Everyone crowds into out apartment for our engagement brunch! It’s so fun to have Dashiell’s mom, and her sister Andy and Andy’s wife Andy (really) in our house, socializing with our friends.
Dashiell’s mom brings some amazing breakfast casseroles (she’s sort of the master of casseroles) that has French toast and pear and gruyere in it, and I make a bunch of cheese grits like I always do and then make a little side-bowl of no-cheese grits for vegan Mallory.
I make these amazing gluten-free no-bake peanut butter chocolate cookies for Finn, who is gluten-free. There. Everyone has something to eat, and Rodney the Dog is so immensely well-behaved it ushers in a new era of considering that Rodney might not be a Bad Dog, that he might actually be a Not-Great Dog. And maybe even on the road to becoming, some day, a Great Dog.
I feel it necessary here to clear up Rodney’s reputation, which I alone have marred. It is true that he bit the neighbor that one time six months ago when he just moved into the apartment. It is true that he barks way too much. But after taking him to the Drama Queens and Divas class at amazing Positive Tails dog school, he has gotten SO MUCH BETTER.
We learned that’s he’s very smart, and very treat-driven. By treat training him on all our walks, he’s stopped barking and lunging at strangers. By taking him to the dog park regularly, he’s stopped hating big dogs so much. Some really continue to bug him, and he seems to have an unending grudge against puppies that are bigger than him (and UPS Drivers. He even barks at the van.), he now is friendly to the point of humping bigger dogs, and had a brief affair with a pair of put bulls in choke collars.
His wrath is still mysterious -– why does he hate our lovely gay next-door neighbor so much? Why does he want to murder skateboarders? –- but it is much less frequent, and easily quelled with a treat. He is always, always sweet to kids so we know he won’t be a problem in that regard, it’s just his barking.
We could train him to not bark when the front door to our apartment building slams shut, but that would require one of us to stand outside repeatedly slamming the door while the other treats him, and frankly we just haven’t found the time to do something so annoying. And we have even less time now that we are planning OUR WEDDING!
After the engagement party, we go to hear some of the teen poets I work with read at a café in the Castro, and then Dashiell’s mom takes us all out karaoking, which is amazing. The next afternoon we all get up and drive into Berekely to check out a possible wedding venue. It’s an old social club that has a vibe that I thought of as antique-y but everyone else just found dirty. It was a little unkempt, but it was cheap. But, it was cheap because you sort of have to do the whole thing yourself, which felt overwhelming. We nixed the social club, and continued down our venue list, nixing and nixing and nixing.
The Polish American Club? I hoped that Dashiell would overlook the trash (dirty diapers) and the small homeless encampment that had been set up around the periphery of the slightly ramshackle building in the Mission. We went for a walk-through at night, after work, and waited in the darkness for the lady I talked to on the phone to show up. She never did.
A seriously Polish man who spoke little English did show up to empty some trash, and I begged and begged him to let us in. He sort of played the "I don’t know what you’re asking me card," but he did, he did! He just didn’t want to let a couple of strangers into the House of Polish. I assured him that I was Polish, and he reluctantly told us to hold on, he’d be right out. But he was clearly on Polish Time, because he sort of never came out.
“Come on,” I said to Dashiell, and walked into the driveway the man had unlocked.
“No, I don’t think we should,” Dashiell said uneasily. Dashiell does not like breaking laws. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t like breaking laws, because I do. But I wasn’t doing this for the thrill of trespassing of Polish American property. I just wanted the peek inside that I was promised.
We walked up a ramp on the side of the building and pushed against a door marled with a handicapped placard. It opened right up.
“Michelle!” Dashiell hissed, with a bit of scandal and giggle in her voice. I could tell I was impressing her with my daring.
“It’s fine,” I said, and leaned in. It really didn’t take more than a lean-in to see that it wasn’t right.
“Hard no,” Dashiell says. Dashiell says no to things in life more often than I do, so there exists the "Hard No," which is not the run-of-the-mill, easily dismissed no. It is a Hard No. A No-Way-No. She gives Hard Nos most frequently in thrift stores, and also while clothing shopping. In these areas -– in all areas, really –- I respect the Hard No. I need an editor in a thrift store, and sometimes my fashion vision doesn’t translate.
I’ve always believed that it is crucial that Aquarians have an earth sign close to them to check their freakish impulses, and I feel deeply fortunate that I now am life partners with a double Virgo.
I look at the sort of muddled images of Polish peasants dancing across the walls and see that they are actually painted on and cannot be removed as I’d hoped. We don’t have to trespass any further, and let the door slam behind us.
What about the Women’s Building, that gorgeously-muraled building on 18th Street in the Mission? I remember reading tarot cards at a benefit for Bitch Magazine there and the walls were brick and the floor was wood and there was a balcony. I tell Tali about my idea.
“Yeah,” she says. “I hear they actually let you have the space for free if you do a needle exchange during the wedding.”
“Really?” I ask. Not, really, they let you do that, but, really, you think it’s that much of a dump?
“Uh, yeah.” We have asked Tali to marry us, because she is a big-hearted Leo poet. She has taken on the job with the understanding that she is now some sort of spiritual advisor to us. She threatens to make us sit through one of those weird interviews that Catholic priests give the couples they marry, and she has also assigned us Letters to a Young Poet, which we have obediently begun reading aloud before bed, mystified by what it has to do with our wedding.
With Tali’s skepticism haunting me, we go for a walk-thorough of the Women’s Building. Sort of. The room I had thought would be best is occupied by a Zumba class. Dashiell and I peek through the glass window on the door, feeling like creeps as the Zumba-people look at us looking at them. We leave quickly, without really getting a sense of the room.
Upstairs is another room, and I like the tall windows that look out into the sunny Mission. But it’s sort of small. There’d be no real room for anything, it would feel cramped. Plus, there is the issue of the entrance. I want to wedding to be a slightly elevated experience for everyone. I want it to feel like you are entering a special place for a special experience. The lobby of the Women’s Building does not feel unlike the entrance of a free clinic.
I look at all the torn flyers for sliding-scale therapy and NA meetings. The giant recycling bins, the sort of institutional-style bathrooms. We decide no.
Aiming a little higher, we go for a walk-through at the Log Cabin at the Presidio. A Log Cabin is totally our jam! The view of San Francisco is amazing, as is the drive in, through eucalyptus-lined roads. We get a little lost along the way, and I think we’ll have to hang signs along the road if we use this place.
The place itself is pretty cute; it has a rustic, Flintstones vibe. The chandelier is a giant wagon-wheel, the walls are logs and rocks. But it’s on the more expensive side, and you have to use their list of (expensive) caterers. It’s also competitive: young blonde women, accompanied by parents who are clearly footing the bill, hog the attention of the woman showing the place.
We decide probably not and go to our next venue, an alley in the Tenderloin that has been made into a Redwood forest. No, for real. It is run by an art gallery adjacent to the alley, and is the result of their vision: redwoods and bamboo, mosaic walkways, a tiny pond, a working kiln. I imagine us baking pizzas in the kiln. Cute!
However gnarly the entrance to the Polish Club or the Women’s Building might be, it’s got nothing on the Tenderloin, where basically every person we lay eyes on as we exit the car is clearly on something. It is an impoverished neighborhood with a ton of drugs and sadness, as well as some tech people overtaking the cheaper studios, and immigrant families trying to get by.
The Forest and the gallery are beacons of light and wonder, and are two of my favorite spots in the city. And, bonus: the owner, who I adore, will give us the space basically for free. I want it to work. But I can’t help but think about our frickin’ mothers making their way through the Tenderloin. Not a great start.
The Forest, as magical as it is, is not really laid out for such an event. The only place where we could put tables would be by the gates, which I happen to know from past events will be hung with neighborhood folks wanting in on the party. I hate the idea of having our wedding in a neighborhood we have to sort of seal ourselves of from. It feels gross in a million ways, and against the ethos of the Forest, which is meant to engage the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure it won’t work.
We leave not through the Forest but through the gallery, which is currently hung with giant canvases-in-progress by Chad Hasegawa, amazing, colorful, drippy, roaring bear heads. I so want this sort of vibe at our wedding! But then we leave the space, the owner opening the door and in a weary voice asking the folks huddled in the doorway to clear out. They stumble onto the sidewalk, leaving a cloud of smoke to walk through. I instinctively hold my breath, but Dashiell in her innocence has no idea she’s walking through a cloud of crack cocaine smoke, and inhales.
“Oh my god,” I say, coming through the fog. “That was totally crack.”
“It was?” Dashiell looked alarmed.
“Yes, I held my breath, did you hold your breath?”
“No!” her eyes are wide. “I just breathed in crack! Oh my god!” She stops by the car and puts her hand on the hood, as if to steady herself. “I think I can feel it.”
“Oh my god,” I say. ”Get in the car.”
Dashiell pulls away from the curb, where a gentleman is urinating.
“We can’t do it here. We can’t risk our mothers breathing crack smoke.”
After all, weddings are famously about the family.