Crash Course

“No way!” I said.

“Yes way.” answered Mickey McGuire. “I do this all the time.”  We were on weekend leave from Fort Lee’s Aerial Delivery and Maintenance School where the army was teaching us to be parachute riggers. We were both wearing civilian clothes, sport coats, slacks and ties. I shrugged and followed him as we joined groups of people weaving their way into an Elk’s Lodge. A man at the door smiled at us.

“Bride or groom?” he asked.

“Groom.” said Mickey.

“Bride,” I said simultaneously. The guy at the door looked from me to Mickey and back again before handing Mickey a red carnation and me a white one. We stepped inside. We were crashing a wedding reception. Mickey had found the announcement in the local paper and convinced me to go along. He explained that there would be free food, booze, and girls who would be very romantically inclined due to the occasion. I figured we’d stand out like Asians on a basketball court but in fact we blended right in. I headed over to a table where I spied rows of cups with shrimp and little bowls of cocktail sauce. “I love shrimp!” I said.

“Okay, here’s the basics. Bride’s name is Ellie, the groom is Brad. She just graduated from Hollins College and Brad works for his father at a marketing research firm. The announcement said they were tying the knot after a short engagement, which probably means Brad got her pregnant at her commencement party. Are you paying attention here?” asked Mickey.

“I really want some of that shrimp.” I said.

Mickey went to the bar, dodging through small groups of conversations. He spoke to the bartender who smiled and then reached for a glass and poured four fingers of Johnny Walker Red into it. Mickey picked it up and nodded his thanks to the barkeep. He sidled up to four ladies who were talking and laughing. That crazy Mickey. I was stuffing a shrimp in my mouth when a guy about sixty threw and arm over my shoulder and started explaining why I should choose investment banking as a career.  ”Actually,” I told him, “I’m already in real estate.”  The guy said that could be a cutthroat business and I said “yeah, lots of battles in my business.” He told me I got that right and shuffled off to organize someone else’s life. I was going to go join Mickey –who had apparently hit it off with the ladies but I was waylaid by a middle aged woman. She looked forty-ish, not unattractive, rounding at the edges a little. She was wearing a low cut party dress that accentuated her positives quite nicely. Her breath and watery eyes told me she’d been celebrating a while.

“Where do you know Ellie from?” she asked, pointing to the white carnation I had pinned to my lapel. “I see you’re a guest of hers. Doesn’t she look magnificent!”

“Just gorgeous.” I replied. “We were engaged before she met him,” I sighed. She looked at me suspiciously. “It was hard, having to pretend I didn’t know her. You know, the whole thing between our families the way it was.” The suspicious looked faded.

“I imagine it was hard for you.” she said. “I’m Dana Clark, by the way.”

“Damian Sawpucker,” I replied and held out my hand. She shook it daintily and gave me a smile. She winked. Really.

“Come dance with me, Damian.” she said pulling me towards the dance floor. They were playing something slow and I resorted to the box step. Or what I thought was a box step. I’d never learned to dance but I faked it while we chatted. After a minute or so Dana told me I danced divinely, another major clue she was drunk. She maneuvered me over to where the bride and groom were standing with another pair of couples and pushed me in front of her and spoke to the bride. “Look who I’ve got here, Ellie!” The bride looked a bit confused. Dana leaned over my shoulder from behind and stage whispered “He just wants you to be happy. Isn’t that precious!”

“Uh, hello.” I said to the bride. “Congratulations.” She smiled uncertainly, her eyes saying she was trying to place me. I was wondering what to say next and I’m sure Ellie was too but Dana whisked me back towards the dance floor. I looked back and the bride and groom were looking towards Dana and I. The groom was speaking and the bride was shaking her head. My attention was drawn back to Dana who was embracing me and swaying to the music played by a six piece band that seemed to mostly cover Muzak elevator tune titles. She let her hand slip down to my butt and gave it a squeeze.

“You’re very firm, Mr. Pawsucker.” she breathed.

“That’s, uh,  Sawpucker.” I said.

I was jolted by a slap on the back. ”Look at you man!” slurred Mickey. He looked at Dana. “I’m Ferdinand Magellan, surgeon.” he said.

“Oh! Are you a friend of Damian’s?” she asked. Mickey looked at me and started laughing.

“Damian? Holy crap.” Mickey started to lose his balance. I caught him. “Thanks,” he said. Then “Uh oh. Trouble at six o’clock.” I looked behind me and saw two fairly burly guys moving through the clots of people towards us. Their eyes fixed on Mickey and me. I turned to Mickey and discovered him gone.

“Mickey?…”

I spun around looking for him and then saw him a few feet away hopping up onto the raised band platform.

“Oh, God.” I said.

“Attention everybody!” Mickey shouted. “Hey, listen up!” The murmuring of the crowd fell away and the band stopped playing. All eyes went to Mickey. “Hey, I just wanna thank everybody for coming here tonight to send these two crazy kids off on their new lives together. And their honeymoon. Eh? Eh?” A chuckle moved through the guests who were now fully focused on Mickey. “It seems like it was just a short time ago that I met these guys and they’ve come to mean so much to me. Wow, time really flies. And the changes! Holy cow have things changed.  The big guy there –lookin’ good, stud!  He was hot stuff at high school. Always finding him with some hottie in the backseat of the car, under the high school bleachers, in the office stock room. Right? Am I right? You devil you! And the beautiful bride. Who knew she was gonna get a hookup with such a successful guy. Thank god there’s room at the top at dad’s company for Brad, right sweetie?” Mickey smiled sweetly.  I always knew she’s snag herself a good one. No matter what I had faith in her even when everyone else –well, never mind. That’s all in the past now isn’t it honey?” Mickey took a few steps back and whispered to the piano player, who gave a nod and then hopped off his bench and moved to stand behind the drummer. “Now, I’m dedicating this to the beautiful bride, and I know you’ll all join me when I say…” Mickey started banging the keys.

You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, a girl like you drive a man insane. You broke my will, what a thrill. Goodness gracious great balls of fire!” Mickey actually was pretty good at the piano and pretty quick the rest of the band joined in to the Bill Haley classic. At each bridge Mickey would stop singing and point to the crowd who’d yell ‘Goodness Gracious Great Balls Of Fire‘ in refrain. Mickey was into it, standing up and swiveling his hips, thrusting his pelvis and using the heel of his right shoe to hit high notes on the keyboard just like Bill Haley used to.  The two bouncers were having a tough time pressing through the crowd because its had tightened against the stage,  but they were still headed our way and looking pretty unhappy. As the song came to an end I was working my way to a side exit. Mickey yelled “Thank you everybody! Thank you very much!” and jumped off the side of the stage and together we ran out the door while the audience applauded and whistled.

Of course, Mickey was wasted and he fell down three times before we got to the street and headed across and around the block to where we’d parked.  At the car we dove in the doors and Mickey started it and patched out just as the two grim looking bouncers rounded the corner. They knew we were gone and they both stopped, bent over and resting their hands on their knees as they panted trying to catch their breath.

Twenty minutes later we passed through the gate at Fort Lee, the guard waving us through without stopping us when they saw the base sticker on the corner of the windshield. Back in the barracks I started giving Mickey a hard time. “You know, I only got a single shrimp cocktail, and not even a whole one. And I didn’t even get a drink.”

“That’s okay. The bartender cut me off after my third double. A course, I could go for another drink right about now…” said my friend. “Whattaya say?”

“Yeah, well,  I could go for a drink.” Mickey smiled and picked up the newspaper and turned to the society page.