Pirates and Scotsmen and Drag Queens…Oh, My!(1)
In addition to adjusting to a three-hour time difference all weekend, Daylight Savings Time began Saturday night/Sunday morning, and the extra hour of sleep was a welcome treat for recovering from the previous two days. Steve and Joël’s wedding was scheduled for mid-morning, and Alex and Michael showed up a little early, so we grabbed a quick bite at the nearby Mels Drive-In before heading over to Steve and Joël’s apartment building for the ceremony.
The pre-ceremony festivities (i.e., Bloody Maries and Mimosas) were hosted at a top floor apartment where a couple who were friends Steve and Joël lived. A few familiar faces were mingling about (including Steve’s friends John and Arnoud), and Michael was caught up in a conversation with an all too nice man named Marc Smolowitz. Soon enough, the guests were asked to head up to the roof for the ceremony, at which point my cell phone started ringing. Steve was calling me and would only tell me that he had a task for me to perform. Racing down to his apartment on the eighth floor, Steve and Joël were still in the process of getting dressed as Steve dropped his tablet into my hands and asked me to take it up to the roof. He Skyped his Dad who was going to watch the ceremony,(2) but the wifi didn’t reach up to the roof. Recruiting Michael’s help, we tried a few tricks to connect the tablet to a signal, but without success.
The roof of their apartment building offered an beautiful, 360º view of San Francisco. You could see most of the skyline down to the bay, with clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz…as well as the full complement of guests in their chosen wedding attire. In a previous email, the wedding coordinator encouraged guests to wear non-western clothing (reflecting Joël’s own Asian/South Pacific ethnic background), but Steve added that basically, “anything goes.” The dress code ranged from t-shirts and jeans, to suits and ties, to Sister Roma in her drag queen awesomeness, to a fiery-red-haired Scotsman, a girlfriend-nibbling pirate,(3), John in his authentic Arab thawb and Arnoud in a sarong (who may be in need of a reminder or two about the dangers of not crossing your legs when sitting down).
Soon enough, the wedding party paraded up the stairs to the roof, walking along the improvised aisle, collecting roses from the guests and presenting themselves in front of the altar, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge on a gloriously clear and sunny morning. The wedding was a brief, Buddhist ceremony, focusing heavily on the sharing of positive energy and love from the guests to Steve and Joël, and their own personal vows, reflecting Joël’s promise to be Steve’s “elephant” (i.e., the dominant, protective half, as well as in keeping with his following of Ganesh) and Steve promising to be Joël’s “bunny” (i.e., the more submissive, nurturing half). Honestly, I didn’t understand the significance of those animals until Steve and I briefly talked about it later, but my lack of comprehension then didn’t take away from the beauty of the ceremony, with Joël crying through almost the whole affair and Steve never looking so happy.
The reception was on the apartment building’s mezzanine level, so the guests’ options were to take turns waiting for the world’s slowest elevators to truck them down, or march down more than 20 flights of stairs (most of us opting for the stairs). The reception was a casual affair of drinks and brunch-themed finger food (the breakfast burritos and beignets were definitely big hits), and taking turns going back up to the top floor to refresh drinks. When the time came for making toasts, several of the guests gave very heart-felt and touching speeches, including Alex who represented our old high school crowd. In truth, I debated with myself about making a toast, but I’m traditionally one of those people who’d rather attend his own funeral than take on public speaking or be the center of attention in a large group of people. Plus, I don’t think I could top Alex’s toast anyway – it was as beautiful, poignant and eloquent as toasts can be. By mid-afternoon, the pictures were all taken, the guests steadily heading home, and Steve and Joël off for their post-wedding spa/massage session. Alex and Michael said their goodbyes since they were flying back to the East Coast that evening, and I went back to the hotel to relax.
Left: Joël and Steve during the toasts.
Right: Myself, Alex, Sister Roma, Steve and Michael.
(1) You’re required to read this in George Takei’s voice.
(2) To say that Steve’s parents, who are die hard, Born Again Christians, didn’t react well to his coming out so many years ago is putting things mildly. Steve’s family has more than its own fair share of tensions and issues, the least of which having to do with Steve’s sexuality. That his Dad was even interested in viewing the wedding was a genuine surprise to me.
(3) This is an inside joke between Alex, Michael and myself. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, Michael was caught up in a conversation with a woman who works for BMW, and Michael being a big car guy was chatting it up about her work and how he’d love to work for the company. During their conversation, her pirate-adorned boyfriend stepped in and eventually, flirtingly pretended to nibble gobble chomp on her in what can best be described as a thinly-disguised “QUIT MACKING ON MY GIRLFRIEND” defensive maneuver. It was strangely charming and a little bit douchebag-ish at the same time. The expression on her face was a mix of “Awww, isn’t he cute?” and “Excuse me, adults are talking here…”
One of the Best Meals of My Life
Despite all of the off-and-on years that Steve spent on the West Coast, he didn’t have Joël’s roots, family and community in the area. One of the things that Steve expressed to me in the past, and was important to him for this weekend, was introducing some of his most important and relevant friends to the world and community he currently lives in. This included not just Alex, Michael and I, but his friends John and Arnoud, as well. Not meeting Joël until now, Steve jumped at the opportunity to introduce and familiarize his better half with some of his nearest and dearest friends. Unfortunately, with Alex and Michael flying out, they missed out on the dinner that evening at Alexander’s Steakhouse. The restaurant is a West Coast franchise, with its San Francisco location in a not-so-great part of town. Though Joël pointed out later that despite the area’s condition, there was a steady movement to bring money into the area, mostly by designers and companies making use of the warehouse lofts as workspace.
I didn’t eat much at the wedding reception and sitting down in the sumptuous eatery, smelling grilled beef and who-knows-what goodness reminded me of just how hungry I was. It was hard not to drool over the menu, with all kinds of bistro specialties, including roasted bone marrow that Joël and I agreed would be ordered no matter what we ate. After debating back and forth, and some surgically-placed passive aggressive manipulation on Steve’s part, we all opted for the chef’s tasting menu for dinner, a six-course range of everything highlighted at that restaurant. Over and between courses of Hamachi shots, grilled scallops, bitter salad, gourmet bacon (strangely the low point of the courses), a petite filet mignon that I can still taste, gourmet cotton candy (no, really) and fig pudding, we talked about how we all knew Steve. Joël asked probing questions about each of us, and I quickly picked up that Joël’s is a very analytical, curious and politely imperious nature. I can see why his personality gels with Steve’s, they have an engaging mesh of dom and sub, leader and comforter. He seems a nice fit to Steve, and I could see why he was so successful and driven as an event coordinator and director. It was a chance for Steve to connect his past with his present, and the fact that it was shared over a meal I won’t soon forget was the exclamation point at the end of the weekend.