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Wedding Day 

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We were both at work on Thursday when a colleague bolted into my office with the news.

“They’re marrying same-sex couples in San Francisco,” she said.

Less than 24 hours later, Melissa and I were in line with 100 other couples outside City Hall. It was 7:45 in the morning, 15 minutes before the county clerk’s office opened. A city official handed out marriage-license applications, and passing drivers honked their support. No protesters yet lined the sidewalks, and only a few news vans were parked along the street.

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This was actually our second wedding day. In August, we exchanged vows and rings in front of family and friends. That first wedding had been completely about us — our love, our promises to each other. Now we were fighting for our place in society, joined by hundreds of others. I was also fighting back tears. At the security checkpoint, a guard caught Melissa’s eye and congratulated her. This wasn’t a typical day for City Hall workers either.

Inside, the line for the county clerk’s office wound around a corner and down the hall into the rotunda. Trying to peek ahead, I wondered if the courts would reverse Mayor Gavin Newsom’s order to issue same-sex-couple marriage licenses before we got our turn. To ease my nervousness, I phoned friends back in L.A. to give updates and receive any news. A co-worker had just told me that a hearing date for arguments on an injunction wasn’t likely to take place until Tuesday, when roaring cheers interrupted the call. The first couple in line rounded the corner waving their brand-new marriage license. I started crying again.

A city official arriving for work stopped in the hallway. Grinning wide and raising his arms triumphantly, he said to no one in particular, “Look at this!” He stood on a chair to take pictures of the line, filled with couples of every age and appearance: women with leather collars and tattoos, men in business suits, people in dresses, tuxedos and jeans. A few feet ahead of us, a 10-year-old girl took pictures of her two moms on a digital camera, then calmly explained to a television crew that her mothers should be able to get married.

The line moved more quickly now. Dressed in white shirts and jeans, Melissa and I realized we wouldn’t have time to change into the skirts we had brought. We smiled at each other; what we wore wasn’t important today.

Finally, we stepped into the noisy, crowded clerk’s office. When they called our number — 72 — the clerk looked at our paperwork and said with a laugh, “You guys came all the way up from Los Angeles to get married?”

He took our application and $82, then disappeared to type up the license. For a quiet moment, my wife and I sat alone, looking at each other with the same love and emotion we felt on our first wedding day.

Moments later we were off, clutching our marriage license. Four or five commissioners and officials were marrying couples on the massive marble staircase that dominated the hall’s center.

The line was short. Our witnesses, Melissa’s cousin Jason and my friend Alda, hadn’t arrived yet. Two men in line with us, Monte and Peter, asked us to be their witnesses, giving us a preview of our own ceremony. The area at the top of the staircase was crowded with camera crews, reporters, couples and witnesses.

Their wedding was short but solemn. We took pictures and signed the newlyweds’ certificate, wishing them well.

Then it was our time. Commissioner Richard Ow, a deputy marriage commissioner, positioned us at the top and center of the stairs. The air glowed with sunlight and spotlights from a CNN camera crew. He told us he was very happy to perform our ceremony and even seemed choked up. Later Melissa confessed that the part of the ceremony most special to her was also the least romantic: “With the power vested in me by the state of California . . .”

Those 11 little words were the only thing missing from our first wedding, and Ow had just granted us the rights that come with them.

When the ceremony ended, we hugged our friends and thanked the commissioner. Then we went to the recorder’s office, where we entered public record and paid for two certified copies of our marriage certificate. By 10:30 a.m., we were officially hitched.

Alda demanded that we celebrate immediately with champagne and lunch at a waterfront restaurant. We spent the afternoon phoning friends and family, then we returned to City Hall that evening for a wine-and-cheese reception hosted by the mayor. Even at that hour, couples were still being married. The man who married Monte and Peter was performing ceremonies as reverently as he had been nine hours earlier.

The mayor entered the crowd to chants of “Gav-in! Gav-in!”

Newsom exuded dignity and charm as he circulated around the room, congratulating newlyweds, posing for pictures, and signing marriage certificates for triumphant couples. When we shook his hand, he spoke to us as though we were the only two people in the room.

After, we ducked into a corner where we could watch the continuing ceremonies. I looked into my wife’s eyes and saw a face reflecting the same joy and love and hope that I was feeling inside. We cried and held each other, not caring what would come next in the legal battle. At that moment, we were married in every sense of the word.

—Robin Davidson

Walking the Walk


Stairmaster: ASIMO, the first
walking robot

(Photo courtesy of Honda)

It came, it sauntered, it climbed stairs! Its name was ASIMO, and like the gleaming robot in the B sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, it brought a message of peace and hope. Just 4 feet tall and cute as a button, ASIMO is the world’s first walking humanoid robot, the product of 18 years’ research by the Honda corporation in Japan. As it stepped out across the stage at the California Science Center, an audience of children (a few in their mid-20s) exploded with joy. No CGI effect, this was a real-life autonomous biped dancing and mugging for the crowd, and it was pretty hard not to feel a flutter of anthropomorphic empathy.

With a humanoid frame, and “skin” made of lightweight magnesium alloy coated in white plastic resin, ASIMO looks like a younger sibling of C-3PO, but its personality is pure R2D2 — cheeky and squeaky. Walking, like talking, has proved a far more difficult challenge than most robotics researchers imagined. (In a video that preceded ASIMO’s entrance, we watched as its predecessors, the P2 and P3, toddled and stumbled and fell to the ground like infants.) It’s been a long haul getting the requisite sensors and servomotors and gyroscopes sufficiently integrated.

Stephen Keeney, director of ASIMO’s U.S. operations, later told me that the world-renowned robotics researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were bowled over by ASIMO’s ability to smoothly negotiate a midwalk turn. Previous walkers have had to stop, compute, and then change directions in a jerky and most unnatural fashion. ASIMO genuinely glides. Its hip action, especially, is astounding, and I half-expected to see it break into a moonwalk.

We didn’t get moonwalking, but we did get a hula, followed by ASIMO’s attempt to disco. To the pumping beat of “Staying Alive” and a backdrop projection of John Travolta, the robot shimmied — or tried to — proving that, at least on the dance floor, man still reigns supreme.

The highlight of the show, however, was yet to come. If walking is hard, walking upstairs is nearly impossible. But with a huge burst of fanfare, ASIMO strode to the top of a staircase, its own private Everest. Even more difficult, the show’s presenter informed us, is coming down, a descent that ASIMO negotiated with consummate grace. It was hard to believe this wasn’t Fox’s Littlest Groom.

Honda’s goal, Keeney said, is to turn ASIMO into a commercial product as a helpmate for the elderly, and to perform tasks in hazardous environments. At present, ASIMO’s activities are limited to the half-hour its battery pack allows. Honda, a world leader in fuel-cell technology, is looking into the prospect of using mini–fuel cells instead. Since the byproduct of this much-touted energy source is water, a fuel cell–operated ASIMO would have to pee, raising, says Keeney, the sensitive question of “whether it would use the men’s room or the ladies’ room.” Most people automatically assign the robot to the male gender, but unlike JPL scientists who quickly decided that their Mars Spirit rover was female, ASIMO’s handlers are determined to keep sexual politics out of the equation. “We try to stress that it’s not a he or a she,” Keeney says. “It’s an it.”

ASIMO has been designed for terre

trial use, but might it not also be the perfect solution to the Mars problem? George Bush says he wants to fund a manned mission to Mars, yet many scientists have pointed out that robots could accomplish the same thing at a much lower cost. ASIMO is still more humanoid than humanlike, but with each iteration its skill set will continue to improve. A real person on a trip to Mars would have to eat and drink and shower and not go mad cooped up in a tin can for more than a year. ASIMO would simply have to be turned on when it got there. It could even take a friend. Ideally we’d get W. and Dick

to leave for the red planet, but if they won’t volunteer let’s instead send two ASIMOs, plus one AIBO, Sony’s robot puppy. It couldn’t get any cuter, and this might be a project we could actually afford.

—Margaret Wertheim

Hey Now, You’re an All-Star

On my way into the Century City Plaza Hotel with a bunch of Brazilian journalists in town for the NBA Jam Session and All-Star game, we walk right into Kobe Bryant holding his baby girl in his arms, his wife Vanessa and a couple of security guys.

“Ah, it’s the media,” he says.

The Brazilians reach for their video cameras.

“Don’t you dare think about it!” Kobe snaps.

The tension is thick. I try to calm down the situation.

“How’s the finger, Kobe?”

“It’s cool,” he responds. The security guys rush him into the hotel and his face says it all: He is not enjoying any of this.

We enter the hotel and head for the California Level, where several NBA stars are scheduled to give a press conference. Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets follows us into the elevator. The Brazilian crew gets some shots and asks for autographs in broken English and Portuguese; 7'5" Yao responds in Mandarin. I want to ask him some questions too, but he can hardly see me — my face is in his mid-section and if I don’t watch it he might squash my 5'6" frame.

At the press conference, Yao and the international players — Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Andrei Kirilenko (Russia), Jamal Magloire (Canada) and Peja Stojakovic (Serbia) — seem a bit more humble compared to their American-born counterparts. The $100-million-paycheck-$90-million-endorsement players look bored and annoyed as reporters jam mics, tape recorders and video cameras into their faces to ask the same tired questions about Shaq and Kobe not getting along. “Weather” seems to be the No. 1 answer to what the players like most about L.A. Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia ’76ers sums it all up best: “I like everything about L.A. — L.A. is LA LA LAND.”

Then Shaquille O’Neal is asked what he’d write if he could be a columnist for a day. “I’d write what I see,” he says. “I’d be honest. I’d probably get fired, but I’d write what I saw.”

So here it is: Basketball, like everything else, has become too corporate. No surprise. But here’s a thought: Perhaps the NBA could take a lesson from the game’s founding roots, and by that I mean getting inspiration from the short and dark Mayan Indians who were ballin’ in Chiapas, Mexico, long before any of this commercial madness. Back then the game had religious significance and you played like your life depended on winning — nothing else mattered. Now the game is about the selling of souls. And by the way, the nicest athlete during the entire NBA weekend was Dante Hall of the Kansas City Chiefs, a football player.

—Ben Quiñones


FRONT AND CENTER: Sex-themed plays performed in L.A. in the past year

Vagina Monologues
Penis Monologues
Puppetry of the Penis
Cock Tales
Dick Dialogues
The (Magnificent) Ass Show
Pieces (of Ass)
The Ass of Life
Sex: Real People Talk About What
They Really Do
Sex Is My Specialty
Hot and Bothered
Ten Tricks
Orgasms
What’s Wrong With Getting Laid?
Menopause the Musical

—Miriam Jacobson

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