Oh, no. I’m once again abetting the contamination of the food supply by one of the country’s foremost public vulgarians. Or, as the aproned Eric Cantor likes to say while he prepares Capitol Hill Specials at his summer gig at Pret a Manger, where the bread is whiter than Will Farrell, “Yum, lunch looks tasty today!”

Are these gnarly references a reaction to another outburst of food Nazism? You betcha. Stoner Aunt is at it again. When I called my dad and gave him the details, his reaction was, “Wow! What amazes me about what you described is that it sounds so petty.”

Aside from a few asinine comments about how good the present lunch was, our entire conversation at lunch Wednesday (May 9) was an argument about evil refined starches. In seconds, we went from an uncomfortable silence in which I studiously averted my eyes from Stoner Aunt’s terrible table manners, although alas, I couldn’t avert my ears, to a bitchfest about Opposing Viewpoints on nutrition. As in, “White flour: just today the newspaper said that it’s bad for your health” vs. “White flour: if Kathleen Parker is a qualified nutritionist, I’m Mahatma Gandhi.”

The bitchfest started when Stoner Aunt tried to push Farmer Uncle around on menu planning for some dinner guests that they were planning to host last night (May 10). It went something like this:

Stoner Aunt: “Are you planning to make bread tomorrow, too?”

Farmer Uncle: “Yes.”

Stoner Aunt: “Because you know I don’t like having two starches at the same meal.”

Farmer Uncle: “You don’t have to eat it.”

Stoner Aunt: “We shouldn’t be eating so much starch. We should have either bread or mashed potatoes, but we don’t need both.”

Farmer Uncle: “Like I said, you don’t need to eat the bread if you don’t want it. There will be times when I will bake bread because I want bread. Sometimes, it’ll be white sourdough bread, made from unadulterated white flour, without the sprinkling of whole wheat flour that I usually add to please you. There will be times when I’ll bake white bread or cook white rice or white noodles.”

Stoner Aunt: “If you make bread tomorrow, you should make it the kind I like.”

Farmer Uncle: “I thought you didn’t want any bread.”

Stoner Aunt: “I’m trying to say it’s the kind of bread they like.”

Stoner Aunt was referring to the dinner guests. Normally, I would have believed her, since I’ve seen the husband around town and he looks like he might be the kind of hippie who falls whole grain rubbish. Yesterday, I was inclined to be Reaganesque, and “trust, but verify.” The context of her remark and the very way she phrased it demanded skepticism.

Stoner Aunt: “It said in the paper today that white flour is bad for our health.”

Farmer Uncle: “Oh! Kathleen Parker said it, so it must be true! I guess you just believe everything you read in the newspaper.”

Stoner Aunt: “It’s true. White flour is digested more quickly.”

At that point, I’d had it and decided that it was time for some actual science. “No, that’s not true. It’s digested pretty much the same way as whole grains because they contain the same complex carbohydrates. They are not the same as sugar. White flours are not digested like sugars because they contain complex carbohydrates that have to be broken down into simple carbohydrates, and that’s really all there is to it.”

As my dad said, Stoner Aunt was being petty. His reaction when I described Parker’s column: “That’s nuts.” He backed me up on the point I’ve made before in these pages, and that I made to Stoner Aunt, about the complex carbohydrates in refined and unrefined flours being the same: “All that’s removed in the refining process is the bran and the hulls, which are indigestible. A lot of that material is cellulose. There’s some evidence that the hulls are associated with small amounts of vitamins and minerals, but the digestive tract will probably have a hard time getting to them because they’re bound up in fiber.”

Dad didn’t believe the diabetes connection, either: “Diabetes rates have been increasing for forty years even though there’s more access to whole grain breads than there was in the thirties, forties or fifties. When I was growing up, pretty much all anybody ate was Wonderbread and other store-bought white breads, unless it was a homemade bread that had been baked by your momma.”

The thing is that if Stoner Aunt didn’t have Kathleen Parker around for half-cocked nutritional advice, she’d get the same junk science from her piles of “health” magazines. These are the same magazines that extol parmesan as a health food, presumably because it isn’t laden with salt and fat like other cheeses. This is like a Louisville gutter drunk saying, “You know, instead of having my usual six tall boys down by the railroad tracks today, I think I’ll limit myself to five.” Or maybe more like saying, “Nah, this ain’t a forty of Olde English, it’s a Corona longneck.” Stoner Aunt gave a shit about that newspaper column, which was by far the worst that I’ve ever seen by Kathleen Parker, only because it confirmed her prejudices and gave her more ammunition for her stupid nutritional war against Farmer Uncle for being a fat slob with terrible eating habits.

In this home environment, is it any wonder that I’m often sipping half and half straight from the carton? It’s pretty much my stash, anyway, since Farmer Uncle doesn’t touch it and Stoner Aunt only uses it from time to time to make desserts. For my part, I like it in tea, I really like it in coffee, and it turns out that it’s some fucking tasty shit on its own, just like a Capitol Hill Special. I know that I drink too much of it, and I’m consciously trying to lose weight, so taking half and half straight with no chaser is an atavistic pursuit.

So is the pint or so of 7-Eleven iced mocha that I drink daily, usually with a Bon Appetit bear claw. These things are mighty good eatin’, but they’re also rebellions. There’s nothing wholesome about a Spicy Bite. I’ve never pretended otherwise. What I don’t see is how it’s so much worse than a combination of “stone-ground” whole grain tortillas with a quarter more sodium than the white tortillas that I favor, putting Mae Ploy sauce (which is grotesquely salty) in everything, and eight-pound hunks of pigs that were destined to die of arteriosclerosis if the slaughterhouse didn’t do them in first. Stoner Aunt seems to think that these things are health foods. At least she doesn’t complain about them the way she complains about digestible breads.

Maybe it’s because the wood stove pork roasts are sufficiently “country” for her tastes, especially when Farmer Uncle won’t shut up about how he just roasted a pork shoulder in the wood stove. A Spicy Bite is every bit as country as it is wholesome, and the ambiance in which it is served isn’t so insufferably banal. But sauerkraut’s country, right? That was always the sense I got back in Pennsylvania.

It isn’t for health that I put kraut on my dogs when it’s available. Well, it’s partly for health, but if they put carrot or celery sticks in the condiment case, I’d pass. One of the more useful lessons I learned at Walter Hays Elementary was that celery is a useful vehicle for eating peanut butter straight, no chaser. It’s kind of a pain in the ass to lick it out of the crevice (that’s what she said), so a spoon might be useful, but I knew that the teachers would get into trouble if they disciplined me for not eating my celery (this was Santa Clara County, after all), and it wasn’t as if I would have tried to eat the spoon, either. It was basically something inedible filled with something eminently edible. All the teachers could do was look on in quiet, censorious disappointment while I ate the pure peanut butter that they had given me for a snack in the condescending hope of inducing me to eat one of the most awful vegetables known to man.

Pure peanut butter. Actually, it was better than pure, being a commercial version that had been adulterated with salt, sugar and processed oils that complemented the natural peanut taste, not the crunchy mama hippie variety that can be skimmed to run a Volkswagen.

Still, in terms of not being adulterated with noxious vegetables, it was pure peanut butter, although it took some real tongue work to get to the prize. (That’s what she said.) “What, Johnny, you don’t want to even taste this celery stick? You don’t want to even give it a try? You might like it!” (That’s what he said.) Or, rephrased, “Ooh, Johnny, I’ll suck on your celery stick!” (That’s what she said.)

If you think that a Walter Hays education was more edifying than the preceding paragraph, you’re sadly mistaken. One of my teachers told me that I’d have to wait until the following year to learn about negative numbers, which are a lot more straightforward than the sexual connotations of snack foods. They’re certainly a lot less awkward than eyeing one’s neighbor in the hope of asking her, “It is okay if I lick out your celery crack, too?” (That’s what he said.) We did, however, get a lot of multi-culti propaganda that was of no practical use. “As a blind person, I can’t see where I’m going, so I sometimes have to ask for directions.” (That’s what he said.) “I’m an Ohlone Indian—I mean, Native American—so there’s always an arrow in my quiver.” (That’s what she said.)

How about that? Like a good Palo Altan, I gave the fellas and the ladies equal opportunity to be debased by these off-color remarks. “Well, now, I don’t think Hoover Tower is too big.” (That’s what she said.) So I guess patriarchy rules in the end. Hoover’s last erection still looms over the Stanford campus. The Cardinals don’t mind. They’ll cover the mighty tower with a fake condom as a sex ed prank, which would make Billy Fish and his sniveling brownnosers on the alumni council apoplectic. As far as they’re concerned, all that sex is a hard thing to swallow. (Once again, that’s what she said.)

All that rubbish about what he, she, Billy Fish and possibly Middlesex said was gratuitous. Mostly. As I’ve suggested, a Walter Hays education wasn’t much more substantive than that, which makes one wonder why the hell every social climber from Los Gatos to Emeryville is angling to get her precious snowflake into its catchment area, and which also justifies some low sex banter to demonstrate that I have become reasonably well acculturated in spite of having been educated there, if it can be called that.

The low sex banter is also a distraction—maybe temporary, maybe lasting—from the really disturbing thoughts that came to my mind as I tried to decompress from my involvement in that stupid fight over what would be served at dinner. Being around so many aging relatives and having recently seen my grandmother die (not just go through the process of dying, but literally take her last breath), I’m acutely aware of the circle of life. It’s an edifying awareness, but not a particularly pleasant one.

Ignorance is bliss. Just take a look at people with Down’s Syndrome: they don’t know what’s in the hot dogs, and they certainly don’t care. Lady York’s sister once raved to me about how wonderful the hot dogs at the Special Olympics had been that afternoon; her father then took me aside and whispered to me, “Those hot dogs were awful!”

With more awareness comes more pain. A family friend, the same one who went to Disneyland with a philosophy paper four months past due (“After she graduates, Jamila will still drive a taxi”), told me when she was probably no older than twelve, and more like ten if memory serves, that she was really worried that her parents would die young. She was almost prescient: three years ago, her father stoically said goodbye to me and my parents, having told us at the end of dinner that a surgeon had deemed the melanoma metastasis in his liver inoperable. The fact that he’s still alive, healthy and quite active today is testimony to the importance of getting second opinions, and, if possible, of having practicing surgeons among one’s professional contacts.

The circle of life. Not one of Elton John’s better songs, and all that stuff about talking lions looked awfully naïve to me, although it’s high wisdom in comparison to subsequent studio releases involving, God help us all, talking fish, talking motor vehicles, an even cruder family of talking lions, and Samuel L. Jackson doing foulmouthed battle with a commercial airplane full of snakes. I guess it at least shows that Hollywood has some capacity to deal maturely with death, although Fred Rogers did a better job of it because he didn’t need the damn talking animals to make his points. (He didn’t inadvertently sanitize bug-infested, malarial parts of Africa in the process, either. Hell, I shouldn’t have called it inadvertent; Hollywood sanitizes shit all the fucking time, usually for crude mercenary reasons.) Besides, if I want to “talk to the animals,” I’ll watch the Lawrence Welk Show, which performed that Dr. Doolittle classic no fewer than two times, once with Dick Dale carrying a stethoscope and wearing an Abe Lincoln tophat, and once with a chorus line dancing around a mock classroom dressed like Galileo.

The circle of life. You’re born, helpless, dependent on mom or, worse, a bottle, for your sustenance; you mature from infant to toddler to better-behaved brat to adolescent, probably more in spite of your formal education than because of it, then maybe come across an education of somewhat more substance and utility in high school, college, vocational program, wandering around the forest, or whatever; hopefully you get laid somewhere along the way, but hopefully you do not end up having the sort of marriage that Stoner Aunt and Farmer Uncle have, because really there are less costly ways to get your rocks off; and then, at the end of it all, you’re once again helplessly dependent on those around you. You can do your best beforehand to make sure that there are enough of them around and that they aren’t reprobates, but your work is done. If a caretaker isn’t within earshot, all you can do is pray. Then maybe ring the bell again and pray some more.

Or maybe you have a massive MI out of the blue and go cold before the ambulance crew arrives, or sink smoothly into a pneumonic coma from which you won’t emerge, or get hit by a bus. These aren’t happy prospects, especially if your relatives hoped to have time to say goodbye, but as ways of death go, they’re merciful for the one who has to get dead. Otherwise, you might end up like Grandma, lying on your deathbed for two and a half weeks, spending less of it lucid and having more trouble communicating as time goes by, and waking up occasionally, crying out to your relatives, “ice,” or “coffee.” Worse, you might die in a nursing home, as my maternal grandmother did.

What I realized as I walked around the yard steaming about how Stoner Aunt had been so petty about the menu was that I wanted those attending to me on my deathbed, should I be so unfortunate as to spend appreciable time on my deathbed, to have half and half at the ready bedside. Straight, no chaser. I’ll probably want some water, too, but there’s no need to dilute the cream with coffee or tea at that age.

It was a deeply unsettling thought. I didn’t seek it out, and I tried not to dwell on it, but it just happened. It just forced its way into my mind. I blinked, and it was there.

And it’s no wonder that it invited itself in. The part of Stoner Aunt’s nutritional Nazism that isn’t motivated by misinformation and officiousness is motivated by her concern that Farmer Uncle is too fat for his own good. There’s also the little matter of her not appreciating big beautiful men, as they would presumably call themselves these days. Or maybe I should say “we.” These things have a way of conflating in Stoner Aunt’s mind. This is why they argue about his beer budget versus her yogurt budget, not to mention white bread that’s really just sugar if you’re the kind of dingbat who believes those things. Farmer Uncle is pretty good at drinkin’ beer, especially in the summer. Stoner Aunt has a problem with this because the empty calories are costing them money and adding to his weight, in contrast to her overpriced Greek yogurt, for which she has a right to divert the household budget because the magazines say it’s good for her health and she’s the rightful boss in these cases in any event. Farmer Uncle’s stubborn extra pounds are allegedly a problem because they interfere with his recovery from a recent knee replacement. Maybe so, but Stoner Aunt and the physical therapists have really kept him moving, so it’s possible to exaggerate the role of obesity. Stoner Aunt has also told me that the extra weight interferes with Farmer Uncle’s attractiveness. It’s pretty clear that she resents him for not maintaining his trim figure when she has gone to such lengths to maintain hers.

There’s not a damn thing I can do about that. The resentment is mutual. I’m party to an insipid marital argument, forever burning like the coal seams under Centralia, about why you’re such a lazy, fat bastard and why you’re always bugging me about my fucking eating habits. Stoner Aunt doesn’t phrase her side of the dispute quite so bluntly, at least not usually, but this is more or less the tenor of their conversations.

I would think that obesity isn’t the only impediment to Farmer Uncle being a sexy beast. These two have other “issues,” as it’s fashionable to say of late. Being married to an argumentative geezer or a henpecking scold might perhaps chill one’s marriage a bit and be a block to that much sought-after “intimacy,” however one wishes to define it. Then again, what do I know? I’m just a virgin bachelor whom Farmer Uncle sees fit to offer unsolicited advice on relations with women. It makes me want to flag down a flight attendant for an airsickness bag. Maybe I’ve misunderstood Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders: “The purpose of a man is to yell at a woman, and the purpose of a woman is to scold a man, so come on, baby, let’s play, come on, baby, let’s play….”

Hell no, I’m not playing that game.

If you’re wondering how the hell I can possibly fit two anecdotes about United Airlines into this yarn, here’s your answer: 1) I first heard that song on a United flight from O’Hare to LAX. Four days later, I kissed a girl who had been on that flight. The next day, things started getting all dramatic between us. I’m working on a fuller treatment of this dumb haole story for a future post, but don’t hold your breath. 2) United is the only airline on which I’ve had a man crush on a flight attendant and the only airline on which I’ve witnessed a male flight attendant tell a high school girl, “You’re cute even when you’re sick.” Same flight attendant, same flight from Schipol to Dulles. He was probably cute enough to get away with it, although on a flight where one of the passengers is a sniveling grievance-monger, he’d be a walking man-whore of a liability. Dude chatted me up, too, so I was only the tiniest bit jealous.

The game of love. As they say on Amtrak (damn, I’m getting all multimodal on your asses), “I’m really good at playing this game.” That’s also Farmer Uncle’s attitude, although coming from him I find the arrogance less endearing. It’s less justified, for one thing. Personally, I would never treat a girlfriend, or anyone else, the way he treats his wife, or the way she treats him; I find that sort of thing embarrassing and contemptible, but that’s just me. I know, never say never, but my dead serious contingency plan should I find myself in such a relationship is to separate, and petition for divorce if necessary. Divorce is a shame, but enduring or subjecting one’s spouse to that chronic bullshit seems a worse shame.

To move from things that are a shame to thing that are downright shameful, a few years ago Stoner Aunt dragged Farmer Uncle, on pain of divorce, into a series of fatuous, fringy New Age “communication” courses with which she was enamored. These overpriced courses would be the panacea for their marriage, so of course the tuition was a prudent use of their scarce money. As a result, instead of just fighting over worldly things like money, they now also fight over higher, more philosophical things, namely, their alleged inability to communicate. Paradoxically, the more they allege, the less alleged their inability becomes. These communication courses have taught them to be worse communicators. Instead of using their new knowledge to develop better communication skills themselves, they have used it to more thoroughly critique one another’s communication styles.

To quote family psychologist Dr. Danny Bonaduce, F my life.

Ladies, if you’re reading this, I won’t do that to you. That really isn’t a hard promise to keep. It’s like promising that I won’t butcher a carney on the midnight Greyhound run to Winnipeg and start eating him before the Mounties arrive. It’s not just that it’s wrong; it’s also totally unappealing and weird. I mean, I’d have to go to Manitoba to do that.

I’m not being entirely tongue-in-cheek, either. That is truly an incomprehensible way to treat one’s spouse. If I weren’t around that sort of manipulation on a regular basis, it would occur to me even less than late-night bus cannibalism. (I was once seriously worried for the first fifteen minutes of a Greyhound run from Columbus to Indianapolis, until I determined that the Geico caveman sitting several rows ahead of me had calmed down and wasn’t about to knife anyone.) Regarding my promise not to turn out like Stoner Aunt, I can say this much: I’ll be thirty in July; when I first really got to know Stoner Aunt, she was in her forties and already appallingly manipulative and pushy.

Some people are just like that. You’re best off not marrying them.

You’re also best off not hanging around their marriages. I’m only doing that to save money, although Stoner Aunt and Farmer Uncle evidently think it’s about family values. Like hell it is. It’s more like a version of “Jackass” in which emotional abuse is substituted for beehive tetherball, and where the cast doesn’t get paid.

Important sidebar: I have now incorporated into a single screed all three operating companies of my proposed multimodal clusterfuck of a national transit system, Consolidated Government Ghettobus. Kabam!

I have not, however, finished chronicling Stoner Aunt’s assholiness in the runup to this much-awaited dinner. Oops. I had meant to be out of the house before Stoner Aunt and Farmer Uncle started arguing on the prep line, but I failed. At about one in the afternoon, with five hours to go until everyone was to sit down, Stoner Aunt instructed Farmer Uncle that he was to have the chicken ready to go by four. The word that she first used, before Farmer Uncle demanded a clarification, was “done.” Farmer Uncle was to see to this while Stoner Aunt was in town for her piano lesson; crunch time in the vineyard or not, the grapes could wait as far as she was concerned. This is not an attitude conducive to marital harmony. Nor is it conducive to long-term solvency, given that Farmer Uncle keeps talking about going commercial but has a number of vine rows that are just gnarly old garbage.

There was also a crucial question of how the broccoli would be served. Farmer Uncle wanted to serve it with an orange sour cream sauce. This is usually one of Stoner Aunt’s favorites, but she immediately threw up an objection: “We’re having orange chicken. We can’t have orange and orange. We could serve it with lemon, or with some balsamic, but that’s too much orange.”

The fucking colors again. I don’t know if it occurred to her that these were different kinds of orange sauce. Regardless, this bullshit was important enough to her that she interrupted her attempt to leave the house for her piano lesson to frantically leaf through a cookbook until she found a suitably non-orange red pepper sauce, which she all but ordered Farmer Uncle to make for the broccoli.

This stupidity of too much orange versus not enough orange paled in comparison to a particularly galling comment that Stoner Aunt had made at lunch on Wednesday. Just in case either Farmer Uncle or I thought that her whining about too much starch was a one-off outburst, she gave us a summary of her recent conversation conversation with Caretaker Aunt, who has enlisted Stoner Aunt and Farmer Uncle to help plan and prepare the meals for her son Preacher Cousin’s wedding next month: “Caretaker wanted to do a meal that was all brown, but I forbid it. I made her put some green in it.”

This led to Farmer Uncle asking her whether anyone would eat her green offering. Stoner Aunt said that if no one else would, she would. This conversation was part of the one that I excerpted at the beginning of this essay. In addition to this discussion of who would eat the politically correct foods that Stoner Aunt was imposing on the wedding party, Farmer Uncle had at it with her over whether or not she actually ate bread when it was around the house: she said yes, he said only when it was fresh out of the oven or he offered her a slice. It was a bit surreal. He has taken to accusing her of not eating leftovers recently, so this bitchfest about uneaten bread wasn’t unprecedented. What happens is that they buy enough perishables at Winco and Cash-n-Carry to feed the extended family for two or three days, then argue over its spoilage. That six-pack of romaine started wilting after a week and a half? You don’t say!

More to the point, Stoner Aunt’s snotty comment about her command of the wedding plans was a perfect example of why my dream wedding is along the lines of elopement to Las Vegas Justice Court. Elopement to the preacher’s house worked for Grandma and Grandpa, after all, and they didn’t get to vet my mom until she was already their daughter-in-law, although the eccentric old drunk who owned half the lake invited herself to their wedding. (She always invited herself to weddings; no need to inconvenience the wedding party with the paperwork, she figured, and there was usually free booze to be had at the reception.) Stoner Aunt is the sort of Frankenstein monster that would result from Jonathan Franzen editing Jane Austen. She goes about imperiously telling her relatives what to cook and what not to cook, driven by a compulsive sense of protocol that is Victorian in its rectitude and Medieval in its intellectual tone. Then she eats food straight out of the pan at the dinner table with her bare fingers.

It’s just fucking absurd.

Preacher Cousin has done absolutely nothing to justify Stoner Aunt’s meddling in the catering plans for his wedding. He and his fiancee simply don’t treat others like that. Not remotely so. Stoner Aunt has barged in, unprovoked, and thrown her weight around like a bull in a china shop. It’s absolutely inexcusable. She made the same snotty-ass remarks about the food at Grandma’s memorial service. It was too “brown.” She, not the lead organizers or the guests of honor or the assembled, is to be the sole arbiter of what will be served at other people’s weddings and funerals.

Amy Dickinson tries to advise people on this sort of bullshit in a dozen or so column-inches. That’s not enough space. Well, I guess she could just tell various offenders, “You’re being a fucking asshole. Don’t be a fucking asshole.” That would be short, sweet, to the point, and entirely material and appropriate. It would also be a bit repetitive, and notwithstanding sniveling, hypocritical objections to the Heavy Seven, she’d be out of a job if anyone heeded such simple advice. Caretaker Aunt might offer Stoner Aunt that bit of advice for upstaging her son’s wedding plans; when Alien Uncle tried to go on a dog walk during the death vigil after having spent all day on the family computer, she told him, “that’s bullshit and you know it,” so there’s a precedent. Unfortunately, it would probably just provoke another bitchfest. Caretaker Aunt usually stays out of the fray of bitchfests involving Stoner Aunt and Farmer Uncle, and I bloody well can’t blame her.

For context, keep in mind what’s become of the American wedding. Wedding planning is a crazymaking nightmare, especially for the bride and her family. The women, ostensibly the more emotionally sensitive sex, are put under pressure that would make any normal person snap. Seriously, a well-adjusted, reasonable person put under such contrived pressure in order to appease a bunch of petty enforcers of protocol would grab a baseball bat and vandalize some road signs. Actually, the culturally appropriate responses are discreet cutting, bulimia, maybe some drinking or pharmaceutical snarfing, and probably some attempts by the bride to reschedule her menstrual cycle. After all, it would be a terrible faux pas for the bride to get blood on her white dress five hours before everyone at the dance hall expects the groom to ride her like Paul Revere through the Lexington night. Menstrual spotting by a woman who has been instructed not to wear dark colors, no matter how tasteful, even though the groom has been encouraged to wear mainly black, is evidently regarded as a bigger embarrassment to the bride than being a domineering bitch is to any of her guests. But, as I said, I’m just a twenty-nine-year-old virgin bachelor, a simple layman when it comes to these complicated matters.

This is not an entirely sane enterprise in the best of circumstances. Plenty of things about it are downright psychotic. To make the special day even more special, an entire industry has sprung up devoted to making wedding preparations as stressful and expensive as possible. Much of it is targeted to women’s insecurities, many of which are contrived. Question: does the groom consider the bride too fat to be sexy, or is it just the women’s magazines that are of that opinion? An honest discussion with the groom might be in order; the practice will be useful for later in the marriage, and unless he’s a dirtbag, he’ll want his bride not to resort to purging, starvation diets, or exercise regimens that induce stress fractures. Another thing to consider: the groom may well have no interest in the flower arrangements. Maybe he’s a botany enthusiast who would like to organize the arrangements himself, or maybe he’s a closeted gay (I’m just sayin’), but most of us fellas aren’t that into flowers. (As a semi-employed farm hand who keeps thinking about resurrecting his half-cocked career by becoming a commercial beekeeper, I’m really into flowers, but only before they’re cut. Because, you know, they need to be connected to living plants to be of any use to bees. I’m afraid that a lot of Americans don’t realize this.) If the groom isn’t into flower arrangements, which is probably a good sign, the bride ought to ask herself whether she gives a shit or is just trying to placate rude social-climbing in-laws. Maybe neither the bride nor the groom has any interest in cut flower arrangements. That would be a common interest, or more accurately a common disinterest, which is even better, because it means that they’re less likely to fight over idiotic trivialities like interior motifs. True story: one of my maternal cousins spent his first marriage arguing with his wife, the woman who had been his sweetheart through college and law school, over their china and silver. Their marriage lasted three years.

These things happen. Sometimes they happen spontaneously, but they are also abetted by crass advertisers because hawking superfluous goods to newlyweds is big business. Fixing or terminating marriages that have become train wrecks is another big business. Genuinely helping couples have sound, happy marriages—well, duh, there’s no money in that. If you go ahead and give them the answers the first time, you’ll have no repeat business. You need some planned obsolescence to keep them coming back for more. It worked for Detroit. But don’t worry, a lot of that market is people who really aren’t interested in sound marriage advice, anyhow. If they were, they’d probably already have the answers, especially the answers that involve not being a gratuitous shithead to one’s spouse. If that’s their style, you ain’t fixing it, but there’s good money to be made pretending.

One of the problems with weddings is that solemn protocol compels the invitation of everyone who is a blood or marital relation to the bride or the groom, or in Kentucky, to the bride and the groom. The problem with friends is probably having enough space for all of them. You got to choose them and, if you had some sense, not associate with obvious jackassess, although considering my social life in Philadelphia prior to Junior Bear’s romantic involvement with Sweet Thang, maybe I’m not one to talk. The problem with family is that the aliens and the abrasives, who in a stroke of bad luck might comprise most of the family in attendance, take seats that would otherwise go to people whose company the newlyweds would actually seek out.

Why the hell would I let Stoner Aunt insert herself into this already ridiculous process in order to tell me and my fiancee, or those organizing the reception dinner for us, that the menu needs more spinach? I like spinach, but that’s not the time or place for her to agree with me. She can shut up about her goddamn colors at my wedding. She ought to shut the hell up about that bullshit all the time, but as a compromise she might refrain from upstaging her sisters-in-law with her food Nazism.

None of that really matters, though. She and Farmer Uncle are pretty much disinvited from any wedding of mine on account of their general rudeness. That’s why it’ll be Las Vegas Justice Court. I’ve picked the venue; I just haven’t picked the wife.

By the way, I disinvited myself from that big dinner where we weren’t to have bread. I didn’t want more drama, so I stayed down at the farm. It turned out that the meal was pretty bland and unappetizing, anyway. I didn’t say a word about my plans to Stoner Aunt or Farmer Uncle beforehand, although I did talk to my dad, who said that I had no obligation to attend. I had dinner at Burger King, a place that I was always glad to take Grandma for some junk food back when she was still eating. She made it to 93 eating that sort of crap, so Stoner Aunt should stuff it.