Wedding Toasts and Kurt Vonnegut Don’t Mix

by admin on November 18, 2010

I’ve debated a while whether to submit this to you or not. I finally decided to, because the story is just too hilarious not to share, and because the unfortunate denizen of etiquette hell just so truly did not understand what he had done wrong, that no one, then or now, could be mad at him.

I’ll call him “Sean”. Sean is a friend of mine, and he is the best friend of “Jake”, so when Jake got married to “Julia”, naturally he was the best man. I’m also friends with both Jake and Julia, so I was at their wedding reception.

At the time, Sean was a graduate student in philosophy, and he’s long been famous in our circle of friends for being absent-minded and for having a decidedly off-kilter way of looking at things, which may explain what came next.

As he stands up to give his toast, he starts out by saying that he had difficulty composing it, because although he and Jake had had many great times together, he couldn’t think of anything that he could say in mixed company, har har. People laugh politely.

So, he pulls out a copy of Shakespeare’s “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” and reads it dramatically. For those unfamiliar with the poem, it’s a cynical diatribe against man’s inhumanity to man. Not exactly happy wedding material, especially since it contains the line “Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly”. He finishes this poem by saying that when life is cold, the bride and groom should cling to each other. Ok. A little weird, but ok.

However, at this point, it goes completely off the rails. He says he has one more example for the bride and groom. He then begins to recount, in agonizing detail, the plot of the Kurt Vonnegut short story “Welcome to the Monkey House”. I’ll let you look up the plot of the story for yourself if you don’t know it; I had never heard of the story before that day. To keep matters much shorter than Sean did, I’ll just say that I have never heard a collective gasp louder than the one that went up when Sean said the phrase “and he rapes her”. I kept my face in my hands, cringing, for most of it; at one point, I heard an irate bride’s relative at the next table say, “Who is this guy?” People were shifting around and muttering and giggling nervously; through it all, Sean seemed totally unaware of the effect he was having.

When the summarization was finally over, Sean basically says that his point was that no one in the short story understood sex, love, and procreation, but that Jake and Julia did understand the proper meaning of these things. This came across as a thinly veiled reference to the fact that Julia was about five months pregnant.

Sean later asked people how they liked his speech, and seemed confused and surprised when people stammered and hedged and (in the case of some friends) tried gently to inform him that it wasn’t quite appropriate. 1117-10

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