23 Hours and a Marker


Summa Familia

It’s Wednesday at 5:40 a.m. I am being wrenched from the warm embraces of my bed and Comfort Zone. I’m attending a wedding and I have to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. I have to fly over it again in five days.

It’s my brother, one of six people on Earth for whom I would suffer two transatlantic flights in five days. Plus, in order to avoid four decades of guilt, I suck it up and go. To paraphrase and reinterpret Stein, a wedding is a wedding is a wedding.

Though a wedding is very positive, I am daunted by what is sure to be four majorly hectic days. I have three full days in the U.S, one of which is filled with familial nuptials. Two days lead up to those nuptials. My entire family is going to be present. Crying happy Galeones holding, well, not hands, but drinks…and probably pot stickers.

Aka: it’s going to be intense.

This is especially true because it is my brother’s wedding. My brother is the most intense of my siblings. Sort of an energetic mix of Teddy Ruxpin, Michael Corleone, and Seth Rogan. He takes things very seriously and he is very demanding of those in his life. In return, he is one of the most loyal people I know and if these roles were reversed, he’d be on the flight with a smile, joyfully coercing extra bottles of vodka from the attendant and belly laughing at Ladybugs through a throatful of gravel.

But it’s going to be intense, and it will begin immediately. My dad will pick me up from the airport and we’ll go directly to the rehearsal dinner. It starts with a ninety minute drive. This particular Comfort Zone breach is no joke.

My mantra: weddings are fun.

My dad and I hug in the arrivals lounge, in which nobody actually lounges. He says, “Listen, you need to try on your tux tomorrow morning.”

“I know.”

“Because if it’s too big or something you have to get it back to them asap so it’s ready for the wedding.”

“I understand.”

“Do you know we have to tie our bowties?”

“I do. Chris told me.”

“Do you know how to tie a bowtie?”

“No.”

“I watched a YouTube video.” (Stress on Tube: youTUBE)

For the first twelve minutes of our trip the conversation centers on how confusing the roads from Newark Airport to the New Jersey Turnpike are. The following sixteen minutes are a mix of how bad Jersey drivers are, Bill Bryson’s insights, and a begrudging admittance that the Jersey turnpike is far superior to the P.A. turnpike. My dad mentions the importance of trying on the tux two or three more times and then we discuss the menu at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. We then spend twelve minutes discussing our plan to visit a bookstore the following day and then have lunch; six of those minutes are allocated to what time we should leave and the other six to what restaurant we should eat at afterwards. Ninety-one minutes and thirty eight short seconds after leaving Newark Airport we pull into the strip mall for the dinner, cutting off his list of the recently dead at the P’s.

Just when I think I might succumb to exhaustion, I see a sign that saves me. In this case that sign is Harry’s Taproom. We go in. A Stone IPA and a Maker’s Mark later, I am ready for the rehearsal dinner.

It’s a lot of loud people in a small space. It’s BYOB and nobody has disappointed. There’s beer, champagne, and wine, and I am making sure the offerings from Harry’s Taproom don’t get lonely in my system. I am meeting people, yawning, slowing down. I’m having a nice time, but careening towards a ten second count on the canvas. I only have eyes for my bed. It’s 9 p.m. I have been awake for 21.2 hours.

My brother comes from another table; he’s carrying two beers. I sense that one of them is for me, and while, under normal circumstances this would thrill me, I am now uneasy. He hands me a beer. I talk about anything to avoid what he’s going to say. My mother saves me in the end, telling him she needs him to bring something in from the car. I breathe a sigh of relief, my mantra has become: bed and comfort zone in little more than an hour. I fall in love with the vision of me in pajamas reading in bed and then drifting off on my side. I almost weep. I want to marry this vision.

My dad gives me the “You almost ready to go?” cue, which translates to “I am very very ready to go.” I see a light at the end of the jetlagged tunnel.

Before my brother runs the errand for my mother, he sets his bear trap: “I need to ask you big favor.”

A subconscious Marge Simpson growl purrs in the back of my throat. Big favor = duty. Duty = me not being able to sleep. Me not being able to sleep = actual tears in the bathroom.

I avoid him as long as I can, but he corners me behind a box of White Zinfandel while I’m munching on the carcass of a Caesar salad.

“Having a good time?” he asks.

“Yes, I am.”

“I really appreciate you coming, man.”

“My pleasure.” I keep eating the Caesar, mostly the croutons, in the hopes that if I keep my mouth full, he won’t be able to ask his inevitable question. I, let’s say, miscalculate.

“You must be exhausted.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty wasted. I’ll be asleep soon, it’s OK.” I have laid my cards on the table. And now I’m waiting for what’s going to happen.

“Do you remember when I visited you in Prague…?”

Aw feck.

“…we had been travelling for thirty…one hours. All we wanted was to sleep…”

The motherfecker is calling in his marker. The funny thing about markers is that I never think about them when I’m setting one. Sure, sure, I owe you one, whatever. Not only that, they always seem to get called in when I am least capable of handling it. Markers for supportive nights of drinking have been called in the night before midterm exams, markers for an emergency wedding date has been called the night I have box seats at a Phillies game.

And markers for a long night of drinking is getting called in after almost 24 hours of being awake and 13 hours in the air. I know all the Caesar (or its delicious croutons) won’t save me now, but I eat them nonetheless.

“…and you handed me a shot of Becherovka and a tram pass and told me to ‘man up.’ Remember?”

He waits.

He waits.

He waits.

Finally, I nod with a throatful of lettuce.

“I need you to do that for me tonight.”

He needs help with something wedding related and I can’t deny him. I tell my dad that I will be going to my brother’s and my dad looks uncomfortable and warns me about the tux. I assure him that I will be back. He reminds me of our plans to go to the bookstore and have lunch the following morning. After the tux.

“Of course. Can’t wait,” I say. I would never miss an opportunity to get books and this is a birthday trip, which not only means books, but free books. “What time do you want to leave for the bookstore?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Whenever you want. Eleven? Whenever you want. Maybe eleven?”

Translation: eleven

“How about I get back around ten or so and we go at eleven?” I suggest.

“Sounds good. Whatever you want. See you about ten?”

By the time my brother and I hit Harry’s Taproom for a quick one, I am hallucinating with jetlag. The family intensity so far does not disappoint. I reason that if one is pulled from one’s Comfort Zone one shouldn’t expect to be comfortable whilst outside it. I sip my Maker’s mark and rework my mantra:

thirteen hours to free books

after the tux

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