Coach's Corner

It's wedding day for Coach's old fraternity pal, Dunn, in the swamps of Louisiana.

The Superdome rises gracelessly over the sultry skyline of downtown New Orleans; the creation of a pottery student on their first try at the potter's wheel. It's an ugly building. But after just a moment outside waiting for a cab, it's clear why New Orleans needs a domed stadium. I consider Austin's climate marginally livable, Houston's on the other side of the margin for human habitation. After a short walk in search of a cash machine, I stagger back to the hotel drenched and exhausted, fighting an overwhelming urge to sleep with hourly infusions of strong Cajun coffee. New Orleans makes Central/East Texas feel as cool and dry as peppermint ice cream.

This is all well and good, but I'm not concerned with events inside the Superdome, nor (except for use as column color) the weather. I'm here, on Easter Sunday, for the wedding of my friend and lifelong bachelor, Mr. Dunn, considered by some a lost cause to the institution of marriage.

Mr. Dunn is one of a core group of friends from the Sammy House at Old Mizzou. Think what you will about fraternities; immersing 80 teenagers into the intense tribal atmosphere of a fraternity house will tend to cement relationships. The reputation of the Jewish Sammy House at Missouri was such that even the Kappa Alphas, then and now unabashed Nazi sympathizers, craved invitations to our parties. Decent women simply didn't go to Sammy parties, whose female composition consisted of the wanton sluts, innocent freshmen who didn't know better, and battle-hardened girlfriends.

In any case, Dunn has managed to remain a bachelor these many years primarily because he's been unable (or unwilling) to hide his many swinish habits from the plethora of females he's made the acquaintance of. His habitual infatuation with overindulgence of every conceivable sort of bad thing only serves to pique my intense curiosity about the woman willing to marry him.

Everything about Elizabeth is a surprise. Where Dunn leans heavily toward the loutish, Elizabeth is small, quiet, and refined. Dunn firmly believes that, if one cocktail's good, seven's much better. Elizabeth, as far as I can tell, is a teetotaler. The differences between my friend and his bride are best demonstrated by their compromise choice of a honeymoon destination. Dunn would pick two weeks at a Four Seasons on the Mexican coast. Elizabeth would prefer to take a tramp steamer to the Black Sea port of Sochi, bus to Kazakhstan, and trek about the countryside on yaks, in the company of mujahideen guerrillas. The compromise: one week spent at a lush Jamaican resort where Dunn can loll about, pop pills, swill poolside beer and play golf, a second week in Cuba, where Elizabeth can cut sugar cane with the workers.

Dunn's friends did their best to warn Elizabeth -- principal of a Northern California Montessori School -- of what she's getting into. Perhaps she was too far in, what with a hundred guests in town, to get out. Perhaps, as it's said, love really is blind … irrational too. In any case, she's warned. The wedding proceeds on schedule.

There are a few geographical locales whose settlement goes beyond my ability to understand. Louisiana is one of these spots. From the window of the tiny "shuttle bus" Dunn rents for his party to get to the wedding site -- a plantation 90 minutes out of town -- Louisiana appears to be nothing more than a monotonous, endless bridge over an infinite swamp, broken up by the odd tattered gas station on an intermittent speck of dry land. That some long-forgotten poor bastard, run off from wherever he came from before, arrived at this foul place at the southern edge of the continent and proclaimed, "Honey, this is it! Let's live here," is mind-boggling.

No more mind-boggling, I suppose, than the pathetic spectacle of Dunn's friends attempting to help each other into tuxedos, a brutally sadistic concept, given the ghastly conditions in the swamp. There are outstanding pictures of the sullen, formally attired wedding party lolling about outside the plantation grimly fending off large insects, pulling at the collars of the heavily starched, rented shirts, for a breath of air as we wait for the guests to arrive. We glare balefully at the people (just out of picture range) setting up the full bar. Dunn, anxious to get his new life off to a good start and avoid inevitable embarrassing incidents, firmly instructs the bar staff not to, under any circumstances whatsoever, serve alcoholic beverages to his friends until after the vows are exchanged.

In retrospect this is a wise decision. The ceremony goes smoothly. Dunn's friends manage the intricate steps with the bridesmaids with uncharacteristic decorum. No one falls down. No bridesmaids are mauled. No one vomits near the bride or her family.

The long bus ride back to New Orleans is an oddly subdued affair, lightly tinged with melancholy. We're not getting younger. Occasions for all of us to be in one spot together are not common. The handshakes and hugs seem to linger longer, perhaps because the specter of our mortality, invisible to a 20-year-old, is painfully obvious to a bunch of guys 30 years removed from the Sammy House at Old Mizzou.

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