Love and Death
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If I learned anything at all this weekend, it’s that I look pretty sharp in a tux.

Sure, formal wear is annoying and binding and it instills in one a total fear of soup or pasta sauce or any other kind of sloppy food, but you get six guys in tuxes all lined up, and they look snazzy. Especially if they’re all wearing sunglasses. Indoors.

I have been to a lot of weddings in recent years, but Sunday’s was the first time I have been in one – both a wedding and a snappy tuxedo. This was special for me partly because I introduced the bride and groom. I lived with Gary Porro all four years of college, and he was kind of a quiet guy who didn’t meet people very easily. (Which was a shame, because if you get to know Gary, it becomes immediately apparent that he’s one of the best people on Earth.) I was in several plays with his new bride, Lisa Assetta, and it was through that connection that the two of them met. Although romance did not blossom until many years later, I still take full credit, because that’s the kind of jackass I am.

So the wedding weekend arrives, and I get on a plane and fly to Boston, and within two hours, there I am at Gary’s house pulling old windowsills out of his walls. Seriously, not only does he make me put a tux on, but he puts me to work. The nerve of some people. And Lisa’s brother Guy is probably right now hanging drywall in those rooms, for free, while Gary and Lee (her preferred nickname) sun themselves in Hawaii. Who says good help is hard to find?

I’m kidding, of course. Oh, I did pull windowsills out of old horsehair for seven hours, but it was fun, and it gave me a chance to tell my story about the day I hung drywall for money. (Short version – the guy who hired me asked what kind of work I’ve done before, and I answered that I’ve been writing for newspapers and magazines. He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to teach you to hang drywall today, and when I’m done, you’ll never have to write for a living again.” And he meant it.) More importantly, as anyone who knows them will attest, Gary and Lee are the kind of people who would jump in front of a moving train for their friends. If anyone deserves total happiness (and a good, solid, insulated home), it’s them.

Lee’s dad sure seems to agree. If the hugeness of the wedding is any indication, Lou Assetta has been saving for this since he first heard the phrase, “it’s a girl.” I would guess the whole thing cost twice as much as my car. The reception was held at the Tewksbury Country Club, a mammoth and beautiful wooden hall with balconies and rafters and fountains. The band was Java Jive – three keyboards and some horns that played a mix of stuff from Harry Connick to Garth Brooks to OutKast. It was your classic wedding, full of food and dancing.

I most enjoyed seeing people I hadn’t connected with in a while. Bill and Sara Yates, who are still up in Maine and are about to have their first child. (Bill, a big Star Wars fan, was hilariously jealous of Gary’s idea to use the Imperial March as his processional music.) Calvin Sanborn, the coolest priest I know, who lives in Manhattan. (We also got to meet Cal’s great, funny boyfriend, Dan, for the first time.) Joe Wellman, another Mainer who is also expecting a child with his lovely wife Andrea. Jeff King, Jamie Grover, Jay Hutchinson – it’s fascinating to see where life has taken all of my college friends.

Then there was the conclusion of the Penguin Project, and now the truth can be told. Bridesmaid Christine Guertin has this stuffed penguin, see, and she calls it Juggernaut. She’s so attached to this penguin that it’s been an ongoing game of ours (myself, Gary and a bunch of other college buddies) to steal this penguin and put it through some form of torture. We’ve hung it from ceiling fans, thrown it down stairs, and chucked it out of third-story windows, all to see the look on Christine’s face. Well, about a year ago, we hatched this plan.

We stole the penguin from her house.

And we treated it like the garden gnome in Amelie, sending it places like Texas and Mexico, taking its picture and sending Christine emails from Juggernaut with the photos attached. Juggernaut has his own Yahoo account, and has been more places than I have. Life got in the way of the prank a bit – it should have been better than it was – but it was always supposed to culminate at Gary and Lee’s wedding. And so it did.

Midway through the reception, the lead singer of Java Jive produced Juggernaut, complete with little sunglasses and straw hat, and handed him over to a thoroughly embarrassed Christine while singing “Friends in Low Places.” Many pictures were taken, much video was shot, and it couldn’t have gone any better than it did. Many thanks to Christine for being a good sport about it, even when months would go by without word from her beloved penguin. As usual, the look on her face was worth it.

As the party wound down, I took a moment away from admiring my tux in every reflective surface I could find and really looked around. And then I looked at Gary and Lee, smiling and dancing and meeting people. If anyone doubts that you can physically see love, you need to see these two. I flashed on them cracking each other up during the wedding ceremony, and on Gary mouthing the words to “True Companion” to Lee during their first dance, and just to the way they look at each other. Gary is fond of saying that he doesn’t think he’ll ever be truly happy. I think he proved himself wrong on Sunday.

Congratulations, guys. You deserve every joy.

* * * * *

…And Death

When I was a teenage metalhead (yes, another one of these stories), I loved Pantera.

Here’s the thing. During the early ‘90s, the pantheon of metal bands started to fall apart. Metallica lost a limb when Cliff Burton died, and starting with 1991’s Black Album, they limped through more than a decade of uninspired crap. Megadeth had no such excuse, but they decided to suck anyway, and stuck to it for five increasingly awful records. Anthrax was still Anthrax, more or less, but they lost singer Joey Belladonna and started writing Seattle songs. Brazil’s Sepultura was still pretty great, but what about American metal? Wherefore art thou, Headbanger’s Ball?

The shining light amidst all the pop flotsam was Pantera, a group of four southern rednecks who never compromised their mission – pure, straight-up metal, complete with screaming vocals and shredding solos. They started out with a different singer and a more Judas Priest-style sound, but come 1990’s Cowboys From Hell, new singer Phil Anselmo locked in and Pantera made a classic metal record. And then they outdid it, twice, with 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power and 1994’s astonishingly heavy Far Beyond Driven. (It may be safe to say that Driven is the heaviest record ever to debut at number one on the Billboard chart.)

Vulgar, in particular, is linked with certain images in my mind – most ominously, the image of Steve Souza, my co-worker at Superior Junk Comics and dorm-mate at college, intoning the hook line of “This Love” at random moments. Seriously, this guy would come up to you and say, in a low, imposing, creepy voice, “I kill myself for you, I kill you for myself.” And then he would walk away. He also would blast “Fucking Hostile” from his dorm room pretty often.

I was a much bigger fan of the uncompromising Driven, especially its speed and complexity. “Shedding Skin,” “Five Minutes Alone,” “Strength Beyond Strength” – these were some of the best metal songs ever. And the not-so-secret weapon of Pantera was guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott, he of the screeching harmonic and the pulverizing riff. You could listen to Pantera just for the aggression, or you could parse out what Dimebag was doing and get a satisfying musical experience out of it. Their stuff was intense in all the best ways.

And best of all, they never sold out, not even a little bit. Their last album, 2000’s Reinventing the Steel, was a 40-minute statement of purpose, all thundering riffs and unstoppable metal power. It was a big middle finger to the corporate nu-metal that Pantera unfortunately inspired, and it turned out to be their swan song. Pantera’s breakup was acrimonious, of course – you just knew these guys wouldn’t part ways with a handshake – but Dimebag Darrell and his brother, Pantera’s awesome drummer Vinnie Paul, moved on. They formed a band called Damageplan and released their debut in February.

And now comes news from Columbus, Ohio, that Dimebag Darrell is dead, shot in the back of the head while onstage with Damageplan. Apparently an outraged fan stormed the stage with a gun, screamed something about Darrell breaking up Pantera, and killed him, along with four others. And he may have killed more people had a heroic police officer not taken him down first. Sickening stuff, and really unfortunate end to a great career. So I just wanted to say thanks to Darrell from my younger self, and rest in peace.

* * * * *

And the Greatest of These…

I have just written a story for the local paper that warmed even my cynical little heart.

The local middle school up here has a special education class that meets daily. Eight students, with disabilities ranging from autism to down’s syndrome, get together and learn about everyday things that will help them be more independent as they grow older. They learn hygiene, nutrition, and how to balance a checkbook, among other things, and they seem to have one of those rare teachers that really enjoys what she does. It’s a fun class to sit in on.

Anyway, as a project for the last few months, the students have started their own business. They called a vendor and got vending machines installed in the school hallways, machines full of pens and pencils that can be purchased for as little as a quarter each. Every day, these students rush to the machines, empty out the money, count it and deposit it in their business bank account. They’re learning about deposits, budgeting, ordering supplies, and basically running their own company.

That’s not the cool part, though. The students have just made their first purchases with the money from their business, and guess what they bought?

Gifts for needy families.

Seriously. Special education students have worked for months to buy Christmas gifts for needy children. If that doesn’t bring a snark-free smile to your face, I don’t know what will. ‘Tis the season and all that, but I have rarely seen a more tangible example of goodwill towards men than this.

And on top of that, scientists may have found a cure for tuberculosis. Life is good.

See you in line Tuesday morning.