Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Monday, February 25, 2013



as always
for Marcia

Rarely have I ever taken out a print ad. But some eighteen years ago - feeling oh so sophisticated, hip and cosmopolitan - I lived in Lodo (before lower downtown Denver was christened Lodo) in a loft on Wazee Street I’d christened Passion Place in the former corporate headquarters of Fashion Bar - I began advertising my services as a wedding officiant on both the Back Page of Westword and in assorted bridal magazines.  My first year’s run of print ads, sadly, generated but three inquiries.

The first telephone inquiry was made by a well-known KUVO public radio personality at the time, Denise Washington Blomberg, who currently is the news director and morning host of a Christian AM radio station that broadcasts out of Westminster. Denise called and asked if I was available to officiate at her wedding. I knew who she was and I was quite excited at the prospect of marrying a Denver celebrity. When I described what I did for couples – a meeting to determine the kind of ceremony that I would write, the writing of the ceremony itself, the publishing of the ceremony as a one of a kind book (an instant family heirloom, if you will), and conducting the ceremony itself, Denise was absolutely aghast at my price – at the time: $75. She told me $75 was mercenary, ridiculous and exorbitant, that I was more greedy than ministerial; needless to say, she did not book with me. I guess she was hoping for . . .  what? - a quote of ten or twenty dollars for two, three days of work?

The second was made by another Denver personality, a bartender at The Wazee Supper Club, who, at the time, was as famous for his generously poured drinks as he was for his shaved bald head. Nic hired me, I conducted his wedding ceremony at The Grant Humphries Mansion, and he wrote me a check for $75 that bounced.

A woman named Michelle, who was not but someday would be a celebrity, made the third call, one that trumped the bummers of the others and made my year’s print advertising all worthwhile.

Michelle’s telephone call began with a question: Would I conduct a gay wedding ceremony? - a question I had already answered for myself as one of my oldest acquaintances in Denver, a hairdresser I knew from the mid-Seventies, had asked me the same question.

I tell Michelle, “Yes,” and, after checking her date to determine my availability and discussing price and payment, I go on to ask her a few questions so I can determine the kind of ceremony – religious, secular, inter-faith, rhyming, what have you – that I would write. Her response to my first question, however -  “Who all will be attending?” - catches me by surprise: “Just my husband; he’ll be recording the ceremony with his video camera.”

I admit to some confusion before Michelle explains further.

“Dennis is my husband and Shawna is my girfriend. Shawna is always asking me to marry her as well, even if it is not legal. She simply wants a wedding; what girl doesn’t? We all live together. I have two bedrooms: one for me and Dennis, and one for me and Shawna. They both love me and I love both of them. Dennis and Shawna do not sleep together, only one at a time with me. Simply said, I have a husband and I want also to have a wife. Shawna’s birthday is coming up, and as I said, she’s always wanted a wedding. So, as a surprise, I thought we’d get married on her birthday. “

As can easily be imagined, my mind is racing with prurient interest. Since I’ve already committed to something outside the bounds of legal propriety, I continue with my questions and get the details necessary to write what I refer to as “a ritual of commitment” suitable for Michelle and Shawna. Michelle is pleased that I will help her out and a check, payment in full, arrives two days later in the mail. I notice three names are listed as payees on the check, although only Michelle has endorsed it.

So, on Shawna’s birthday a fortnight later, I arrive at the home of Dennis, Michelle and Shawna, a second story unit in an Englewood four-plex. I knock on the peepholed door and Michelle answers.

Because she opens the door but slightly, I can only see aside the bottom and the top of the door one foot and her face – the former high heeled and open toed; the latter Mediterranean. Then with her dark mahogany eyes atop her Roman nose, with her imagined tall frame atop her six inch spiked heels, she checks me out. I’m wearing my Western-cut tux and lizard skin boots, and I’m sure, a rather curious forty-seven year old Irish and impish smile. In my left hand I hold Michelle and Shawna’s hand made ceremony book keepsake, the letter-pressed cover emblazoned with their names, wedding bells, and a birthday cake, and in my right hand there is an offer of a handshake, which Michelle by ignoring declines.

“My husband and Shawna are not here right now, and I won’t let a strange man into my apartment without them. You’ll have to wait here on the porch until they get back from shopping. Dennis is buying Shawna a white dress for the wedding although she thinks it’s a birthday present. I’ve told her my Uncle Eddie might be here for her birthday party, so please, when they get back, introduce yourself as Uncle Eddie. I just finished decorating for the wedding; however, since I’ve kept the wedding a surprise, Dennis will be blindfolding Shawna once they’re back so I can take her to her room and dress her for our marriage. She knows we’re having a party, but she won’t know about the wedding until she comes out of the bedroom and I take the blindfold off.” Before disappearing behind the closing door, she asks coyly with her voice and eyes, “Will you be my 'Uncle Eddie'?”

Now I knew I was in for an off-the-grid, underground adventure, but now I am confused and somewhat concerned; I mean, come on: a dominatrix of a woman – I’m guessing she’s six foot - whose about to marry a woman as her husband films the nuptials, refusing me entrance to her apartment on the grounds of me being “a stranger,” after having been hired and already paid to write and conduct her ritual, is a little much. In the triple balance beam of my brain, I weigh her caution and her rudeness and her playful coyness, and they seem to come out even. I am considering skedaddling, but given the power and allure of curiosity, I stay, although there is a worm of worry wiggling in the back of my mind: could this be some sort of weird wedding officiant sting conducted by the state of Colorado? – just as a VW convertible Bug arrives below. In it are Dennis and Shawna.

Now when Shawna exits the Beetle, my concerns heighten as she is one hell of a tiny person, well under five feet in height, very childlike, and I pray she’s at least eighteen. I mean getting involved with unconventional kinky adults is one thing, but involving minors is something else entirely. She’s got a summery and skimpy white cotton dress on a hanger and she starts up the stairs as Dennis parks curbside and puts up the convertible top. Half way up the steps Shawna notices me just as Michelle from behind the slightly open front door introduces me. I scrutinize the diminutive Shawna from behind my dark sunglasses and conclude she’s indeed petite and doll-like, but, thank god, probably twenty. We make small talk as we await Michelle’s husband and his blindfold, and I do not respond when she asserts “I didn’t know Michelle had an Uncle Eddie” because Dennis has ascended the stairwell, two steps at a time, and I divert Shawna’s attention to the giant looming behind her.

Dennis is a huge twenty-something year old biker Hulk with an incongruous military buzz cut, as big and broad as Michelle and Shawna are tall and tiny. His hand swallows mine as we shake, although, surprisingly, his grip is polite and friendly.

After Shawna is blindfolded by the bear that is Dennis and whisked indoors by Michelle, Dennis and I soon quit with introductory stairway small talk pleasantries and enter the apartment, which, to put it mildly, is both inviting and disconcerting, because its interior is not only decorated for a wedding, but it is also decorated with four very distinct and odd motifs that I’ll get to momentarily.

There are dozens of white helium balloons bearing black female nude silhouettes kissing the ceiling, from which there is also suspended by way of hooks in front of a gas fireplace a papier mache wedding arch that sways surreally and ghostly, its movement precipitated by the heat of the glowing gas logs in the hearth.  A professional Bogan tripod supporting a Panasonic zoom-lens-ed video camera straddles a coffee table that also sports an extravagant wedding cake atop which two nude female bride-toppers kiss. Both miniatures have their hands on the other’s buttocks. A bucket of ice chilling a magnum of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut champagne sits on the counter that separates the living room and kitchen, and a white paper bridal runner taped to the shag carpeting connects the kitchen and the fireplace. Dozens of black long stem roses litter a white leather couch. Cozy and celebratory are descriptive adjectives that come to mind.

But it is in the kitchen where I drift with Dennis that things get really strange. First off, there are dozens of Gulf War artifacts affixed to the walls: a singed Iraqi flag, a gas mask, photos of smoking oil well rigs, a pair of night vision goggles one lens of which is shattered, a bandolier with numerous caliber bullets, and assorted knives, hand guns, ammo clips, and body armor. As alarming and strange as all these implements of war are, the artwork collages that cover every inch of refrigerator and cabinetry are even more out there, for girl on girl porn is everywhere. Not since the fantasies of my teen mind, have I ever seen so many tongues and clitorises, so many breasts being mouthed by glittered and lipstick-ed lips, so many fishnet stocking-ed legs spread wide. Inwardly I quiver at the shaved pudenda cuddling with stiletto heels, and it’s my guess that the feett wearing the stilettos belong to Michelle.

I step back into the living room, away from war and porn, to be comforted somewhat by the third and fourth decorating motifs I’d noticed: ferrets and Emperor penguins. There are stuffed toy replicas of and Styrofoam statues of them on the mantle and threshold of the fireplace, on side tables and pedestals, and on the floor.

Now because I’m ferret familiar - years ago I had a girlfriend, the first older woman in my life, and she had two ferrets that used to scurry around the bed we slept in - my next question of Dennis is genuine: “What’s with all the ferrets?” Without flinching or hesitation, he tells me that he and Michelle have eight of them. “But not to worry, because at present, they are locked up in cages in our bedroom.” I envision eight ferrets having their way with each other, scurrying and scampering and conjoining, as the very large Dennis and the tall Italian Michelle get frisky. I am hesitant to ask about the tuxedoed Antarcticans that adorn the mantle, for fear there might be one in Shawna’s room. I mean, at most weddings, there’s usually someone in a tux to escort the bride.

To avoid the subject of war, girl on girl porn, ferrets or penguins, I ask Dennis what he does when he’s not using his video camera at weddings, to which he responds, “Going to Law School at DU.”

I’m not sure if he’s answering truthfully so I press him further. “And what kind of law are you studying;” and his answer is even more unexpected: “I’m going to be a treason lawyer,” a response that seems invented and hardly pragmatic as the last American traitor that I know of was the Revolutionary War’s Benedict Arnold.

To change the subject I make another query: “And what do you do for fun when you're not studying treason law?”

“I go out clubbing with Michelle and Shawna - they love to kiss and fondle each other in public - and I like to beat to a pulp anyone who harasses them.”

Thankfully I don’t have to pursue this repartee any further because Michelle leads a blindfolded Shawna out of her bedroom unaccompanied by a penguin. The heavy leather blackness of Michelle’s attire, its severity, is in sharp contrast to the gaiety and flimsiness of Shawna’s summery skimpy cotton dress. Being barefoot makes Shawna seem even smaller than she had seemed outside. Metaphors involving heaven and hell and angels and demons come to mind, followed by one involving the fleece of Mary’s little lamb and the poet’s moonless midnight darkness.

Michelle leads Shawna to the kitchen to stand facing the Frigidaire. Taking my place in front of the fireplace, I hear Michelle tell Shawna, “When I take off your blindfold, I want you to count to nine, then open your eyes and turn around.” As Shawna counts, Michelle backs up slowly down the bridal runner to stand beside me. Her derriere swaying- almost snapping - side to side is difficult to ignore, and she seems even taller now than I had thought given the low ceiling of the love nest’s living room.

When Shawna turns around at nine, her eyes wide shut then open, she squeals with genuine girlish delight as she realizes it is her wedding day and not just her birthday. Dennis pans the Panasonic to capture it all as the wide-eyed Shawna approaches Michelle and me. A glowing ecstasy emanates from the tiny bride.

Well I go through my wedding ritual. I bless and pray for them. I read the brides a selection of love poetry. I ask questions of them and ask them to swear to each other certain things, replacing the usual pledge of fidelity with one of constancy. I have them repeat after me a litany of familiar wedding promises and I direct the exchange of rings. When we get to the kiss that seals the deal, Michelle deep throats Shawna with a tongue as long as the high spiked heels she wears, and I notice that Dennis with his camera has zoomed in on the profiled kiss. I can’t help but notice the sweat that begins to bead upon his forehead. As well, I can’t help but notice the perspiration gathering on mine. And then I pronounce them a wedded couple as Dennis applauds. All in all my assessment is that my ceremony was as good a marriage ritual as any that I’ve done before.

But now it’s awkward time because Michelle, Dennis and Shawna are not sure what to do with Uncle Eddie now that wedding ritual’s a wrap. I’m sure they’d like me to just leave, so maybe the marriage might be consummated. Given the lack of a chuppah or facsimile thereof amidst the wedding paraphernalia, I suppose the rose strewn couch is where that will take place, with Dennis retiring to his bedroom to un-cage the ferrets and do what ever a man does while his wife beds her newly acquired wife. But I do not intend to go lightly into that good night everyday world outside. These people have let me into their very private extraordinary universe and I want to have some unordinary fun being passive aggressive with my desire to linger in their sphere.

“Well, are you going to uncork that champagne and cut the cake, or not?”

All three, I guess, remember their manners, and soon we’re toasting the newlyweds with expensive French champagne and eating velvet and white marbled wedding cake. When the man of the house opens the refrigerator to gain access to its freezer to store the top layer of cake, I note that the porn on the outside covers the fruit and vegetable drawers as well.

To keep things real I ask after Shawna’s background and I find her answers not surprising given the ceremony I’d just performed. Born to a fundamentalist, uber repressed, over the top ultra conservative Colorado Springs family, she was rejected emotionally by her parents  at the first hint of her same-sex sexuality. “I’d have been rejected even if my interest in sex was straight,” she says. "Pleasure’s taboo in Focus-on-the-Familyville. I can’t imagine how I was ever even conceived given how any discussion of sex seems a sin itself. Living at home until I was seventeen was living in Puritan hell. My only outlet was poetry, which I wrote in my diary. The day my mother burned my diary after snooping her way through it, was the day I quit high school and home. Day two I fell in with a couple of actresses you may have heard of - Brianna Banana and Darlin Deanna. They’re both big stars in the world of bi porn. And then, a year later, I met Michelle. And here we are today. Viola!”

Her reference to poetry leads me to open up a little bit about myself and I invite her to attend the open poetry reading I host Friday nights at The Mercury CafĂ©, inwardly hoping that she’d come alone or maybe with Michelle, because I can’t see Desert Storm Dennis at home with the denizens of my Friday Night  Open Mike. Not long after Shawna’s wee little bio and my open invitation, I bid farewell and exit to reenter the real world of Englewood and Denver and my life of wife and kids, realizing (as with most bridal couples) chances are: I won’t encounter them again.

But a decade later I do as Michelle’s image graces the front page of Westword, the headline reading ONE WILD RIDE. Adam Cayton Holland’s feature chronicled the oh so sad tale of Michelle who had a few brief moments of infamy as she, Dennis and Shawna had been guests on both the Ricki Lake and the Maury Povich shows where they detailed the exploits of their polyamorous (or in the case of Michelle: sex-addicted) ways. Unfortunately for Michelle she’d been to Gomorrah and back again, losing everyone (kids included) in her life. Michelle’s latest claim to infamy had been the world wide web’s exploitation of the tattoos she got to substitute for sex. For more details you can google Adam’s Westword piece if you’re looking to find out just how kinky kinky can get.

Getting back to my first year of print advertisements, it’s hard to believe that Nic the Gyp, Denise Washington Blomberg, and Michelle (The Pass Around Girl) would not lead me to take up another profession. But there have been a thousand and still counting wedding rituals since Shawna’s surprise birthday wedding, although most have not been nearly as unorthodox.

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