The duties of the groomsman are three-fold:

  1. Get the groom to the church on time.
  2. Ensure the groom is physically and mentally prepared to undergo the wedding ceremony.
  3. Throw a bachelor party that makes accomplishing duties 1 and 2 as difficult as possible.

All right, so I’m exaggerating. The recent bachelor party for my now-wed cousin was a rather tame affair, not involving any of the hazing, strippers, or minivans full of illegally-acquired donkeys that now seem so common to such an event. The most dangerous activity we did was ride the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, which launches you from rest to 120 mph, takes you straight up 420 feet, hits a peak and then sends you screaming straight down to earth before you can grasp what exactly is happening. If there is a better metaphor for love and marriage, I have yet to find one.

I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t said a word about booze! It’s the fuel of most bachelor parties, after all; the liquid of fun with tendency to harden overnight into solid — or in some unfortunate cases, semi-solid — regret. We did try to make alcohol part of our festivities, but circumstances just weren’t with us.

Upon leaving Cedar Point, we stayed in a campground in Sandusky, Ohio. It was a beautiful location, with lush greenery and chirping cicadas — at least while you stayed on the grounds. As soon as you stepped out, you realized it was merely in an oasis on an industrialized strip in the not-so-shiny part of town. Still, it served our needs well all the way up until one of the groomsmen started inquiring about finding a “pub.”

For convenience and protection, I will refer to this groomsman as Euro. An anglophile through and through, he would never use the word “bar.” No, he was insisting upon finding a well-groomed establishment within which food and spirits could be delivered, through the pleasing din of background chatter and lively music, by lovely, mannered women in dresses whose lasciviousness may extend to performing a non-revealing fan dance onstage.

Let me just break you out of that description to remind you we were in the middle of Ohio, just coming out of a hot, humid day trying to escape our own sweat on roller coasters. Still, Euro kept bringing it up, and the thought of being in a “pub” was, honestly, somewhat inviting. The groom-to-be eventually conceded as long as — AS LONG AS — no one mentioned anything about him getting married or try to get him to drink anything particularly Mick Jaggerifying.

Euro went to speak with the manager of the campground for her recommendation, and was told there was a destination a little up the road. Whether it was from the habitations and the towns she knows, I was unfortunately not there to learn. So with varied expectations, we all set out to discover what this place would hold.

Not to toot my own horn, but I believe it was I who located the spot first and alerted my peers.

“It has a giant clown head on the sign.” I said.

Seeing clown heads on anything is usually a bad enough omen. Seeing them on empty, dimly-lit streets in unfamiliar industrial sectors is just asking for Stephen King to write your short and tragic biography. Yet still, whether through hope or stupidity, we decided to go in.

I don’t assume any of our expectations were still at “pub” upon entering, but they quickly dropped past “bar” and flirted with “craphole” before bungeeing back up to “dive.” The primary forms of decoration were darkness and old Dale Earnhardt Jr. signs. The jukebox selection I can only describe as “crap speckled with Korn.” And the bartender — a short, fluffy-haired woman in her late 20s or early 30s — was not the type who was against drinking the profits.

Since the only other patrons at the time were a few men in ragged T-shirts at the other end of the bar and a middle-aged woman who brought her own giant mug for her beer, we sort of stood out. Lisa started peppering us with questions, and we tried to remain as loyal to our groom as possible, but a man can only take so much heat and, after about 15 seconds of the barmaid’s browbeating, one of us yielded the fact that our groom was getting married.

Somewhere inside that addled mind, two dots were joined by a blurred, squiggly line and her eyes lit up.

“Oh!” she cooed. “Your bride musta been here earlier today! 5-foot-4, dark hair, with her father?”

Unless the bride and her father had taken a spontaneous cross-country bar crawl, they were still in Michigan. Six of us shook our heads. One of us, however, nodded. Let’s call him Jackass.

“Yeah, I knew it!” the bairmaid said, pointing at Jackass. Obviously, this was not a land of democratic rule. “They were in here earlier. She’s very good-looking! Father said something about getting a bus…”

She went down the line asking what we’ll have. Some ordered drinks. Others, myself included, ordered water — probably on the thought that we’d want to get out as soon as possible. Euro attempted the only means of salvaging his quest he knew how.

“Do you have any imports?” he asked.

“Corona and Labatt’s,” the barmaid replied.

Euro’s crests had fallen. “I’ll just have water.”

“You know, your best bet would be a Coor’s Light.”

“Nah. Water.”

The groom also attempted a water, but the barmaid would have none of it. She demanded from the rest of us what we should give him, but everyone was dumbstruck. We all know the groom doesn’t really drink a whole lot and no one seemed to have thought ahead as to what he should actually drink after being dragged to a bar. The barmaid, however, took matters in her own hands and said she’d make something “halfway between water and liquor.” This turned out to be a “Washington apple,” made with whiskey, apple schnapps and cranberry juice. The groom looked at it like it would burst into flames any second. The barmaid stared expectantly, then her mind switched to other… helpful hints.

“Oh, wow! You guys are so close to the ti–y bar!” she squealed.

She also pointed to the ring on her finger.

“This finger’s had a ring four times and I still haven’t been married once,” she said with murky pride.

After several more complimentary shouts of there being a “ti—y bar,” just in case we hadn’t heard, she went back to goading the groom to drink. Finally, he handed the full glass back to her and, in an educational moment, she downed the whole thing in three seconds and handed the groom a Twix bar from behind the counter. This he ate.

Some of us looked at each other, trying to figure out what the best “Let’s get the heck out of here!” face would be, when an older lady walked in from a back room.

“Hey, this guy’s getting married!” the barmaid yelled, pointing at the groom.

“Oh yeah??” the older lady said, smiling.

“Yeah! The bride was in here earlier, remember? Five-foot-four, dark hair, with her father!”

“Oh, right!”

“He was thinking of a bus!”

The older lady offered her congratulations as she pulled a tray out of the refrigerator, going down the line of young men with a warm smile on her face.

“I made these myself!” she beamed, placing two Jell-O shots in front of each of us. Again, the attention remained mainly on the groom, who wasn’t into Washington apple and didn’t want Ohio lime or cherry, either. In an attempt to draw some of the heat away from him (and, well… because the barmaid called me a puss), I sucked down the tequila-lime shot in front of me. It actually wasn’t that bad, and I’m not sure if it had much of an effect on me as I was tired at the time and the whole building was enough to put someone in a funky mood by pure ambiance. But the distraction did seem to work a bit and eventually some of the other guys got the barmaid to play pool with them.

We were able to leave afterward, so I guess you could say we spent part of the bachelor party letting ourselves be held hostage by a 4-times-engaged bartender and Kindly Grandma Hooch, but it’s one of those events we can look back upon now and laugh. I think. Yeah, probably. And even if not, the groom’s now married and on his honeymoon, so he’s definitely won out.

Just a word of warning, though: If you’re in a non-too-attractive, industrialized section of Sandusky, Ohio and find yourself behind a swerving bus with a 5-foot-4, dark-haired girl in a bridal gown at the wheel, you may just want to take the next turn out of there.

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