My assignment: To be the best man at my brother’s wedding

Do I fulfill this assignment?

Barely…just barely

It starts with me flying into the Milwaukee, Wisconsin airport

My brother’s two best friends from college greet me

Their names: Mark and Chris

About these two guys

They could be identical twins
Not so much in the biological sense
But in the Party Hearty sense

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They’re decked out in tacky Hawaiian shirts
Wrap around shades, shorts and flip-flops

These two guys—appointed by my brother to be his groomsmen—grab my bags
And lead me into the backseat of their Datsun

Next to me is a Styrofoam cooler packed with Buds and Millers

Once we’ve taken off
Chris says: “Yo, Rich. Can you grab me a brewski? And while you’re at it, grab one for Mark.”

“No problem,” I say
I dig through the icy container for three cold ones

Soon we’re all chugging beers
Soon we’re all passing around the paper towel roll bong

And we’re not even out of the airport yet

Somewhere along Highway 94 in our journey to the Lake Mills area
Chris says: “Me and Mark drove all the way here from South Carolina…Drunk.”

“Wow,” I say, between beer swigs. “That’s pretty crazy. How was the trip?”

“Pretty cool,” says Chris
“But once we hit the Wisconsin border we started getting all kinds of punchy, so for kicks we kept stopping in cheese stores, grilling employees with all kinds of questions based on cheese facts we’d learned before our trip.”

For a moment I think to myself
Cheese? What’s up with cheese?

 

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Then I quickly realize
Of course, Wisconsin equals cheese

“What kind of cheese questions did you ask the employees?” I ask Chris

“Like how many gallons of milk does it take to make a 5 pound wheel of cheese. Or what’s the best room temperature to store cheese. Or what molds quicker, shredded cheese or block cheese. Or what makes the holes in Swiss cheese.”

“Wow,” I say
That’s all I can say at the moment: wow
I’m completely floored by the fact that these guys took so much time
To learn so much about cheese

“It was pretty cool,” Chris says
“Some of the cheese store employees got all flustered and didn’t know the answers to our questions. But most just got pissed and told us to leave.”

“That makes sense,” I say

I grab another beer, crack it open and add:
“So, if you don’t mind me asking, just how does Swiss cheese get the holes in it?”

“Let me tell him. Let me tell him,” says Mark

Up to this point I’d barely heard word one from this guy, our driver

But now he’s burning to answer the question
He’s bouncing up and down in his seat
Doing all he can to keep one hand on the steering wheel and the other on his beer

“Sure,” Chris says, delighted to hand the question over to his friend. “Go for it.”

Mark locks eyes with me in the rearview mirror
And without missing a beat, says:

“Cultures added to the milk produce a gas during the aging process. The gas is carbon dioxide, which forms the holes in Swiss cheese.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” I say

“Thanks,” says Mark, smiling

That smile is brighter than monster truck high beams

We continue drinking
We continue smoking

My brain grows cloudier
More overcast and ominous

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By the time we get to our hotel
I’m completely shit-faced

We’re all completely shit-faced

As soon as my brother sees us
The first words out of his mouth are: “You guys need to take it easy. The rehearsal dinner’s in a few hours. You can’t blow it. Especially you.”

He points a finger at me
“Don’t forget. You’re the best man.”

“Don’t worry,” I say, wobbling on my feet. “Things’ll be fine. Really.”

“Sure they will,” says Chris, giving my brother a pat on the back
“Don’t worry about a thing, Bob. We just need to make one quick stop though.”

“Where’s that?” says my brother

“I noticed a cheese shop a couple miles down the road. I want to go back and grab a couple things.”

Once Mark and I hear Chris’s words
We flash each other complicit grins

We know the Twenty-One Questions With Cheese game is on

“Well just be careful,” says my brother. “Go straight there and come right back…and no more drinking.”

Before Chris, Mark, and I take off again
We decide to drop off our bags

While heading down the hall to our suite
We pass a vending machine

It’s filled with these bathing suits called Dipsters

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They resemble sections torn from cheap plastic tablecloths in a low-rent Italian restaurant

“Hey,” I say. “Check out the bathing suits. Pretty funny, huh?”

Chris and Mark agree

Better judgment gone
My stoned and drunken brain says:
“Let’s each buy a pair and wear them when we go to the cheese store.”

The other guys are all over this idea like red dye on maraschino cherries

We purchase the bathing suits and drop off our bags
Then we suit up and check ourselves out in the room mirror

We feel like Gods
We feel like Superheroes

We feel like we’re ready to play Twenty-One Questions With Cheese

The three of us pile back into the Datsun and make a beeline for the store

Once there
Chris and Mark pounce on the first store clerk they spot

A poor, sweet sixteen-year-old girl
Whose face is a wrecked playground of zits and braces

They begin firing all kinds of questions at her:

“What are the ingredients used to make Tillamook cheese? What’s the best way to ship cheese? Why is the natural color of cheese yellow in the summer months?”

I’m feeling so bad for this poor girl that I don’t even stick around
To notice her reaction to this dairy inquisition

Instead
I wobble through the store
My brain is a twisted-up mess

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This wasted brain of mine convinces me to pick up all kinds of items
Related to this newfound Wisconsin cheese theme

Suddenly I think it would be funny to fashion string cheese into a ring
And give it to my brother at the rehearsal dinner later

So I grab some

Suddenly I think it would be funny to throw shredded cheese, instead of rice
At my brother and his wife after they’re married

So I grab some

This kind of sick thinking goes on and on
Until I spot another female employee stacking rounds of cheese in one of the aisles

She, too, looks to be about sixteen
Has full hips
Long curly blonde hair

To my beery and weedy eyes
She looks exactly like a younger version of Boticelli’s Venus On a Half Shell

I swoon

“Can I help you?” she says

I respond with the first and only question that comes to mind:

“Do you know how Swiss cheese gets the holes in it?”

She answers my question without flinching

She scopes out my cheap, plastic tablecloth bathing suit with a raised eyebrow
Her cute mouth screws up into a pink little mess

Suddenly I’m not feeling so Godlike anymore

Suddenly I’m not feeling like a Superhero anymore

Suddenly I’m feeling completely fucken ridiculous

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“You’re drunk aren’t you?” cheese girl says

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“It might be a good idea for you guys to leave.”

“You’re right,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

I grab Mark and Chris and lead them from the store

Out in the parking lot
Just as we’re about to pour ourselves back into the Datsun
Chris says: “Hey, look.”

He points across the street
There’s a bar

“Let’s go get a drink,” he says

“No way,” I say, my brain thinking a little more clearly now
“We told my brother we’d go right back to the hotel and get ready for the rehearsal dinner.”

“Don’t worry,” Chris says. “We’ll just have a quick one.”

Both Chris and Mark
Seem so delighted at the possibility of having another drink
I hardly want to disappoint them

And seeing as this is the first time I’ve met them
And they’re my brother’s groomsmen
I want to do whatever I can to make them happy

We need to be a solid trio representing my brother in the wedding

“Sure,” I say. “Let’s get a beer. But make it fast.”

The next thing we know

One beer leads to two
Two beers lead to three and four

The next thing we know

We’re playing pool
We’re playing darts
We’re playing pinball

The next thing we know

My brother comes rushing into the bar

“Hey, Bob,” Chris says, nonchalantly
As if we’re just hanging out at some Happy Hour with all the time in the world to kill
“How did you find us?”

My brother motions to the cheese store across the street

“I went looking for you guys. They told me that there had been three drunk guys in there who’d ended up going to the bar across the street.”

Then my brother flashes me a look
That look is ominous
It’s ready to tear me to pieces

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“Do you know what time it is?” he says

I shake my head

He points to the clock on the wall
“Five o’clock. You guys have fucked up big time. The rehearsal dinner starts in an hour.”

 

To be continued…Part II…The Rehearsal Dinner

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RICH FERGUSON has performed nationally, and has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, T.C. Boyle, Jerry Stahl, Bob Holman, Loudon Wainwright, Ozomatli, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the New York City International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, South by Southwest, the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, Stephen Elliott’s Rumpus, and with UK-based poetry collective One Taste. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? (the sequel to the double Grammy-nominated film 1 Giant Leap), featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, Krishna Das, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium Magazine, has been widely anthologized, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured at poetry film festivals throughout the world. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press.

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