Sunday, June 11, 2017

At the Shore with Ken and Billy

It’s a great time of year to go to the Jersey shore--the weather is warm even if the ocean is REALLY cold. The summer-only places are open, but the crowds haven’t yet materialized, so it’s a great time to ride a bike, walk on the beach, or even work in the yard without an audience of passers-by. And, by going in June, you miss all the dreadful Memorial Day Weekend traffic. Sitting on the Garden State Parkway when it’s doing its famous impersonation of a parking lot isn’t much fun.

Because I like a good (and sometimes even bad) small town festival as much as the next festival manager, I did some research to see what was going on in Cape May County over the weekend. It’s good to have some adventures to recount over drinks at Fred’s Tavern.

There was the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church Greek Festival in Egg Harbor Twp. It offered Greek favorites like gyros, loukoumades—I had to look it up—they're fried Greek dough wads--and baklava as well as “non-edible treats like live music”.

I had a Greek roommate in college, and no, I do not mean that in an innuendo laden sort of way. George’s recently-off-the-boat family would come to visit and while the women cooked and cleaned, the men would watch the Washington Redskins on television, yelling at the TV in Greek.

The only thing I could understand was “Sonny Jergensen”, the name of the former Redskins QB. Because I was afraid of running into one of George’s relatives and still not knowing anything about the 1970s Redskins’ offense, the Greek Festival seemed like a bad idea.

Then there was Beardfest at the Paradise Lakes Campground in Hammonton.

Beardfest isn’t a convention of women who hang out with closeted gay men who are trying to make the world think that they know more about the Redskins’ offense than they do about window treatments. Instead, it’s “celebration of self-expression, music and art” with workshops in such hot topics as: "primitive arrow making", "basketry with invasive plants", and "reflective listening and conflict transformation" and if that doesn’t work, "close combat self-defense". With a graphic scheme that’s a cross between Peter Maxx and Beavis and Butthead, it was WAY too hippy trippy for me. And it was $60 for a day pass, fried Greek dough wads not included.  Uh, I’ll pass.

Then there was the Sea Isle City Beer Festival. This event featured eighty craft beers in the parking lot of Kix McNultly’s, a mega bar in Sea Isle City that claims to be the home of the “World's Best Parking Lot Bar”. I’m not exactly sure what a parking lot bar is, but apparently the one at Kix McNultly’s is top drawer.

In addition to unlimited beer tasting, the event featured a “jumbo outdoor game area” and “craft vendors”, the hallmark of a so-bad-it’s-good festival.  Fortunately, the bridge is out between Avalon and Sea Isle City, and this made a trip to check out the world’s best parking lot bar much less attractive. I hope I didn’t miss the World’s Best Parking Lot Greek dough wads! Oh well, my loss!

Then there was the first ever Rockabilly Uprising in Historic Smithville, NJ.

This hot time in the old town is a celebration of rockabilly music and “pinup culture”. Who knew that rockabillies were so downtrodden that an uprising was in the cards? I have no idea what “pinup culture” might be, but there was going to be a pinup contest.  I don’t know if that meant that contestants were to dress up like pinups, or bring pinups that they’d been storing for years and years between their mattresses and box springs. What’s your guess? The event featured music by Dr. Void and the Death Machine and Full Blown Cherry.  No word on the fried Greek dough wads. Who needs fried Greek dough wads when there is the possibility of even a partially blown cherry?

Nevertheless, the uprising did not make the cut.
Farther afield were the Mullica Hill Armadillo Extravaganza, The Millville Executive Airport Flight Attendant Jamboree, and the Exit 42 Road Kill Cook-Off Sponsored by Jersey Fresh!  Alas, maybe next year!

My friend Pam and I opted for the West Cape May Strawberry Festival.

Sponsored by the West Cape May Business Association, the Strawberry Festival has become an eagerly anticipated event each spring. Strawberries abound in both edible and non-edible form.

I wasn’t sure what to make of strawberries in non-edible form but I was eagerly anticipating them.

We were fortunate to find Pope-worthy parking by a wedding store. We walked a block or two to a root beer truck and turned left into the festival. The festival was arranged along two sides of a wide street lined on both sides with white EZ-Up tents. 

Some people looked as if they were selling antiques or having a garage sale, and there were artists selling non-juried crafts too. A few exhibitors had decorated their booths with strawberry stuff but that was the exception rather than the rule. There were plenty of people about—obviously it’s a popular festival.

There even was a scab show, with someone selling paintings on a fence behind the official show. 

When we arrived, someone with an amplified steel drum On the Way to Cape May, the national anthem of summer on the shore at the bottom of New Jersey.  The song is quite an ear worm.

The food vendors were going all in on the strawberry business. There were strawberry shortcakes and smoothies and crepes and even strawberry kabobs.

And, if you wanted your strawberries still on the hoof, there were two cute twentysomethings selling strawberry plants in pots and hanging baskets. The berry ranchers and I agreed that supermarket strawberries look great and have a shelf life measured in years, but don’t taste very much like strawberries. Presumably the variety of berries they were selling actually taste like something.

Pam asked me if I’d seen the booth where the woman was selling photos of Barbie. Ack! How did I miss that? It was on the other side of the street from me.  I made a dash for the booth faster than you can say Barbie’s Dream House.

That’s when I met artist (and art teacher) Lisa Varuolo.

Lisa and her husband were selling antique glassware, collectibles, some jewelry, vintage postcards, and other stuff that public sale registers refer to as “articles too numerous to mention”.  And there, in the midst of the this and the that, were her kick-ass Barbie photos.  As we might say at State College Presbyterian Church, she was hiding her light under a bushel basket.

Lisa is a Barbie aficionado. And since she was a kid, she’s been photographing her dolls. She told me her father used to admonish her to at least get the shots focused. Lisa listened to her father (at least about that, we didn’t go into full blown therapy mode) and takes great photos.

She dresses up mint condition Barbies in mint condition vintage Barbie couture and shoots them in shore situations. At the beach, and so on.  She’s even taken them to Asbury Park for shots outside the famous Stone Pony bar.

Lisa takes a sweet photo. And she has a flair for dressing Barbie. I don’t think one of her Barbies has ever even had to think about saying “Do these pants make my ass look fat?” As you would expect, Lisa knows ALL about Barbie. I mentioned Malibu Barbie and she was as familiar with her as she would have been with a sorority sister.

Did I mention that her photos are great?!

And she’s keen on Ken too. In fact, she’s even been to a Ken-vention. I’d never even heard of a Ken-vention, but apparently there have been one or two of these gatherings where Ken fans come together to sell stuff to each other, hang out, chew the fat, talk about Barbie and Ken’s relationship (or perhaps Ken and Allan's relationship), and delight in all things Ken.

Lisa told me that the original Ken came with flocked hair, which had a tendency to rub off.

Chemotherapy Ken!

I’m not sure how amused Lisa was, but I thought it was funny.

I bet these boys know Earring Magic Ken, one of Ken's more tragic incarnations.

But seriously, don't you think Ken looks like Jared Kushner?

I can only imagine what Lisa could have done with the huge pie of naked GI Joes I saw at that garage sale last year. Perhaps she’d have dressed them in some of Ken’s old Speedos and created a Pride Weekend flash mob in front of the Fudge Kitchen? Or perhaps it would have been a “there’s something about a man in uniform” themed tableau in front of Stone Harbor’s Stephen C. Ludlum Post 331 of the American Legion?

I mentioned to Lisa that one of the things I didn’t like about South Jersey was that it didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about itself. Here, finally, was someone who provided more than her share of it.

If there was anything I didn’t like her work, it was that it was too small. They’d make great, poster sized works. Skip the snapshots and 8 by 10s, let’s see it in 24 by 36! It’s beach house art that I’d actually like.

Lisa isn’t retired yet from teaching school kids art (I'm sure she's great at it, btw), but when she is, I hope she goes all in on the Barbie photos, if just for a summer to see how they sell. Lisa’s work is available at several antique malls in the Cape May/Stone Harbor/Avalon non-metro area. Run—even in those Barbie high heels—to get some soon!

Pam and I visited at a booth where they were promoting Cape May Stage, an professional Equity theatre just around the block. I’d heard that they put on some great shows, but I’d never been. I know about Earring Magic Ken, but I didn’t get the theatre gene. (Truly!) The people behind the counter were super friendly, as the folks doing outreach at these events are supposed to be.

The show currently running was Billy Bishop Goes to War, about Billy Bishop, Canada’s leading Ace from WWI.  A musical. In a historic setting. About pilots in uniform. What’s not to like?! The poster noted that “The music is comprised of martial arts, barracks room ditties, Kiplingesque tunes of glory, Gilbert and Sullivan-like patter songs and a bitter brew of Brecht-Weill.

They had me at “barracks room ditties”.

I thought of the photo of my father and the other fly boys in his barracks. They looked like guys who knew some ditties.

We made a quick detour to the box office and bought tickets.

The third big hit of the Strawberry Festival was Lyle Turner and his player piano. Lyle restores pianos and also works on piano-mation, nickelodeons, and pump piano.  He had a seriously gorgeous mission/prairie style piano that he actually toted out to the festival. How crazy is that! The piano was fitted with an electronic player mechanism. In no time at all we were listening to the theme from Chariots of Fire.  Lyle was tickling the ivories with the élan of Van Cliburn, Liberace, and Ferrante and Teicher all piano-rolled into one. We had a player piano when I was a kid, and I have to admit, I think they’re pretty darned cool.

Today, the software isn’t on a roll of paper made by the QRS Corporation (formerly of Elkhart, Indiana) but is part of a web based system that can make your piano the life of the party even if you are a social leper. Lyle demonstrated a few tunes for us, and frankly, I’d buy one of his pianos if I ever hit the PowerBall jackpot.

After a quick post-Strawberry Festival lunch, we spent Saturday afternoon at the annual Stone Harbor Garden Club Home tour, a fundraiser for the Garden Club. It’s nice to know that there still are garden clubs—haven’t most been rebranded as Master Gardeners?  The Garden Club is responsible for lots of flowers around town, so its good works are easy to see.

There are typically six houses on the tour and they’re usually brand-new things that are the spiritual descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s cottage, The Breakers, in Newport Rhode, island. Less is not more if your house is on the Garden Club Home Tour.

While the homes have nothing to do with my taste or budget, props to the homeowners for making their places available for the fundraiser.

Most of the houses have been staged so they’re imitations of photo spreads in shelter magazines. It’s got to be a total pain in the ass to pick up the detritus of modern life and stash it somewhere for the afternoon. Phone charging cords, shampoo and toiletries, pet food and water dishes, and all that stuff that sits on kitchen counters—perhaps even at The Breakers—is gone.

The Garden Club requires you to wear surgical booties at each house, just like on the tour of Philadelphia’s new Mormon temple. Unlike the Mormons, the Garden Club has no army of smiling surgical bootie assistants to help you put the damned things on over your Nikes.  Given the age of most of the folks on the tour, an army of smiling Mormons surgical bootie assistants would be a sure-fire hit.

Like the missing phone charging cords, most of the owners seem to absent themselves for the afternoon, too.

It’s their way of insuring they don’t hear the litany of traipsing tourists saying “I could NEVER live here!” which in English means, “I’d move here in a heartbeat”, not to mention the occasional “My girlfriend has pillows just like those except in blue and got them on clearance at Home Goods” and my personal favorite, “It’s called a bid-day, Mildred.

Through there are exceptions, houses typically feature lots of boring sailboat art, guest rooms that are bright and matchy-matchy, and bathrooms worthy of a high-end plumbing showroom. Except for the occasional older home that’s been remodeled, many seem like small hotels, decorated in a way that makes any Kimpton Hotel, with its metallic this and that, and enough animal prints to cover the entire continent of Africa, seem minimalist.  We’ve come a long way from the days of a simple home at the beach; I’m not sure that it’s progress.

After the tour, we wolfed down a quick shrimp and grits dinner and headed out to the Cape May Stage’s production of Billy Bishop Goes to War.

I’d never been to Cape May Stage, but it’s in an old Presbyterian Church that’s been beautifully converted to a theatre. This is not some old barn held together with mucilage and bailing twine where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were going to put on a show.

It’s as nice as any small theatre I’ve ever been to, right down to the soap.

The play tells the story of Canada’s leading ace in WWI, Billy Bishop. Before the show, the producer told the audience that they chose the work as a way to mark the 100th anniversary of America’s entry in to the war. I did not raise my hand and say, but it’s a Canadian play and Canada, as part of the British Empire, went to war in 1914 rather than 1917.

You didn’t know I had that much willpower, did you?

Quibbling aside, the play was an excellent reminder that we're a hundred years out from the start of the war that was to make the world safe for democracy. (Yikes!)

There are just two actors in the production, Billy Bishop—played by the extremely easy on the eyes J. Max Baker—and the piano player, played by the handsome and talented Samuel Saint Ours. Both were dressed as Canadian soldiers. Though occasionally S.S.O. would sing with J. Max, the lion’s share of the production falls on J. Max’s shoulders.

Billy Bishop, more formally known as Air Marshal William Avery Bishop, VC, CB, DSO & Bar, MC, DFC, ED, was a young man from Ontario, who through run of bad luck (injuries and illness mostly) that turned out to be good luck, didn’t die in the horrific trench warfare of the early part of the war. After enough of horrific trench warfare later in the war to realize that the mud and filth and pointlessness of it all wasn’t for him, he applied to, and was accepted by the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. During a post-injury hospitalization in London, he meets an English society woman and friend of Winston Churchill, Susan Elizabeth Mary Jeune, Baroness St Helier, DBE, who helps him get a place in flight school.

His journey from unlucky colonial schlub to famous ace and gallant icon, personally decorated by the King of England, is filled with fear, doubts, injuries, deaths of friends, and more than a little of what we now call post-traumatic stress. It’s a great story.

J. Max Baker not only plays Billy, but also his flight instructors, commanding officers, Lady St. Helier, and even the King--a total of eighteen other characters! It’s really is a remarkable performance. His Billy Bishop is the incarnation of a heroic—but doubt-filled—flyboy, and he makes a darned good flight instructor, commanding officer, Lady St. Helier, and even King. I looked at the actor's website and his resume and it says that he not only has barbershop quartet experience, but also that he’s a precision whip cracker AND can belch on command. It sounds as if he’s ready for the Bryant family dinner table!

Unfortunately, the songs in the show only rise to the level of “meh”, and that’s being generous. I kept waiting for the song I’d want to hear again, but the songs just weren’t very tuneful. Sure, they were well executed, but they guys didn’t have much to work with. The "bitter brew of Brecht-Weill" was front and center and while the tuneful "barracks room ditties" seemed to be MIA. The best song in the production was a snippet of the World War I standard, Mademoiselle from Armentieres a/k/a Hinky Dinky Parlez Vous. Oh well, you can’t have everything!

Meh songs in this production aside, it was an enjoyable evening. I’ll definitely go back to the Cape May Stage.

Before we drove back to Pennsylvania, we stopped at the Stone Harbor Farmers' Market on Sunday morning. It’s a bit early in the season for the corn and tomatoes that South Jersey is famous for, but there were plenty of other vegetables, flowers, and artisanal food products for sale. There was a hip coffee truck where you could get the kind of hip coffee drink that hip people don't make at home.

I considered going in for the hot-out-of-the- fryer mini donuts. Fortunately for my waistline, I had the willpower to resist them. Had they been fried Greek dough wads, I’m not sure I could have done it.
You can find the work of Lisa Varuolo at the Antiques Emporia, 405 W. Perry St, West Cape May, NJ She's in Booth 58. The shop is open daily.  

Billy Bishop Goes to War plays through June 23, 2017 at Cape May Stage, 405 Lafayette St., Cape May, NJ. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Mexican Wedding

I keep all the wedding invitations I receive.

The older ones, from the 1980s, are on heavy cream stock and invariably start with a woman’s parents requesting the honor of my presence someplace. That format is as dead as the dodo.

Now it’s bride and groom, or bride and bride, or groom and groom who want me to join in the fun when they get hitched. Hold the cream-colored card stock please! Invitations with personality are the name of the game.

When my cousin Paul and his wife Robyn sent me a thoroughly modern invitation to their son Jacob’s wedding. I hemmed and hawed a bit. On the plus side of the ledger, Robyn and Paul are a helluva lot of fun. They throw a great party. If it were not for them, I wouldn’t know any of my seven living cousins. Until I met Robyn and Paul my extended family existed pretty much just in theory.

Furthermore, Jacob seems like a nice kid. He’s got a good job, and is making a difference in the world. That’s practically reason enough to celebrate in a day when lots of young folks live on sofas in their parents’ basements.

On the minus side, well, Mexico, though beautiful, is a LONG way from State College.  I would have to spend time and money going through the degrading experience that is what passes for commercial airline travel. Lovely.

In the end, sunshine, a beautiful destination, and the promise of Bryant style hilarity won me over. My siblings had to pass on the trip, but fortunately, my niece Charlie was all in. She’s a good egg and I knew we’d have a great time.

I sent in my RSVP, checked the expiration date of my passport and bought a plane ticket to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the airport nearest our final destination.

Robyn and Paul thoughtfully arranged a variety of housing options. With Robyn as our travel concierge, Charlie and I opted for a villa in Punta Custodio, a gated community around the bend from their home. Seemingly forever ago, Charlie and I mailed our rent checks to our villa’s owner in San Francisco. We ordered booze and snack food and signed up for a cook and meal plan.

I bought a backpack, de rigueur for low rent international travelers. My sister reminded me to wear compression socks and to get up and walk up and down the aisle of the plane to ward off deep vein thrombosis. I’ve spent time in the ER with a clot, she didn’t have to tell me twice.

My friend Phil picked me up at 4:45 am so I that I would be at the State College Airport in plenty of time for my 6:00 am departure. I had to check a bag since I was taking more than 3 oz of insect repellent with me. I recalled from my earlier trip to Mexico that mosquitoes thought of me as a tasty pre-dinner morsel, even when served with a generous helping of bug spray.

By the time I got to Detroit, I had two text messages from Delta Airlines that my flight to Puerto Vallarta had been delayed. On that day, at least, Delta was not ready when I was. My flight was delayed four different times for a total of nearly six hours. There were moments when walking to Mexico seemed like a reasonable option.

Since I was trying to hoard my two books, the pile of magazines, and podcasts out the yin yang on my phone I was taking with me, I decided entertain myself by getting my daily 10,000 steps by walking around the terminal. For a city with reputation—perhaps undeserved—as the go-to spot for ruins porn—Detroit has a great Delta terminal. It’s modern; stylish even. I didn’t get back on the people mover to check out the Trans Pixley Airlines gates; I hope they’re just as nice.

As I walked briskly through the terminal, I wondered why I never see celebrities or even porn stars in airports. Surely some of them fly commercial too. And I had no sooner completed that stupid thought than who should walk by but the famous bad-haired sax player Kenny G.  Frankly, I’d rather have seen a porn star.

The gate agent offered the folks waiting for my flight free soft drinks and off-brand Oreos. Since the unlamented demise of Hydrox cookies in 1999, I didn’t know that there were off brand Oreos. Travel is indeed a broadening experience.

The long-delayed flight was uneventful, which is quite an event considering the fact that I was sitting across the aisle from a family with four boys under the age of 8, whose au pair had been upgraded to first class. The kids were really well behaved. I think the au pair must have spent time in the Stasi.

Immigration and customs in Puerto Vallarta were as easy as the flight.  Perhaps compression socks brought good luck as they kept away a DVT?  Even though I had to unzip my bag for the customs woman, she didn’t hold up any of my shirts and say “What were you thinking when you bought this?” or “Do you think you brought enough bug spray?” or “I’ve always thought electric toothbrushes were for total tools.”

Actually, I only unzipped my bag about a quarter of the way, just enough to make it clear that I wasn’t bringing one of those springs coiled up in a can of peanut butter into the country. I didn’t have to explain that I wasn’t really thinking when I bought that shirt, or prove that I’d brought enough bug spray to eliminate an entire species of mosquitoes, or that I was indeed the kind of tool to use an electric toothbrush.

After I left Mexican customs there was a brief moment when everyone wanted my attention. As people waved and shouted, I thought this must have been what it was like piloting the last chopper out of Saigon. Fortunately, I have a short attention span so ignoring people comes naturally to me. I knew that if I were to be patient, I would find the person holding up the sign that said Bryant Wedding.  And in two shakes I did just that.

I waited with a couple of tables of fellow wedding guests at an outdoor café. We introduced ourselves to each other, noting our relationship with the bride or groom’s families.  It wasn’t too long before we were loaded into a junior-sized bus for the two-hour trip to our destination, Punta Custodio, on the  Riviera Nayarit.

We weren’t too far from the airport when we were stopped at a traffic light next to a guy riding a unicycle while juggling machetes. It never occurred to me that this was a good idea. But he seemed to have all of his limbs so obviously his eye-hand coordination was better than mine.

It was getting dark when we finally arrived.  Punta Custodio is a gated community near Platanitos Beach. It’s off the beaten path (or at least off any path I would have beaten!) and for the last half mile you think that you can’t possibly be going in the right direction. The road is unpaved and not exactly an engineering marvel. Our driver prevailed and as soon as we were through the gate, Robyn met us. She greeted us warmly and pointed all of us in the direction of our villas.

The night’s party was well under way—we’d missed the welcoming speeches, but there was still plenty of time to greet family, eat heartily, and enjoy a beer (or two). There was a mariachi band. Fabulous!

So, about Punta Custodio. It’s a group of maybe a dozen villas arranged in sort of a triangle perched on a peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

The villas are connected by a wide cobblestone sidewalk that ends in a common area, with patios and a large, freeform pool, shaded by a large tree.

Each villa is different, some have thatched roofs, some have tile roofs, some are painted bright colors, some are more subdued. The neighborhood is a riot of jungle plants, with blooming bougainvillea and camellias, birds of paradise, hibiscus, palms among other plants I didn’t know.  The property seems as if it were the product of an artist’s mind rather than that of a real estate developer. It is spectacular.

Charlie and I shared the smallest villa since there were just two of us. It was a two story hexagonal building with a tall, conical thatched roof. There were two bedrooms with baths and a sitting room on the ground floor. Arriving earlier, she took the larger bedroom, something I NEVER EVER would have done to an aunt or uncle.

An exterior stair led up to a terrace and great room, with kitchen, sitting and dining area, and another full bath.

From our terrace, we looked out over the community and the ocean.  It was the perfect place to sit, read a book, watch our friendly neighborhood gecko lizard, and look at my phone while it said NO SIGNAL.

After chowing down on a hearty and delicious Sunday morning breakfast made by our cook Raquel, there was nothing on the agenda until our 4:00 pm call for the shuttle to the wedding. It was a good thing that my plan for the day didn’t include talking to texting with folks back in the US of A. Did I mention that my phone read NO SIGNAL?

When Robyn told me the dress code for the nuptial event was beach casual, I consulted my go-to for “going out in society”, my slipcased copy of Amy Vanderbilt's New Complete Book of Etiquette, The Guide to Gracious Living, 1963 edition. One can't be too sure.

At informal weddings guests wear conservative church-going clothes suitable to the season. The women wear hats and gloves. Women guests, incidentally, do not wear flowers, and men guest do not wear boutonnieres. This is the prerogative of the bridal party.  

Oh. So much for beach casual.

In New Jersey, where I go to the beach, beach casual is board shorts, a Villanova baseball cap, and an ironic or maybe just in bad taste t-shirt, topped off with an unsolicited opinion on what the "stinkin' Iggles" need to do about the quarterback situation. My friend Tracy suggested that beach casual meant Tommy Bahama, which of course, I do not own. Robyn told me that shorts of the non-cargo variety were fine, and when I that coupled with the Hawaiian shirt my sister purchased for me on an actual island in the Pacific…beach casual!

I had red Vans, too. They accentuate the hipster-wannabe look and were compliant with the part of the 17 page pre-trip instructions that dealt with sensible shoes. 

At the last moment, I decided to be a tad dressier and brought my now-vintage-but-purchased-at-retail-when-it-was-brand-new Brooks Brothers “Fun Shirt”. Every panel is a different color of striped broadcloth “shirting”. Whenever I wear it, which is once every ten years, I think it makes me look like a younger, taller, American, non-smoking David Hockney, only with better teeth and no talent.

Interestingly enough, no one mentioned David Hockney to me.

At the appointed hour, Charlie and I met our fellow guests near the community gate to catch a shuttle to the wedding site, Hotel Paraiso Miramar in Santa Cruz.  When we thought we were all present an accounted for, we loaded up the van for the thirty minute ride though rural Riviera Nayarit.

We were about halfway there when someone discovered that two guests had been left behind. The jungle drum network said that she was doing her hair. Yowza. Part of our caravan of turned around to pick up the stragglers. Of course they weren’t relatives; Bryants are very clock-conscious. It’s in our genes.

Except for the trash by the side of the road (Adopt-a-Highway hasn’t come to Mexico yet) the trip was super scenic. Of course, folks from Switzerland, which is somewhat cleaner than a NASA clean room, think American highways are trash strewn, so I suppose trash by the side of the road is partly a matter of what you are used to.

Hotel Paraiso Miramar was a lovely, older property, overlooking the ocean. The wedding was on the lawn; guests sat in white folding chairs facing the ocean and the setting sun. We were shaded by allée of tall palms. It was the sort of setting that would make a stylist from New York snap his fingers and say, “Girlfriend! Eureka and look no further! We’re shooting the wedding advertorial right here!

During the typical pre-wedding to-ing and fro-ing the folks around me talked about other weddings we’d been to. I’d heard that at the end of Jewish weddings they often break a light bulb instead of the traditional glass, since breaking a light bulb makes more noise. Does the wattage matter, we wondered? A drone—any outdoor wedding worth its salt has one—flew overhead.

I checked out the gaggle of stylish bowtie wearing ushers. By law, gay wedding guests cruise the ushers at wedding. I had no plans to get thrown into a Mexican prison for violating the law. It was a stylish and multi-ethnic crew and not the typical group of schlubs standing up for the groom.  I think they were wearing white Adidas Stan Smiths. The prohibition on white shoes before Labor Day does not extend to sneakers and Mexico. My cousin Paul was his son’s best man. No worries, I didn’t cruise him.

The processional was an unknown—at least to me—pop song, but I’m a non-pop guy. But it least it wasn’t the Pachelbel Canon, a number I don’t need to hear again for a few years. The bridesmaids wore short dresses. The cute-as-a-button flower girl threw rose petals with all her might, a determined look on her face. I think she might have a career in fast-pitch softball.

Jacob, the groom, escorted his mother to her seat. He wore a trim grey suit and white Stan Smiths. Very stylish. I told Jacob that I didn't think I'd ever seen a groom smile so much.

Adriana’s father escorted her down the aisle. Her white gown had a fitted, backless bodice with a sweetheart neckline covered in rouched tulle and a skirt of tulle trimmed with lace. There are Disney princesses who are not as beautiful as she was.

I thought to myself, if this turns out to be advertorial for The New York Times, I wish I’d done a better job ironing my shirt and losing ten pounds. I wondered if anyone at the wedding had an iron and an extra pair of Spanx.

The ceremony seemed more like the closing of a real estate transaction than the sort of Dearly Beloved We Are Gathered Here Today sort of wedding than I’m accustomed to. The officiant was something along the lines of a justice of the peace and the ceremony was thoughtfully conducted in both English and Spanish. There were vows and rings but fortunately no modestly talented warbling relative tackling a bit of Mozart that was best left to run down the field for a touchdown.

After the legal part of the vows, friends of the couple stepped up and officiated at a Celtic knot ceremony, which, Charlie and I were glad to hear, had nothing to do with the novel Fifty Shades of Gray. In the ceremony the happy couple seemed to braid colored ribbons that each were symbolic of an emotion, as in red for passion, blue for grief, green for companionship, orange for children, black for the basic cocktail dress, and so on. At least that’s how I’m remembering it. I didn’t take notes and was in the back and so didn’t get a really good look. But I think that’s what happened.

Of course, at a gay wedding, the colors in the Celtic knot wouldn’t be red, blue, green or black. They would be chili pepper, mossy stream bank, cerulean, and that purple that men wear. And it wouldn’t be simple things like passion, grief, and companionship. Instead, the chili pepper ribbon would be for how hot they looked in their Speedos during the European honeymoon; mossy stream bank would mark envy at the neighbors' custom window treatments; cerulean, resignation at turning into ones mother; and that purple that men wear, panic over an erection lasting over four hours.

Jacob and Adriana opted for the more traditional route. I think that was a good thing.

After the wedding, there was a reception on the lawn next to the hotel, under a huge lantern filled trees. The guests were seated at square tables around a lighted dance floor. The tables, covered in white floor length tablecloths, were lit from underneath so they glowed like giant white cubes-an especially chic touch, I thought.  It was really one wow after another. In fact, the Normandy Invasion might have had fewer moving parts.

They had the good sense to seat my niece and me with Bryant cousins so that we could all be inappropriate together.

We enjoyed specialty cocktails, ceviche, and fruit kabobs that we could dip in a fountain of chili sauce. There was even a cigar rolling station. It provided a good excuse to bring up Monica Lewinsky at the dinner table.

At least I'm in focus if not ironed.
I smoked about a third of a cigar but gave up on it before turning green (seafoam, to be exact) or having someone tell me that I looked like Eunice Kennedy Shriver only less butch.

My cousin Paul gave a touching father of the groom speech, in both English and Spanish. Fortunately the wedding was free of the MoB dances with the FoG while the FoB dances with the MoG stuff. And if there was a cake cutting I missed it. Frankly, unless a happy couple does it with a chainsaw or a light sabre, it’s my signal to head home.

There was a tasty repast and afterward the band was so good that even I danced.  Not much, but it still counts.

There were fireworks, the good kind, rather than the standard Long Island nuptial donnybrook that’s clickbait for the New York Post.

I took an early shuttle back to our villa--my body was still on Pennsylvania time. I heard that dancers and stilt walkers performed after I left. In retrospect, if someone told me that the original Broadway cast of Hamilton had appeared and performed a few numbers written by Lin-Manuel Miranda just for the occasion, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It was a great party.

I’ve been to my share of memorable weddings—from simple affairs at the justice of the peace to fancypants affairs ripped from the pages of Town & Country magazine. This one was one for the ages. Thank you, Bryant cousins, for inviting me.

Robyn and Paul didn’t want us to get bored in the days after the wedding. There was a talk by the local coffee guy, and a cooking lesson, too. All but one of the evenings had featured some sort of festive dinner gathering at the pool or on the beach.

Whale watching was cancelled since the whales were on vacation--perhaps at a cousin's wedding. Helping with the turtle hatch was a no-go too, those buns were still in the oven.

We took a boat trip to a locals freshwater swimming hole.

I devoured a pineapple, jicama, and orange treat that I bought from a food vendor on the beach. I know you're wondering...Montezuma took no revenge on me.

But passed on the chance to buy a Frida Kahlo with questionable mustache mesh tote bag.

I did lots of reading, swimming, and walking on the most spectacular beach I’ve seen in my life. Fortunately, a masseuse was available to sooth muscles aching from too much relaxation.

Mostly, Charlie and I hung out with our cousins, enjoying each other’s company as sat by the pool and watched and listened to the waves crash on the rocks and beach below us. We debated, as we always do, who among our relatives drank lighter fluid and who didn’t. I continued my long running relationship with my phone, looking at it longingly while it said “NO SIGNAL” to me.

After five days, it was time to meet a cab at 5:00 am for the two hour ride back to the Puerto Vallarta airport. I checked in at the ticket counter and the agent told me that his wife and I had the same birthday.

I looked at my phone: OMG free WiFi.

I read the news on my phone and realized that what I was missing wasn’t the news in the United States, but the great time I’d had on my vacation. I'm already looking forward to a return trip.