Chris Johnson

A wedding reception that’s hot, hot, hot

I always said that if I ever got married again, I'd do it on the beach. At sunset. In a simple ceremony. With flying monkeys.

You wouldn't believe how hard flying monkeys are to order these days, nor the look the wedding planners give you when you ask for them.

So, I relented and ran off for a wedding on the beach at sunset with not a single flying monkey in sight -- although flying monkeys would be among the least weird things I would have seen along Duval Street in Key West.

Getting married so far away meant that Shellie and I couldn't have all our family and friends around for the ceremony, just a couple of flying friends. Well, friends who flew - on Delta, where one is a pilot. We decided that it would make sense to have a casual reception a couple of weeks later, so that the kind of people who hate going to weddings but love things like meatballs and cake could join us to celebrate our marriage - or at least celebrate gluttony.

The friends who flew to Key West for the wedding also hosted the reception, which I assumed would be a casual affair. Now, my idea of "casual" is a bonfire, tank tops, PBRs and maybe some rat shooting, but my favorite fifth cousin, Terrie, had other ideas. Oh well, she was hosting and allowed me my one and only request: meatballs. Many, many, meatballs.

Terrie has decorating and party planning down to a science. I found that out after setting out the 1,274th and 1,275th party items -- ceramic ducks -- on their back lawn as if they were merely a couple of ceramic ducks. Oh no, I was directed by Terrie and Shellie to "Turn him the other way. No, put his butt toward the fern. Back him up about two millimeters. There! Don't touch it!"when it comes to standing up for ourselves, making our own decisions and putting our feet down, we don't even consider doing it. If the ceramic duck needs his tailfeathers tickled by a fern (and who doesn't?), by golly, I'll make it happen.

Or get injured.

Seriously, when we made the mistake of informing Terrie that there was an awful lot of orange and red stuff on the weather radar that appeared on the way to her house just in time for the reception, she gave us a glare that would turn back a Catego

ry 5 hurricane and said, "It is not gonna rain!"

We agreed. Even when the skies turned dark and a gentle 20 mph breeze blew through the backyard with some kind of weird wet stuff falling from the sky, Jeff and I agreed that it was definitely not rain. We must have had a half-inch of not rain fall.

Of course, by that point, a Category 5 hurricane would have played second fiddle to the five-alarm fire that preceded it. Yep, one of Terrie's beautifully decorated table centerpieces erupted into a towering inferno when it got a little too close to a candle. I thought it looked kind of cool, but Terrie and Shellie seemed to think the table melting, tablecloth burning and the few early arrivals who witnessed it and ran for the hills was quite uncool.

I found it quite uncool, too, as I threw the burning centerpiece to the ground, where my stepson proceeded to stomp it out, burning his shoes. Melted plastic is hot, by the way, in case you ever wondered.

Shellie and Terrie took a different approach to fighting the fire. They used wine. Not on the fire but down the gullet. It was the same approach they used to fighting the weather.

However, other than the couple of folks who showed up early, no one could even tell there had been a blaze, nor did they get to see my breakdancing to put out the fire. Glad that "Learn to breakdance!" poster I bought in 1983 finally came in handy.

And the little bit of not rain that fell was actually refreshing and bothered no one who gathered under the tents or back porch and had a great time. And in the end, there truly was only one thing that mattered:

My meatballs were safe.

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. He can be reached at