By the time I arrive at the City’s Clerk’s office midday Friday the place is jumping with brides and grooms from all points making a last minute scramble to tie-the-knot before the weekend or take advantage of New York’s same-sex marriage laws.
Carrying a large box of mini Crumbs cupcakes, I weave through the crowd looking for Sue and Tracey. If not for a sprinkling of white dresses and posters advertising wedding rings, I would assume I am in the wrong municipal building.
The backstory to my being at the Clerk’s Office, like most things in life, relates to my mother. At 67, she had a massive stroke that left her completely paralyzed on one side. Her lifelong friend Mary Jean was a godsend and visited faithfully during her last 13 years. Now Mary Jean’s daughter Sue was in New York to marry her partner Tracey.
I find the happy couple sitting on a bench at the far, patiently watching the electronic board that the Clerk’s Office uses to signal waiting brides and grooms to the wedding chambers. They seem unusually calm.
“I got you a gift!” I say, flashing the box of Crumbs I picked up before heading downtown.
I have mixed feelings about being there. I have distinct childhood memories of eating baloney sandwiches and playing in Sue’s family rec room back in Ohio as our mothers, now both dead, made Christmas crafts to be sold at the school’s holiday walk. Now, 40 years later, I sit with a box of cupcakes watching the electronic scoreboard the Clerk’s office uses to signal couples to the judge’s chambers. I’m filled with single woman judgment – “This is the last place I‘d wanna get married!” – compounded by sadness and fascination.
In New York City Family Court, Immigrant and the Clerk’s Office are all squished together in a small patch below Canal Street, making it a one stop legal zone for some. The Clerk’s Office is, by far, the more entertaining.
Inside the nondescript building on Worth Street, there’s a World’s Fair vibe, with multiple languages being spoken and vendors hawking everything from $10 floral bouquets and rings to carriage rides and wedding photos. For the do-it-yourself types the city has set up a photo area with a City Hall backdrop.
The attire is pure theatre. For some it’s short white cocktail dresses with slit backs and fuck-me heels, or as one bride, red patent leather shoes; while for others it’s jeans and combat boots, sequin dresses, or business suits.
As I roam the hall with my iPhone taking photos, I have a million questions. I want to know why the large African American woman wore blue. Second marriage or no gowns her size?
I notice a Russell Brand look-a-like in Woodstock garb slouched next to a skinny, clinging bride and wonder if he was forced at gunpoint to marry.
I spot a couple with a young girl and wonder if the child is his, hers, or theirs.
Of the 120 couples who marry that day, no one seems worried that their marriage might become another divorce statistic, ruined by addiction, abuse, infidelity or a husband who refused to put the toilet seat down. Everyone seems happy. Like really happy.
Minutes before Sue and Tracey are called into the wedding chambers, a nervous groom leaving the room and echoes my sentiments.
“Good luck everyone!” he shouts.
I try to snap, but miss.