The (occasionally) thrilling life of a journalist in DC

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With Greg Piper as Steve Martin

So the wedding of my cousin to That Guy We Saw A Couple Times was pretty memorable. For those wondering, my guitar performance didn't disappoint - in the larger sense.

The class divide was pretty apparent in the guest list. I was in my full suit in near-record high temperatures - outdoor ceremony, mostly in the shade - but discarded my jacket after the family photos. The rest of the family mocked my outfit - they were decked in polos, khakis and TLC "Creep" video-style open-collared, untucked shirts. The groom's side was even more casual, with several people in shorts and clothing seen in 50 Cent videos. My younger cousin, the bride's brother, and his fiancee look way too much like Jim and Pam from "The Office."

The venue had the charming features of one bathroom for 100 people and no amenities outside the employee kitchen. That meant regular trips to the loo - when it wasn't occupied - to fetch paper towels to dab away the sweat. Mom and I were wiping our brows on a regular schedule.

Cassie's 2-year-old Sean provided much entertainment unbeknownst to him. Naturally curious, he also screams unpredictably. We were chilling (not literally in this heat) in the big chairs outside the wedding garden when he went off. Reviewing the landscape of screaming kid, old and young and the frequent jokes - sport on my dad's side of the family consists of clever one-liners - I remarked that this was like the movie "Parenthood" with Steve Martin. Little did I realize that I was him.

I was supposed to start playing for the lighting of the Unity Candle, and I was ready. After my embarrassing rehearsal the day before, I had been determined to practice until my fingers fell off, which they nearly did. Halfway through the song, I hadn't messed up "Canon in D" in any meaningful sense. Then the Spirit of God swept through the wedding garden in a gust of wind like nothing that came before or after the ceremony, lifting up my songbook from the music stand and flinging it into the garden to my right. This was during the do, do-do-do, do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do-do section of the song, which everyone knows. Stunned, I pressed on for a few seconds until I realized I had no idea where I left off. I couldn't even remember the damn chord progression. I flailed my fingers against the strings and fretboard, finally remembering D, A, B minor, F sharp minor, G, D, G, A and repeat. So that was basically the second half of the song - plucked chords. "Thank you for that, Greg," the pastor said. After the ceremony the sound guy/MC said I did good. "For about halfway through, yeah," I sheepishly replied. "Family and friends are always better than a professional," said the Colonel Sanders-looking guy matter-of-factly.

The rest of the wedding entertainment was provided by Sean, who had to be tugged up the steps to his parents by his female counterpart, and who characteristically screamed once up there, also tugging on Mommy's Dallas Cowboys cheerleader-style dress (I'm only half exaggerating) and kicking his parents. My younger cousin, Office Jim, scrambled to the side of the platform to distract Sean with funny faces, later joined by the bride's mother, who later acted out the process of learning that her waterproof mascara worked. The ceremony ended with white doves being released. Apparently one of them came back to the tree on the platform and then flew away again during the reception, also at the inn.

My second cousin, adopted by a rich Portland family several years ago after her single mother's mental problems became too much, has become an awkward teenager. A self-described klutz who falls in giant holes, she has the uncanny ability to get food on her forehead, somehow smearing on mustard and cake icing about 10 minutes apart at the reception. She just returned from a five-week vacation with her family with stops including Singapore and Sri Lanka, where her parents are old friends with the ambassador (nicknamed "Soggy"). He lent them a bodyguard in Europe after heading back to Sri Lanka. She has a boyfriend and a purity ring (boyfriend's view on such unknown) and is writing a book inspired by her travels about a Russian mafia hit and kidnapped American kids. I told her it sounds like a Mandy Moore movie. "Chasing Perestroika," perhaps?

Our family gatherings usually involving televised sports and napping, this was an odd event, I remarked to my older cousin, who spent most of the reception criticizing our second cousin's new boyfriend without having met him. A handful of couples took to the stage to dance - Sean again tugged at Mommy's dress and kicked his parents - while we continued our tradition of sarcasm and one-liners. The champagne was labeled Piper Sonoma, so my fellow beer-snob uncle said it was "Greg's Private Reserve." Older cousin had returned from a summer of looking for odd jobs in Las Vegas, and was now considering going back to college. "Go work with [Office Jim]" in financial services, I said. The question on everyone else's lips was, in the midst of marriages and engagments across the family, whether I would be joining S in Seattle. (That's a post for another time.)

Husband asked his new wife if he could exit his tuxedo and she grudgingly obliged, remaining in her cheerleader dress as he transitioned to his family's proud 50 Cent tradition. All the relatives were skedaddling, and the wedding professionals continued their pattern of delaying traditional wedding practices, such as the throwing of the bouquet, until almost everyone had left. Bang-up job, guys. We left as 50 Cent and the guys lit up cigars.

Thus ended the summer of weddings. Next family wedding, of Jim and Pam, is June 2010 at a new winery, after she gets back from grad school in Vermont. (The mid-Willamette Valley, where most of Dad's side lives, is prime wine country, especially for pinor noir.) The pressure is on me now. Maybe another Spirit of God will gust in, tossing the songbook of my plans into the garden. But that's for another post.


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Praise for Piper

"[A] thoughtful, interesting writer, and pretty damn funny sometimes, too."

-- Matt Rosenberg, Freelance journalist

"Piper makes a lot of interesting points that you don't find elsewhere."

-- Joe Gandelman, Veteran journalist

"Piper's mordant wit and sense of style is matched only by his awkwardness in social situations."

-- Adam Faber, Seattle political operative

"Piper is a reserved and bitter herb, like parsley... [and] eminently tappable."

-- Jeremiah Lewis, Writer, Filmmaker

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