I proposed marriage to my girlfriend of 13 years, Sharon Gitelle, The Forward’s Director of Community and Audience Development, this past August in the midst of my band Twisted Sister’s final farewell tour.
Having been together for 13 years, the decision to ask her wasn’t one that I dwelled on too much. In fact, I was against getting married a third time — Sharon had been married once before — and had taken an unofficial oath of “NEVER AGAIN!”
On one particularly overcast and chilly August day in England (is there any other kind?), Sharon and I were walking down the high street in Birmingham. Birmingham is the former industrial center of England and aesthetically looks more like Detroit than the romanticized England of Downton Abbey.
Normally, I am a very romantic guy who goes out of his way to set a scene for maximum emotional impact.
Well…this was not the place for that!
The dilapidated location just shows that my proposal was so off the cuff that it really wasn’t the purpose of the initial conversation with Sharon as we were walking down the street.
The conversation began as a hypothetical question I asked Sharon.
“What kind of a wedding would we have (if we ever did have one)?”
That was really what started it all.
I just wanted an opinion from Sharon.
There were many times in the past where a proposal would really have made sense and none more so then we we both bought our condo in Manhattan a year and a half earlier.
Without dwelling too much on the Woody Allen-esque history of our relationship to wit: I have lived in my (our) apartment building since 1958. My legal name was John Segall.
One day In 1989, I walked into my lobby and the doorman told me that some guy with my name moved into the apartment right below mine. I said “So what, There are a lot of Johns in the building,” the doorman replied “The guy’s got your first and last name!”
The new guy’s name was John Segal.
I went to his apartment in hopes of meeting “the other John,” and Sharon, his wife at the time, answered.
That is how we met.
I remained married to my second wife until we split in the spring of 2003 and hadn’t told anyone in the building because the building’s gossipers would have had a field day.
In a chance meeting in the elevator shortly after my wife moved out, Sharon confided to me that she and John had also split a couple of months ago. She hadn’t told anyone in the building yet. I told her that Janice and I had split up a couple of weeks ago and I hadn’t told any neighbors yet.
She then told me John moved 4 blocks away.
I told her that Janice had moved 4 blocks away.
Ok. I get that this is just too weird, but as it turned out, John moved uptown 4 blocks and Janice had moved downtown four blocks.
Somewhat relieved but still not quite processing the totality of the coincidences, we decide to go on a first date to celebrate Sharon’s birthday a couple of days later.
Woody Allen could make a movie out of this titled “A Very West Side Story” because, on top of all of this, I was a rent controlled tenant and Sharon was a rent stabilized one. In NYC, that alone is cause for at least a New York Times human interest tale of two apartments.
Back in Birmingham this summer, 13 years later, Sharon, shocked that that now, in all places, for whatever reason, I’m bringing up the subject of marriage, began to describe the kind of wedding that could happen.
We went back and forth discussing hypothetical locations and circumstances for awhile, and all of a sudden, I said, “So you would marry me then, correct?”
She stopped and thought for a minute. I just thought she was just being cute, that she was just being coy with a comic’s timing of a beat in between the punchline.
She said, “only if you agree that we could, if we found the right situation, leave NYC for several months at a time and live somewhere else.”
She feared that not only was I a New Yorker to the bone but that I was so attached to the city that I couldn’t let go, even for a couple of months.
Hey, I can’t think of a better place to live than New York City, but I’m not that pathetic!
This was not an issue for me even if we found a place to live outside the country for a while.
And so we both agreed… to get married.
Now the question was where and with who.
Our kids were scattered around the globe so the idea of a party that we would throw and just surprise the guests that they were attending a marriage wouldn’t exactly work, because why would we fly the kids back for a cocktail party of no great significance unless we told them?
So, we decided not to tell anybody!
Because we have so many friends, we thought the best thing to do was just go somewhere alone and just do it — and in the process, offend everyone equally!
One of our favorite places to vacation is Bermuda, but after looking into the requirements, we found that getting married there would involve too much paperwork for foreigners.
We also love going to Las Vegas.
After reviewing the requirements for getting married in Sin City it became apparent that there are three things you can do in Las Vegas very easily:
!. Lose money 2. Get laid 3. Get married
With a little planning, you can even do all three simultaneously!
We had friends staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel who had asked us to come out for a couple of days and hang out, and the timing was perfect. Our friends have a great relationship with the hotel management and asked them to get us a great room.
We planned, without telling our friends, to get married at a poolside cabana on the third day of our stay.
Sharon arranged through the hotel for a justice of the Peace (JOTP) to do the ceremony and that he (or she) must bring a bouquet of flowers for her to hold as we said our vows.
The day before, we went to the Las Vegas Marriage bureau. If you haven’t been there, it looks like the NYC offices of the DMV. They process the certificates like it is an assembly line. The neighborhood that the bureau is in is also surrounded by dozens of chapels. Little ones, big ones, in private homes, even moving chapels in Limos!
Did I tell you that it was 105 degrees everyday?
The next day (the day of our wedding), I went to the lobby of the hotel wearing my wedding suit — a bathing suit with skulls on it — and a t-shirt. I waited for the JOTP to arrive; I didn’t know anything about the person except that I was supposed to meet him or her at 3:30 p.m. exactly.
At exactly 3:30 p.m., the elevator door opened and out walked a very good looking gentleman who actually reminded me of Benjamin Bratt. He had a hot blond on his arm. None of this would have been particularly interesting except that this guy, J.J. who I thought was a guest, was, in fact, the JOTP.
Does the fact that his name was the same as my stage name (J.J.) make one start to believe in…fate?
Once I established that we were both involved in the same (unorthodox) plan, I had some requirements.
As I didn’t know what he knew about us or what his standard speech was about, I quickly told him that both of us were Jews (so no “Father, Son, Holy ghost references please) and that since I’m an Atheist and Sharon is an Agnostic, I will allow one God reference. I also mentioned that Sharon isn’t saying all of the “obey” stuff either!
Just so you know, as these instructions were coming out of me, I was fully aware of the comedy of the entire situation.
He informed me that “this is Las Vegas; just pay me and I will say anything you want me to say, or you can read your own vows and I will just I pronounce you…husband and wife!” At that point I asked about his “girlfriend.” He said that she was a friend and could act as a witness. I told him that the cabana was too small and that our friends (who had no idea what was about to happen) would be the witnesses once they recovered from the shock.
He was cool with that, so we proceeded to the pool.
Did I mention it was 105 degrees and there were no clouds in the sky?
The Mandarin Oriental is an anomaly in Las Vegas as it has no casino in the lobby. It is a low-key venue for certain types that want that kind of exclusive hotel accommodations. Having spent two prior days in the pool, I can also say that many of the clientele are bankers, real estate players (both big and small), lawyers and venture capitalists — in short, a very colorful group of Vegas personalities that could easily fit into any movie about the the hustle and bling that is Las Vegas.
And here I was, wearing bathing trunks and a t-shirt, walking around the pool perimeter with a guy in a black suit behind me.
The guy is the suit immediately drew the attention of all the guys in the pool. Why would anyone in a suit be at the pool in this heat unless he was some kind of government agent about to slap an indictment on someone in the pool?!
Too make matters even more intense, the male guest that had arranged for our room (and had no idea that he was about to be our “witness”) was also an executive at Wells Fargo — and just that morning, news of the massive Wells Fargo credit card scandal broke around the world.
So now, I’m walking with this guy is a suit and I walk up to the pool edge and scream to my friend to get out of the pool now.
Everyone was looking at everyone else.
“What the hell is going on?”, I’m sure they wondered.
This all happened in a matter of minutes.
Sharon was already in the cabana with our female friend, and I walked in with the JOTP and our Wells Fargo friend, who asked us what was going on.
We then told them that this was a JOTP and we are about to get married in the cabana.
Meanwhile, at the pool, only a dozen steps away, everyone was gathered and staring at our cabana not knowing who was getting indicted or what else could it be the cause of all this chaos.
At that point our friends turned to the pool and yelled, “our friends are about to get married — the guy in the suit is just a Justice of the Peace!”
To the great relief of all those characters at the pool who thought that an indictment was imminent, all yelled out a group congratulations and then probably drank themselves silly the rest of the day.
This is how reform Jews roll.
The four of us went out that night and celebrated.
Now officially married, Sharon and I got back to the hotel and consummated our relationship. We also stayed away from the casinos so we didn’t lose any money that trip.
When it comes to Las Vegas, two out of three ain’t bad!