Answering the Best Man Bat Call

I’ve heard it said, that if a girl walks into a bar and sees another girl wearing the same dress, she’s instantly devastated. But if two men wearing the same shirt sight each other from across the room, they may end up being each other’s best man.

So you’ve just been asked to be best man, at which point you instantly learn there’s a special room in every man’s heart that houses the fear released at the sound of the question. Whether conscious of it or not, any male with a heartbeat has a faint understanding that the speech required of him is a one-time, match-deciding, penalty shot in the Social World Cup. The crowd will be hushed, and the arena floodlit.

The honour is instant, and your answer is required at similar speed. Of course you say yes, hiding from your mate all traces of reluctance. But when the phone hangs up, instead of pouring yourself a congratulatory gin, or then and there putting pen to paper, you likely flee to a movie, throughout which you’re so full of worry that you fail to even notice that Prometheus is set in space.

So how are you going to do this? Can you do this? And will your pants stay up as you do this? Regardless of who you are, of your wealth of public speaking experience, or desolate lack thereof, your mind will categorically turn to these questions.

You are, in essence, required to be a stand-up comic for some ten minutes, and including, of course, the joy in the simple fact that your mate and his lady are making a public declaration of their love, weddings can in fact hinge on a best man speech. A good one will galvanise the occasion, a bad one will leave the guests talking about the buffet.

In the spirit of peacocking, the social perks are plentiful. It’s your one chance to simultaneously impress 150 people, to spilt the sides of your mates present, to make the groom’s parents want to adopt you, and, most capitalistically, to make tangible headway with the bridesmaids.

But the one, the only, and the molten droplet rule to know is, drum roll… that it’s not about you. This is not a medium by which to road test your unrelated amateur stand-up material, but is a chance to illustrate, in a candid, yet, crediting fashion, who this bloke getting married really is. Your mate is a Christmas tree, and it’s your job to decorate him publicly.

Of course there will be references to yourself, but veer down this path only in the name of facilitating a story about him. Equally, discredit him only with the intent of ultimately crediting him. If today he bares an athletic physique, it’s ok to talk about his old suit being made out of enough material to circumnavigate the Taj Mahal. If he still lives on a diet of Mars Bars and KFC, you’d do well to leave it out.

As a brief outline, it’s probably useful to talk about when and how you met. If you tell it well the uninitiated will find it interesting, if you tell it poorly they’ll barely commit you to memory. Next you could talk about the wonder years in which together you cut your social teeth, bearing in mind not to go into unnecessary detail about ghosts of past girlfriends.

Another tricky, but necessary one, is to talk about the bride herself. She and the best man share an interesting dynamic, for to quote Jerry Seinfeld; ‘If I’m the best man, then why is she marrying him?’ Be sure on the night to make a point of how lovely she both is and looks, but do it by no means with a twinkle in your eye. Last but not least be sure to talk about their glistening future together.

Technically you have three options. First: zero preparation, known as winging it. Second: cue cards. I’ve seen a bloke stand up, the wind blow, and along with the cards his whole life blown away in the blinking of an eye. Or third: a fully written speech. Each to their own of course, but I’ll take number three thanks, and if you opt similarly be sure to print out two copies on the day. Lest one get eaten by the chapel Rottweiler.

In all likelihood the occasion is going to include not only alcohol, but that in its finest incarnation, free alcohol. I’ve had the honour of being best man three times, at which I can accurately, depending on intake of the aforementioned, graph the effects.

I was so nervous on the virgin occasion that I spent the pre-speech hours drinking intravenously. Luckily the stairs weren’t too challenging as I stepped up on the day. But the letter ‘n’, tricky little bloke that it is, managed to sneak its way into words whose spelling otherwise exclude it. No longer was the city of reference Adelaide, but Adenlaide.

The second time I drank not a drop, whereupon my voice shook as though the microphone was running through a tremolo effect. Gig three, consisted, thankfully, of the perfect play. Just one glass of red wine; the nervous system tweaked to perfection.

But my opinion, or advice – dirty little word that it is – is worth little unless I divulge details of live fieldwork.

The most recent one I was asked to do was in March 2012. The mission, if I chose to accept it, would include a three-leg flight from London to Melbourne, followed by a four-hour drive to rural Victoria where the wedding would take place. It was the tallest of tall orders, but although the week before I suffered panic to the extent that I nearly picked up the phone to tell the groom-to-be ‘I simply cannot do this’, I knew if I could I’d be knighted amongst our clan. I knew too that the regret in declining would deny me sound sleep for the rest of my life.

I arrived in Australia six weeks later, whereupon the blood in my veins had to give way to the jet-lag running through them. I’d never before believed in jet-lag, thinking it to be no more than a wanker’s way of telling you they’ve been on a 747. But when on the big day my brain struggled to discern the difference between Near Year and New Caledonia, my opinion was forcibly changed.

The setting, on the Howqua River in Victoria’s high country – boasted Australia at its best. The ceremony was held on the riverbank, and was conducted by the groom’s father. My mate looked like a million bucks, and the bride – the autumn leaves falling on cue as she walked out – looked like ten million or more.

But all throughout the ceremony, which included mothers and mothers in-law gently battling tears of pride, and cousins and aunties with their heads poignantly tilted to the side, my nervous system kept reminding me that perhaps my speech to come, the opus of fart jokes that it could likely be, was truly inappropriate.

And it was just a couple of hours later that came the sound I’d been dreading for weeks: ‘ting ting!’ – glass and spoon – ‘and now ladies and gentleman, a round of applause for the best man.’

With my palms sweaty, and my heart beating at a personal best, my head descended into war: ‘I can’t do this! I can do this!’ I approached the microphone, which as though on cue fed back in the key of embarrassment. ‘I can’t do this! I can do this!’ I’d recently seen The King’s Speech, and as I struggled to remember my opening words, I was herein starting to feel like royalty.

I’d written my speech word for word; but although I felt it was the safest option, I was equally concerned that I’d sound as contrived as a ten-year-old girl reading poetry to the classroom. ‘I can’t do this! I can do this!’ I swallowed hard as I felt genuinely overwhelmed by the simple choice of holding the microphone in my hand or leaving it on the mic stand.

But as I stood in front of the hushed crowd, I realised what my fear was comprised of. That it was the fear of being shown up. That the actor that I am, in the drama that is my own life, would be seen for all the weakness he actually possesses.

Equally, it was the fear that came with comparison: namely that with the father of the groom, who had spoken before me. He was beyond effortless: an experienced statesman whose glasses rested regally on the tip of his nose. He hadn’t just spoken his speech but had performed it with zero notes on hand.

‘I can’t do this! I can do this!’ Something within me relaxed and the ‘can do’ half slayed the other, and like taking the first step onto a high wire, I put my notes down and adlibbed the first line.

The crowd looked instantly engaged, and I realised then that I was speaking not to a room full of social adversaries, but to people here on common purpose; those that despite their own experience with public speaking likely understand that it’s no easy feat.

At around the one minute mark came the most orgasmic sound my ears had ever heard: a room full of people laughing on my account. The relief was almost too wonderful for words, like every cell within had transformed from a pair of clenched fists into a pair of clapping hands.

I referred to my notes loosely, which remedied the contrived tone of a word-for-word read, and with more laughs came more confidence to further adlib. The joy was exponential.

As I pressed onwards, the notion of time became particularly distorted, like each minute was filled with an hour’s thought. I felt too that I’d spilt into two halves: me the doer, who – like a swan appearing graceful on the surface, but with its legs labouring under the water – was hard at work making the actual speech. And me the watcher, who could barely believe it was happening, or was thinking about tomato soup and other topics unrelated.

The doer had his hands well and truly full, but the watcher was intent on the crowd: noticing the old ladies leaning forward so as to hear adequately, and the little kids basking in the joy of being in a room full of happy adults.

It was my observation also, that just as people would laugh in the parts that weren’t meant to be funny, I’d be deafened by the sound of crickets during those I’d planned to be the funniest, at which no one laughed. Often the room was more so full of grinning faces, as opposed to audible laughter. But I’d set myself the rule to keep moving forward no matter what, especially if I got emotional.

It was over in the blinking of an eye; a blink that I was later told went for as long as fifteen minutes. Although I didn’t want to get off stage, suffering, as I was, delusions of grandeur in which I wondered if stand-up comedy was the very road for me, I was nonetheless intoxicated with relief.

Looking back, accepting the accolade of best man is one of the highlights of my life, and I will wear with pride this bravery medal until I’m an old man with a grey moustache.

So when your mate with the same shirt rings you with the best man bat call, and you see yourself standing plum in front of goal at the Social World Cup – floodlit, crowd hushed – what’s your answer going to be? Hit or miss, you’re about to make history.

By David Kerrigan.

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She loves me, she loves me not.

After the trip to see Katie in Austin in April 2014, I was 100% sure I wanted to marry her, but was unsure if popping the question, when we met up in Melbourne two months later, was a bit soon for her liking.

I decided to buy an engagement ring regardless, knowing that whether I used it in June, or at a later date, I was intent on placing it on her finger.

And so I wandered the streets of Hatton Gardens; London’s premiere engagement ring hot spot, as the most confused man on earth.

Katie and I had never talked rings, but modest and unmaterialistic in nature, I gathered she’d be disinclined towards something bold and showy, or something even diamond based at all.

I walked into an antique ring shop.

‘Can I help you Sir?’

‘I’m ahhrrr…’

‘Looking for a ring?’

‘Yes!’ I said, delighted to have gotten this far.

‘Do you know what you’re looking for?’

‘No,’ I replied, hating putting myself in a position of additional vulnerability.

‘We have a lovely range of diamond rings!’

‘No, not diamonds,’ she looked at me strange, ‘I mean, not diamonds, I think.’

‘You think?’

‘Yes, I mean, I’m sure Katie would have seen Blood Diamond, and that didn’t exactly work out too well for that lot did it?’

‘I see. So is she ostentatious by nature?’

‘Well she’s from Austin. Does that help?’

‘No. So how about something antique?’

‘Yes!’ I said, having meant to say that from the beginning.

She brought out three trays of rings, and choosing gifts for others – let alone who I hoped would become my wife-to-be – being far from my forte, I only just resisted the urge to default to eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

‘See anything you like?’ she asked.

I felt the sweat gathering on my brow.

I quickly scanned Katie’s Facebook page, in the hope of finding photos of her wearing rings, but all I found, of course, were those of lovely her and her ten little naked fingers.

‘We had a sale on yesterday!’ said the lady, ‘50% off everything!’

‘Thanks,’ I returned, wondering in what way she felt the comment could assist. ‘I think I like this one?’

‘Do you want to frighten her away?’

‘No! Why?’

‘Then definitely not that one.’

‘Well… what about this one?’

‘Depends on the message you’re trying to convey, I guess…’

Defeat was near, but it was then, like the quiet achiever amongst its loud counterparts, that I spotted a modest looking ring with a blue thingy in it.

‘This one?’ I asked tentatively, as though it was the lady herself I was buying it for.

‘Ah yes! Sapphire. The jewel of September!’

‘Well both our birthdays are in September!’ I said, feeling the victory at hand. ‘And I know that she has a blue t-shirt that she sometimes goes to the gym in?’

‘And?’

‘And I’ll take it!’

Six weeks later I arrived in Melbourne, and four days after that Katie followed. I couldn’t have been more proud to introduce her around, to my parents, brothers and mates, and adding to my inclination to pop the question, the reviews were rave. Still the devil and the angel battled it out at my shoulders. ‘What are you afraid of man?’ probed the devil. ‘Just ask!’

‘Now now… perhaps you should consider she might not feel quite ready at this time?’ affirmed the angel.

Previous to arriving in Australia, I had racked my brains for weeks, that, if I were to ask, how I would do it. ‘Where’ was the easy bit, it would be on the small footbridge at Jubilee Lake in Daylesford, near the holiday house my family had when I was a kid. But ‘how’ continued to be a bone of contention.

Katie had often talked of her childhood fascination with The Wizard Of Oz, not dissimilar to mine with Big Trouble In Little China, and so I brainstormed on ways I could incorporate it.

There were many terrible first drafts, such as envisioning myself dressing up as the scarecrow and jumping out from behind a tree, which I knew would frighten her shitless and result in a flat ‘no’, or learning to play We’re Off To See The Wizard on guitar. Even though we would be ‘in Oz’, and perhaps it could be argued that I was the wizard, I knew that any gesture with that much cheese couldn’t but be nauseating.

In time I came up with the idea of acquiring a ring box that played Somewhere Over The Rainbow when opened. I found exactly what I was looking for on line and ordered it immediately. Though it proved to be a crying shame that, for the sake of scale accuracy, Amazon didn’t photograph the item next to a dead cat, as when it arrived this ‘ring box’ was in fact a jewellery box whose size was not dissimilar to that of a weapon of mass destruction. My plan to hide it in my pocket, on a casual walk through the Australian bush, was as trumped as old Donald himself.

I booked us a weekend retreat in Daylesford ahead of time, knowing that even if the question wasn’t popped when the great day cometh, Daylesford was a place I wanted to show Katie. It felt like a year away when I booked, but testament to the hourglass from Days Of Our Lives, soon came the day where we woke up in Daylesford.

‘This was the day I was going to ask?’ said a voice in my head.

‘But you’re not going to are you?’ asked the angel.

‘Sure he is!’ replied the devil.

‘What are we doing today?’ asked Katie, yawning.

‘Ahhrrr… I was thinking…’

‘Thinking what?’

‘Thinking that we could ––‘

‘–– Do you want to go to that bakery in town?’

‘Maybe.’

‘And weren’t you thinking of taking me to that lake today?’

‘What lake?’

‘That lake you said has some footbridge you wanted to show me?’

‘Um.. yes. I was.’

As already stated, my resolution to marry her was 100%, but the agony regarding the timing was just as strong. The pros to asking that day was that it was in a place of special significance for me, and, providing she said yes, that my friends and family would experience the occasion with us when we returned to Melbourne. But still I asked myself if it was good for Katie.

We packed to go to the lake, and just for safekeeping I brought the full proposal package; the special blue ring, the supersized WOZ jewellery box, apples and bananas, and a backpack to conceal the whole affair.

As per her wish, we first went to the bakery in town, during which time she talked about a range of things that I altogether failed to listen to. I was far far away, in a land of pure irresolution, a mere on-listener to the inner debate feuding in my brain.

We finished up and continued on to the lake, and as we pulled up and hopped out the car, I could barely believe I was here at the scene I’d been visualising for so long.

The lake was as pristine as always, and perfectly mirroring the Australian bush framing it, there was not a ripple on its surface. It had been some years since I’d been here; but clearly oblivious to time, the cockatoos and rosellas sang the same old song.

Katie walked down to the lake’s edge, and I retreated to the campsite showers to quickly organise the proposal package, should I use it. The task at hand was to place the ring in the tray of the jewellery box, that in a plastic bag so the ring wouldn’t fall out and get lost, and the entire armoury in the backpack.

I walked down to the lake edge with her.

‘What’s with the backpack?’ she asked.

‘I brought some apples and bananas. We’ll be going on a bit of a walk.’

‘But we just had lunch?’

I opted not to reply.

We proceeded to walk slowly along the lake’s edge, step by step inching towards the footbridge, where, should I ask, I was going to. Katie had resumed the same conversation as in the bakery; the same in that it had the identical muffled sound of monologue not being at all listened to.

‘It’s too soon! She’s going to say no! And you’re going to feel like a right knob and never ask again!’ said the angel.

‘Ah what’s wrong with you man? Are you getting distinct shrinkage from the cold?’ inquired the devil.

‘What’s the name of that bird over there?’ asked Katie.

‘Impatience has always been your problem!’ said the angel.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘That bird?’ repeated Katie. ‘The red one?’

‘Come one man! You’re nearly 40! What are you waiting for?’ said the devil.

‘Ahhrr.. rosella. It’s a rosella.’ I said.

‘You’ve got your whole life to ask, why rush it?’ said the angel.

‘And what about that black and white bird up there?’ asked Katie again.

‘What are you gunna do? Propose when you look like Gandalf?’ probed the devil.

‘It’s a magpie.’ I said.

‘Are you feeling ok?’

‘Yeah. Why?’

‘I just get the feeling you’re not listening to me.’

We were now walking along the trail, away from the lake, when the most momentous of things happened, the footbridge came into view. I stopped dead, and although it was a piercingly cold day, I felt myself getting hot.

‘It looks a bit muddy to kneel in I reckon?’ thought I, clutching at reasons to postpone, but it was then that I felt myself grow brave, and a feeling of resolve entirely take over. ‘I’m going to ask! Yes I am! Yes I definitely am! Yes I definitely am! I think?’

We inched towards the footbridge, as the devil and angel resorted to a degree of violence that the Australian Football League could only describe as, “a bloody disgrace!”

Whack!

The footbridge was just a few feet away.

Boof!

The footbridge was upon us.

Smack!

We arrived, at which point the most awful of things happened, I lost my nerve altogether and we walked right past it.

‘You limp! Floppy! Wilted sack of ––‘ said the devil, withering away like the Wicked Witch of the East.

‘–– It’s smarter this way! Much much smarter!’

After two months of anticipation; of having chosen a ring, of having thought out a proposal, and knowing full well that there would never again be our first trip together to Australia, with all the excitement of just having met my family and friends, there were no words to describe the disappointment I felt as our moment was washed away.

Feeling sick to my stomach, we kept walking along the trail, until after about fifteen minutes we discovered a solitary mineral water pump in the middle of the bush. I had forgotten all about it, only then remembering that we used to come here and fill up plastic bottles when I was a kid.

The pump was on a slightly raised area of earth, and circumnavigating it was a clearing, creating an almost natural circular altar. Katie walked over and stood on the highest part of the ground. I followed, and having slipped the backpack off my shoulder and placing it at my feet, I faced her.

We were completely on our own, and immersed in silence, save for the sounds of birds near and far, and the air, or cessation of the battle of the voices in my head, created a marked stillness.

‘You know,’ said Katie, ‘if ever we got married, somewhere like this would be perfect.’

The devil rose up from the grave and kicked me in the place of distinct shrinkage. ‘That’s your cue man! Fffuucckkeenn aaassskkk!’

With my heart thumping in my chest, I leaned down to the backpack and unzipped it just enough to see the plastic bag with the proposal package. Katie, looking the other way, proceeded to tell a story about how this spot reminded her of a place in Louisiana where she used to play when she was a little girl.

With one hand, I managed to break the plastic bag so as to get to the jewellery box within, yet as though by some trick of the angel, when I stood up and presented it to Katie, in my hands was not it but the apple.

She faced me with a look of detached bewilderment.

‘So… ahhrr… do you want an apple?’ I asked.

‘No.’

‘What about a banana?’

‘No, thanks.’

‘But really, I have a banana also, and I think it’s a good one in that it’s definitely yellow.’ I said, mustering any excuse to justify leaning down to the backpack a second time.

I did just that, but as I fumbled for the jewellery box, I bumped it hard causing it to play the singular first note from the Somewhere Over The Rainbow tune.

‘What was that?’ asked Katie.

‘The birds.’

She looked away as she continued her story.

This was it, this was really it, the big moment had come, the moment where I was to utter four words in a particular order that I had never uttered them before.

With the box firm in hand I stood up. But where I had meant to hold it in front of me, open the drawer, reveal the ring, and then pop the question of concern, in a flash of panic I instead hid it behind my back.

‘What’s that?’ she asked, having stopped her story.

‘Nothing.’ I said, focusing on warding off the heart attack in my ribs.

‘What?’ she asked, as though sensing more.

‘Ahhrr…’

‘What?’

‘I was wondering if…’

‘If, what?’

‘I was wondering if you…’

I brought the box around to my front and opened the drawer.

‘I was wondering if you would marry me?’

It was surely the most fumbled proposal in the history of them; so much so that I was certain I had accidentally replaced the word marry with Harry, but the four words that came out of her mouth then after proved otherwise.

‘Of course I will,’ she said.

By David Kerrigan