I hate running errands, always have. I am more inclined to fill up the empty hand soap bottle in my bathroom with water and give it a good shake rather than go to CVS and buy another. Some say that I’m lazy. Others say I’m just cheap. They’re probably both right. But a few weeks ago I had to run the ultimate errand with my fiancée — one that would test the limits of both our patience and our love. We had to go pick up our marriage license from the crowded, sweaty, dingy Office of the City Clerk. Here are some uncomfortable observations.
1. Everyone’s just a number.
The City Clerk has instituted the same ticket window system that is employed by the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Time Warner Cable store. It kind of ruins the romance of getting your marriage license when it feels like you’re standing in line to renew the registration on your car or exchange a defective remote control. Like the winding, serpentine lines at Disney World, the sole purpose of the “take-a-ticket” clusterfuck is to mask just how long of a wait you have ahead of you. To that end, the system is designed as if it were a game. There are TV screens rattling off numbers, and bells and dings going off as each one is called. It’s just like playing Quick Draw in a bar, only instead of winning money and picking up a one-night stand, your “prize” is having to fork over $35 for a piece of paper that basically says you’re agreeing to have sex with the same person for the rest of your life.
2. The clientele is a cross section of crazy.
There are so many different, strange walks of life at the City Clerk’s office that it makes the Star Wars cantina look like a fucking Midwestern swap meet. I counted no less than 10 of what I suspected were Russian mail-order brides, a handful of very uncomfortable looking May-December romances, a couple of embarrassed pregnant ladies, and at least one dude with a neck tattoo. But hey, the more I think about it, the more ladies should probably consider marrying a guy with a neck tattoo. It’s clear that he’s not afraid of a permanent commitment that will wind up ruining his life — just like marriage.
3. People actually get married at the City Clerk’s office.
I thought “getting married downtown” was just something people joked about doing in the spur of moment but never actually did, but apparently it’s a thing. While my fiancée and I were only there to pick up our marriage license ahead of our real wedding in October, many couples were having a full-blown ceremony right then and there. It’s bad enough having to endure a friend’s wedding you don’t want to go, but having to endure the frenzied “blessed” unions of dozens of people you don’t even know is a special kind of hell. The room was full of brides in bridal gowns and grooms in tuxedos. Entire wedding parties pushed their way through the crowds. There were photographers, videographers and grandparents hobbling around using walkers — not to mention a plethora of sad mothers of the bride who wore their doubts about their daughters’ rushed nuptials on their faces like bad eye shadow.
4. There’s a gift shop.
Who needs wedding favors when your “guests” can be suckered into buying overpriced souvenirs like a T-shirt that reads “Witness” or Bride and Groom rubber duckies? And for the forgetful bride, garters are available for purchase for 15 bucks a pop (imagine the thrill of your husband pulling it off your leg with his teeth in front of complete strangers as you sit on a dirty folding chair in the waiting area). But the most popular attraction by far is the large photo backdrop of City Hall, which couples pay to have their pictures taken in front of in an attempt to fool people into thinking they took their vows on a beautiful lawn on Park Row instead of a windowless room on Worth St.
5. The exit is soul crushing.
Once an underpaid civil servant inspects their forms of ID, swipes their credit card, and issues them their marriage license, couples are instructed to exit through a nondescript back door which spits you out on the other side of the building and onto the sidewalk. Instead of being met with rice flung into the air by awaiting friends and family, newlyweds are met with the smell of chicken and rice slung by an unwashed man from a Halal food cart. In lieu of a fancy limo, they must lumber back onto the subway where they will disappear back into anonymity along with the rest of the city. Luckily, if they’re having second thoughts about the whole marriage thing, the New York City Supreme Court is located conveniently close by on Centre Street. That’s the judicial body that grants divorces.