I once got married in a dive bar in Oakland.
The place, Geo Kaye’s, is on the corner of Broadway and 40th, just down the street from Piedmont. I’d recently moved onto the couch of a friend a few blocks away, and wasted no time establishing myself into the scene there. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a community. Being both new in town and slightly homeless, that place was the closest I could get to that feeling of connection. The bartender, Dave, knew my name and drink. The big old dog under the back table wagged his tail when he saw me come in.
The bar is a small one, and it was packed on the night of my wedding. A liver spotted man was napping at the end of the bar with his hairs carefully smoothed across his head, as usual. The sweet hardened girls were dressed to show off their tattoos and played Danzig on the jukebox. The attractively sloppy flannel shirt and glasses guys were following behind, putting on Johnny Cash. I shouted out requests for Bjork and The London Suede.
A guy I’d met once before – we’ll call him Henry – came in and waved excitedly at me. He was funny and I liked talking to him. He had thick, tightly curled black hair, dark horn-rimmed glasses, and was a little soft around the edges. He reminded me very slightly of a boy I’d had a frighteningly intense crush on back home, who I’d stalked tirelessly by writing him dramatic poetry, making him Kate Bush-, Sade-, and Afghan Whigs-heavy mixed tapes, and walking in the icy winter cold past the music store where he worked, dozens of unnecessary times.
Henry and I began drinking together and quickly brought each other to states of hilarity. We slapped the bar and ordered more rounds. We talked about a book we were both reading, and about what we had to do at work the next day. I waited tables down the street at Mama’s Royal Cafe and had to be there at 5:30 a.m. In those days I could be out till 2 or 2:30 and still manage a shift like that. He did something administrative, or with computers. It was all the same to me.
At one point he looked at me, wide-eyed, and asked if I would marry him. “Oh my god!” he shouted. “Will you marry me? Please?” I laughed because I was sick of dating and men and all that came along with both, and I knew that he was fishing. I made a joke out of it because I didn’t want the fun of the night to end and wanted to let him down easy. “Sure!” I hollered, “but no honeymoon, okay?” I laughed again and put my hand on his shoulder to soften the blow. He recovered quickly and said “I’ll make you the happiest bride in Oakland! Come on!”
Dave was very patient with my young-drinker enthusiasms, and agreed to marry my fiancée and I without any hesitation. He provided us with rings – twisted out of the cages of two splits of cheap sparkling wine. He stood on a stool and shouted above the roar for everyone to quiet down, two people were getting married. I can’t remember who walked me down that sticky floor to give me away. Afterward everyone cheered for us and Dave pulled out the bigger bottles of Cook’s.
The jukebox there was incredible, we had a great reception. My groom wanted to fulfill his promise of making me happy, so he gallantly led me to his clean little car and we drove off, singing and laughing. I told him I had to take off my ring because it was itching my finger, but he begged me to leave it on. “Just for tonight, okay?” I left it on, poking the sharp wire into my fingertip like a nervous twitch.
He took me to a Japanese karaoke club, and rented us a private room for an hour. We tumbled in and quickly loaded all of the songs we wanted to sing into the machine, then started belting them out at full volume. He tried once to pull me down onto the couch he was sitting on while I sang, but I swatted him away. “No!” I laughed. “No honeymoon!”
He fell back into the couch like a deflating kid at the tail end of a holiday. “You’re killing me!” he shouted over my Pink Cashmere falsetto. Tiny, adorably-dressed Asian girls walked past our room, pointing at us and giggling behind their hands.
The next morning I wondered how many times Dave has married two drunk strangers in that bar. Then I started to worry that maybe bartenders have the same officiate qualifications as ship captains – in which case, I’m still married to that guy.
I wish I could remember his real name.