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The Anti-Wedding

Video
Jaqi Ross and Chris Rossi let The Washington Post Magazine's two intrepid reporters plan their nuptials. The result? An unusual affair featuring a scavenger hunt, a protest and very few of the trappings of a traditional wedding.Video by Gaby Bruna/washingtonpost.com

We consider our options. We could respectfully appeal by letter or phone. We could shrug it off and find another location. We could be nonconfrontational, reasonable, compromising citizens, understanding of our nation's laws.

Or we could be ourselves. Belligerent, stubborn and self-righteous, we pick up the phone and call the American Civil Liberties Union.

We speak to someone named Fred who informs us that we are Absolutely Right and that Interior is Absolutely Wrong and that we have a Major Lawsuit we can file that, with luck, might be resolved by July 2011 or . . .

The ACLU is thinking. We are on tenterhooks.

. . . we can beat The Man at his own petty little game.

Fred notes that while Lafayette Square is National Park property, Pennsylvania Avenue -- a mere 20 feet away -- is not, and requires no permit to assemble. So, if the protest just oozed a few feet before the exchanging of vows . . .

Sold.

Jaqi and Chris are immediately on board. And with the wedding element removed from our demonstration permit application, it is promptly approved.

We have a park protest. We have a middle-of-the-street ceremony. We have a Bertucci's reception. And Jaqi and Chris have created an introductory activity to get the guests pumped up before the demonstration: a themed scavenger hunt in downtown Washington. The theme, of course, being "Death and Taxes." Perfect!

Except that Jaqi receives incredulous reactions when she instructs guests to dress comfortably. Shorts and sneakers? Worse, a guest learns of the scavenger hunt and declines his invitation. We wonder: Is bucking tradition, even for the couple's sake, causing actual harm? Are we ruining everything? Might we -- should we -- get cold feet?

The day before the wedding, we are answered by the cosmos. Newspapers report that a D.C.-area couple is charged with running a foreclosure rescue scam, plundering $35 million from homeowners, $800,000 of which was spent on their wedding. At the reception, a deejay encouraged guests to throw their own money at the bride, to be immediately put in a sack by the groom (the money). In the interest of balanced journalism, we search the day's news for an $800,000 wedding not perpetrated by alleged moral scum, but nothing turns up.

The Big Day.

We rise and check the weather forecast, which yesterday promised a mere 20 percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Now it's saying 60 percent chance of "strong" storms. With high wind. And "sizable" hail.

Well, we tell ourselves, there are few things more "anti" than people saying vows in a street while chunks of ice the size of Ping-Pong balls plummet from the heavens.

Jaqi and Chris are watching TV in T-shirts and sweat pants when we arrive at 9 a.m. to pick up a few reception items to take to Bertucci's. With no hair or nail or make-up appointments, no tux pickups or boutonniere deliveries, they have plenty of time to relax. The couple mentions that they invited friends and family -- many of whom traveled from out of town -- to join them for breakfast, but everyone declined. Jaqi concludes that no one believes that it's truly possible for a bride to cease fretting or willingly consume carbohydrates on the morning of her wedding.

Bride and groom are showered and put together (Jaqi chose the red, white and black dress and wore her hair loose) when we return to the apartment at 1:30 p.m. Family and friends begin to arrive in waves soon after. Once everyone is assembled, Jaqi explains the scavenger hunt, handing out lists and assigning guests to Team Taxes, led by Jaqi, and Team Death, led by Chris. Guests look at the items on the list: "Taxation Without Representation" license plates, real and fake skeletons, a tax-foreclosed house sign. They plot. They laugh. They are wedding-goers in charge of their own entertainment, and -- unleashed downtown -- they chase ambulances and pose with statues of dead presidents and have a fabulous, fiercely competitive time.

Then, as the hour of the protest approaches, we all take Metro toward Lafayette Square. When we emerge from underground, the sky is suddenly very, very dark.

"Hey, that doesn't look good!" says Chris. "What's Plan B?" And we laugh, to disguise the fact that we are secretly freaking out. Rain is one thing, but this sky looks really serious. It actually looks sort of green. How could this be happening?

The planners send both wedding teams to the McPherson Square Metro station, where guests wait under the overhang while we trek through the incoming storm to the car to retrieve the multitude of protest signs. Just as we return to the square with signs in hand, the rain starts falling in earnest. The wedding planners look at each other. Many unprintable phrases are exchanged.

Of course, we have a plan for this eventuality, as any planner must. In our earliest conversations, we had discussed what would happen if it rained. "If it rains," Jaqi said, "then they get rained on." This plan works perfectly.

When the guests arrive in the square, damp and huddled, Jaqi makes the announcement: Thank you all. We meant it when we said anti-wedding. We hope you will join us in a protest against the wedding industry. The anti-wedding planners cross their fingers as Jaqi hoists a sign that says "Kill Frill."

The guests follow, grabbing "Til Debt Do Us Part" and "Money Can't Buy Me Love" and other signs. And where there had been a wedding crowd -- the people who care for Jaqi and Chris the most coming together for the sake of love -- there is now a chanting, disgruntled mob shaking their angry signs in steady rain, united in shouts of anti-wedding rage, drawing stares from passers-by.

It is beautiful.

And then there is a wedding. We walk 20 feet to Pennsylvania Avenue, and Mardie speaks for 10 minutes about love and marriage, and what you know about love and marriage just by looking at Jaqi and Chris. The couple stands together under an umbrella, flanked by no attendants, facing their guests. They kiss, once in the beginning, once in the middle and once at the end. They elbow each other, like kids with a secret. They respond conversationally to Mardie's questions. They announce that they tried to figure out something to say in the way of vows and decided not to. And they are married. There are no dirty pigeons or burning effigies, no bride in a garbage bag. But there is a canopy of umbrellas in the middle of a street and clusters of protest signs turned horizontal. The rain drips the washable-marker lettering off the signs; those multicolored streaks are the only tears shed. And so it is done. Beer and pizza await.

In the aftermath of the anti-wedding, we mainly feel exhausted. Also relieved. And confused. The wedding, in the end, was a compromise between the utter sedition we planned and the realistic needs of two people who just want to get married coolly. Had we really accomplished what we set out to do?

We simmer in uncertainty for several days. Then, someone asks us a question about a particular detail of the ceremony, and everything changes.

Suddenly, we know: It worked.

For quite possibly the first time in the history of the Western world, it is not until four days after the wedding that anyone, including the bride and groom and both wedding planners, realizes that everyone forgot the rings.

Caitlin Gibson, legal administrator for The Post, is a writer who lives in Bethesda. She can be reached at gibsonc@washpost.com. Rachel Manteuffel is an actor and writer living in Tysons Corner. She can be reached at rachel.manteuffel@gmail.com.


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