The Detroit Pistons defeated the Lakers 88-80 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, despite 36 points from Shaquille O'Neal. At the end of the night I knew the Lakers' dynasty was all but dead. The championship run had ended the year before and now the Shaq-Kobe-Phil era was entering its final days.
I also got married that day.
Happily, the details of the ceremony remain more vivid than those from the game.
The ceremony took place near a pond in Central Park. Perfect setting. Nice weather - which prevented me from having to answer my dad's earlier-asked question, "What are you doing if it rains?" My parents, sister, and two of my oldest friends flew in from Minnesota. Louise's mom was there from Cape Town. A small group of friends gathered. People enjoying a picnic in the park cheered after the vows.
And then there was Reverend George.
We found Reverend George in the Yellow Pages. An interfaith minister who could perform any ceremony for the right price, the reverend said he possessed decades of experience and came highly recommended - I believe there were two exclamation points next to his Yellow Pages ad. A few weeks before the ceremony, George came to our apartment for the quickie equivalent of pre-marriage counseling. I suppose he had to make sure we were a male and female and he said he wanted to chat with us about the ceremony and get to know us better. Instead the night turned into a therapy session for the reverend, who expressed his frustration with an ungrateful daughter. He complained about her and cut her down. For every question he asked us, he delivered a pair of stinging insults about his child. At various times I retreated to the kitchen with Louise, leaving Reverend George with her mom, where I asked her, "Did we hire a psycho for our wedding? But you said he's pretty affordable, right?"
Still, he seemed competent. Perhaps even licensed. On our wedding day, he showed up wearing a robe and a smile. Very personable man in public. He joked with my folks and organized the gathered guests. He didn't know anything about us - our histories, personalities, likes or dislikes - yet he collected a few scraps of info we provided and cobbled together a short speech about "Shawn and Louise." He mentioned the long-distance relationship we had and said Louise's accent must have surely made it easier. It did. Good line.
Then he started talking about the vows and he brought up the accent again. He knew I wouldn't forget hearing Louise's vows, not with that accent. Oh, that accent. The accent. Finally, because it was getting weird and because I felt like I had to defend my role as Louise's husband - even if in the law's eyes I wasn't technically fulfilling that role yet - I interrupted the reverend and said, "Hey, who's the one getting married here?" It snapped him out of his accent-induced haze.
He stammered, regained his composure and finished the ceremony. Later, as we accepted congratulations from our friends and family, Reverend George slid up to me and apologized if he had overstepped his bounds. For a brief second, he flinched, as if he thought I might belt him in front of all our guests and all his gods. I assured him I wasn't offended. We invited him to the reception back at our apartment. He politely declined, perhaps spooked off by the possibility that in his inebriated state he'd reveal even more about his love of South African accents and his hatred for his daughter.
We were lucky we still had a reception to offer up. Two days earlier, Louise called a few friends of hers, telling them the reception - although not the marriage - was off. The cause? Our pilot light had gone out. Now, we had just moved into our apartment. I came from a land of electric ovens, Louise came from a land where you cooked outside over fire. When the pilot light went out, and the smell of gas polluted our small kitchen in our studio, we both expected the worst - death, perhaps by explosion, maybe by poisoning. Before I had a chance to look online, knock on the super's door or call my parents - pilot-light veterans - Louise hopped on the phone and called the whole thing off. Without a pilot light, she couldn't cook the food she had planned for the reception. Not to mention the logistical difficulties that arise from holding a wedding reception in a burning apartment.
A few minutes after those calls, our super came and relit it. Then I talked to my parents and they said it happens all the time. And in the seven years since, it has happened several times and we've managed to light it back up every time.
We had a blast at the reception, figuratively. My parents were able to talk to Louise's mom for the first - and thus far, the only - time in their lives. My old Minnesota pals met my new New York friends. My sister got sick because of too much South African wine and not enough food. Throughout the night I glanced at the TV, and watched the Lakers take the lead, before they fell into a tie, and then fell apart for good.
The night concluded with us taking the train to the Pennsylvania Hotel. We enjoyed our wedding night in a gorgeous suite. Our first night as man and wife. I turned on ESPN to see the final score of the Lakers game. I knew that night was the end of an era.
But even better, I knew it was the start of a new life.
Happy anniversary, honey.