Saturday, April 2, 2016
In the Lions Den
(Usual Author's note: Years back before Jimmy Buffet began spending his time building gambling resorts and ignoring his music he dabbled in writing. The way he described some of his stories was that they were based on fictional facts or factional fictions, this is the case here. I have quite liberally taken some elements of my life and a good number of simple observations and totally twisted them into hyper-dimensional pretzels. Nothing here should be taken literally and any who do is itching for a fight. As always excuse the plentiful and ignorant typos.)
The news of Amanda Jones, my wife's favorite cousin, engagement to her boyfriend Brad Parker had long since filtered down through the family grapevine but it was the arrival of their wedding invitation in the mail that filled me with a sense of impending dread. It was a Saturday afternoon when the invitation arrived and my wife, Chloe, came into the kitchen clutching the thing like it was the winning ticket for a multi-million dollar lottery.
“Eric,” my wife called out, “the invitation to the wedding has arrived!” She said in a giddy tone of voice that was more like a child on Christmas morning than an adult.
I came in from the living room carrying our four year-old daughter, Isabel or as I like to call her, Izzy, to both observe the ritual of opening the envelope as well as pay the required respect to her current mental state. After being married to Chloe for eight years I had long since learned it was best to play along and not interrupt such unbridled giddiness. So Izzy and me watched her carefully open the envelope and pull out the enclosed invitation then read aloud the printed words it as if she was proclaiming the birth of high royalty.
“Okay,” I said outwardly smiling while inwardly fighting the sudden urge to run away and go join a monastery or the French Foreign Legion, “I'll make arrangements with work to take a couple of days off.”
“Great honey, I'll go call my aunt right now,” my wife said before bounding out of the kitchen as if gravity had been turned down to about half of what is normal.
Since my wife was an accountant at a firm with generous paid leave, it would be a cinch for her to attend the wedding. I on the other hand was a lowly copier repair technician complete with a surly boss and coworkers who all watched each other like East German informants eagerly awaiting for someone to commit an infraction, no matter how small, so they can report them to management.
With Chloe even then dialing up her aunt, I picked up the invitation to see the date of the wedding so I could get an idea of how much time I would need to ask off from work. Right from the start I noticed that whomever had purchased the invitations had bought the high quality stuff with fancy, engraved lettering in a font style that was both formal and decorative enough for a state dinner involving heads of state, CEO's, and all the other assorted flotsam up in Washington DC. Even the envelope screamed big bucks with its smooth, silky texture that felt more akin to Victoria Secret lingerie than U.S. Mail. Given that I had my own daughter, my stomach turned slightly sour thinking of the time I would probably have to buy something similar.
At first, I was somewhat surprised to see what would probably be the supreme social event of the Wilmington, North Carolina area was scheduled for just over a month away. Given what I knew about the Jones and how they handle family events, the probable scale of Amanda's wedding would be impossible given the time frame, but we're talking about a daddy with some serious bucks and the connections to overcome any obstacles.
Amanda's daddy, Carter Jones, owned an industrial supply company that did business all through the southeast allowing him to regularly brag he had numerous contacts with people who worked from places as diverse as food processing plants to cement factories. As with a lot of people, Carter's opinion of himself was always amplified after a few drinks. So much, that on one family outing he whispered to the group hovering around him in what I'm sure he thought was a sinister tone that he could have someone ground into hamburger and then have the pieces dropped into cement foundations from Virginia to north Mississippi.
A truly warm and charming individual, and his brother, Mitch, my dad-in-law was cut from the same humanitarian cloth.
Like many other husbands have to suffer through, my in-laws don't particularly harbor a lot of warm fuzzy feelings about me. In the simplest of terms, in their eyes I just didn't measure up to what they considered Jones material. Looking at the Jones family as a whole, they are an impressive array of white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, high-energy overachievers seemingly bent on showing the rest of humanity they are a bunch of lazy slackers.
The day Chloe introduced me to her parents they looked me over as if their daughter had brought home a smelly alley cat. Of course, none of them have ever said anything rude or insulting to me but after being married to Chloe for eight years and watching how the extended family acted around each other it was clear that there was at least a subconscious decision to ignore me whenever possible.
The funny thing is that by every standard I was a far superior husband to Chloe than the first guy she married. His name was Skip Everett whose one solid claim to the upper echelons of society was the fact he was the son of a Myrtle Beach real estate broker and developer. They were married for a little under two years when a South Carolina Highway Patrolman pulled Skip over for a broken brake light. Instead of playing it cool, taking the ticket and saying thank you before calmly driving off, Skip got all hyper-aggressive with the cop claiming his father would see that he lost his badge. South Carolina's highway patrolmen never being the forgiving or understanding bunch quickly got tired of Skip's verbal assaults and disrespect and forcible pulled the spoiled brat out of the driver's side window and then commenced to beat the shit out of him.
After Skip was handcuffed, the cop then asked the strikingly beautiful but skimpily clad lady in the passenger seat for her identification. When the lady turned out not be Skip's wife, like he claimed, but Anita Sunshine Ficks, one of the real estate agents working for his dad. With the situation beginning to smell like a dead, week old fish laying in the middle of a street in Denmark in the middle of summer the cop then felt he had cause to search the car.
About two minutes later a half a kilo of cocaine neatly wrapped in plastic was discovered in the trunk. Skip, still laying face down in the wet grass on the side of the road with the handcuffs biting into his wrists, of course denied the drugs were his, that someone must be out to frame him, possibly even Anita who he really didn't know that well. But a now terrified Anita, fearful of not only going to jail but having everyone at work learn she was shagging the boss's son, volunteered the information that Skip had bragged about having special party favors in the trunk when he picked her up.
After that a combination of things all conspired against Skip, namely a local prosecuting attorney out to make a name for himself, a grumpy judge who hated real estate developers, and a jury with several ladies whose husbands had cheated on them all saw fit to send him to prison for thirty years without possibility of parole. Poor Skip hadn't settled into his cell and become acquainted with his new living companion and special friend, a guy named Sleazy Kyle, before the Jones had mobilized all their resources to hasten Chloe's divorce proceedings to near warp speed.
Just eighteen months later the now divorced Chloe Everett meets me at a Jimmy Buffett concert in Charlotte, North Carolina. A year after that she becomes Chloe Warren, the wife of fresh graduate from Conway Community College. Other than the fact her dad now forbids the playing of any music in his house remotely similar to Jimmy Buffett, the rest is history.
After writing a note to myself concerning the date of the wedding, Izzy and me went back into the living room to finish watching Finding Nemo. Not a minute later I heard Chloe in the bedroom become increasingly excited as she talked with her aunt until she literally began to squeal. Our dog, Sparky, was on the floor next the couch and given how he began to squirm at the same time I figure Chloe's voice must have reached ultrasonic frequencies. The next thing I know Chloe is running down the hallway, enters the living room and plops down on the couch beside Izzy and myself.
“Great news,” she says smiling while my sense of dread increases exponentially. “Amanda wants me to be one of her maids of honor in the wedding.” Chloe finishes before running back to the bedroom while saying something about calling Amanda.
“Damn,” I said to myself wondering how much crap this shindig would ultimately create for me.
“Daddy looks silly,” my daughter Izzy said with a smile on her face. After crawling over and giving me a kiss she returns to her spot and promptly dozes off for a nap. Her simple actions were such a brilliant idea given what was coming that not only did I copy her, but rewarded my daughter with her favorite pizza that night.
Funny how time flies when you have an unavoidable family event you positively have to attend. After both Chloe and I got off early from work the Thursday afternoon before the wedding, we loaded up the car and left Columbia, South Carolina for the short drive up to Wilmington. But no matter how much I hated the idea of having such close contact with my in-laws, I mentally girded my loins for the coming family storm.
Amanda and Brad's wedding was scheduled for a Friday evening at the Wilmington Free Methodist Church right in the heart of town. While the church itself had only existed since the early nineteenth century, it was as ornate and full of history as some full-fledged ancient cathedrals of Europe. One aspect of that history all the members of that church hoped would be forgotten was the fact that during Prohibition several of the church deacons back then allowed the basement to be used as a speakeasy.
Considering how morally uptight the country was back then allowing adults to relax while drinking alcohol beverages was simply not a totally horrible crime on par with things like murder or assault. Except that things got out of hand when some of the more corruptible but yet entrepreneurial deacons started allowing certain ladies to practice their ancient profession in some of the smaller rooms adjacent to where the pillars of the Wilmington community listened to evil jazz music while sipping Canadian whiskey.
Since everyone who used the basement for enterprises unrelated to the practice of Christianity had a vital interest in keeping the various activities secret, it was only the end of Prohibition that forced the deacons to cease their highly profitable undertakings. The word finally leaked out in the 1970's with the deathbed confession of one of the main culprits to the illegal endeavors. In an attempt to receive forgiveness which would allow him to walk through the Pearly Gates this guilt ridden individual confessed everything to a reporter who promptly published the story in the local paper.
While enough time had passed that no one directly involved was in danger of being charged with a crime, the resulting scandal did open a big can of worms concerning the Wilmington's mayor. As the story unfolded, Mayor Margaret Howard, staunch conservative Republican and longtime advocate of strict moral values learned something about her parents no child should ever discover. Namely that her beloved father was one of the deacons who originated the idea for the church-based speakeasy and that her mother was one of the ladies practicing her profession in the tastefully decorated bedroom a few doors down from the illegal saloon.
Mayor Howard, so stunned to learn of her parents past history, which undermined everything they every taught her, went straight into a massive existential crisis that ultimately had her resign from office and move to New Mexico where she now makes and sells pottery on the side of Interstate 40. On Sundays, she attends a rogue hybrid Mormon/Jewish church-synagogue that believes that while Christ isn't the messiah, he will return to Earth in a spaceship and take all his followers to Jupiter where the the long lost Garden of Eden awaits.
For several years after the news broke, the senior pastors scrambled to deny the church's history but once historical tour groups started making a point of driving past and telling the story someone came up with a great idea. After much discussion the present deacons restored the basement and nearby bedrooms to their Prohibition Era condition and now sell tickets for guided tours inside.
While the church did at least loosen up enough to allow tours, they naturally forbade any real parties to be thrown these days. Carter Jones being the wealthy man he was just rented an entire floor of the Wilmington Grand Hotel across the street from the church. After arrival, Chloe checked us in with her mother, Mary Jones, immediately taking charge of her only grandchild, Izzy of course, allowing my wife and I to walk down to the nearby banquet room and enjoy the festivities.
I had to give Carter some credit, the man knew how to throw a party. The banquet room had to be over three-thousand square feet and had long buffet tables setup along thee of the walls with a fully functional bar taking up the fourth. Tucked in one of the corners of the room was a small band playing standard elevator music, with the four members about as lifeless as one of those undead zombies from the movies. In the center of the room though, was yet another bar, this one square-shaped and tropical themed with two female attendants dressed in Hawaiian shirts.
Naturally, I tried to drift off in that direction but my loving wife saw fit to smack be across the back of the head and then drag me towards the line where about twenty people were waiting to say hello to Amanda and Brad.
It was a testament to the scale of the party at how fast the line for folks to pay respects to the soon to be married couple moved. Nonetheless, I had enough time to mentally prepare myself to say the proper words to them both.
It was Amanda who convinced Chloe to attend the Buffett concert where we met. Truthfully during the concert at first I was attracted to Amanda, wearing a tiny pair of shorts with a bikini top she looked both wild and incredibly free, and yes, easy. Contributing to that fact was the huge plastic cup she carried that never really emptied of the margarita she was drinking. Chloe on the other hand, was wearing just cutoff shorts and a Buffett t-shirt and really didn't look like she was having a good time. Physically the two ladies could be sisters with the only real difference being that Amanda had expertly cut short blonde hair while Chloe's was brown and longer.
Both ladies had brought dates for the concert but as Jimmy continued to croon, Chloe and I were drawn together to the point the guy she was with left early. Much to my surprise Amanda actually seemed to like me even though our respective lifestyles and career couldn't have been more different. She ultimately earned a Masters Degree in Business with a minor in mathematics. She worked for some insurance company and crunched serious numbers concerning possible global events with Chloe telling me once she had given a couple of intelligence briefings up in Washington. When you add that to the fact the second time I saw Amanda she was dressed in tight black yoga pants and wearing a day-glow green top all it would have taken for her to pass as a superhero would have been the addition of a matching cape.
As for Brad Parker, I both liked and hated the guy. Brad was as every bit as good looking as the famous actor he shared a first name with and had the type of personality that would do him well if he wanted to enter politics, there was only one thing stopping that possibility. Unbeknownst to his future in-laws, Brad made his initial fortune by inheriting his dad's porn shop in Fayetteville, North Carolina, just a few miles from the main gate of Fort Bragg. A couple of years later he managed it into a chain of porn shops, all curiously situated close to army bases. From there he opened a couple of fast food joints, oil and lube shops, and a couple of tanning salons, the end result being he was probably approaching Carter Jones wealth.
“How the hell you doing Eric?” Brad asked while pumping my hand up and down from the handshake. “You and Chloe have yet to take me up on my offer for a trip out on my sailboat.”
“Talk to my wife,” I replied, “she's the one putting a hold on the trip.” I finish saying looking over at Chloe who commenced to give me the spousal stink eye.
“My husband knows I'm deathly afraid of water,” Chloe says looking hurt because it was a longstanding issue. “And I don't want Izzy anywhere near the open ocean.” She finished with a tone of voice telling me I wouldn't be getting lucky that night since her mother was certain to demand our daughter stay with her.
“Well, you and I will head off together,” Brad said lightly nudging me with his elbow.
“Like hell,” Amanda said as Chloe and I switched with her giving Brad a quick hug and her cousin pulling me in close as well. “The last thing I need is Brad and you sailing off into the ocean and getting lost,” Amanda said half serious. “You two would end up in landing in Cuba and be thrown in prison as spies.”
A good part of having proper social skills is knowing when the semi-jovial small talk is exhausted and this was the case. Both Chloe and I left the two sickeningly beautiful love birds with my spouse heading off the talk with a cluster of several cousins I barely recognized and me heading straight for the tropical tiki bar before I was grabbed by someone who might stop me from taking full advantage of the money Carter Jones was spending on the party.
After taking possession of one of the bar stools, a gorgeous brunette wearing one of those Hawaiian shirts, that by the way upon closer inspection was a couple of sizes too small for the lady, took my order for a beer. The first sip danced on my tired tongue like ambrosia and it was then that I began to feel at ease. At the same time the musical zombies snapped to life and began playing “Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw,” by Buffett. I didn't have to look to figure that Brad probably had something to do with that choice.
Yeah, things were shaping up extremely well, you had to figure that was when it would all go to hell.
“Hello Eric,” Mitchell Andrew Jones, my dad-in-law said to me while taking a seat on the stool next to mine. “How is my daughter and grandchild?” he asked in his nasal tone of voice that always threatened to bring on a headache whenever he was close by. The cute brunette bartender apparently recognized him because without asking she hands him a double martini.
“Fine sir,” I say giving him a tiny bit of the respect he deserved. “And how is my brother-in-law Simon, is he still firing blanks in his and Debra's kid making efforts?” I ask back in return to which he begins to choke on his drink with me hoping for a stroke, heart attack, or a good old cerebral aneurysm.
(Author's note: Yeah, there might be more, I'd just have to get into a similar mood again.)