The Toast of the Clown

Aug. 27 - Back to the wedding:

I forgot to mention the heat.

It was hot. Not hot like France, where people were lining up to die in the heat that day, but like New York or Boston on a normal summer afternoon. Copenhagen only gets about twenty days like that a year, so we were lucky to have such weather for our outdoor wedding. The only problem was that we had to have the same weather for our indoor reception.

They haven't yet invented air conditioning in Denmark. Real heat is so rare they don't need to. (And even if they had, it's hard to imagine how you'd install air conditioning in an 800-year-old church.)

So after our lovely ceremony and our photographic Waterloo on the canal, we all clambered into Cafeen i Nikolaj for the reception. It was like a sit-down dinner for fifty in a brick oven.

At the wedding I'd attended the week before our own, I'd been talking to the groom's brother about half an hour after we'd arrived at the (very warm) reception hall. I remember how he'd suddenly spotted the groom taking off his jacket and how he'd taken off his own in a flash, explaining to me that we weren't supposed to take off our jackets until the groom had removed his.

I was reminded of that observation when I stepped up to my seat and took off my own jacket, triggering the immediate removal of twenty-some additional jackets from twenty-some sweltering torsos.

Our guests were seated at five tables, crowding the little room to its maximum capacity. It was a high-ceilinged room with windows on three walls; latticed windows that were eight feet high and four or five across. Only one panel in each window was capable of opening, and these panels were about two feet on a side.

So when I say it was like a sit-down dinner for fifty in a brick-oven, I mean it was like a sit-down dinner for fifty in a brick-oven that had been converted into a greenhouse.

Of course, it was already six-thirty. The sun would go down in just... three more hours.

* * *

In discussing the Danish wedding speech traditions on Friday, I neglected to mention that although speeches are not required of anyone, they are expected of at least three parties: the father of the bride (brudfar), the father of the groom (brudgrumfar), and the groom himself (brudgrabber).

After the opening course (lobster soup, or, in the unappealing Danish, hummer suppe), Trine's father gave the first speech of the evening. He spoke briefly, warmly, and sincerely. My own father spoke next—also briefly, warmly, and sincerely. They were both tremulous with emotion. Their words were measured and their sentiments were lovely.

I started to panic.

I didn't think I'd written a bad speech, but I was suddenly sure I'd written the wrong speech. It had a light and bantering tone and was peppered with jokes. I'd used the word fart. And, worst of all, I had this cynical joke about marriage that suddenly seemed wildly inappropriate.

It was the observation that in the United States, grooms aren't expected to say anything at their weddings—a tradition probably designed to prepare them for married life.

It was an okay line on its own, but in an atmosphere of heartfelt sentiments it seemed a little crass. Didn't it just pander to a bunch of stupid old stereotypes? Wasn't it a cynical view of an institution to which, so far, everyone had been paying the sincerest regards? Wasn't it sort of like saying, between the lines, "I'll never get a word in edgewise for the rest of my life, now that I'm married to this yakkety bitch?" I was appalled at myself. I'd studied classical rhetoric, political science, acting, and playwriting in college—and had worked in politics and theatre for most of my adult life. You'd think I'd know how to play to a crowd, how to hit the right note for a specific occassion.

I was overcome by emotions I hadn't felt since high school. Feelings of having deluded myself into feeling prepared only to realize at the last moment that I was totally at sea. The other kids would smell my fear and attack. The teacher would grill me. They'd all know I hadn't read the whole book or researched the whole topic or dissected the whole frog. Hell, I'd probably look down in the middle of my speech and find myself standing in my underwear. (Which, given the heat, might not have been so bad.)

But my experience in public speaking has taught me that, in the clutches of a panic attack, you're better off sticking to a prepared text than trying to extemporize. Everyone in the room wanted me to succeed, I reassured myself. They'd give me the benefit of the doubt.

Even when I called my bride a yakkety bitch?

You're not calling your bride a yakkety bitch, I reminded myself. You're taking a cheap shot at marriage for an easy laugh. Everyone does it. At least, everyone looking for an easy laugh at their wedding does it.

What do you mean by that? Should I not be going for laughs?

Of course you should, I insisted. First of all, you need the humor to offset all that sappy Hallmark crap in the final paragraphs. Second of all, you're you. If you're all serious and earnest through the whole thing people are going to think you've become some kind of pod person, a host for some desperately serious alien organism. Or they'll think it only took an hour for marriage to fuck you up.

What are you saying—that I'm some kind of funny guy?

Well. . .

Funny how? Funny like a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I'm here to fuckin' amuse you?

At this point my internal dialogue was interrupted by one of the masters of ceremonies rising to announce that the groom would now be delivering his speech. A moment or two later I remembered that I was the groom. I unfolded my three-page speech, rose, and went right into it.

It began with a series of toasts, in which I thanked the parents of the bride for having her, the friends and family of the bride for helping her turn out the way she did, virtually everyone else for having done so much to make my adjustment to life in Denmark so easy, and all of the Americans for having come so far to be with us. I was glad I had started that way: first of all, people like being thanked. It relaxes them. Second of all, four toasts meant four gulps of wine.

I had the indulgence of the crowd and the warm glow of merlot on my side now, and I pressed ahead for a couple of paragraphs without any fear at all. The terror that had gripped me just moments ago was gone, forgotten. I was so relaxed that I went charging full bore into the buildup to my yakkety bitch line, remembering how much I hated it only after it had started to come out of my mouth.

There were a few isolated chuckles and a single, hearty guffaw to my right—thanks, Dad—and I paused for what I suddenly hoped would be a rich cascade of laughter. One-one thousand, two-one thousand... nothing. In a fit of panic I pressed on, and only then did actual laughter break out. It started sporadically, here and there, but soon spread throughout the room. Of course: translation delay! I was too frightened to pause so I rumbled on through the speech, mangling the next couple of lines out of sheer confusion.

Glancing up, I saw only smiling and indulgent faces. Shiny and sweat-drenched, but smiling. Most important of all, Trine herself was still giggling, her shining eyes wide and delighted. And I relaxed.

The rest of my speech could have sucked or it could have been the greatest public speaking moment of my life. I have no idea, and I don't care. Trine clearly liked it—she later said she loved it, but she's prone to a certain amount of hyperbole—and that was all that mattered. That had, after all, been the whole thrust of my speech: that I was this neurotic, unserious, and extremely silly person, and couldn't believe my good luck in finding a woman as neurotic, unserious, and silly as myself.

Even if she was a yakkety bitch.

[To be continued...]

Adventures in Political Philosophy

The next few days mark several milestones in the history of Political Philosophy. I will therefore lump them together in today's daily briefing.

Political Philosophy has caused more human death and suffering than any other disease. No inoculations exist. Outbreaks are sudden and almost always fatal. Political Philosophy strikes young and old alike, healthy and sickly, nimble and clumsy, lefty and righty. By the time its symptoms are visible, you have very little time to protect yourself. Popular referendums will only exacerbate the problem. Emigrate at once.

Case studies:

On August 27, 1793, the Committee of Public Safety in Paris, France, accepted its newest member, Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre soon rose to prominence on the basis of his Political Philosophy, the Guillotine, which was quicker than Inalienable Rights and more readily understood than Separation of Powers.

On August 27, 1770, George William Hegel was born. Hegel was also a kind of political philosopher. He believed in theses and antitheses and that sooner or later everyone ended up in Synthetics. Unfortunately there was no way to test his theory, as this was well before the invention of polyester.

John Locke was born on August 29, 1632. Mr. Locke was a political philosopher, and many of his ideas found their way into the American Constitution. He is best known for his essay concerning human understanding, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which remains famous to this day as the shortest essay ever written.

Another important political philosopher was born this week: Jean Baptiste Colbert was born on August 29, 1619. Colbert was the finance minister to King Louis XIV of France. His own Political Philosophy consisted of a big pile of money. This was a very effective politics, and therefore deemed insufficiently philosophical, which is why you tend to hear more about Locke and Hegel.

Gaius Caesar Caligula was born on August 31 in the year 12. Caligula succeeded Tiberius in the year 37, and his reign was most notable for its policy of Sex with the Emperor. This turned out to have been a weak Political Philosophy, because the Romans all had classical educations and saw right through him.

So they killed him.

On August 30, in the year 30 BC, Egypt's Queen Cleopatra clutched a snake to her breast and died. History has judged this a suicide, but there is room for doubt: she had previously clutched Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to her breast without dying, and may have therefore considered herself immunized.

Having captured the Incan Emperor, Atahualpa, and demanded his weight in gold for ransom, Francisco Pizarro had to wait some time for the gold to arrive. Eventually it did, and on August 29, 1533, Atahualpa was therefore executed. The unusually effective Political Philosophy employed by Pizarro is known today as Gunpowder.

And since we're galloping toward September, I might as well mention that many famous kings and queens have been born or crowned during the first week of September. The very name of the month September comes to us from the Latin "Septum," meaning VII, as in Henry VII and Louis VII, both of whom were kings. (Superbowl VII was won by the Miami Dolphins, who remain the only undefeated team in NFL history, which ought to count for something.)

Happy Wednesday!

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]