince Smialdi, the clinic handyman and caretaker of Polly, an orange and purple dragon who had miraculously hatched at the clinic one evening. Vince had agreed to be my best man, after my friend Max had to cancel on short notice for some fuzzy, vague reason.
“Where’s Polly? You didn’t bring her, did you?”
“What do you think? It’s the Night Clinic crowd. You’ve got dwarves, vampires, werewolves, strippers and the greatest assortment of bizarre characters this side of the rainbow. I don’t think anyone will even blink over the site of a purple dragon. She’s sitting with Roachman and Super Rat. They can look out for each other.”
Vince came over to me and grabbed my hand and then gave me a hug. I looked him in the eye and saw the emotion.
“It looks like this is really going to happen,” I concluded. “We’ve got a best man, a bride and groom, and the bride’s mother. You’ve got the rings, I’ve got a pink bowtie and a spot of black paint on my chin which won’t come off. All we need is the preacher.”
It was almost time to begin and Pastor Horst hadn’t made an appearance yet.
“Don’t worry. I called him an hour ago and he promised he’d be here on time, awake, sober and properly dressed,” Vince reported.
 “I don’t suppose you asked him to take a bath and shave?” I added.
“Don’t press it. One miracle at a time.”
At that moment we heard the murmur of the crowd suddenly grow louder and then a loud crash.
“I guess we can stop worrying.”
Sure enough, Pastor Gustav “Gussie” Horst had arrived in typical Horst fashion, surrounded by chaos and calamity. Vince looked out at the crowd and saw the pastor picking up a bucket and mop he had tripped over as part of his arrival.
“Looks like the pastor is functioning at his usual level. Let’s hope he can make it through the ceremony upright and without dropping his Bible on anyone’s foot or upsetting the podium. Why’d you pick him anyway?”
“Didn’t have a lot of choice. It was short notice and we don’t really have a regular preacher. Miss James thought it would be better to have someone from the community. He is ordained, after all…”
“Yeah, an ordained walking disaster. Look out there, I swear there is a black cloud over his head.”
I looked out at the now full waiting room and observed Pastor Horst standing in the makeshift pulpit and I saw the “black cloud.” Hovering above Pastor Horst was the Raven, who circled around a few times and then took a position on one of the ceiling lights.
“That’s not a cloud, Vince, it’s a big black bird, one who was definitely not invited.”
Vince grabbed a broom and started out to shoe the bird away.
“Don’t bother,” I informed him. “Even if you manage to get him out, which may not be that easy to do, he’ll be back. He seems to like it here. Just leave him alone and there shouldn’t be any problem.”
I looked up at the clock, which read seven thirty.
“Well, here we go…”
I heard singing as Curley and Cupcake began:

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
Rest assured this troubador is acting on his part.
The union of your spirits, here, has caused him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name
There is love. there is love.

A man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home
And they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.
As it was in the beginning is now and til the end
Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.
And there is love. there is love.

Well then what's to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
And if loving is the answer, then who's the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you've never seen before?
Oh there's love, there is love.

Oh the marriage of your spirits here has caused him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in his name
There is love. there is love.*

Before the song finished I made my way out to the altar and stood with Vince as we awaited the arrival of my bride. The lobby and waiting room almost made a respectable wedding chapel. Rows and rows of folding chairs took up almost all the floor space, leaving a narrow aisle down the middle. Pink and white carnations adorned the front where there was a wooden canopy above a small stage. There was a sign behind the altar, which read: “No spitting, urinating or littering allowed in the lobby or waiting room” in big black and red letters, offering sharp contrast to the decorations.
Curley and Cupcake finished their song and new music began, a funky version of “Here Comes the Bride” courtesy of Wild Fingers Dixon on the guitar. I winked at Nurse James mother, Betty James, who was seated in the front row dressed in her African kanga, and then I saw Miss James, more radiant than ever even with her big belly. She wore a light pink gown with white accents, spaghetti straps and a white veil.
Curley stood by her side, their arms intertwined, as she made her way down the aisle, doing her best to look solemn, but unable to hide her joy and happiness. Wild Fingers’ melodious guitar heightened the mood as my bride drew closer. Just before Curley was to release her hand to join mine a buzz ran through the crowd as our guests began to point up at the ceiling.
I looked up and saw a pair of black wings flitting erratically between the lights.
The Raven? Another drunken bird? No a bat.
The Raven, to its credit, took matters into its own hands and flew off its perch and gave chase. We all oohed and aahed as the two winged creatures bobbed and weaved between light fixtures and around vents. At first it looked like the Raven would easily dispatch the interloper, but then the bat would dodge one way or another and elude the black bird.  The Raven made a final lunge at the bat and grabbed hold of its foot, but then the bat settled down in an empty chair and the Raven was left holding nothing but the pant leg of Mr. V.M. Pire.
“Sorry, I’m late,” he explained, a bit sheepishly, “I had to wait until sundown. I’m sure you understand.”
“Quite alright,” I answered, “but you did ruin my lovely bride’s entrance.”
“Sorry,” he said again and he stood and bowed. Everyone turned away from him, back towards the radiant Miss James. The Raven returned to his spot, perched above the gathering of guests, keeping a watchful eye over the ceremony.
The music resumed and Miss James made it to the altar without further trouble. I clasped her hand in mine as Curley took his seat between Cupcake and my soon to be mother-in-law.
Pastor Horst cleared his throat, “Hrrmph”, took a deep breath and cleared his throat again, “Hrrrmmph”, then he coughed a few more times and finally stood facing us, his face even redder than usual.
“Dearly beloved,” he began, “we are gathered here in the sight of God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is a holy estate ordained by God…”
I hope he’s not too long winded. Just hit the high points and get this over with.
And don’t pass out.
At that moment a black cat jumped up on the altar.
OK, who brought the cat?”
 Daniel’s dog, Becky, decided it was her job to rid the ceremony of uninvited felines and leapt up from the audience and dashed towards the cat and us.
“Rowf, Rowf, Grrr,” barked Becky
“Meeooww, meeeoowww,” the cat replied followed by a swipe at Becky’s nose with her sharp claws.
“Rowf?” Becky replied, she stopped for a moment and then let out a long, “Grrrrr…”
The cat darted away into the crowd of guests and Becky followed, howling. Every so often there was a shout from one of our guests as the dog and cat weaved their way in and around chairs.
“Where did that cat come from?” Miss James wondered out loud.
“At the rate we’re going our daughter will have graduated medical school before we actually are married,” I added.
Roachman came to the rescue, gathering up the cat and hustling it outside. Becky sniffed and barked at the door until she was sure the cat was gone and then took her place on the floor by Daniel’s chair.
“This is highly irregular,” Pastor Horst observed. “Such shenanigans are not supposed to be part of such a solemn and auspicious occasion.”
“It’s OK Pastor. Believe me I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wicked Witch of the West materialized right here in front of us.”
At that moment there was a pillar of fire and green smoke right next to me. The smoke and fire dissipated leaving a figure dressed in a tight black dress, crooked pointed black hat, waving a broom and cackling. I looked up.
Is this really necessary?
 “Who killed my sister, who killed the Wicked Witch of the East? Was it you?” she screamed at Miss James who found herself rubbing shoulders with the green skinned witch.
My beloved opened her mouth, but no words came out and then I thought she was going to faint. I quickly moved to her side and put my arm around her, forcing myself between her and the Wicked Witch.
“There’s no dead witch…” I started to explain, but then our own Wicked Queen, Queen of the strippers that is, approached her from behind.
“You’re mistaken,” she whispered in the real witch’s ear. “Look around. There’s no dead witch here. This is a place for healing and joy. We try to keep death away.”
The Wicked Witch of the West did look around, all the time shaking her broomstick. Then she pulled up her black sleeve exposing her bony green arm and looked at her black watch and then she shook her wrist.
“Curses, curse that stupid spell. This isn’t right. Where are the Munchkins? Where is that brat Dorothy or that goody two shoes Glinda. Let me check these instructions,” she murmured as she pulled out a piece of faded brown paper. “Two eyes of newt, a rat tooth, a beagle’s feather, boil for ten minutes and dip broom in…”
Curley decided he needed to add his two cents and got up from his seat, “did you say ‘beagle’s feather, Ms. Witch?”
She nodded her head, “Yes, it says right here, beagle’s feather.”
Curley took the paper from her hand and put on his reading glasses. “If I read this correctly, Ms. Wicked Witch, it says ‘an eagle’s feather’ not a ‘beagle’s feather.’ The comma looks like a letter ‘b’. Here check it for yourself. You can use my glasses if it will help.”
The witch pulled out her own spectacles and perched them on her long, pointy green nose and peered through them at the worn paper.
“I guess you’re right,” she cackled scratching her chin. “It was no easy chore finding a beagle with feathers. I sort of had to improvise. Sorry for the interruption. You look lovely, my dear,” she added speaking to Miss James and then she whispered, “stand back.”
“Heh, heh, heh, heh,” she cackled and she waved her broom, winked at us, and spun around as the pillar of green fire and smoke shot up from the floor and she vanished.
“Enough is enough,” I said to no one in particular, “let’s get this show over with so we can really get down and party.”
I looked for Pastor Horst, and found him, flat on the floor, unconscious. Together, Miss James and I knelt at his side. I felt for a pulse, while Miss James cradled his head.
“He’s breathing,” She observed.
“And he’s got a strong radial pulse,” I added.
He started to arouse and opened his eyes.
“What happened?” he wondered.
“As best as we can determine,” Miss James answered, “you fainted.”
“Is the wedding over?” he asked.
“We haven’t really started yet,” I replied. “But, we are ready whenever you are.”
“OK, OK,” he wheezed, “let’s see if we can get you two married without further interruption.”
He made it up to standing.
“Join hands, please,” he requested of us. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is a blessed state.”
He turned to me.
“Do you, Miles Standish Barnes, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife? To have and to hold, to love and honor and cherish, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
“I do,” I answered.
He turned towards Miss James.
“Do you, Portia Mathilda James, take this man to be your lawful wedded husband? To have and to hold, to love and honor and cherish, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?”
“I do,” she answered and she stared into my eyes with more love than any man ever deserved.
“Is there a ring for our bride and groo..o…m…”
Pastor Horst’s voice trailed off and he fell to the floor and began to snore.
 “He’s asleep,” Vince observed
Narcolepsy? Why can’t anything ever be simple?
Try as we could, we could not arouse the Pastor.
“I don’t think we’re married yet,” Miss James remarked.
It was Madame Marie who came to the rescue.
“I’ll finish the ceremony,” she stated.
“Are you allowed, I mean would it be legal?” I asked, a bit skeptical.
“Of course, I am Voodoo High Priestess, fully licensed to perform a variety of religious functions.”
I glanced over at Pastor Horst, who was snoring away on a mat on the floor in the corner and then at my bride. Miss James’ eyes gave me her answer.
“OK, Madame, let’s get this wedding done before our daughter decides she wants to be part of the ceremony.”
So, Madame Marie took her place at the head of the altar. She reached into her bag and hung some feathers and a dead chicken from the canopy and the ceremony resumed.
“Who’s got the ring?” she asked.
Vince handed the ring to Madame Marie, who held it up to the light and then took out a jeweler’s loupe to examine it.
“Eighteen Karat gold with VVS, Ideal cut G diamonds, nice,” she muttered under her breath and then she handed the ring to me.
“Place the ring on the fourth finger of her left hand and repeat after me,” she commanded. “With this ring I thee wed.”
“With this ring I thee wed,” I repeated softly.
“And the other ring?”
Vince handed the second ring to Madame, who once again held it up to inspection.
“Pretty hefty, oh and it’s engraved, also very nice,” she smiled at me and handed the ring to Miss James. “Repeat after me, ‘with this ring I thee wed’.”
“With this ring I thee wed,” Miss James said staring into my eyes, her eyes saying so much more than the words.
“Therefore, by the powers vested in me by this great state, I now pronounce you husband and wife. May the magnificent Baron Samedi bless this union of souls. You may kiss the bride.”
I gently put my arms around my dear Portia Barnes and kissed her.
“Miles and Portia Barnes? Perhaps we should keep it Dr. Barnes and Miss James,” she whispered in my ear. I nodded my agreement.
The nuptials moved on to a grand and uneventful reception which featured music courtesy of Curley and Cupcake and Wild Fingers. Pastor Horst finally woke up and resumed his place among the living and had our guests in stitches with his rendition of a debate between Daffy and Donald Duck.
It was early morning when we finally found ourselves in the bridal Suite at the Fairmont.
“It was a memorable night,” I commented.
“You have a gift for understatement,” Miss James replied. “Black cats, wicked witches, a voodoo high priestess? I’d say if we can survive a wedding like that, our marriage should be able to endure anything.”
“Look at these gifts,” I commented and I began to take inventory.
“Curley and Cupcake Play the Catskills: A Collection of Showtunes, thirty great songs from Broadway and the Movies.”
“Just my style, hope it includes songs from ‘My Fair Lady’.”
“Let’s see, a used dirty cape with a big ‘R’ from Roachman, a gift certificate to ‘The Enchanted Emporium’.”
“Not really my taste in entertainment.”
“Evella, Goddess of the Night’s recipe for butter cookies and brownies.”
“Finally, something worthwhile, although I’ll leave the baking to you.”
“An ostrich foot from Madame Marie and a miniature version of …me.”
“I’ll take the doll, it’ll help me keep you in line. I don’t think you need the ostrich foot however.”
“You’ll want this to go with the doll,” and I handed her a thin book, ‘Voodoo for Beginners.’
There were a lot more presents, ranging from cracked beer mugs someone probably swiped from a local bar to the occasional gift that actually would be useful such as a dinnerware for four and a set of satin sheets.
Finally I found the gift I’d been looking for. It was wrapped in plain brown paper which I tore off in great anticipation. Inside was a drawing, Caleb’s gift to us. I held it up to the light and we both admired the extraordinary image he had created.
It showed the two of us, holding hands and walking together. We each carried a baby wrapped in a blanket as we walked over a river, only there wasn’t any bridge. We were suspended in the sky, walking on beams of white and yellow light while below us was a raging river lined by sharp, jagged rocks. The source of lights could be seen far in the distance as we walked towards it. And, to add a bit of mystery or maybe peace of mind, a black bird flew overhead. The Raven.
The picture almost brought me to tears. I laid it against the wall.
“I know your eight and a half months pregnant, but maybe we can find a way to celebrate our wedding night?” I asked as I helped Portia undress.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way and, Dr. Barnes, I know you’ll find it,” she smiled and kissed me.
I opened my eyes and looked out the window. The Raven was perched on the ledge, but flew away when as soon as I noticed it.
“Ooooh,” Miss James moaned.
“Already?” I wondered out loud, I’ve barely started.
“Aaaw, ooooh, I think,” she panted, “I think it’s time.”
“Anytime is right as far as I’m concerned,” I answered and I gave her a letcherous look.
She took a few deep breaths.
“Oooh, Oooh… oh, yes, it’s time dear wonderful, husband doctor. Time for the baby to arrive. Let’s go.”
So, we spent the rest of our wedding night having a beautiful baby girl.

*The Wedding Song, Noel “Paul” Stookey 1972