I’m getting married this week.
The Film: David Lynch’s 1977 surrealist neonatal nightmare
The Potable: One six-pack of Flying Dog Bloodline blood orange ale
Blessed by height and what I’ve always considered to be a certain je ne sais quoi, I was never bullied as a child. I have always been – what can I say – untouchably cool. Still, there was one horrifying day in middle school when one jackass thought it would be funny to point out my physical similarity to Cosmo Kramer. He got a good week’s worth of laughs at the lunch table, but for the most part, I’d forgotten about this incident. Until I sat down to watch Eraserhead, that is, and Jack Nance’s frizzled pompadour brought it all back.
Nance ambles through Lynch’s 1977 debut, passively accepting new responsibilities he’s subconsciously terrified of. Coincidentally, I’m getting married this weekend, and there’s nothing to make a man feel passive like wedding planning. I see it on the screen, superimposed: Nance, Kramer, and me. Nance, Kramer, and me.
The film is set in a world that can only be described as “vanilla concrete,” an architectural style akin to brutalism, only more brutal. Hardly any wonder that Nance spends little time outdoors, and the film begins with him attending dinner at the home of his girlfriend’s parents. They make small talk about work, about the stupid president, about which is the best Marvel movie, and ultimately the father asks him to do the honors of carving the turkey, except maybe you never learned how to properly carve a turkey since your younger brother always grabbed the knife first and you let him have it because goddamn nobody needs to get stabbed over this.
Still, dinner is largely a success and next comes marriage. They move into a shitty third-floor walk-up and have to share the apartment with a roommate – their ugly, ugly baby.
These stark visuals are overlain with an unsettling sound design. The ever-present pounding of an industrial cityscape. Distant jackhammers, perhaps, no louder than a refrigerator motor. The low whir of an environment cooled by electric fans. Familiar machines, but otherworldly all the same. More immediate, of course, is the feline mewling of Nance’s deformed child, cries for help, cries for sympathy, cries for love.
On Friday, my fiancée’s passport and I went to get a marriage license from the magistrate downtown. A bulb flickered on and off over the door as I handed the clerk our ID’s. He looked at my bride’s photo, then looked me over and raised an eyebrow. “She’s at work, you said?” A sweat-swept bride entered holding an Orange Julius and asked if she had missed her wedding? The clerk confirmed that she had, that she was five minutes late. She said her contract allowed a 15-minute window, and he said no, that must have been an old form. She said she was pregnant, and he said he was just doing his “Friday josh” and that her groom was waiting in the courtroom. “Are we done here?” I asked. “Cool it, Cosmo,” he said. Cosmo? Had he really called me Cosmo?
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering Washington DC alone with my marriage license. I toured a pointillism exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. I asked the security guard if he needed to know what was in my manila envelope, for security reasons. He said he did not, and I said oh, but would he mind holding it while I went to the bathroom. Later I walked past a construction site, where an excavator arm beeped as it tore through the floors of an old office building. I stopped for coffee, setting the license in the opposite chair while I enjoyed an ice-cold rocket pop. Wandering by a housing block, a car alarm screamed. I dangled my legs at the tidal basin, sitting beneath a cherry blossom tree with the license in my lap. Leaping from the brush, a cat hissed at me, an awful screech, though I managed to shoo it away with a wave of the certificate.
I ultimately found myself in a bar. There was a stage, though no performer, only Bobby Vinton emanating softly from a jukebox. The bartender eyed my envelope as I placed it on the counter. “You a lawyer?” he asked. “I’m getting married,” I said. “So you’ll need a lawyer,” he added. A pretty good Friday josh, I thought. He poured me a gin and tonic as the house lights went down and an elderly woman wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt and a leather newsboy cap approached the stage microphone. She cleared her throat, licked her teeth, and began to loudly hum “Ride of the Valkyries.” She hummed the whole thing, every note, every trill, and when she was done she gave a little bow and coughed into her palm.
“Excuse me,” the bartender told me, even though I didn’t realize he’d been standing there. He hurried to the stage with an overflowing glass of red wind and she took a sip before setting it by her feet. She looked at me, the sole patron, cleared her throat, and launched into a full-lipped rendition of the Seinfeld theme.
“What is this bar you picked?” my fiancée asked, tapping me on the shoulder. The location was a horrifying choice, to be sure – but I couldn’t admit that. I’d had no say in wedding flowers, reception decor, or the dessert. My haircut was discussed without my input. I don’t like Bible verses and I hated my tuxedo shoes. “We’re drinking here this is where I want to drink,” I blurted out. My fiancée looked around for a moment, shook her head, and took a seat on a stool as the old woman began to hum the Pirates of the Caribbean theme.
We stayed there for hours, both deeply uncomfortable.
Verdict: we’re registered at WeddingWire