After I shared it as an off-hand paragraph in a chatroom, my friend Marc has enjoyed retelling this story at his workplace, I learn. During a recent visit to his home, he demanded that I perform it for other guests. Allow me, then, to set down an expanded and canonical written telling of this story.
I have lived since the autumn of 2014 in Newport, Rhode Island, with my partner and our pets. (The pets have changed since our arrival; the partnership has not.) I don’t know if we will live here much longer. Newport has treated us kindly but feels inescapably like an in-between place, no place to settle. We may well relocate presently to Providence, accepting a longer commute in order to slot ourselves into the kind of denser urban culture we miss dearly.
I mention all this in a grasping attempt to find context for Newport’s role as a wedding venue. All summer long and into the autumn, people come to Newport to host and attend extravagant weddings, and then they all move on. Everyone deserves to celebrate major life events any way they want to, of course, and anywhere they choose! But from my vantage point of a reluctant townie, Newport tends to attract a very particular sort of wedding, the elaborately coordinated multi-stage affairs with carefully planned costuming amongst the celebrants and all that. The kind of weddings you see in movies about weddings.
This extends to the roving bachelorette parties whose presence on Newport’s coastal streets becomes ubiquitous on warm nights. I feel cautious in saying what I’m about to say, and take courage from the fact that I’m pretty sure that the effect is an intentional expression crafted by its participants, and it is this: They all look the same.
I suspect sometimes I have more than a touch of facial aphasia, but even allowing for that, every time I cross paths with a wandering knot of Newport bachelorettes, this particular and bizarre aspect always unnerves me. From my passing-on-the-sidewalk perspective, every member is a woman of the same apparent age, height, skin tone, body shape, hairstyle, and dress as every other. When they move about the town in flocks, they seem otherworldly to me — or perhaps artifacts from a low-budget video game, the same 3D model instanced into a clump and set to walking by a lazy algorithm.
Again, please don’t misunderstand me as looking down on them. Clearly I see only the effect these women in this particular situation, celebrating their friendship in this particular way, mean to give off. It does make an impression!
And I grant that I have surely also encountered more heterogenous bachelorette parties on Newport midsummer evenings, and indeed many bachelor parties as well, and all your mixed-gender parties of some proximity to a wedding. I assume they pass out of mind as quickly as I see them because their appearance does not startle me so much. (The bachelors, I reckon, tend towards not giving a fig how they themselves dress, and so look like any other bro-pack rolling down the street.) They are not part of this story! I will continue with the story.
One recent summer evening, as I waited for the light to change at the intersection of Thames Street and America’s Cup Avenue, I observed one of these bachelorette pods making its way through the crosswalk directly in front of my car. I cannot recall the particulars of the constituent women’s appearance, except for how they did epitomize the unsettling multiplicity I have described above.
And then, trailing them: one last young woman, whose pace identified her as part of the group but whose every other aspect set her apart. She wore drab clothes, had her hands in her pockets, and her dark hair lay in no particular shape. I couldn’t see her downcast eyes clearly, of course, but the whole of her presence and posture, set against the sparkling partygoers she stayed three paces behind, broadcast a clear desire to be anywhere but there.
And I sat up in my carseat, and I thought: My goodness, it is the protagonist!
That’s it, that’s the whole story.