PHILLIP GEORGE, fellow student, asked me to usher for his wedding while we were getting off the city bus. I didn't know him very well, so I figured that I was an alternate for one of his buddies. ``Sure,'' I said, with an upbeat to my voice. Phillip thanked me, then hurried down the street to meet his honeypie. The truth is, I did not want to be one of Phillip's ushers. With everybody divorcing minutes after declaring ``I will,'' the ceremony is often seasoned with an anticlimactic flavor.
But what worried me was the rental fee of the tuxedo. Phillip took me to Black Tie Tuxedo and showed me the gray tuxedo I had to wear. It was nice, but to pay $54 to wear it for one day seemed a bit too much.
I talked over the tuxedo problem with Percy Carp. Percy was a bubbly girl who followed a mysterious code of logic that I was never able to understand. I liked Percy. She was never dull. ``Look,'' she said, ``why can't you just wear one of your suits?''
``Percy,'' I said impatiently, ``all the ushers have to wear the same thing. Haven't you ever been to a wedding?''
``Only my father's. But I don't remember any ushers.''
``Most weddings have ushers, Percy, and in all the weddings I've been to the ushers have worn identical suits.''
``I've got it! You won't have to spend a thing. Alice has loads of really obscure clothes. I'm sure she's got a suit that will match the one you need.''
``Well...,'' I mumbled.
``Oh, come on, it'll be fun.''
``I suppose it's worth a try.''
Alice lived with her parents in a mammoth three-story house. We entered a walk-in closet. Percy picked up a pair of yellow bell-bottoms. ``Oh, Roger, these are you!''
``Wait,'' said Alice, ``how's this?''
``That's perfect,'' blurted Percy.
Alice stood holding a gray suit that looked remarkably like the one Phillip prescribed at Black Tie Tuxedo. I tried it on. It swallowed me.
``Don't worry about the size thing,'' said Percy. ``I can fix that. Donna has one of these computer sewing machines. I can have that suit custom-made with a push of a button.'' Alice also found a ruffled shirt (with a coffee stain on the collar) and a clip-on bow tie (which was missing the clip). Percy convinced me it would all work out.
At the wedding rehearsal dinner, Phillip occasionally looked somber. I asked him how things were going. ``I'm not sure,'' he said. ``I love Susan, but something doesn't seem right.''
``If I were you I would postpone this thing,'' I said. This suggestion disturbed Phillip and he stopped talking.
On the morning of the wedding, Percy was making alterations. ``I don't want to rush you, Percy,'' I said. ``But the wedding starts in three hours and this suit has a long way to go.''
``Donna told me how to work this machine, but it's not cooperating. I'm only making things worse. Why don't you just wear it like it is?''
If I had paid the $54, rented the prescribed tuxedo - played it safe - life would have sailed smoothly ahead.
``What can I say, Percy?'' I said in the sewing room, adorned in my Salvation Army Deluxe. The pants were baggy and too short, the jacket was twice as baggy as the pants, the ruffled shirt was glaringly showing off its immunity to bleach, and the bow tie sagged under a strained safety pin.
``Dashing!'' exclaimed Percy.
Phillip's wedding was held at a thunderously large church with a ceiling that touched the sky. Thousands of people were about to fall into hysterics over my suit. I was going to be the talk of the congregation, a major distraction. I had arrived two hours before the wedding, hoping for a solution.
Phillip and the other ushers shortly arrived, their tuxedos synthesizing painfully well. Phillip briskly took me aside. ``Roger, what happened?''
``Well, I had this plan and it didn't quite work out,'' I replied.
``You can't be seen like that,'' he said. ``You look awful.''
``I'm sorry, Phillip. I messed up.''
``I'll tell you what,'' he said. ``You can be my groomsman.'' Phillip was reaching for a title and this is what he came up with. My duties involved tagging him around. My position was akin to the best man's assistant.
``I'm just not sure,'' Phillip said in the dressing room.
``Not sure of what,'' I said.
``Then don't. It's not like this is your last chance. Phillip, you're only 20.''
The ushers entered the room. They knew something was wrong. Phillip looked pale. ``I think he's going to cancel,'' I said. Naturally, they were surprised and confused. We all discussed the matter and determined that Phillip really didn't want to get married. We encouraged him to cancel the wedding. ``But it would be too embarrassing,'' he kept repeating. He went back and forth and finally made the decision.
As the ushers marched down the aisle, they looked woefully distraught, and the bridesmaids, unaware, looked calm and serene. Of course, my sloppy attire didn't allow me to participate in the procession. So I stood under a stained-glass window. When it was Phillip's turn to go down the homestretch, his slick, stylish tuxedo looked twice as foolish as my Salvation Army Deluxe. Perhaps Phillip would admit the same thing, except I detected a smirk of satisfaction when he walked back down the aisle, arm in arm with his bride.