I may be getting superstitious, but it seems to me that after a reading engagement at Port Richmond Books, I receive some sort of “surprise.” Last year, after I read from my Star columns and various published books, I received word that my novel Spore was accepted for publication.
This year I was hit with another surprise, even if the good crowd that came out to take part in manager Greg Gillespie’s Spore reception of soft Philly pretzels, cold white wine and beer, was surprise enough. The other surprise, however, was major.
It all began when somebody at the bookstore asked me why I was dressed in a suit. The black suit, which I bought at a top drawer thrift shop in Center City (“Immortal”) has served me well for several years, even if some people joke that it makes me look like I’m going to a funeral.
“I’m going to a wedding after this,” I said, “a good friend is getting married.”
That good friend is a woman named Dolly.
Dolly attended last year’s reading. I met her years ago when we both worked as low level supervisors for a university fund raising center. At the time, Dolly was in med school but spent her free nights confirming telephone pledges that came through the calling center. On Friday nights after work we’d often team up with a few other co-workers and head to a local restaurant where we’d munch on bacon omelets, hot turkey sandwiches, or hamburgers.
Dolly, as a single lady in search of a husband, would call me and tell me about the men she was dating. “Do you think I’ll ever get married?” she’d sometimes ask. “Of course I do,” I said. “When it happens it will be like a thunderclap, fast and furious.”
When Dolly finished med school a couple years ago and became a practicing psychiatrist, I was glad she hadn’t lost the sweet, vulnerable quality that made her ask me what I thought her future would be.
The best way to describe Dolly is to imagine a person who never seems to get angry or carry a grudge. Imagine someone who laughs a lot, who puts up a funny, superficial front but who’s as smart as a whip.
At last year’s reading she told she was dating this guy who drinks too much beer. She was worried that he may be alcoholic. “He drinks more than a six pack every day,” she said. Dolly, whose family hails from Pakistan, was never much of a drinker herself. Her love is diet Coke. Years ago at work she told me she was a Unitarian but that her family was Hindu. Dolly, however, always made it a point to wear a small gold cross necklace.
After leaving the bookstore, I jumped into a friend’s car and headed to Dolly’s wedding. Forty minutes later we were inside a party room at the Palace of Asia restaurant. There was Dolly in a full Indian sari, covered with thick gold ornamental jewelry, her face framed by a long free flowing veil. The man standing beside her in a bejeweled Nehru jacket did not look like a beer guzzler by any means. In addition, the “wine” they were serving at the pre-dinner reception was not wine at all but sparkling apple cider as well as a variety of fizz juice drinks that mimic champagne.
Before leaving Port Richmond Books, Greg joked about a “dry” Mennonite wedding he attended years ago. Listening to his story, it never occurred to me that Dolly’s wedding would be just that. “Well,” I told Greg, “Dolly’s Unitarian.”
Unitarians, as far as I can tell, are free to believe and do almost anything they want.
“Hey, something’s different here,” I said to the friend who accompanied me to the wedding. I was referring to all the women in the hall wearing exotic head scarves. As if on cue, my confusion ended when a man in a suit introduced himself as the Inman and went on to explain the rubrics of a Muslim wedding.
Like the Spore wedding scene I’d read to the audience at Port Richmond Books, where the bride leaves her husband during their honeymoon trip to Honolulu, an even more radical U-turn had occurred in Dolly’s life.
Dolly’s mother told me that her daughter had converted to Islam two weeks before the wedding. As for her husband, no, he was definitely not the out-of-control beer guzzler but somebody she’d recently met in Chicago. “Things clicked between them very fast. They both knew….” Dolly’s mom added.
The thunderclap I’d predicted for my friend had come!
As happy as we were that our friend had finally found a mate, a small group of us felt that apple cider, as delicious as it is, doesn’t quite cut it when it comes to wedding toasts, and so, just like Greg at the Mennonite wedding, we found our own fizz tributes in another part of the Palace.