The caterer is horrified.
“I didn’t know they even let you have a wedding without a wedding planner anymore,” she says. She’s looking over the form I’ve just filled out, a form with spaces for the name of my venue, my wedding planner, my DJ, where the ceremony will be held, my blood type, social security number, potential names and middle initials for future children, the superlative I won in high school, preferred sleeping position, celebrity crush, etc etc.
“You’ll want to get a wedding planner,” she tells me, which is, to me, a laughable thought. I honestly have no idea what wedding planners even do, besides wear a headset in movies and tell people where to put the ice sculpture shaped like a swan. We are not having an ice sculpture, hence the idea of having a wedding planner seems slightly ridiculous, but you can’t tell a potential caterer these things. Actually, as I’m learning you can’t really tell a potential wedding vendor anything real about your wedding, because they will just tell you you are wrong. Every wedding vendor I’ve met with has found some aspect of my wedding plans completely inconceivable: the DJ who was sure if I didn’t hire a videographer I wouldn’t remember a single minute of my wedding, the other caterer who said my guests wouldn’t have any fun if there wasn’t a signature cocktail.
This caterer, her name is Kara or Mara and or something, I wrote it down over the phone, but my 8 year old not smartphone has been getting especially crackely lately, and I’m not quite sure. I wouldn’t dare tell this caterer I didn’t have a smartphone, though. This kind of disorganization seems on par with not hiring a wedding planner or being adverse to frozen swans. She’s not my caterer but one I’m meeting with who it turns out is so out of my price range that I am looking at the sample menus she’s given me like they are artifacts in a museum, gingerly and with only the tips of my fingers so not to harm them in their glossy white folder. They are anthropological proof of the existence of a subset of humans who are willing to pay 60 dollars a person for a grits bar, Philly cheese steak bar, burger bar, pasta station, and a selection of fresh sushi all in one wedding.
“The bride couldn’t decide,” Kara or Mara or whoever says when she saw me staring at the sample menu, which was roughly the length of the Old Testament, if the Old Testament included a tasting menu of blue cheeses.
Planning a wedding feels like joining Fight Club, I’m waiting outside the house for three days and Edward Norton keeps telling me I’m too weak, too small, I can’t possibly get married if I don’t make a grand entrance by lowering myself in my wedding dress from the ceiling on a series of Peter Pan wires in a blaze of sparklers while pouring glitter on the waiting crowd.
It’s a little overwhelming.
Kara’s catering business is in Wilmington, North Carolina, where we are having the actual wedding, and because I’m planning it from Michigan, my mom, cousin, and aunt have come with me to meet with one thousand vendors in two days. Her restaurant looks like a cute diner inside, with black and white tiled floors and puffy powder blue booths, despite the fact that it’s located in a strip mall on a highway next to a car dealership. I can’t help thinking this feels like a good metaphor for weddings: the bad stuff, the hard stuff, is all around you: fights about if the room where people have cocktails is going to be too small, the four times I’ve cried on this trip, three of which were not related to seeing a dog on the internet, agonizing over where to have a bachelorette party, but once you’re inside everything seems perfectly placed. Hopefully. Maybe not, considering I don’t have a wedding planner or a signature cocktail.
After Kara I meet with a different caterer whose restaurant couldn’t be more different from hers. It’s just 30 minutes outside of Wilmington, but it’s suddenly very, very southern, with dead marlins on the wood panelled walls and dead sailfish mounted with their mouths open and spears pointing to a glass case full of camo shirts with the restaurant logo printed in hunting orange. Strangely, despite having a strong aversion to things like this when I actually lived in the south, I feel more comfortable at this restaurant than stuffed in the booth with Kara and her 7000 dollar tasting menu. I can smell grits and the chef we meet with keeps trying to sneak bacon into dishes even though I keep telling him I don’t eat pork, but in a very endearing way. It feels relaxed. The chef has tattoos on his hands and he and my mom, at some point in the conversation, stop talking about caprese salad to confirm that they like each other. I’m glad my mom has come with me, she is better at talking to people than me. She has a way of talking to people she doesn’t know that makes them agree to give her friends and family discounts, even though they just met.
Somehow, though, I still feel like I’m not meeting enough people, that no matter who I choose to be my caterer, in two weeks someone will look at me in horror and and say “You chose that catering company? Don’t you know their meat is ground up rat and they roast all their vegetables in arsenic? Every person who has ever hired that caterer has inadvertently killed all of their wedding guests.”
Everyone is asking me a million questions every minute: what is the aesthetic of my wedding, how many people are vegetarians, what’s our first dance song, what kind of flowers are we having, what time is the ceremony, how long is the ceremony, will the ceremony be in English or Klingon or just standard interpretive dance? I start to think maybe Kara is right, maybe I do need a wedding planner just so someone else can decide what things I even like, what song defines Matt and my relationship, who I am as a person. I start to imagine my wedding planner slowly taking over my life when it gets too overwhelming and that seems nice. First it’s picking my wedding colors, next deciding what I’m going to watch on Netflix, then finding me a well-paying job in a city I enjoy, finishing my novel for me while I eat turkey pepperoni in bed.
I start asking every vendor I meet with what the worst wedding disaster they’ve seen in their tenure as people who attend a lot of weddings. One DJ tells me he went to a wedding where all the groomsmen got drunk, did a live strip show for the guests, and pushed a security guard in the pool. Kara tells me she went to a wedding where the bride and groom forget to get any beverages but orange soda and hard alcohol. I collect wedding disaster stories like baseball cards. I google “wedding fails” and send my work colleagues gifs of brides falling of docks, tumbling down stairs, a bride and groom knocked down by a wave in the ocean. I may not have a carving station or a lighted dance floor, but it’s likely my dress won’t go up in flames from standing too close to a candle. This comforts me.
By the end of the trip, we’ve hired the fish-on-the-wall caterer and a DJ and have a place to get married and I feel relatively confident that those are the only things we truly need to have a wedding, everything else is optional. We have the bare bones of nuptials. At least people can dance, eat, and have somewhere to go to the bathroom. The comforting insides of our wedding are coming together, even without a wedding planner. So take that, Mara. And stop looking at me, swan.