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King Kong Meets Godzilla

I was 19, Mike was 21, and it was still early enough in the '60s that "The Sixties" had barely begun. My high school sweetie foolishly introduced me to his "brilliant friend" the summer before I started college. Mike and I liked the same music, the same books, he even pretended to like anchovies (until a week after the wedding). He was a soph at Cornell, I was heading to Ann Arbor. Six months later, he proposed. I never meant to marry young; in fact, I planned on becoming a wild bohemian spinster-poet — but I was sure he was The One. I sped through college in three years so we could graduate at the same time.

Senior year, Mike fell madly in love with Mary Jane — grass. I wasn't very happy about it, and when I tried it I didn't much like it, but I didn't realize yet that I was already passé, that Mike would embrace many successive passions in his lifelong attempt to win the status of "hippest of the hip." Exactly a month before the wedding, the Ithaca DA busted him and 17 of his dearest friends ("felony conspiracy to distribute..."). The dean suspended his BA for three years, too. Although Tammy Wynette was still years from recording "Stand by Your Man," I told myself that my Mike needed me in his time of trouble. Besides, the hall was hired and the invitations were sent. Backing out would be too embarrassing.

The night before the wedding, I slept just two hours. One problem was my new lacquered bouffant, acquired that very day at a beauty parlor where 17 other brides were getting the same "'do." It was held in place by 97 hairpins, which felt like sleeping on a combined motorcycle helmet-pincushion. The other problem was that I was about to swear I'd be faithful to this one guy for the rest of my life. I'd only experienced three others, just enough to whet my curiosity. He was the best of the lot but — nobody else for life?

Since my parents were long divorced and still couldn't play nicely together, my future mother-in-law had volunteered to take charge of the arrangements. The ceremony and hotel reception were up in the Bronx, near their house. I wore a white silk cocktail dress from Peck & Peck and a cheap nylon veil-headband. Mike rented a tux. We had no attendants but our parents. Sleepy, numb, and hot, I wished we were going to the beach instead. At rehearsal, the rabbi had insisted "no flashbulbs in temple," but foul-mouthed Uncle Ben, the closet alcoholic married to Mom's youngest sister, Aunt Idie, appointed himself wedding photographer and flashed and flashed. (The drugstore misplaced all the film, he later said. Someday my prints will come. Or maybe he left the lens cap on.) As we left the temple, platinum-blonde Aunt Irma (three husbands, plus a Depression-era sugar daddy between #1 and #2) left sticky fuchsia lip-prints all over my face, felt me up for the last time ever, and stage-whispered something about Vaseline. "That won't be necessary," I answered coolly. She looked poleaxed.

We had 100 guests at the reception — 88 relatives from all sides of both families, plus 6 of my father's business "friends" (whom I'd never met before but who donated a total of $750 to the cause). We were allowed to invite just 6 of our own friends, and after duly greeting everybody and amassing more lipstick prints, we sat with our gang. Mike had been head of the Cornell Folk Music Club for two years, putting on a dozen concerts, and for the wedding he hired Oakland folk-blues musician Jesse Fuller, the One-Man Band. Jesse played something he called a "footdella" (a combination of guitar, harmonica, and drum) and sang his hit, "I got the blues for my baby sittin' by the San Francisco Bay / Ocean liner took her so far away..." The relatives didn't know what to make of him. Nobody danced. We ate overcooked capon and slimy white asparagus. I'd begged for any vegetable but that, but I was only the bride.

When the reception was finally over, Mike and I slipped up to our hotel room to change into jeans, then went out with our friends to a cheap movie house showing King Kong Meets Godzilla. Not only was the title apt, but the plot turned out to have something to do with exotic fruits that made humans, and maybe even monsters, blissed-out stoned. Back at the hotel, I felt wasted, and I still had 94 hairpins in my helmet-head.

We'd given Jesse the key to our new sublet bed-sit apartment in SoHo. We moved in there the day after the wedding, and I finally pulled out the hairpins and washed out the shellac. Jesse slept on the floor for three nights while working other gigs in the area. He was a champion snorer, truly a "one-man band."

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