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  • Gary Gruber

Counting Cars

It was an hour before we were to be married and I’m sitting on the front porch of our beautiful three story, zillion room home in Long Branch, New Jersey, staring deeply at my navel.


“Gary, what are you doing?” Sounds like a simple question, right? It was Phyllis about to strangle me. First off, I’m not ‘Gary’, and she’s not ‘Phyllis’. We are GG and PR. We were always GG and PR until something went wrong. And then it was “Gary, what are you doing?” I didn’t reply right away. I was counting cars. I was staring at Cedar Ave and counting cars, and now I had lost my count. I was also ‘blow chow’ sick from people walking by carrying alcohol, especially anything with Gin in it.


Bruno was nowhere to be found, and it would be much better for all 120 of us if he wasn’t found until about 90 minutes into the reception. Except, he was the best man, and right now he was acting like the best mouse.


My friend Michael was nowhere to be found, and he was supposed to be my best man. Bruno stood up and applied for the job. Short Interview. As my best man, it was his responsibility to take me out for a good time the night before the wedding. The Long Branch / Asbury Park environs was a Disneyland for adults who liked to do adult things. One of the adult things we enjoyed the most was having a drink. We had twelve, no, wait, make that thirteen.


We started off the night with 12 double shots of Jose Cuervo Tequila, one after the other with no back. When a bartender would ask me what I wanted to ‘back’ my shot of Tequila, I said: ‘Another shot, please’. That’s how it went for several hours. The room wasn’t spinning, I wasn’t getting sick, we were actually on our way to a decent night of alcohol poisoning if we kept going, the people around us didn’t notice a thing -- I guess they were all getting married in the morning also.


We whiled away the time playing ‘Sea Wolf’, a pre-video electronic game for a few hours. I was pretty good, but my aim was off that night – and I couldn’t figure out why.


Bruno dragged me out of the bar to go across the street to another bar, whose festivities were already in high gear. A wet tee shirt contest was about to begin, and we had been summoned to be honorary judges for the competition. I made one teeny little mistake here. When the judge asked what we were having to drink, I said “Bourbon”. Bruno repeated with his loud, booming voice: “BOURBON”


Big mistake switching from a bottle of rot gut tequila to bourbon. It was a lot like going into a gas station and telling the attendant to ‘fill er up’ -- with drain cleaner. Same Effect. As the young honeys standing on the bar were getting doused with water, we were getting doused with ‘I’m gonna blow chow.’ Bourbon? Really?


After we emptied everything between our mouths and our feet of any residual liquid, we headed home. What I was going to find out in news-flash-format real quick like was that Bruno was not a pleasant drunk. He was an arrogant, in your face drunk, making the ride back to Cedar Ave. tenuous at best. I managed to get him home without incident, but the only space left for him to sleep was on a couch in the living room. I managed to find some sheets and a pillow, and even though Bruno wanted to have a boxing match at 2:30am, I snuck away and passed out.


I was awakened the next morning prematurely. Phyllis’ Grandma wanted to use the bathroom across from her room, but Bruno was in the way. The couch was apparently too small for him, so he stripped the covers off the pillows and was laying spread eagled and stark naked in the middle of the floor with the foam rubber contents of the pillow perched on his butt. I was summoned to wake him up. When he realized where he was and what he had done, he sheepishly wrapped himself with the sheets and scurried up the stairs into my room to reassess this night of madness.


Being extremely apologetic he showered and got dressed for the wedding ceremony. I was still pretty much hung over and shuffled the 10 steps to the front porch where I became the resident car counter for the neighborhood.


That was until Phyllis inquired “Gary, what are you doing?”


Somehow, lifelong family friends Joe and Tony walked me up to my room and coaxed me into my suit and tie. This was the same suit and tie I wore to an almost old girlfriend’s wedding in Virginia Beach a week earlier. We spent a semester abroad together in Munich, West Germany, and she tried to strike up a romance when we got back. I was already taken.


The wedding was wonderful, but quite lopsided since half the church was empty – that would be the half that was supposed to have been filled with my family. They had decided the travesty I was about to commit by marrying a Catholic girl was too grievous to resolve. Hence, no one showed up. It didn’t bother me, at all… I had a beautiful wife and a beautiful, adopted family. The only thing that might have made the day more spectacular would have been a an all kitten choir humming a little Mozart in the background.


Anyhow, as Phyllis and I are walking down the aisle about to exit the church after the ceremony, I get a feeling. As I’m ready to push the door open, it opens magically from the outside. There is Michael and his first wife, 90 minutes late, swearing up a storm about me giving him the wrong time for the ceremony. Anyway, we head back to the house for the reception. This was a party. Eight hours later, nobody noticed when we left. Two days later, the party was still going strong, albeit a bit low on Gin.


This was unfortunately the weekend that an outbreak of “Legionnaire’s Disease” hit Philadelphia and drew national attention; and when Phyllis and I got deathbed sick on the second night of our honeymoon, we thought we had drawn the short straw and would soon be part of the head count for said illness.


Apparently, someone brought something to the reception, and EVERYONE got sick. We made the best of it, despite being bed bound for all the wrong reasons. We borrowed a car from a family friend and zigzagged up the east coast, visiting friends and family along the way.


While this was way before the Guinness World Book of Records had become a thing, I’m sure had it been around, Phyllis would have been the first entry, being the only person to ever vomit in the bathroom of every Howard Johnson’s on every exit of the Massachusetts Turnpike.


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