My French daughter-in-law telephoned me rather late the other evening and said, in a tone that sounded both desperate and pleading, “Oh, Mr. Smith, would you do me a big, big favor?”
Any compassionate father-in-law in the circumstances would have said, “Of course, my dear.” But I’ve said that too many times and regretted it a moment later. “What is it?” I asked, trying to sound merely curious, instead of wary.
“Luke and Laura are getting married today!” she said, giving this news more drama than I thought it merited, whoever Luke and Laura were.
“Mr. Smith,” she went on, evidently mistaking my silence for reluctance. “I have waited so long for this, but I have to work today at the restaurant and I am going to miss it.”
My God, I thought, she wants me to go to a wedding in her place. Preposterous. I’d feel ridiculous. I wouldn’t know a soul.
“Luke and Laura?” I said, trying to get a handle on it.
“You don’t know zem?” She was lapsing into her z’s again; a sign of emotional stress.
“They sound familiar,” I said, thinking maybe Luke and Laura were friends that worked with her at the Seafood Broiler.
“Oh, come on, Mr. Smith. You’re kidding. Luke and Laura. They’re getting married on TV.”
Getting married on TV. I knew people did such things. They also got married in jail or in hot-air balloons or on surfboards. Sheer exhibitionism.
“It’s on General Hospital,” she said.
It all came clear. I had heard some rumbling about a couple on General Hospital getting married, at long last, and knew that a lot of fans were worked up over it. But I had never thought a soap-opera wedding would enter my own life in any urgent way.
“Oh, Mr. Smith,” she said, “will you please tape it for me—on your machine? It’s on Channel 7 at 2 o’clock. Ozerwise I will miss it.”
“OK,” I promised. "I’ll do my best, but you know I can’t guarantee anything.” I had blown another football game just the previous Sunday, my video tape recorder having run out of tape just before Detroit kicked that controversial game-winning field goal against Dallas with 10 second left to play. I hoped that wouldn’t happen to the wedding.
I set the machine to turn on automatically at 2 p.m. the next day. I then forgot about it; but my wife was home that day and in the afternoon I heard voices on the TV in the bedroom. I went in to check. My wife was standing in front of the TV, watching General Hospital.
“Oh,” I said, “it’s working,” relieved that the VTR had a better memory than I did. I watched a scene or two. Some unreliable-looking young man with frizzled blond hair was talking to an older woman. He reminded me of Little Orphan Annie. He said, “Just because I’m gonna have a wife doesn’t mean I won’t need you.” It sounded like pure soapspeak.
“My God,” I said, “you mean that’s the bridegroom?”
“Evidently so,” she said.
I listened to a few more improbable lines and then turned the sound down and went back to my work. Half an hour later I checked in again. She was still watching. A large cast of glossy people were milling about at a garden party, exchanging innuendoes. They all looked quite beautiful but unreal, except for Anna Lee, whom I happen to know personally and can vouch for as a real person. She was being herself.
“I forbid you to watch this,” I told my wife.
She said, “They haven’t had the wedding yet.”
Later I heard “Here Comes the Bride” and went back to make sure the kids got married, so I would have carried out my promise. The vibrant young bride came in on the arm of a handsome but untrustworthy-looking man who I supposed was her father. He handed her off to the bridegroom and the ceremony began. The minister said, “Today is a day of joyous celebration, and with love in our hearts, we are here to witness the exchange of vows between Lucas Lorenzo Spencer and Laura Webber Baldwin....”
Zap. Commercial time. General Hospital never came back on. When the commercials were over, it was another soap opera, with a different cast of characters.
“They didn’t actually get married,” I said.
“Not today,” my wife said. I realized she had been crying. I couldn’t believe it.
That night my daughter-in-law phoned again. “Did you tape z’wedding?” she asked me.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” I said, realizing that I had lapsed in soapspeak myself. “I taped it all right, but the show ended right in the middle of the ceremony. They aren’t actually married yet.”
“Well, then,” she said, evidently used to this kind of suspense, “you will have to tape it again tomorrow.”
They got married the next day. I watched to make sure. But Elizabeth Taylor turned up as a witch and laid a curse on the union. Mark my words, it won’t last the season.