Rembert Browne has been a staff writer at Grantland since 2011, New York resident since 2009, human being raised in Atlanta since 1987.
There are birds chirping. I forgot this could happen. I used to wake up to birds chirping when I lived in my old bedroom, a room with no windows. But the birds weren’t real birds, they were the sounds of robot birds from the alarm of a Seasonal Affective Disorder light that was supposed to trick you into thinking you didn’t live in a room without windows. But in my current room—a room with a wall that is made up almost entirely of windows, birds were out on the in full force. Super turnt, these birds were. It looked like the first nice day of 2015, which felt like the first nice day in 5 years, and the birds were out early to celebrate.
But it was also 6:45am on a Saturday and it was unacceptable to still be awake.
I’m back up, because my thumb is killing me. Last night was a night, a night that started off sleepy but then immediately turned a corner when friend peer pressure to leave my house turned a responsible Friday evening into the shotgunning of a beer in my shower, an act that was responsible for the cut on my thumb. But, like most things that happen between Friday at 8pm and Sunday at 4am, it was worth it, for the story.
I’m panicking because I can’t find my suit. Oh yeah, one of my best friends from college is getting married in Philly this afternoon. And I can’t find my suit. And not just “where’s my suit for the wedding” but “where’s my suit so I can walk it up to the dry cleaners so I can beg them to press it and then give it back to me in time for me to get on a train that will take me to Philadelphia in time for this glorious celebration of love.”
I’m calling the cleaners in bed, but no one is answering. This isn’t good. The suit has been found, but the shirt I want to wear and the jacket both look like unfolded origami.
I call the cleaners again, still in bed, also train ticket-less. I can’t really buy the train ticket until I know what time the suit will be done. This is the opposite of my ideal Saturday; this is so me. They’re still not answering.
I call the cleaners again, an answer. I hear a “hello” and I hang up. That didn’t feel good, because I know the lady who answered because she’s my girl, being a frequent customer. But I just couldn’t have that conversation. I just needed to know someone was there.
You forget how bright it can be, on Earth. This was Spring. I missed it so much. This was my favorite New York, which slightly bummed me out, having to rush out the city on its nicest day. And I knew how reckless everyone was going to handle this nice weather–you know, people walking barefoot on the BQE, tanning naked in Washington Square Park, throwing beach volleyball tournaments all over the city, simply because it’s hitting 70. I loved it. But I had to go.
My girl at the cleaners tells me 2 hours. Which means it’ll be done around 11am. Which means I can hop on the next cheap train, after noon. For some reason, some of the trains are over one hundred dollars and others are 54 bucks. The next 54 buck train leaves at 1:05, getting me nicely in around 2:30. That was perfect, for a 5:30 wedding. Everything was great. The stressful morning was paying off. I genuinely felt like I’d had a full day, but it hadn’t even started–a day that would peak with a wedding of a good friend, surrounded by some closest college friends, many of which I hadn’t seen in some time.
The suit looks great. It’s not my only suit, but it’s the only suit I wear. I wear it because it looks good, but it also keeps me in check, routinely telling me what my fitness level is like, every time I put it on. Sometimes it’s tight, sometimes it’s loose, sometimes it’s just right. That’s one of those things—as a man that was once a boy, a boy with an Olympic metabolism—that I never thought I’d have to think about. Things fitting right. You know, the look straight ahead in the mirror, then turn to the side and look at your tummy and look at your butt and see how everything was looking, sitting, folding over, etc. The act of sucking in. What a world, adulthood.
A second friend sends me a text, asking me if I want to play basketball. My friend Mark had just done so as I was headed to the cleaners, but as with him, I had to sadly decline. But all I wanted to do right now is play basketball. It is so nice out. And even if it was nice in Philly, I’d still be wearing a suit, not necessarily the perfect “look at this glorious day” attire.
Checking my bag, I had everything. I was traveling light, which always felt good. And I just stepped out of my house, for a journey, without my laptop. It was so nice, to have a day of separation from her. I’ve had many a time when I brought it, knowing I wouldn’t use it, but still existing in that but what if? world. That world was dumb, defined by very real separation anxiety with a machine. So this was big. As I walked out of my apartment, I even gave my laptop the finger. Laptop definitely didn’t deserve that—it’s not like she did anything to me—but it still felt good.
Of course this is the day the L train is down. Of course of course of course of course of course. The first day of the L train being down for five weekends. This relatively straight shot from my house to Penn Station just became a complicated one, one in which I could easily miss my train messing around with the G train, a train that should be sent to prison.
12:15 Just as a guesstimation, there are 25,000 people waiting for the G train at Lorimer to take them to Queens, 24,900 of which are simply trying to get into Manhattan, by any means necessary. WHAT A TOWN, I thought.
THE BIG APPLE
TAKE A BITE.
I am on an Amtrak that is moving in the direction to Philadelphia. I got on the train at 1:03pm. I don’t believe in not-for-sport-or-exercise public running, so the amount of power walking I did in the past 45 minutes was easily a career best. I had to use every veteran New York movement skill I’ve picked up over the years to make it on that train. The ballet of weaving through pedestrian subway station traffic without ever slowing down while never being rude, that quick first step/side step you need in order to pass on the right, the perfect subway car to be on, that releases you closest to the proper staircase—all of these tricks helped me get on this train.
I’m in line at the 30th Street station in Philadelphia. It’s as gorgeous here as it was in New York City. And I’m so happy to be here, my girl Anna is getting married. In the conversation that friends always have, “who’s going to get married first,” I don’t know if Anna would have been at the top of said list years ago. But as time has gone on, it made perfect sense. She tends to know what she’s doing, so it makes sense she’s showing the rest of us how it’s done.
My taxi has just dropped me off near the restaurant where my friends are having a pre-wedding brunch. The first thing I see are drunk college kids in tank tops everywhere. We’re situated in the middle of Penn’s campus and the vibe is very “Spring Weekend”-y. Seriously, every single person is wearing a tank top, while I’m carrying a suit bag. It’s so wild to me, the idea of having your dumbest, most reckless years in the middle of a city. I was sequestered in the woods where the overall sentiment is often if a mistake happens in the woods, and nobody hears it, did it ever happen? There’s good and bad in that, the bad being a culture that occasionally can have terrible stuff swept under the rug. The good, having space to grow up in a safe quasi-bubble, before you make it to that big city life. Standing outside of my cab, I realize I’m on Frat Row. I’m torn—I want to get as far away form here as possible, but I also want a Natty Light and to get a game of cornhole under my belt before this wedding. But I head to the restaurant, because adulthood.
Hugs. So many hugs. Everyone’s hugging everyone. Last time this happened was our five year college reunion last summer, but there were arguably too many hugs there, because the hugs were often followed by 30 second quick catch up conversations, before being interrupted by the next hug. It was a beautiful time, last year’s hug convention, but rarely could you get very deep with a one-on-one, because there were always more hugs to give. On this day, it was more intimate. Longer hugs. Better hugs. Familiar hugs that you sorely missed.
Our group of ten is walking from the restaurant to our hotel. It’s one of those moments where we’re picking up right where we left off. It doesn’t feel like time has passed. We’re just being idiots in the middle of Philadelphia, making fun of everyone that can be made fun of, mocking college students, all tickled by the fact that our friend is actually getting married. With my suit still in tow, on a dare from the group, I walk up to a frat house that’s having an outdoor party. There’s a mini record-skip moment, because I obviously don’t belong (also it doesn’t help that the nine people I’m with are in the background, giggling). I was supposed to go ask for a beer, but I panicked and turned back around. Some things never change, including the fear of being rejected by the cool kids.
The thing is happening when a group of male friends is getting dressed nicely in a singular room. This is my favorite pastime. It reminds me of all the proms when my group of guy friends would pile into one bedroom, all pretending like we were going to have “big” nights, stressing over where to hide alcohol, staring in the mirror repeatedly, putting on our adult suit clown suits. This was different, but no different. We’re much more experienced in putting on suits, better suits—well fitting suits—but it is still the cutest thing ever. The straightening of ties. The constant “you look great, no you look great, guys—we all look great.”
“Does anyone have a belt,” I ask the room. I thought I had everything. I forgot a belt. Jesse had one, because he brought two. It’s almost as if he knew I’d forget one. Because, again, that’s what friends are for.
We’re on our shuttle that’s taking us to the wedding. It’s the first moment when we establish ourselves as the cool kids at the wedding. There’s always that one crew at every young wedding, often lovingly referred to as the “shitheads” table. It’s arguably the most important at any wedding, the old friends that are going to keep the party going, the crew that’s might have a few drinks too many but without it being a liability, the people that—in moments of stress for the bride or groom—will take care of anything, will go deliver this message, will remind them that everyone’s having a great time and that they look incredible.
We were very loud in this shuttle. We needed everyone to know who we were, and that they were stuck with us for he next six hours. And most importantly, we rolled deep and we looked incredible.
We arrive to the wedding are among the first people to show up. This isn’t what we want, so we start wandering around the venue as a beautiful blob, the Philadelphia Horticultural Center. It’s an outdoor wedding, and based on the set up, is happening almost in the middle of a public park. I don’t know how that’s exactly going to work (you can’t just file people out of a public place) but I’m sure it’s going to work seamlessly.
We come back from our walk and the majority of the wedding guests are here. A perfect re-entrance for us. The scene is interesting, a mix of strangers, people I knew from college that I want to talk to, people I knew from college that I don’t want to talk to, and friends parents that I’m obsessed with. My friends’ parents always end up feeling like family, so it’s comforting to catch up with the people that fed you and housed you for so many years.
One thing that has changed, from years past—my friends parents know what I’m up to now. Through a series of channels, they all know I’m writing things, and often are reading things. The conversations are less “what are you up to” and more “tell me more about this.” It’s a surprising change in the relationship, but also a welcomed one.
The wedding is beginning. On time. I turn my phone off, purposefully, for the first time in three months. Much like leaving my laptop in my apartment, this action is freeing. For the next 45 minutes, all I can do is exist in the moment I’m currently living in, with the people I’m living the moment with. What a concept.
Anna’s married. Holy shit. And it was so beautiful. Her husband Ben, who I also went to college with and know but wasn’t as close with, looked great and together they look amazing. Seeing something get to this point, when you remember when and how it began 7 years ago, is something. A great something. Also, the idea of having the wedding in a public space was phenomenal. It was like a wedding for the people. Behind and off to the side of the wedding, people began to crowd around, just to watch. Respectfully. Of course there were moments when we’d hear bass from a car on the street, a woman yelling at her child to get out the public fountain, but it all added to the moment. It was like they had nothing to hide. They wanted everyone to share in their day. There was this inherent trust that the elements would work the way they were supposed to—from the weather cooperating to people showing up to those in this public space letting them have their moment.
The reception was in this greenhouse-looking venue, windows everywhere, absolutely beautiful. It was an open bar, so operation We Dem Boyz/We Dem Gurlz was in full effect. The shithead table (now known as “Table 16”) was acting perfectly. Drinking the drinks, developing personal relationships with the servers passing out the appetizers, finding our way into as many shots by the professional photographer as possible.
It was like nothing we’d ever seen before. It looked just like shrimp on the tray, but there was this little eye-dropper type thing rigged into the shrimp filled with cocktail sauce. So when you bit into the shrimp, you’d squeeze the dropper and it’d gush cocktail sauce in your mouth and then you faint and die from happiness. The scene we were creating over this shrimp situation was very much a scene, one that would only get louder with each shrimp eaten.
I found Anna and gave her a hug. She looked amazing and was so happy. There was still stress there, with only a few more things left before she could fully get go at her own wedding–but I could tell she was close. Just spending 2 minutes with her reminded me that I couldn’t let so much time go by without talking to her, spending time with her, being a good friend to her. She was too good to treat just as some old college friend. I had to do better, going forward. But was just glad she’d given me another chance, by having me at her wedding.
They were corralling everyone into the main room, to begin the wedding reception. I didn’t turn my phone off (just put it face down) but this again would be a time when the outside world did not matter. For the most part, everything I needed to concern myself with was in this room. All that mattered was listening and clapping and making toasts at our table and drinking and eating and dancing with grandmas.
I put up an photo for the ‘Gram. It was too good not to. But yes, phone back down.
Okay, there was a lot of ‘Gramming going on. But it was fun. We were all together, and we just wanted everyone to know that we were together, as well as the outside world seeing how fly Anna looked.
I’m barefoot in a rock garden trying to do the same pose as a statue while holding a pretzel dripping with mustard in one hand, Dewar’s on the rocks in the other. It would have been embarrassing, but my friend’s dad Tom was taking a picture, laughing. That’s when I knew what I was doing was cool.
My blazer is over my head in shame, because the Table 16 Shitheads have turned on me and are belting Mulan from the rear of the shuttle back to the hotel. All I wanted was to make it an entire wedding without having a sing-a-long of “Be a Man,” but here we were.
“Kiss From A Rose” – Seal
“I Want It That Way” – Backstreet Boys, which is interrupted by me playfully strangling the main instigator of this nonsense, David.
“Joyful, Joyful,” – Sister Act 2, which I finally—happily—join in on, choreography included, as we walk off the bus.
We’re at a bar and the bride is wearing the jersey of her beloved Philadelphia Phillies over her wedding dress. It was the moment I briefly lost it. I don’t know what it was, but it was maybe the most authentic thing I’ve ever seen at a wedding. I loved it so much.
My friend Dermott and I have a 40-yard dash race in our suits up the side street, after the bar we were in closes. I win, and am proud, until I see he’s still in his dress shoes, whereas I changed into my sneakers. After the race, I lay on the ground for a minute, feeling my age in a very real way.
We’re at Wawa, ordering sandwiches from their INCREDIBLE touch-screen menu. We weren’t even that hungry, but the fact that it was an option was too good to pass up.
With all of Table 16 in one room, spread out over 2 beds, we convince ourselves as a group that one of our friends is actually a cop and this is the 10-year anniversary of the longest con ever. We’re laughing so hard no one can even respond.
The girls stay in their room and we—Dem Boyz—go back to our room, to promptly pass out, two to a bed, room kind of smelling like farts, just as God intended.