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Upon Initial Review, Week 4

Wedded Blitz!

A sabermetric analysis of the September New York Times weddings announcements

Before we begin, I’d like to take a moment to thank FOG (Friend of Grantland) Alex Morrison, who kindly and expertly put together the lovely Society Scoreboard you see above. It’s an interactive graphic: Click on any of this month’s Top 15 — now expanded from 10! — and you’ll see their NUPTIALS breakdown and the best sentence from each winning announcement. (Note that in the event of a tie, the order was determined by who “won” the most individual categories.) Anyway, a champagne toast to you, Alex Morrison! Onward!

This September was all about the creative types. Typically, winning couples are more traditional — sons of bankers, sons of lawyers — but this month they were the Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters. Take our winning couple, Laura Weidman and Michael Powers. Sure, on the surface they appear to have the standard credentials: They met at Stanford, from which they both received law degrees and the bride an MBA; the groom is a lawyer, etc.

But remember when all the New York City cabs were decorated with daisies? That was partly because of the bride, who oversaw the “Garden in Transit” project in 2006 and 2007. It’s no wonder she skewed creative: Her family is in possession of both a Tony Award (to her dad, a “librettist whose work includes the new book for Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes'”) and a Pulitzer (to her grandfather, “who wrote, with George Abbott, the book for the musical ‘Fiorello!'”).

While they may have the most points, though, Weidman and Powers are far from the most free-spirited souls to be wed this September. In no particular order, we have:

1. Trina Willard and Joseph Whinney, one of the month’s featured “Vows” couples, whose children became besties before their parents had even met. Here’s Willard:

Ms. Willard, a preschool teacher and parent coach, had lived a life that was determinedly unconventional. She grew up near St. Louis, and at 19, after getting attention for her long black hair, shaved it off. She trained in music, opera and theater, and after moving to Seattle she lived in an urban commune called the Emma Goldman Finishing School. During the Iraq war, she composed a peace ballad and performed it at a rally in Seattle’s Volunteer Park. She was a script consultant on a 2009 independent film called “Humpday” and played a small role.

First of all, calling an urban commune a “Finishing School” is seriously a stroke of genius. But when I read in the article that her future husband, Whinney, was “a CEO,” I thought this would be an odd couple pairing. Nope: In the Parenthetical Aside of the Month, we learn that his business is “a chocolate factory that used only organic, fair-trade cacao.” That’s not all:

He told her stories about his youth in New Hope, Pa., like the time he dropped out of high school to follow the Grateful Dead, even though he was the senior class president. He told of helping set up an organic farm for nuns in Vermont, and, of course, he spoke about his passion for chocolate and social change, and the years spent building relationships with cacao growers in Central America.

You can guess how it all ends. (The money quote comes from Willard’s precocious daughter, who admits that “my mom became so irritating because she was always so infatuated all the time.”)

2. Rachel Katz and David Darwin: Amazingly, Willard/Whinney wasn’t the wackiest pair to be showcased in the “Vows” column. That honor went to Katz and Darwin (né Smith; he “changed it to Darwin shortly before the wedding” because “Neither of us are crazy about Katz or Smith … we both felt they were really common names and we were both tired of common”).
Honestly, “common” should really be the very least of their worries. Here are some selected sentences from the announcement:

  • “As a shy and awkward teenager, David Matthew Darwin learned to juggle, play the harmonica and wrap his legs around the back of his head — sometimes all at once — as a way to attract the attention of girls.” [That’s the VERY FIRST SENTENCE.]
  • “Ms. Katz knows the goth scene in Philadelphia well. She even works in darkness: 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.”
  • “He’s 6-6. He’s enormous. I’m 5-4, but I wear a lot of big shoes. Sometimes, tall single women glare at me like I’m stealing one of theirs.”
  • “Both like zoos, the Victorian era in literature and fashion, Bob Dylan, Halloween, ‘The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,’ Erasure and Elvis Presley.” [Erasure!!!!!]
  • “In their backyard, they now have a trapeze setup that looks like a monstrous praying mantis.”
  • “Mr. Randi [the “magician, author, and a minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanism” who officiated the wedding] began the ceremony by announcing that, unfortunately, he had grown too old to do his ‘naked dance on fire’ for the crowd of 200 guests.”
  • [On her son’s choice to cover the aisle with broken glass from a wine bottle and carry the bride over it after the end of the ceremony]: “‘It’s not a trick,’ said Nancy Smith, the bridegroom’s mother. ‘This is real broken glass. This is a little dangerous. I don’t ask too many questions, just like when he lays down on a bed of nails. I just hold my breath.'”

Finally, the Times is so obviously trolling me by printing a certain paragraph about the process of swallowing swords that I’m not even going to reproduce it here. You’ll have to click through to read it, though I’m sure you can imagine.

3. Emily Mast and Karl Haendel: These two are power peculiars, she a performance artist and he one focusing on installations whose work appears in the collections of the Guggenheim and the Whitney. The couple “met in January 2009 over a game of Ping-Pong” — but it wasn’t any old game of the basement classic:

“I was the only student only making performances and not making objects,” said Ms. Mast, who did not have paintings or drawings in her studio, and instead filled it with the Ping-Pong table and 3,000 hot pink Ping-Pong balls.

“She was wearing pink socks and high-heeled dance shoes,” said Mr. Haendel, who asked about her work over a game. “She’s odd, there’s no doubt about that, but in a charming, wonderful way.”

The bride left him with her business card, “a Ping-Pong ball with her email stamped on it,” and two years later she again made the first move, proposing to him “by dropping a ring in his glass of carbonated water.”

4. Eliza Stamps and Ethan Covey: Another performance-artist bride, this one whose “most recent work, in which she played a fortune teller using cards she drew, began last year.” She found a worthy groom: a “freelance medical writer, editor and music critic in Newton, Mass., and Siem Reap, Cambodia. He graduated from the University of Vermont.”

5. Emily Greenspan and Peter Light: I love this one because it doesn’t go into any backstory, just casually mentions that “Mr. Light, also 33, is studying for a bachelor’s in history at Columbia. He is also a singer and a drummer. From June 2003 to December 2005, he was a member of the house band for NBC’s ‘Last Call with Carson Daly.'”

(Not to worry, though, you snobs: He’s also “a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants in the State of New York.”)

September was a really impressive month for dads. There are the moonlighters and/or passionate retirees: This bride’s father is “a private investigator in San Francisco and the author of the mystery novel ‘The Big Hello and the Long Goodbye'”; while the dad of this neurosurgeon bride “retired as a particle physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., and now collects and sells vintage photography.” (Of mushroom clouds, the article goes on to not say.)

There are the funnymen, with “satirical segments” on CBS here, and collaborations with Larry David and Billy Crystal there. And there are, variously, shipwreck-diving consultants, convertible-top restorers, and writers of “several ‘Curious George’ stories.”

(In terms of beloved childhood fiction in a September wedding announcement, though, that last one has absolutely nothing on bridegroom James Howe. THE MAN WROTE BUNNICULA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

There are also the usual smattering of CEO dads: of companies such as CVS Caremark, Hertz, and … well, I won’t spoil this one. Just start at the beginning, read all the way ’til the end, and don’t peak ahead. Definitely wins the Kicker of the Month award.

These dads aside, though, a note to prospective parents: They say correlation doesn’t imply causation, but if you are seeking to raise a child whose wedding will be immortalized by the Paper of Record, I can’t help but notice just how many couples there are this month who, gay or straight, Ivy or non, boring or whimsical, have one important thing in common.

Jennifer Inra and Paul Gordon: “The bride’s father is a cardiologist in private practice in New York; her mother is the office manager of her father’s medical practice.”

Rebecca Allan and Laura Kaminsky: “Her father retired as a dentist whose private practice in Manhattan was managed by Ms. Kaminsky’s mother.”

Jessica Treisman and Henry Kong: “The bridegroom’s father is an internist with a private practice in Ocean Grove, N.J., where his mother manages the office.”

Ali Rosof and Andrew Fedder: “His father, an internist, is in private practice in Lexington; the bridegroom’s mother is the office manager.”

(There’s hope for the plexiglass window to be shattered, though: One groom’s father, “an internist, has a private practice in Riverhead, N.Y., called M.W.D. Inc., for which the bridegroom’s mother, a registered nurse, also works.”)

A few sundry items:

  • In case you missed it, I wrote some important information about the New York Times‘ wedding announcement fact-checking process that you can read here. (Scroll down to the sixth question from Adam B.) Includes some laugh-riot marriage bloopers!
  • I won’t spoil the amazing celebrity cameo in this announcement, so click through to read it for yourself, but I will say this: Singing “More Than Words” by Extreme at karaoke is almost ALWAYS a mistake. That song goes on forever!
  • I made two misreading errors this month that ultimately left me feeling sad and empty inside. The first was when I read this announcement and thought it said “… led a ceremony that incorporated Jewish Woodland wedding traditions,” and had the most delightful mental image of, like, yarmulkes woven from moss and a flock of doves cooing the Hora. (The actual sentence: “… that incorporated Jewish wedding traditions at the Woodend Sanctuary.” Booooo.) The other was this announcement, in which I misread “Capital Counsel,” where the bride’s father is a senior adviser and founder, as “Capital Capital.” Seriously, someone needs to give their hedge fund that name — it’d be the Major Major of finance. (My mood brightened when I read that the bride “is also a member of Ménage À Twang, a Brooklyn-based band.” No misreading that one!)
  • This bride works at the Jenny Holzer studio. What do you think was projected above the altar? I hope it was something chipper along the lines of “I LOVE YOU A BUSHEL AND A PECK A BUSHEL AND A PECK AND A HUG AROUND MY NECK” and not, like, “IF I NEVER LOVED I NEVER WOULD HAVE CRIED.”
  • It’s a good thing that this couple’s wedding took place at the beginning of September, and not at the end, or else the father of the groom — “a partner in the Fenway Sports Group in Boston, a company whose investments include the Boston Red Sox” — might have been that drunk dad at the wedding.
  • I’ve always loved announcements in which someone is a freelance whatever — writer, actress, photographer, producer — and has the text list some motley collection of their work. Like bride Laura Quist: “She has appeared in the films ‘War of the Worlds’ (2005), ‘Finding Madison’ (2008) and ‘Raiders of the Damned’ (2007).” Or, 10 times better, groom Timothy Mullen, whose undoubtedly fine film editing work on the always excellent HBO series 24/7 is a little bit overshadowed by the news that “he also edited ‘The Confession,’ a film starring Kiefer Sutherland and John Hurt that was shown this year as a Web serial on Hulu.”
  • Do you think that “the late Dean Markham, director of the President’s Council on Youth and Fitness and also the White House Conference on Narcotics and Drug Abuse in the Kennedy administration” would have anticipated that his grandson would grow up to become “a founder of Smathers & Branson, a manufacturer of needlepoint belts and accessories?” (JFK would have totally rocked those things, though.)
  • The monthly “Chosen Couple” award, given to the pair who has shown the deepest commitment to their faith, goes to Aviva Garbowit and Yitzi Zablocki: the bride works for “Birthright Israel Alumni Community, a nonprofit organization for Jewish adults 18 to 26, who go on 10-day trips to Israel to rediscover their roots” (and, according to just about everyone I’ve ever known who has gone on one, to make out a lot in the backseat of a 15-passenger van). The groom, meanwhile, is “the director of film programs at the Jewish Community Center in New York, where he is also the director and a founder of the Israel Film Center”; his parents live in Jerusalem, where his father is “the educational supervisor of the TALI school system for the Ministry of Education in Israel; the TALI schools provide a Jewish education for Israel’s nonobservant population.” Don’t let those people go!
  • Some announcements raise more questions than they answer. For example: What is the backstory with this father of the groom, “Iliff D. Richardson, Jr. of Austin, Tex., who was once known as Gardener Weston Wells”??? (Clearly it has something to do with this, but why isn’t he mentioned as someone “of whom the bridegroom is a descendent?” I demand a biopic starring Matt Damon.) Then there’s this groom, who has three master’s degrees: (1) musicology, (2) marine geology and geophysics, and (3) Vitalogy — just kidding, it’s actually “library science.” What do you think his résumé looks like? It has to be in flowchart form, right?
  • This bride works at Real Simple magazine and the groom works for a home-design company founded by his mother, who “is the author of ‘The Soul of a House: Decorating With Warmth, Style, and Comfort.'” His dad retired as the publisher of House & Garden, Self, and Bon Appétit mags. In other words: They must have had some registry.

If you look hard enough at the wedding announcements week after week, you’ll almost always find one that, whether it means to or not, manages to perfectly and poignantly distill, often with one offhand sentence or phrase, the meaning of what true love is. This month, that honor went to Bruce Schackman and Ed Sikov, who “met in Boston in 1998 through a mutual friend after they had crashed a party given by The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review.” As they stood talking, Schackman mused that the affair might be a good networking opportunity, the way most Harvard parties would be.

Instead, Sikov “blurted out: ‘No, you don’t understand. I hate people. I’d rather talk to you.'”

Exactly. If I ever write my own vows one day, that’s going in. Or, if I happen to meet Jenny Holzer between now and then, it’s getting projected on the wall.

Katie Baker is a staff writer for Grantland.


Previously from Katie Baker:
The Timetable: Sidney Crosby’s Lost Year
Mike Modano Says Goodbye
Bake Shop: Advice for Dads With Daughters
Hockey’s Hopefuls
Wedded Blitz!

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Filed Under: Katie Baker, People

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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