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Skyler's Not So Special Day
by Jim Ruland



Two weeks before he tied the knot, Skyler finally got around to hiring a DJ for his wedding reception. He found a listing on the Web, made some calls and talked to a guy who could arrange it so the guests chose the songs to be played – a stipulation Julie, his sweet and good-natured bride-to-be, had insisted upon. Skyler hired the DJ on the spot and put the down payment in the mail that afternoon.

Expecting relief, sadness swept in instead. He’d battled a panic attack while helping Julie with the seating arrangements the night before. No matter how hard he’d tried, he could not make sense of the nebulous connections between all the distant cousins, step-uncles and girlfriends of faceless nephews. Who were these fucking people? His unease was helped along by a deepening awareness that every facet of the ceremony had been scrupulously planned. Everything had been anticipated. Nothing had been overlooked. The only loose end had been the DJ, and now that, too, was wrapped up. Skyler pictured himself standing in the banquet hall at the Knights of Columbus, accepting congratulations like a grinning automaton, a stranger at his own wedding.

He didn’t think about the music again until the DJ called him on his cell phone a few hours before the ceremony.

“I can’t make it,” he said.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I got keratosis, man. It’s a skin condition. I’m a giant rash.”

In the background, Skyler could hear people laughing, a sports broadcast on the television, the telltale clink of bottles coming together. Who did he think he was fooling?

“Listen,” Skyler asserted. “The reception starts in five hours. Someone had better be there.”

“No sweat,” he said, “My cousin’s gonna cover for me.”

“We have an arrangement.”

“The money you sent me? Gone. I spent it all on skin lotion, dude. It’s Zeke or nothing.”


“My cousin.”

Skyler fretted over the decision. What would he tell Julie?

“Please tell me your cousin is a DJ.”

“Oh, yeah. Zeke’s the bomb!”

“And he’ll be there on time?”

“Absolutely. Everything’s under control.”

But things were not, as the DJ had insisted, under control.

Zeke didn’t arrive until the reception was nearly underway, and when he finally showed, he shuffled into the banquet hall wearing a silver-sequined tuxedo, rhinestone boots, a pink Afro wig and huge, tinted sunglasses that eclipsed most of his face.

Zeke was a Cocaine Cowboy from Studio 54. A Village Person.

Zeke was drunk or high, quite possibly both.

Zeke was a freak.

And he was going to ruin Julie’s wedding.


Julie emerged from the church with the knowledge that this was not the happiest day of her life. She didn’t know where the feeling had come from. It was just there. She wasn’t unhappy. God no. It was a beautiful morning. They’d predicted gray skies but the weather had held. Her dress was gorgeous (she’d lost so much weight they’d had to take it in twice after the fitting) and she felt as lovely as everyone said she looked. Still, there it was, a sagging feeling, an awkward heaviness that kept her weighted down when she so desperately wanted to glide, to float.

She knew that weddings did weird things to people. She’d seen plenty of near disasters, heard all the bitchy asides:

“Did they rent this place by the hour?”

“Who catered this fiasco? Chuck E. Cheese?”

“I had to teach the bartender how to mix a fucking martini.”

None of that. Even her family had been unusually cooperative. There had been no late arrivals who needed to be picked up at the airport at the last minute. Her mother was sober--so far at least. Her sister was more cordial and gracious then she’d ever seen her before. There had been no drama whatsoever.

Then, inevitably, the unthinkable: maybe it was Skyler.

She watched him carefully. He’d been nervous throughout the ceremony. He didn’t look it, but she could tell. He’d hardly made eye contact. He’d looked, but didn’t see, already way past anxious.

He seemed fine now. A little stiff, a little distracted, but that was Skyler. Was he happy? She couldn’t say. He didn’t look quite right in his tuxedo, which depressed her a little. Okay a lot. It didn’t seem to fit him somehow. He looked uncomfortable. The way he always looked at formal gatherings. What was it her mother had said? “No one will ever mistake him for the life of the party.” That was fine with Julie. She’d had enough of that growing up.

She watched as Skyler hugged her mother and then they want to the bar together. He was ordering a cocktail. Good for him, she thought; a man was entitled to a little fun at his own wedding.



“Why is it that whenever men misbehave they blame it on ‘primal urges’?”

Julie’s mother paused to sip her cocktail. “What a crock,” she continued. Men are nothing more than a bunch of gorillas beating their chests. What about the gazillion years spent sitting in trees eating shoots off branches? How about those primal urges, hunh? You never heard of a man leaving his mistress to stay at home and be with the kids.”

Julie’s sister, Loretta, chimed in.

“That reminds me of a boyfriend I had in college.”

“A hairy ape reminds you of your boyfriend? Like that’s a surprise!” Julie’s mother guffawed. She was a large woman--all that drinking--and her jowls shook as she laughed. Skyler’s new sister-in-law continued:

“No, a story he told me once about how he dropped acid at a party and had to take a dump.”

Loretta’s husband turned around, a cluster of Spanish olives speared on a plastic cocktail cutlass.

“What did you just say?”

“Be quiet, Bill,” Julie’s mother quipped, “Loretta’s telling a story.”

Bill ate his olives in silence. He didn’t close his mouth when he chewed.

“There were long lines of people waiting at every bathroom. So he decided to run home.”

“How far was it?” Bill wanted to know.

“Let her tell the story, Bill,” Julie quipped.

“A mile maybe. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter because he didn’t make it. He was in the middle of campus and had nowhere to go. So he climbed a tree.”

“He what?” Bill asked. Skyler found his astonishment crass. He knew he shouldn’t but there it was.

“To take a dump?” Julie’s mom bellowed. Heads turned.

“Yep. He climbed a tree and let it go. He was so proud when he told me.”

“That’s a man for you,” Julie’s mom exclaimed. “By the time he realizes he’s full of shit, his ass is hanging in the breeze. What’s he do now?”

“I don’t know. We lost touch.”

“Humph,” Julie and Bill said simultaneously.

“What are you so worked up about?” Loretta asked.

“It’s the music,” Julie’s mom answered.

“I know,” Bill agreed. “It’s a real downer.”


Zeke had gone to a great deal of trouble preparing the music. Playlists were distributed at each table and selections could be cued from one of several remote control devices. An impressive scheme, Skyler admitted, if only Zeke’s taste in music hadn’t been so morbid and macabre. All the songs he’d had selected were extraordinarily sad. There were songs about infants dying. Songs about sailors going away on ships. Songs about disease, suffering and pestilence. Songs about soldiers volunteering for hopeless causes, going to war, dying young. There was even a section of songs collected under the heading “self annihilation.”

After thirty minutes of slow airs, ballads and despondent waltzes, Skyler had specifically asked Zeke to play something snappy. What did he play? A Louisiana funeral march. A dirge.

Julie had wanted their guests to choose the music, participate, and in so doing, feel like they were involved, like they had a say in their special day. What a disaster! Did the guests know they were collaborating with ruin? They had to know, the music made them understand. While conversation was banal, circumspect, like a spider scampering over a rock, the music was honest. And Zeke knew exactly what he was doing. Skyler had felt it the first time he’d gone over to speak with him, a malevolent presence peering at him from the other side of those sunglasses.

“I didn’t know that song was about suicide,” Bill said, going over the playlist.

“They’re all about suicide,” Loretta disagreed.

“Not all of them.”

“Yes, all of them. What do think the title means?”

“I don’t know,” Bill mused, “just a line from the song I guess. Isn’t that how it works, you write the music and pick the words that best describe the mood?”

“That’s way too pragmatic,” Loretta said.


“Songwriters aren’t pragmatic.”

As if on cue--why kid himself--precisely on cue, a fat, trembling sweep of strings redolent with heartbreak blared from the huge speaker cabinets that flanked Zeke’s turntables. It was Samuel Barber’s Adagio, a piece of otherworldly sadness the composer had written while mourning the death of his mother.

Skyler set down his drink and stepped onto the dance floor. That’s enough of that, he thought.


“What’s Skyler doing?” Julie shouted.


“Skyler! What’s he doing?”

“I can’t hear you!” her mother made a who-knows gesture and went back to rummaging through her purse. Why did married woman carry such big purses? Julie wondered.

The music was too loud. It penetrated everything. Venturing near the dance floor was like stepping into an atmosphere of sound. Julie almost convinced herself that Skyler was asking Zeke to turn the volume down, but that wasn’t his style. He was not confrontational. Zeke ignored Skyler, pretending he couldn’t hear him, making a game out of it. Skyler was saying something, shouting it, she could tell, but Zeke kept blowing him off, breaking eye contact to locate his drink, a record, whatever.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion, just like the time her mother had slipped coming down the basement stairs carrying a tray of cookies and milk for her and her sister, the milk making a white arc in the air as her mother’s slippered feet slipped.

Skyler reached out and grabbed hold of Zeke’s shirt, the headphones jarring lose. Zeke slapped at his hands and Skyler gave him a shove that sent him into one of the massive cabinets, making it wobble on its tripod. Skyler hit Zeke and the DJ’s sunglasses came off, then the wig. He kept landing punches. Julie could hear forks clinking on dinner plates, chairs scraping, but no one stepped in to stop the fight. Her heart skipped the way it had when Skyler made his first shy approach. “He’s gong to ask me to marry him,” she’d thought. And then he did. Impossible. Corny. True. All those things.

“Get him, Skyler!” she cheered.

Her mother looked at her, shocked; but her surprise quickly gave away to approval.

“Teach him a lesson he won’t forget!” her mother joined in, planting her fist in her palm for emphasis. Julie beamed. Loretta elbowed Bill.

“Don’t just sit there! Go help your brother-in-law!”

Bill couldn’t get out of his chair fast enough.

Dazed, Zeke tried to crawl away. He disappeared behind the console. Skyler went after him. Julie couldn’t see what was happening. It killed her not to know. She slipped out of her shoes, stood on a chair, and ascended the table to watch, weightless after all.





About the Author

Ruland Comma Jim. The devil of Angel Town. Hair like the night and a voice like the wind. By day, he puts words into the mouths of men for ducats. But when night falls brown in La-la, he's in his element, awhirl in the swirl of loud, warm in the pressed flesh of humanity. And in between, when no one's looking, he writes in silence, a steely proud tattooed punk poet. Ruland Comma Jim.