Sunday, October 23, 2011

Andy & Rebecca's Wedding

Photo courtesy of Gary and Aneta Photography

I don't know about you, but I have a hell of a time remembering much about anyone's wedding, including my own. Unless something extraordinary, unusual, or calamitous takes place, weddings have very little chance of finding their way into my brain. Up until this summer, here were the top 3 weddings that managed a cerebral foothold:
  1. Joanne & Kevin Murphy: The sight of the head table collapsing and sending silverware, place-settings and food all over the dance floor is permanently seared into my brain. The fact that my Uncle Joe managed to parlay that disaster into a free glass of champagne for everyone vaulted this wedding into legendary status.

  2. Donna & Danny Sears: Just because this wedding took place outdoors under a tent during a downpour was not enough to ensure that I'd remember it. However, watching Doug Peikin, Danny's brother-in-law, heroically battle the rivers of water that flowed through the dance floor put this wedding on my brain's threshold. What caused it to move into my brain and take permanent residence was the Keystone Kops impersonation that Linda McKain and I performed while assisting Aunt Mary from the tent in the backyard to an indoor bathroom, less than 30 feet away. All three of us got drenched and Aunt Mary lost a shoe!

  3. Janet & Steve Sutton: Very few men can dance well and my friend, Marty, is no exception to that rule. The 4 or 5 Miller Draft's that he consumed didn't help either. Midway through a swing dance maneuver with my wife, Marilynn, Marty lost his grip on her hand, went pirouetting across the room and leveled the gift table. Time stood still for me at that moment and I can clearly remember the entire scene over 30 years later.
With that lengthy backdrop, let me announce that my son, Andrew Mullen, married Rebecca Slovak on Sunday, August 28, 2011, in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. How will I ever remember this wedding? Easy.

Five days prior to the wedding, a "once in a century" earthquake hit the east coast of the United States. Measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale, it was felt as far north as Canada and actually damaged the Washington Monument!

Washington Monument Damage

Around the same day, Hurricane Irene was wreaking havoc on the Dominican Republic with a projected path that pointed it straight through Philadelphia!

Path of Hurricane Irene

If all of that wasn't enough, a tornado warning was issued for the general Cranbury, NJ area on August 27th -- the day before the wedding!

Tornado Warning!

With this incredible trifecta of natural disaster swirling all around the upcoming wedding, what was the prudent thing to do? The answer: celebrate Andy and Rebecca's wedding with 5 different parties!!!!

Party #1: Gathering at Leanne & John Clancy's house in Philadelphia, Friday evening, August 26

For a few of us, this was three parties in one. The festivities began at around 2pm with a "rehearsal luncheon" of sorts at the Uno Chicago Grill in the Neshaminy Mall. Was the food any good? I think so, but I honestly can't remember. What I do remember is that they had Guinness, Chimay Triple Ale, and Rogue Dead Guy Ale on tap. It was also during this luncheon that we learned that my daughter, Sara (one of the bridesmaids), was going to be able to make it to the wedding after all. Her employer, Unitil, had previously canceled all vacations in order to prepare for the onslaught of Hurricane Irene. However, after a slight change in the projected path of the storm and effective preparatory work by Sara, her management relented and allowed her to attend. Tremendous news!

From there, we headed to Barbara & Marc Slovak's house to relax a bit prior to the party at the Clancy's. Since Brian Saghy (one of the groomsmen) had some time on his hands, he decided to dabble in one of his favorite pastimes: inventing new mixed drinks. In honor of the wedding that would join Irish Catholic and Jewish families, Brian decided to create a drink called "The Celtic Rabbi". After experimenting on all of us for more than an hour, Brian finally came up with a drinkable mixture that consisted of a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey, a lot of Manischewitz, a dash of bitters and a splash of vermouth. I can't remember the exact ratios that Brian used, but I clearly recall that it was a damned potent drink that put everyone in the perfect mood for the Clancy party!

I had met John Clancy prior to the party, but when I arrived to his house that evening it was clear that I was going to get along great with him. He was dressed in work clothes and had just gotten off the roof where he had been checking out a potential leak or something. I shook his hand and accompanied him into the basement to drag up a few chairs for the party. I felt like a member of the family immediately. John and Leanne were perfect hosts, the food and drink were fantastic, and the conversation even better. My son, Dave, tried his hand at making a Celtic Rabbi for anyone willing to try one or, in my case, two. Why not? Marilynn was driving!

Party #2: Outdoor Barbecue in Cranbury, Saturday afternoon, August 27

When we awoke the next morning it was warm and sunny with no indication whatsoever that a Category 1 hurricane was dumping sheets of rain slightly south of Washington DC. A 30' x 30' tent that we rented to protect the party from rain had been set up the day before, but was it hurricane proof? In order to avoid finding out, we moved the start of the party from 3pm to 1pm and began serious party preparations. That basically meant picking up the ½ keg of Rogue American Amber Ale that I had ordered at the Cranbury Buy-Rite Liquor store (a truly fine establishment). Next, in true Mullen fashion, Dave and I used duct tape and clothes pins to attach an awning to the tent, creating a makeshift "beer alcove". That alcove would be put to heavy use later on.

Duct tape and clothes pins

We then set up a table under another tent to hold two speakers, a receiver, and an iPod while Marilynn put the finishing touches on our key party decoration: a bride and groom scarecrow in the raspberry garden.

Note the total lack of birds

The party was all set. But how many people would actually brave a hurricane to attend an outdoor barbecue? As it turns out, a lot! Almost 100 people showed up! Diana Shulman won the prize as the first guest to arrive, showing up an hour earlier than everyone else so that she could explore Cranbury a little. The rain actually held off until after 3pm. When it did start, it was a warm rain which the kids seemed to love running around in. There were no heavy winds so the adults, for the most part, stayed dry. Here are a few representative pictures of the event:

Mike and his "Frosty Bird" in action on the left

Jonathan mastering the fine art ...

Two kids having fun

The food (catered by Famous Dave's) arrived at 4pm, just as the rain began to intensify. Rather than have them set up their own tent, we had them serve the food from our screened-in porch. And there was a ton of food! A lot of it was gone by 6pm, but Marilynn and I were still eating barbecued chicken and pulled pork a couple of months later. As for the beer, the keg was floating when the party finally ended at around 7pm when a guy from Central Jersey Tent called and politely asked us if he could please come and save their brand new tent from the approaching hurricane. I was out lounging under the tent conversating and drinking a beer when I got the word that Marilynn had actually closed down the party! Smart move.

Party #3: Gathering at the hotel bar Saturday night, August 27

By around 8pm, almost everyone was either at the Hampton Inn in Bensalem or on their way there from Cranbury. The rain from Irene was fairly heavy by that time, but driving conditions were relatively good. After checking in at the hotel, though, it was clear that the night wasn't over by a long shot. All of the designated drivers were looking to party! Ironically, Mary and Tom Kinslow's room was designated as the party room, so a bunch of us hung out there for a while. My brother, Mike, put away his Frosty Bird and began pouring Bacardi Hurricanes for anyone who wanted one. I augmented that with a couple of growlers that I had filled with beer from the keg prior to leaving Cranbury, so it took us a while before we joined up with everyone else at the hotel bar. Once we got down there, though, it was tough to leave. The wedding wasn't until 2pm the next day, so nobody was in a hurry to get to bed.

Party #4: The wedding on Sunday afternoon, August 28!!!!

Everyone awoke (a little groggy from the previous night) to discover that the worst of the hurricane had passed over us during the night. Plenty of rain had fallen, trees and branches were down, and there were reports of flooding in various areas around Philadelphia. A light rain was still falling but, all in all, things looked pretty good. Then, Rebecca got a call from the manager of the Belle Voir, where the wedding was scheduled to be held. Due to storm damage, the road leading to the facility had been closed by the local police. The wedding would have to be rescheduled. One would think that 11th hour news of this nature would result in panic, stress, tears and/or anger from the bride and groom. Instead, well, here's how Marc describes what happened:
"For me the defining feature through all of this was the way that Rebecca and Andy dealt with all of the stress and problems, both real and anticipated. Except for that single moment that it looked like Sara might not be able to attend (and they both almost lost it) they focused on the issue at hand and figured out the best way to see this through. When the wedding was cancelled at 9:00 AM, although it was probably the hardest thing they ever had to do, they both readily agreed that - "then we'll just have the ceremony at the hotel and have the party some other time". At that moment I knew there was no way I was going to let this not happen and I took off to see for myself what the situation was. It would have been so easy for them to complain and break down over what was being thrown at them but they never gave in to that and kept their faith intact. It was truly a remarkable performance and if they approach life in general that way then they will be monstrously successful."
What Marc failed to make clear was that he, personally, saved the day. He jumped into his car and headed out to the Belle Voir to survey the situation personally. As advertised, the road leading into the facility had been blocked off by a police car. When Marc asked an officer what happened, the officer pointed down the road and said that a utility pole was down. An authentic recreation of the scene is provided below:

Marc then asked the officer why the entrance to Belle Voir was closed when the downed utility pole was at least two blocks further down State Road. The officer replied (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Sir, would you want to put all of your wedding guests at risk?" To which Marc replied, "Yes I would!" Amazingly, the cop said "OK" and allowed Marc to proceed to the Belle Voir and talk to the manager. Since the police had no objection and since all of the wedding staff had either slept at the Belle Voir the night before or had already arrived, the manager agreed to let the wedding proceed. Hooray for Marc! Hooray for Andy & Rebecca!

A flawless wedding and reception then ensued. It would take hundreds of photos and a blog twice this length to do the wedding justice, so I'll only attempt to document a few personal highlights.

The ketubah: Who knew that the bride and groom at a Jewish ceremony were already married prior to the actual public wedding ceremony? Being present in the room where the wedding contract was signed was truly an honor and something that I'll always remember.

The chuppah: The chuppah is a canopy, of sorts, that the bride and groom stand under during the wedding ceremony. It consists of a sheet supported by four poles, symbolizing the home that the couple will build. If that's the case, then Andy & Rebecca's home is going to be fantastic! Marilynn's quilt, in the center of the canopy, will be something that they will be able to frame and display in that home as a reminder of their wedding. The photo below was provided by Marilynn's brother, Carl Goedecke:

The chuppah, wih Marilynn's artwork

The wedding toasts: I've never been very good at toasts, so I listened in awe as Marc, Lila, and Dave all delivered polished and heartfelt speeches in a confident, natural manner. All of them (even Marc!) managed to hold it together during what were very emotional moments for them as well as us. Well done!

The First Dance: I don't cry for anything; not funerals or weddings or even when my kids were born. I didn't even cry when DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants last year with a 65 yard punt return as time expired! For some reason, though, when I saw Andy and Rebecca dancing their first dance as husband and wife, I got a lump in my throat and a tad misty-eyed. I couldn't take my eyes off of them. The picture below (also taken by Carl Goedecke) caught the moment perfectly.

Their first dance as husband and wife

The Hora: There are two things that are totally awesome about the Hora. First, the way that it kick-starts a wedding reception is something that simply cannot be beat. Instantaneously, every wedding guest is up on the dance floor clapping or dancing or yelling. It's total madness! Second, and even more important, are the chairs! I had seen it in the movies, but never in person. Truth be told, I was a little nervous about being hoisted up in one of those chairs, not because of fear of being dropped, but because I had no idea if it was OK for a non-Jewish Irishman to take part. I asked Marc if it was OK and he said, "Go for it!", so I did! I'm here to tell you that it was the single most entertaining thing that I've ever experienced at a wedding! I'm planning on incorporating it somehow into my 50th wedding anniversary in 2027 when Marilynn and I renew our vows. I'll be, like, 72 years old, so please don't drop me!

Another fantastic Gary & Aneta photo!

The Band: I'm sure there are better wedding bands in the world than The Heartbeats, but I've never heard them. These guys were just too good to be believed. There were 10 performers in the band and at least 4 of them could sing extremely well. At one point, the guy playing the trombone picked up a microphone and belted out a spot-on version of "Under the Boardwalk". Later, one of the women stepped out and did an excellent version of "Poker Face". It was so good, in fact, that it almost erased my mental block against Lady GaGa! Did I mention that they had a horn section? They did. And a damned good one. At one point, all of the horn players came down off the stage onto the dance floor and played among the crowd. Very cool. During one of their sets, though, the sun came out. It was so beautiful outside that many people went out onto the terrace, virtually emptying the dance floor. While I couldn't blame anyone for going outside, I eventually went out and dragged a bunch of them back inside, just in time for the band's rousing rendition of "YMCA". The photo below, by Tom Kinslow, does a great job of capturing the fun we were having:

You know, it IS fun to stay at the YMCA!

The Photographers
: It might seem unusual to single out the photographers at a wedding. After all, they're not members of either family and their job is to operate in the background, out of sight as much as possible. But Gary and Aneta Segler deserve a mention in this blog. The effort that they put forth under such adverse conditions was incredible. (I think Gary went through 4 shirts!) They were everywhere with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. When the wedding was over I said, "Great job, Gary!" He replied, "Don't say that!! You haven't even seen the pictures!" But I've known Gary and Aneta for over a decade, working with them in the IT Department of Bristol-Myers Squibb. I know the quality of the work that they produce. There was no doubt in my mind that their photos would reflect that same level of quality. I've now seen all the photos that they took and I was absolutely right. They are magnificent! I've included a couple of them in this blog, but you'll have to wait until the next family gathering to see all of them. Truly a fantastic job by an incredibly talented couple. The photo below (taken by me and my iPhone) demonstrates the lengths that Gary will go to in order to get the perfect shot. Keep in mind that it had just been raining!

Party #5: Post wedding parties at the hotel bar and at Marc and Barbara's house, August 28

Following the wedding, the party didn't end for many of us. While some had to leave immediately, a group went back to Marc and Barbara's house to have a nightcap or two and open the presents that the wedding couple had received. Those staying at the Hampton Inn, however, picked up right where the wedding ended. Once again, Mary & Tom Kinslow's room was the focal point for an energetic and boisterous group, led by none other than Uncle Joe. You couldn't get near that room without being dragged into a discussion of golf or an Irish song or two. I stayed there for about an hour before heading down to the hotel bar. Like the night before, guests from both sides of the family were hanging out there. The most notable personality of the evening has to go to Lacee Mullen, wife of my nephew, Jonathan. She had obviously enjoyed herself thoroughly at the wedding and at the bar and was in no condition to operate heavy machinery (if you get my drift). Most of us figured that she was an early candidate for dismissal, but we were wrong! She switched to drinking nothing but water and stayed up laughing and talking with the entire group until almost midnight! I've never seen such a comeback performance in my entire bar experience. Truly remarkable.

It was a great evening. It was relatively warm outside so, as time went by, everyone gravitated to a patio just outside the hotel bar. We sat on a nearby stone wall and rehashed the events of the weekend. It was a great moment and a lot of fun was had by all. It also gave us the perfect opportunity to properly introduce Mary (Tommy Kinslow's girlfriend) to the combined Kinslow/Mullen families. I'm thinking we'll be seeing her again soon.


On Monday morning, everyone was faced with the task of returning home. For some (like Marilynn and me) it was fairly easy. While there had been substantial flooding in Cranbury over the weekend with plenty of downed trees, the water had receded by the time we arrived home. We were, however, left with a graphic reminder in our backyard that a hurricane had, indeed, passed through:

Note: It would not have hit the party tent!

Others (like my sister, Annie, who lives in Woodstock, NY, or anyone that came from New England) had to endure many, many hours of detours and bumper to bumper traffic before they got home safely. And almost everyone arrived to find wet basements, roads washed out, trees down, power out, or sections of their town flooded. As such, I want to sincerely thank all of you for the tremendous effort that you made and the time that you spent to make Andy and Rebecca's wedding a truly memorable event, one that I promise you I'll remember years from now.

Post-Wedding Comments

Barbara Slovak (mother of the bride):
"An additional feature which made the weekend and the wedding so spectacularly incredible is how our families came together. Certainly eating and drinking together on Saturday was a wonderful way for our extended families to begin to get to know each other, beginning at your house and continuing into the night at the hotel. And then at the wedding – wow! So much joy and so much energy expressed in celebrating Rebecca’s and Andy’s marriage."

"In addition, for Marc and me, it was truly wonderful to have you, Marilynn, Sara, and Dave all participate so fully in the wedding ceremony, and to then hear from so many members of your family that they enjoyed the wedding ceremony and found it meaningful. And, of course, who will ever forget seeing you and Marilynn held up on chairs as the music played! The differences between our families could have caused some difficulties, but, instead the commonalities brought everyone together. We feel so good about how our families came together as one."

Dennis Slovak (uncle of the bride) listed the following memorable events:
  1. "Jonah's dancing on the floor in front of the stage while Marc was having his dance with Rebecca. He was hilarious."
  2. "The fact that Marc cut his hair for the first time in over 35 years."
  3. "The amazing job Marilynn did on the chuppah."
Charles Wills (a longtime friend of mine):
"I was overwhelmed how friendly everyone is. Each and everyone went out of their way to make me feel welcome and to spend time talking to me. Tom [Kinslow] made sure I had a seat at their table in the reception. Karen [McGarvey] talked to me to make sure that the only reason I wasn’t dancing was because of my ankles and not because no one had asked. Annie [Patrick] made sure I had enough to eat at the breakfast at the hotel and that I finished everything I took. Sean [Mullen] took about twenty minutes to talk to me about the Jets and Giants. Uncle Joe wanted to sing with me (one song was all I could muster – “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”). I really felt sad as I was leaving and can’t wait to see everyone again."

"Rebecca’s Dad also took the time to talk to me to make sure I enjoyed everything even though I’m sure he had no idea who I was. I felt he just wanted to share his happiness with everyone."

Clara Elser (a bridesmaid):
"I am neither a Mullen nor a Slovak but sharing the experience with everybody has made me feel connected to both clans."

Pat Sears (my aunt):
"I loved so much I don't know where to start. Talking to all of you is always very special to me. I especially enjoyed talking with Barbara [Slovak]; she was so grateful so many of us were able to be there. Both mothers were radiant and the bride was so beautiful in her gorgeous dress."

Katie Ferguson (my niece):
"We had a great time! The food at your house was wonderful and we (especially the girls) loved the band! "

Carl Goedecke (Marilynn's brother):
"WHAT A WEDDING! Irene [Carl's wife] has a memorable quote. Andy responded to her just after she said "I had a hard time not to cry because Rebecca was so beautiful"; Andy responded, "I felt the same!"

Mary Kinslow (my sister):
"We had a terrific time! It is really amazing that so many people were able to make it to all the festivities given the hurricane. Will a hurricane stop a Mullen gathering?? Heck no!! We really had a ton of fun every step of the way - from your pre-wedding party to the hotel party (in the bar area and in our room) to the wedding and then again the post wedding parties!! Tons of fun! I absolutely loved the wedding ceremony itself - it was so personal which made it so special!

Annie Patrick (my sister):
"What sticks out in my mind is Dave's speech, the vows, and the Hora Dance. My dances with Carl [Marilynn's brother] and Marc were very memorable and fun too!!

Unbelievably, there was still cold beer in the keg when I returned to Cranbury on Monday, August 29. So, before returning the keg, I did what had to be done: I poured one last "Winston Long" beer and toasted the bride and groom.

Mazel Tov
Andy and Rebecca! Todah Rabbah Marc and Barbara!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

58 in a row!

Sometime back in the mid-80's, I made 42 foul shots in a row. At least I think I did. It was a number in the 40's, that much I'm sure of. I clearly remember where I did it, though: at the Hun School in Princeton. A group of us used to play pick-up ball there a couple of times a week. Whenever my team lost and had to sit a game, I used to shoot foul shots on one of the side baskets. One night, everything clicked and I made 42 in a row. Since I never wrote anything down, though, the details have faded. I'm not making that mistake this time.

On Tuesday, September 27, 2011, I tore a muscle in my upper right calf playing morning basketball at the Princeton YMCA. It was probably the worst muscle tear/pull in my life. I could barely put any weight on my right leg for about 4 days. It was so bad that I actually had to get a substitute to teach my Spinning classes for two weeks!

On the morning of Saturday, October 15, 2011, the calf had healed enough to allow me to shoot on the sidelines while a group of guys I currently play with played pickup basketball at the Princeton Theological Seminary. While I still couldn't shoot a jump shot, I was able to shoot foul shots. Over the course of about 90 minutes, I talked with the guys, watched them play, trash-talked from the sidelines, and shot well over 200 foul shots. My shot was OK -- I had a few streaks of 20+ in a row -- but nothing fantastic. At the end of the morning, though, after all the games had ended and everyone was cooling down or packing to leave, I got into a groove. In the span of about 15 minutes, I made 58 foul shots in a row! The 59th shot felt perfect as well but was just a little long, hitting the back of the iron and bouncing straight back to me.

When the streak ended I looked around. Only one guy was left in the gym. Sadly, I couldn't use him as a witness. He had been watching me shoot but wasn't really paying attention. He had no idea that I had made 58 in a row. That's OK. I didn't have a witness 20+ years ago when I made 42!