Last weekend I went to a wedding in Malibu for which much preparation was required, i.e. a solid round of stretching and the ingestion of copious electrolytes and carbohydrates. Any wedding with an open bar has the potential for debauchery, but when the wedding involves a group of friends I now like to call Spain Gang & Associates (SGA), you really have no choice but to up the anti-hangover ante.
Bride Nicole and groom Manny are a lovely couple who were brought together when another lovely couple, Victor and Leandra Negrete, asked each of them to be part of their own wedding party. Nicole had known Leandra since middle school, Manny had known Victor since studying abroad with him during undergrad in Spain. The Negretes apparently knew exactly what they were doing when they paired up these two crazy kids because they hit it off damn near right away. They may or may not have been spotted making out the night of the very wedding.
A couple of blissful years of dating later, Manny and Nicole announced that they’d be moving to Virginia as part of Manny’s military commitment as a Naval Psychologist. Mere days before packing up their belongings to make the cross-country trek from SoCal, a group of us were invited to a beachside rendezvous under the guise of celebrating Manny’s 30th birthday. We drank Malibu and rum from reusable Starbucks cups and jumped around in an illegal bounce-house, then Manny proposed to Nicole with a ring pop while he and a group of his closest friends reenacted the “Nightman Cometh” musical from “Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” That sentence pretty much tells you everything you need to know, but allow me to take you back a bit further.
My first time hanging out with Manny was back before he or I had ever met Nicole. I was living in San Diego and had come up to LA to visit Leandra and Victor for the weekend. Manny was in town from Northern California so we went out to dinner in Hollywood, and thus began an evening that culminated in Manny’s shirtless Flamenco dance-off with a stranger at a local bar. Afterwards we all went to McDonalds and Manny climbed onto the roof of said establishment; meanwhile Victor asked the drive-thru dude for a McNugget for Caramia, Leandra’s pet Chihuahua who we’d picked up for the short ride to Mickie D’s. Back at Leandra and Victor’s place, Manny and Victor purchased the domain name www.whatwouldcharliesheendo.me . They made shirts with this WWCSD slogan and later wore them proudly for Victor’s bachelor party kick off: Tough Mudder. (It should be noted that this all went down years ago during Charlie Sheen’s “winning!” days, for as I sit here and edit, some unfortunate news of Mr. Sheen’s health has just been revealed).
Not long thereafter, Manny moved down to San Diego to commence a rotation at MCAS Miramar. Little by little, other members of SGA became San Diego residents as well and I was pleasantly surprised to have a new set of friends in my hometown. Soon Nicole was a part of the bunch and the good times kept rolling: examples of pre-gaming activities includes zombie shoot-outs, Call Me Maybe dance parties, or a fun little game wherein participants take a drink each time Sting says the name “Roxane” during the song of the same name.
Two years ago, SGA made its way to Palm Springs for a post-holiday Gatsby-themed celebration at the home of Nicole’s grandmother. We played Jenga and Twister and got iced in between, then came a round of Cards Against Humanity fueled by shots of Fireball. I was somehow delegated to yell “I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE!” each time someone volunteered to take a penalty drink in someone else’s stead. Our friend Jefe had to take a drop of bubble-bath to the eye, proving that the whole “tear-free” bit on the label is a giant pile of lies. Later we ordered pizza and jumped in the hot tub in our costumes. At some point, Manny put on a Spiderman suit and gave his favorite William Wallace freedom speech to an audience of tipsy faces that had been painted Braveheart blue.
Then there was the time when my friend Celina quit her job and sold her house to travel the world for a year; her going away party entailed an entire weekend of 90s themed shenanigans. SGA strolled the campus and surrounding streets of she and Manny’s Alma Mater UC Davis, clad at all times in items like homemade light-up sneakers, pagers with troll doll accents, acid-wash jeans and all the flannel you could ever hope for. We took over a local dive-bar, hijacking the juke box to play strictly 90s hits – that is, with a small interlude for the Harlem Shake and Elvis Crespo’s Suavemente. At one point during the weekend, Manny and Nicole sat us all down for a special surprise – a reenactment of sorts of the Baywatch theme song, red swim trunks and high-cut one-piece included.
How then could this wedding of dynamically fun-loving people be anything short of amazing? Set to the backdrop of a picturesque Malibu beach around sunset, the bridal party walked down the aisle to a medley of songs that included Mariah Carey’s Fantasy and Billy Idol’s White Wedding. Our place cards were each hung delicately off bottles of everyone’s favorite sweet and syrupy beverage: you guessed it, Smirnoff Ice. Groomsmen Robbie was the wedding’s surprise Sexy Sax Man, whose rendition of Careless Whisper had half the room roaring on its feet and the other half going, “Who the hell invited this guy?!”
The DJ had us screaming the lyrics to Don’t Stop Believing like it was last call, except it was only 7:46 PM and the night had quite literally just begun. I busted out Britney and Beyoncé choreography like I had any business doing so and a group of the fellas proved that Ace of Base is the best music to grind (with each other) to. Friends Romo and Tyler tried to recreate the famous leap from Dirty Dancing only to be one-upped by the groom who fully committed to that leap and ended up with a facial bruise as proof. There were photo booths and props, non-stop dancing, and parking lot parties at McDonald's afterwards. My friend Julie and I ate half a package of Double Stuft Oreos at 1:00 AM that we may not have paid actually for… and all of this was documented via an epic 500+ second Snapchat story.
Before the bacchanalia and dance-floor frivolity though, Victor and Leandra gave a lovely wedding toast in which they took turns speaking humbly of their role in Manny and Nicole's union. Victor shared hilarious anecdotes of their first arranged meeting (thanks for taking a bathroom break Vito, we owe this wedding to you). Then Leandra summarized their compatibility with one perfectly eloquent thought: Manny and Nicole are so, so different in so, so many ways, but the way they love and approach the things they love is the same. Swoon.
Nicole probably wasn’t looking for a man who on the eve of his wedding would gift warrior spears to his groomsmen after cutting a Star Wars groom’s cake with a Samurai sword to the tune of The Final Countdown. She got one though and he’s perfect for her, for he loves passionately, outrageously, and genuinely – just like she does. I raise a glass, a Smirnoff Ice even, to that same love, the kind of love that makes these two wonderful and distinct personalities such fierce friends, gracious hosts, empathetic listeners and lovers of life. Congratulations to you, Manny and Nicole. May we each find someone who loves like you do, like we do, and never let them go.