Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When Your Best Man Is Margaret Atwood

My cousin's getting married in June, and last night, at Rosh Hashana dinner, I was asking his brother if he'd been pegged as the best man. He said that he had, but that he was a little concerned about having to write the speech. He looked at me; I looked at him.

"Don't you write things?" he asked me.


"But aren't you a good writer?"


"I don't know what I'm going to do about this speech."

I was waiting for him to ask for my help. I want to write that speech; I'm going to write that speech. But it'll take some string pulling on my part to get him actually to speak the words that I'll put on paper.

(His brother was at the fiancee's family's house for dinner, so we were free to discuss the issue in their absence.)

Here's the situation: I have four male cousins, all belonging to my mom's sister. The second-eldest is the one getting married. The eldest slept with the second-eldest's fiancee. This was before the engaged couple met. The eldest cousin isn't really the slick type, yet he's slept with many, many women. All Jews, all of the drunken, privileged type.

So he slept with the girl--the current fiancee. Then my other cousin met her, bonded with her, and proposed. The eldest cousin and the second-eldest cousin moved into an apartment together. Since they're both very family-oriented, they saw each other all the time.

And my aunt and uncle know that they've slept together; my grandparents know that they've slept together. It's an open secret because he's told everyone. Consequently she hates him, and won't talk to him, look at him, sit beside him, or say hello to him at family functions.

And now he [the eldest] is the second-eldest's best man.

So I asked Margaret Atwood what to do about this speech.

"Do you think that I should mention they'd slept together before she met her fiance?" I asked.

"No," Atwood said, "I think that would be completely inappropriate."

"I know," I agreed, "I think it would be awful."

"How many people are they expecting at the wedding?"

"Four hundred and fifty."

"Where is it being held?"

"The Yorkville Four Seasons. Why does that matter? It's a joke that you can't make. She'll flip out. She'll cry. She'll get up and leave. I can't ruin her day like that. I like my cousin. We're close. We've been close for twenty years."

"You might be able to get away with it. What were you thinking about writing?"

"I was going to say--and this, imagine, is being spoken by my eldest cousin--that if I'd known that they were going to end up together, I would have erased the tape."

"Oh, that's okay. Who's going to understand that? That's tame."

"Well, what would you write?" I asked.

"Me? I don't know: Congratulations to the lucky couple. If you see the sheets hanging out the window tonight, it's just wine."

"And you think they'll get that? This isn't a room of medievalists. They're accountants and dentists."

"I think it's funny."

"I can do a lot better."

She waved her hands. "Let's see it then."

"Okay. Again, as my cousin: 'When we were kids, Mark used to inherit my old clothes. Don't worry, Mark, this one won't be tight on you.'"

She had an apoplectic fit, thrashing and screaming, her teeth clenched. "I HATE IT! I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT!"

"God, that was tasteless. I'm sorry." I felt bad--I actually felt bad about that one.

"I need a break."

"We'll get back to this later."

"Yeah, later," I said. "Let's take a few minutes. Got any water?"

"In the fridge."


And we went in different directions.

...And I pound away at the first draft.

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