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Here Comes the Corpse
1The man looks good in anything: white cotton briefs, black silk boxers, a leather thong, baggy Bermudas, tight faded blue jeans, his baseball uniform, a hand-tailored business suit, leather pants, a muscle T-shirt, or torn old sweatpants, but he is especially gorgeous in a tux. That afternoon I watched him dress. I do that on occasion, and this occasion was more special than most. Size thirty-two, white Jockey shorts, black socks, a Hugo Boss tux, white shirt tucked into black pants, his bow tie tied, his jacket shrugged into. I enjoy the fact that I'm the only one who is intimate with the body that is encased in clothes he'll show to the world."Ready," he said.I stood in front of him. Scott always ties my bow tie. I know I could learn to do it and he knows that, too. It's just a moment we enjoy before attending a big, dress-up, formal event. Facing a full-length mirror, I stand with my back to him. His arms reach around me, and he leans in close. I snuggle my backside into him. His hands twirl the ends of the bow tie into the requisite knot. I inhale deeply the smell of him, almost maskedin his aftershave and deodorant. The feel of him enfolding me in his warmth before venturing out in public is sublime ecstasy. I shut my eyes. I try to stop all conscious thought and melt into his presence around me.This day he took his time with the bow, then placed his hands on my shoulders and murmured in my ear, "You are a very sexy man, Tom Mason."I turned around. Our arms entwined and we held each other. I said, "I love you, Scott Carpenter.""I love you, too," he said, and we kissed.Further passion was pointless at this moment. We were off to be married, and we weren't about to be late. Besides, both sets of our parents were waiting in the living room. No, they wouldn't hear us if we became amorous. The penthouse was huge and the walls were well constructed, but there wasn't time, and something about the proximity of parents can cool the fervor of the most ardent lovers."Nervous?" he asked."Yeah, you?""Yep." He smiled. "Luckily there ain't nothin' we can do about anything now."Everything was set and planned for to the last detail: the caterers, the flowers, the banquet hall, the band, the emcee, the deejay, all the requisite marital accouterments ready to go. With all that could go wrong on such a day, you either laughed hysterically or had a nervous breakdown. With any luck we'd get laughter.Unfortunately, I'm a worrier. This is not good when facing a party of the scope and diversity of this one. Keeping a lid on my ability to worry had been one of the things Scott had insisted on as we discussed having an elaborate wedding. No matter how perfectly anything is planned, doesn't everyone still worry? I wanted everything to go right, for people to havea good time. And with the amount of money we were spending a whole lot of people should have one hell of a fantastic time.Our wedding day was certainly special. Unique. Amusing. A hit. A marvel. We got nothing but raves until the corpse turned up.With a stunning amount of good fortune, we had got through the planning without a major fight. We'd both realized early on that we'd created a monster. In the abstract, getting married is a great idea; reaffirming our commitment, a fine concept. Having a big party is not inherently an evil undertaking.Here's a wedding tip. No matter how tempting, don't invite a dead body to the reception. Even at the exchange of vows at the church, the presence of the deceased is an iffy proposition. Trust me, in either venue the reactions of your nearest and dearest will most likely range from distinctly miffed to decidedly overwrought. Even the more distantly related, or those invited more out of obligation than desire, tend to become disconcerted. Those more sensitive might have a physically negative response. Leaving aside normal human reactions, things don't go better with corpses. The flowers are not prettier, the food doesn't taste better, and the band doesn't play more popular songs. Nothing good comes of a corpse at the wedding.Although with the addition of a corpse, you can be sure everyone will talk about your wedding for years. If you're going for a sensation, for a day that will be gossiped about by everyone's grandchildren, if you're after a "we want CNN at our wedding" effect, then by all means invite a corpse. It will be just the thing you're looking for. Miss Manners might be hard-pressed to approve of our having a dead body, but the Pope was already pissed off at us, so what did we have to lose? And we didn't actually invite the dead guy. Ethan Gahainwould never have been invited to the wedding or the reception.The Pope was pissed because we were having a gay wedding. Yes, Scott and I had lived together for years, but we wanted to make it official, and we wanted to make a statement. It was not going to be just your run-of-the-mill, let's-quietly-pledge-our-love-and-not-bother-anybody affair. We were going to do it right, and we were going to do it big.And none of this "commitment ceremony" crap. We were having a wedding, and by God, we were going to call it a wedding. Besides, to me, a commitment ceremony sounds as if the community is ritualizing the placing of an unfortunate and sometimes criminal person in a psychiatric facility. Not the image I was going for here. We knew we were more than a couple of "out" gay people declaring our true love. This was a loud, garish affirmation for ourselves and maybe as well a statement for all those gay and lesbian couples who'd like to make a public pronouncement but couldn't.We weren't getting married because we wanted to be just like straight people. There's a legitimate division in the gay community about the importance or validity of being just like "them." Trust me, no matter what position you take on an issue, someone in the community isn't going to like it, will make a stink about it, and/or picket and protest, all for generally insane and illogical reasons. What these people mostly desire is their fifteen minutes of fame while tearing down something they perceive is better than they are, or something that someone else has that they want. My general response to this more-than-sharklike political feeding frenzy in the gay community is "fuck 'em." Which very much summed up how I felt about anybody's disagreement with what we were doing. We loved each other. We were getting married. End of story as far as I was concerned.Our wedding would be major news. We were public figures. Scott, as an openly gay baseball player, and I as his lover had both been on numerous talk shows. Notice would be taken even if we didn't want it to be.We knew the right-wing screamers would make a big deal out of what we were doing. We'd never be able to keep even a small ceremony out of the tabloids. Because of the hatred felt toward us by many, when gay people do something publicly, that public thing often becomes a political statement whether we like it or not.So, if it was going to be big, we figured why not make it really big? The actual rite of committing our lives to each other would be reasonably quiet, but also make a political statement. Our immediate families and six select friends, three for Scott and three for me, would witness this ritual. Three hundred sixteen clergymen and clergywomen would officiate. That little oddity happened for several reasons.We got the idea for a clergy-infested ceremony from two incidents. In Chicago, one United Methodist minister had performed a gay commitment ceremony and gotten the sack. In northern California, fifty-seven United Methodist ministers had performed the same ritual and had not gotten in trouble. If there was to be safety in numbers, we would have a ministerial mob officiate at the ceremony. I'd gotten in contact with gay-friendly clergy in numerous denominations. As word spread of our plan, all kinds of brave priests and ministers came out of the woodwork. The notion of doing it en masse appealed to the willing but timid. We wound up with United Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Congregationalists, Reform rabbis, and Catholic priests. Even six daring Southern Baptists came forward.Admittedly, Scott and I were doing a bit of rubbing it inthe right-wing's faces. The right-wing might have its moments, for example, when a gay Republican congressman addressed the Republican convention and delegates protested before, prayed during, and claimed after that it wasn't precedent-setting. This was ours. We decided we would make our marriage a bigger deal than any right-wing fools could.It was the thirty-nine Catholic priests' participation that got the Pope pissed. Or maybe he was angry because he was one of the few people we didn't invite. Then again, maybe not. When the Vatican got wind of that many priests taking part in such a ritual, the powers that are decided to send out orders and decrees. Not a one of the priests backed out. What with the brouhaha about gays in Rome during the Catholic "holy year," and censoring a priest and a nun who had been working with gay Catholics, and us officially being "intrinsically disordered," it was impossible to ignore us.Before getting a final commitment from each of the clergy, we sent them a copy of the vows and an outline of the ceremony and asked for feedback. We wanted to be sure they were absolutely clear about what they were getting into. We'd decided beforehand that anyone who insisted on major changes would be told no thank you.One danger with so many clergy in attendance was the possibility that they might burst into spontaneous prayer. We'd checked the credentials of all of them, so no loony religious-right fanatics were likely to slip in, but you never knew. We didn't want our ceremony beginning as a number of high school football games in the South recently had with well-orchestrated, spontaneous prayers. What was never made clear to me about this passionate, public praying was why they didn't do this spontaneous ritual at opera performances, the movies, professional football games, or a vast array of other venues? School-sponsored or non-school-sponsored,praying at football games always struck me as a very medieval/Crusades thing to do. I've always frowned on and never fully understood how Christianity and the perpetuation of violence became synonymous so often throughout history. Since our wedding did not involve any proposed violence, I wasn't too worried about untoward prayers marring the proceedings.We'd divided up the responsibilities for planning the daylong festivities. I was to take care of the vow-exchanging ceremony and the politics. He was to take care of the reception. This actually worked out far more harmoniously than I'd imagined. The political stuff, especially organizing the clergy, was kind of fun.We did collaborate reasonably well on the guest list for the reception. Our families were easy. No matter how remotely connected, they were invited. We'd offered to pay for hotel rooms and transportation for relations traveling great distances; mostly his from the South. When you're as rich as Scott's income made us, it's not hard to add an extra few hundred people here or there.The attendance of so many politicians and the media at the reception was a bit of a hassle. Early on, movie and television stars began lining up for invitations or having their representatives call for them.Then there were the anti-us demonstrators. How many people do you know who have to plan for protesters showing up at their wedding? Sure, most folks have the danger of an odd or angry in-law or two, but these were bona fide crazies. They threatened to come. We expected them. Other than coordinating response with the police, we chose to do little about them. The protesters would have their own little space a block and a half from the hotel. Afterward I was told that no more than twenty were ever present at any one moment.I was slightly glad they were there. Nothing like nutty protesters to spice up an event. The hate-filled signs and the illogic of that ilk are sometimes the best arguments in favor of pro-gay legislation.At the entrance to the reception we did wind up having to have--along with nasty-looking metal detectors--burly, grim-faced security guards carefully checking the guest list. This was more to keep out the dementedly curious and any overzealous interlopers than from any real belief that some kind of concerted effort to disrupt the proceedings would occur.Scott, with my mother's eager assistance, concocted and orchestrated the elaborate reception. They'd stick their heads together with the wedding planner, and the three of them would giggle and laugh for hours on end. The wedding planner cost more than the annual budget of some third-world countries.My father early on gave me excellent advice: "Whatever they tell you, smile and nod, ask one or two questions, smile and nod again, then agree enthusiastically. Keep that formula in mind. You'll thank me."I did exactly as he said, and it worked magnificently. The smiles and nods I realized were for amiability. The questions to show that I cared and was interested. The agreement because I knew I didn't have much choice. They were doing the work.Along with my political and ceremonial duties, I was in charge of domestic arrangements. We decided we were not going to cram overnight guests into our homes. Simultaneously entertaining domestically and running a massive party were more than we were prepared to endure. Nevertheless, both his penthouse and my place in the country had to be scoured within inches of their lives. People would be in andout of both of them all week. The rehearsal dinner two nights before was in his penthouse. The bachelor party the night before had been in my home. I cleaned enough in the two weeks prior to the wedding to last until the next accumulation of dust bunnies turned into dust elephants.We chose to recite our vows at Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. It was a perfect setting on a gorgeous fall Saturday afternoon.At the church all the clergy were in the pews with a detailed outline of what was to happen and a specific script for who was to say what when. We opted for reasonably conventional vows. The whole ceremony mixed the traditional with the hopelessly romantic and the pointlessly melodramatic. This was topped off with a generous sprinkling of liberal politics. A neat trick if you can pull it off. It was a gay wedding. If you can't do excess and melodrama at a gay wedding, when can you? I ask you, where would it be more appropriate? Okay, grand opera, but short of that?Our parents walked each of us down the aisle. What I hesitate to admit to many people is that I've always wanted to walk in some kind of glorious procession to the strains of the last half of the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. I figured this was my one chance, and I wasn't going to blow it. Besides, the whole Wagner "Here Comes the Bride" shtick didn't make a lot of sense with the two of us looking more butch and masculine than several professional football teams combined. (Turned out the orchestra should have tuned up with "Here Comes the Corpse.") For his processional Scott proposed using the "Grand March" from Aida but without the elephants. I think the only reason he didn't insist on the elephants was the size of the pooper-scoopers that would have been required. Hard to tell when logic is going to set in when you're making excess into a lifestyle. When he foundout what music I wanted to have as I walked in, he insisted on the Aida. He didn't have the benefit of my father's advice, but the opening music was the only thing he insisted on. I have no idea why. He hates most opera, except Carmen and the "Grand March." Go figure. Maybe I'm not the only one who has secret dreams about music and processions. Besides a little cliché opera at a gay wedding is no bad thing. I mean, I had held back on playing the "Alleluia Chorus" at the ceremony. I didn't want to get too religious. Besides the chorus is about God. Didn't have much to do with marriage that I could see. Even this small impulse toward a modicum of restraint was totally absent from the reception.At the exchange of vows, both of us, our families, and our guests stood at the altar in front of the assembled ministers, priests, and rabbis.A gay men's choir began the ceremony with Judy Collins's song "Since You Asked."During the ceremony, we faced each other and held hands. The early-afternoon light flooded the richly wood-paneled interior. The golden-hued light struck wisps of his blond hair. It was supposed to be a magical moment, and it was. I remember thinking about how beautiful he was and how much I loved him.Of course, there was the stunningly annoying and possibly lethal party to follow, but for the moment, all else was forgotten.A retired Illinois Supreme Court justice led the clergy in performing the ceremony.Scott spoke his vows first, then me. This was because of a mad whim of mine. Since I'm an English teacher, I figured go with alphabetical.Our words echoed in the hushed chapel. When I finished, I said, "I do. I love you," closed my eyes, and kissed him.It was odd hearing a churchful of ministers intoning, "We now pronounce you a married couple."After the vows and the kiss, we turned to the crowd.The weight of the new gold band on my left hand felt perfect. Both of our rings were gold. His had a great blue sapphire, mine an immense red ruby, symbols of two of the great rings of making and healing from our favorite book, The Lord of the Rings.Our parents beamed and smiled, both mothers crying. The clergy rose to their feet. Along with our parents and friends, they cheered and clapped. Scott smiled and murmured, "This was perfect."For the recessional we had a full choir, a host of trumpeters along with a small orchestra, and the church's organ performing the "Ode to Joy." When a lone trumpeter began the opening chords solo, it could not have been a more magical moment.Now, if you thought there was bit of excess (or even a lot) at the exchange of vows, you should have seen the reception. As Paul Rudnick put it in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, the entire operation looked as if it had been done by someone for whom "too much is just a starting point." We rented the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Chicago, one of the newest hotels and by far the largest space available for such an event in the city, short of renting out McCormick Place. (A possibility, but not very practical. The lead time for getting space at the larger lakefront venue for the date we wanted was years.)This was the biggest party we ever expected to throw. We'd invited well over a thousand people, not counting as many of those clergy as wanted to attend, and a horde of reporters, too. Here's another tip. Keep the reporters well fed and their drinks full up. You'd be amazed how much more positive your press coverage becomes.No need to winnow the guest list when you can afford to invite everyone you know.The mayor of Chicago, the governor of Illinois, and their wives stayed far longer than I thought they would. The guests were numerous and varied: movie stars and media hounds, half of Scott's teammates, many of my fellow teachers, old friends, three teammates of mine from our championship high school football team and our old coach, all of my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Over half of Scott's relatives showed up from the wilds of backwoods Georgia, the most important being his mom and dad. We invited every sports reporter from around the country who'd ever said a kind word about Scott in print or electronically. Anybody who worked for the gay newspapers in town was given credentials to cover the affair. Special spots were reserved for entertainment columnists from the Trib and Sun-Times, E! network television, and all the national gay magazines that wanted to cover the event.In the Hotel Chicago the twenty-story atrium ballroom had two vast walls of solid glass and a dome of intricate stained glass. Rainbow-flag bunting around the ceiling's four edges. Vast displays of flowers--sheets of roses, rainbow colors again. Then orchids and more orchids, all living, white orchids in vast redwood tubs filled with sphagnum moss. Gargantuan balloons and twenty-foot-long, rainbow-hued feather boas swirled around gold, Godiva-chocolate centerpieces. Huge banners held photos of Scott and me from our childhoods, teenage years, and adulthoods with the pictures blown up to twelve feet tall. Yes, they had the ones of each of us as infants with our bare bottoms prominently exposed. Those embarrassing treats were festooned behind the head table. I especially liked his high school photo with him in his baseball uniform. He claimed he liked best the one of me barechested and clad in marine fatigue pants taken at boot camp. There was also a two-story-high collage featuring pictures of relatives and friends. There was one collage of his coach and team from when they won the Georgia state baseball championship, and one of me, my teammates, and coach from when we won the Illinois state football championship.Mirrored balls above the dance floor, mars lights dimmed for the moment, a string orchestra to play quietly during dinner, a wait staff inspired by pool-boys-r-us, each wearing tight, tight black pants and a muscle T-shirt. A bell choir, all of whom were in red toreador pants. An ice sculpture of the skyline of downtown Chicago that extended fifty feet. Five different restaurants catered the dinner, one for each course of the meal. More trumpets were in there somewhere. And a laser light show that ran continuously. Enough candles to lower the local supply for months. Along with an open bar, we had an immense buffet awash in hors d'oeuvres catered from a sixth restaurant to keep the crowd fed and lubricated as the reception line went on and on.While I was aware ahead of time of most of what Scott and company had prepared, I was still a bit awed. My lover, the calm, reasonable, never-do-anything-to-excess country boy, had put to shame all the drag queens on the planet. We had more glitz and glitter than a stadium full of drag queens' wet dreams.The receiving line was immense. It took hours, but we shook hands with or hugged all of them.Until we found the dead body in the bathroom, it was a reasonably fun event.HERE COMES THE CORPSE. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Richard Zubro.