My Only-In-New-York Wedding Experience
September 21, 2011 7:34 PM - denton
Two long-time friends of ours decided, after sixteen years of co-habitation, to get married. They were looking to keep this very low-profile, so they wished to have a civil ceremony at the City Clerk’s office. They asked me if I could be their witness, and, as long as I was at it, if I could bring my camera to record the event. They are quite an interesting couple. He’s an artist in his sixties, who supported himself as a plumber for many years. She’s Asian, much younger, working on a PhD. They live in a loft in Chelsea. He purchased it, as did so many others, in the 1970s when artists moved into these abandoned factory buildings and over the decades turned them into residences of great desire. I won’t tell you what he paid.

Since I’m an old school New Yorker, I didn’t need to find out where the City Clerk’s office is. I already knew where you get married; the Municipal Building. Because I am not a professional photographer, merely an advanced amateur, I wanted to ‘scope out’ the place in advance and look for photographic opportunities, so I wouldn’t be fumbling on the wedding day. Therefore one morning early last week, after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, I got on line to enter the Municipal Building. After going through the metal detectors, I was asked where I was headed. I replied that I wanted to go to the place where people get married.

I was laughed out of there and sent to where the new City Clerk’s office is, 141 Worth Street. Such a know-it-all I am. (Ironically, my friend the groom did the same thing, except he went to City Hall. Don’t you get married in City Hall? Umm, no.).

Did I mention old school New Yorkers? Yes, upon entering 141 Worth Street, I got a serious sense of deja-vu, and not in a good way. This building was the Department of Motor Vehicles for many years. Long before DMV Express, or any of the newer offices where an attempt is made to serve you relatively politely and efficiently, we, (old school New Yorkers) knew this place as a place to be avoided as much as possible. Here, on Worth Street, you would stand on line for hours, to get a driver’s license, or to register a car, only to be told you were on the wrong line, or were missing information, or used the wrong color ink. Fix it and get back on another line. And wait a few more hours. All the old booths, writing tables, etc. are still there.

In spite of the anti-government sentiment today, my have things changed. The DMV is a much better institution, and the City Clerk’s office is happy and pleased that you have availed yourselves of their services.

As I wandered around the building early Tuesday, I was amazed. The City has really gone out of its way to make things positive and user-friendly. I was most impressed by the photo booth they have installed. There’s a large room with state of the art continuous lighting. There’s a mural of City Hall as a backdrop. It’s set up so anyone with any kind of camera can get beautiful, evenly lit photos without using flash.

There’s a sort of antechamber that opens into the pair of small chapels. There’s a circular sofa there, and the lighting is also designed to be very bright and conducive to photography.

Of course, on Tuesday morning when I was there, it was rather sedate. My friends decided to do their wedding Friday afternoon at 3PM. It was quite a different scene when I arrived around 2PM. It was rather chaotic. I guess everyone takes off early on Friday to get married, and then they go on a honeymoon of sorts, even if they have been living together for a decade. I sat back to observe the happy madness.

Not many twenty-somethings... I would imagine they would want to do the whole walk-down-the-aisle church wedding, with starry eyes. One exception though. I observed two very young women in full white wedding dress, veils, trains, and as pregnant as can be. I later told Mrs. D when she arrived that maybe the City should open a small maternity suite in case something happens at the wedding.

Mostly, older people, probably on their second or third marriage, happy and hopeful that this will be the one that really works. All races, ethnicities, economic status, some there quietly alone as couples (like my friends), some with large happy boisterous extended families.

I’m always antsy when shooting any kind of event like this as, unlike studio shots, you only get one chance to get it right. So, I get there early, and I walk around checking everything out to make sure I have everything covered. Even after this I’m too wired to sit down and wait, I have to stand, walk around, see what’s happening.

As I was standing off to the side, two thirty-something African American women approached me. One was gorgeous by any standard, in a long white low-cut dress and a veil on her head. The other was in a slightly stranger outfit, blue pants, blue vest, blue tie, and black shirt. Each was pulling a wheeled suitcase. The latter explained to me that they had just flown up from Atlanta to get married, they didn’t know anyone in New York, and they were wondering if I could be their witness?

Why me? Hah! I guess some people can see a liberal a mile away. Anyway, I figured it was time to show New York at its best, a mecca of tolerance and peace and love. So of course I agreed, after explaining that I had a prior engagement and we would have to work out the timing (my friends were still not here). We went to the first station, where I showed my drivers license, and they got on the list for the next step to blissful matrimony. Meanwhile I suggested they might want to let me photograph them since I already had my equipment with me.

Mrs. D showed up and I introduced my new friends. Then my old friends showed up and we went through the same process. I told my old friends about my new friends. Then it was all about the numbers. You do all your paperwork, you get a number. When your number is called, you move into the anteroom by the chapels, and when your turn comes the person performing the ceremony calls you and takes you into the chapel along with your witness, and whatever dozens of friends you have brought (or not).

In the anteroom I was watching (and photographing) my blue-tied friend solicitously adjust the dress and veil of her finance. You could see how close they were. We went into the wedding chapel and the Clerk presiding was just great. No sign of any disapproval or negativity. Of course I was mostly focusing in on getting photos but I couldn’t help but hear him say ‘I now pronounce you... MARRIED.’ He humbly bowed and shook both of their hands. Really a great time.

Shortly thereafter my old friends exchanged their vows... I think the clerk did a slight double-take after seeing me witness and photograph first, two Black women, and then, an older white guy with a younger Asian woman, but I imagine he’s about seen everything that you can see.

My new friends left, footsore but happy, to catch a cab to a dive hotel in Brooklyn. They had hoped to walk across the Bridge, but they were sore and tired. My old friends, after their ceremony, I took them outside to the plaza at 375 Pearl Street, for some natural light shots. Then, neither footsore or in need of a walk across the Bridge, they went to dinner, which we politely declined, and they are now hopefully happily married.

Only in New York!

September 21, 2011 7:44 PM - petebklyn
Nice story Denton,,, a short version could make the monday nytimes in that new york column.
I did the witness thing once at boro hall for tenant/coworker of mine. we went to the diner corner of atlantic/smith for bruch celebration after. just the 3 of us.
September 21, 2011 8:00 PM - BoerumHillScott
What a great story.
I do love this city.
Edited at September 21, 2011 8:00 PM
September 21, 2011 8:02 PM - Donatella
Nice, Denton. I wish them happiness.
September 21, 2011 8:06 PM - InsertSnappyNameHere
How awesome is that!!! Great story, Denton!
September 21, 2011 8:16 PM - petebklyn
careful, your reputation as photo man will get you drafted for lot of weddings. lesbi now has play violin/viola at friends /relatives weddings all the time now.
Edited at September 21, 2011 8:16 PM
September 21, 2011 8:35 PM - InsertSnappyNameHere
Oh, and those black lesbos from ATL, did you ask 'em if they had a single friend for your pal Snappy? Hmmmm? Did ya?

September 21, 2011 8:39 PM - denton
Girl, I thought you was holding out for Venus or Serena!
September 22, 2011 6:49 AM - DeadCatBounce
And I thought you were fighting off would be paramours because there were so many of them.
September 22, 2011 8:37 AM - cobblehiller
Great story, denton! A real NY Story!
September 22, 2011 9:06 AM - Arkady
Neat story, denton! And very well told!
September 22, 2011 9:22 AM - gay smurf hoodlum
They are quite an interesting couple. He’s an artist in his sixties, who supported himself as a plumber for many years. She’s Asian, much younger, working on a PhD. They live in a loft in Chelsea.

lol. "interesting couple" you say. sorry but that's the most cliche kind of NYC couple that exists!!


September 22, 2011 9:39 AM - bxgrl
I love it, denton! I got married at "City Hall." too and it really was fun. We were waiting so long my family and witness all went out to eat at the hot dog stand. Suddenly our number came up and we had to get the papaers signed so my maid of honor was out munching a hot dog. Another friend had to fill. When we all filed into the judge's chamber, the guy had a black eye, brusies and a bandage. My ex started laughing and asked if a happy husband had beat him up. The judge smiled and asked my husband if he would like to get married or spend the night in jail. Obviously he decided to get married :(
Edited at September 22, 2011 9:39 AM
September 22, 2011 9:41 AM - bxgrl
rob- did you ever hear the expression, if you can't say something nice, stfu?
September 22, 2011 11:05 AM - MontroseMorris
Great story, Denton, and well told.

I love NY too. There are times when this is just the greatest place, and usually it's in the little things, not the mega-extravaganzas. Thanks for this story.
September 22, 2011 9:12 PM - gay smurf hoodlum
but what you just said isnt very nice bxgirl. now my feelers are hurt :(
is this brownstoner? are we filtering comment now?