Best People Watching in NYC, Clean Bathrooms

Photo by William West

It doesn’t make sense. Basements are cold. You store your wine or deer meat down there for that very reason and yet, defying all laws of nature, NYC subway stations become saunas in the summer. So as I emerged from the downtown Canal street station the hot Chinatown air brought relief like opening the ice cream case in an air conditioned-less bodega.

Wiping the perspiration from my brow, I meandered past the fake Rolex salesmen and faux perfumeries towards the New York City Clerk’s Office. In a few short weeks I was officiating my friends’ wedding and had to ensure my pronouncement of man and wife would be legally binding.

I’d been putting off the task for far too long and would’ve procrastinated further had I not been goaded off the couch by nervous texts from the bride-to-be. As I walked towards my destination I questioned if I had what it took to carry out a union between lovers. Wedding ceremonies seemed like something that should only be performed by the divine, like the Pope or David Bowie.

My nuptials had been executed by a judge but at least she was an elected official and carried the gravitas of the popular vote. I wielded no mandate from the people — it was actually the opposite because I was chosen by the bride and that is a total dictatorship.

Now, I could never trust someone who’s excited to enter a government building. High five me on the way into the DMV and immediately disqualify yourself for being alone with my child.

Knowing the local governmental hazards that awaited me I entered the City Clerk’s Office with shoulders hunched and let out a defeated sigh as I surrendered to security protocols. I removed my belt, passed through the metal detector and, as my backpack traveled down the conveyor belt towards the X-ray machine, hoped that I hadn’t left any drug paraphernalia in the zippered side pocket.

After nodding to the guard and resecuring my waistline I grabbed my bag and looked up to see that I wasn’t in a typical government building — citizens came here to catalogue their love and, divorce statistics be damned, hope permeated the room. Even the pull of gravity seemed diminished, like how a 200 lb person only weighs 76 lbs on Mars.

The Marriage Bureau was clean and well kept, with replica marble columns and ornate gold trim. It could’ve been the lobby to a museum, perhaps the Museum of Bureaucracy, where children from all over came to gawk at exhibits of taxidermied comptrollers.

The hall bustled with the excitement of a city sidewalk just after school let out as photographers clutched their cameras waiting to capture that perfect moment when they’d finally be able to prove that they’re better than your smartphone.

Kids in three piece suits and elegant dresses only to be worn once raced up and down the gallery until they were stopped by the family disciplinarian.

Grooms and brides and brides and brides and grooms and grooms all waited for their turn to walk down the aisle to the tune of “Now serving A23.”

I got my ticket and found a seat next to a Latina bride who preened herself while updating her Instagram story. I looked around the room — there was a large backdrop of the City Clerk’s Office exterior for couples to pose in front of and a chapel entrance that was flanked by two long counters manned by civil servants. There was even a kiosk that sold last-minute bouquets and other various wedding accoutrement.

I wondered if divorce court has the same thing. The only thing Rachel and I ever agreed on were these “Just Divorced” tank tops from the divorce court gift shop.

Honestly, it was euphoric — I was crashing two dozen weddings at once. My review of the City Clerk’s Office: Best people watching in NYC. Clean bathrooms. 5 stars.

I watched a bride in orange dole out marching orders to her bridesmaids with the skill of a seasoned field officer. A meticulously dressed Asian man bestowed last minute marital wisdom to his son in Mandarin. Well, I think it was wisdom because I was using Google translator as I listened and didn’t hear “Nǐ quèdìng ma” which is Chinese for, Are you sure about this?

“Now serving A29.”

Soon I’d be registered as a conduit of the love gods with the city of New York for the small fee of $15 (credit card only).

I fidgeted with nervousness as I had flashbacks to the DMV employee who held such utter contempt for me when I dared to approach her with insufficient paperwork. I attempted to calm my anxieties by reviewing my official minister’s certificate from American Marriage Ministries.

For the low low low price of $40 and 10 minutes of your lunch break you too can become an agnostic holy man. I sprang for the New York City package so it came with forms already completed, a Letter of Intent to the city clerk and a Letter of Good Standing. I thought to myself, How the hell do they know I’m in good standing?

Finally my number was called and I weaved through the Friday crowd and reached window 7 where I was given a muted greeting by a woman in her early thirties. I attempted to break the ice by extolling the virtues of Friday but she told me they give her mixed feelings because, while it’s the end of her work week, it’s also the busiest day. Friday is her double edged sword.

I decided against further repartee and handed over my papers which she promptly shuffled through. She accepted everything except the Letter of Good Standing which she slid back across the counter. Obviously she knew it couldn’t be trusted. I gave her my ID and paid the fee and she disappeared into the back, telling me she’ll return momentarily. After a few minutes I began to worry that she was getting the cops who’d arrest me on sight for the felonious use of a sham Letter of Good Standing.

Just as I was about to make a break for the exit the clerk came back with a BIG BOOK — it was cloth bound and worn and she used two hands to carry it.

The clerk opened the BIG BOOK and its wingspan rivaled an eagle’s or that poster of Michael Jordan with his arms stretched out. It felt like I was about to enroll in a school of wizardry or sell my soul to the devil in exchange for being able to really shred on guitar.

She pointed to the left page of the BIG BOOK and handed me a pen and I quickly printed my name and address. The clerk said “August 3rd” when she noticed I’d paused and tilted my head upon reaching the space for today’s date.

Before filling in my Title, I checked the previous entries to make sure I spelled minister right. I may have been new to the minister game but I knew enough to know that a big part of being a minister was being able to spell the word.

The clerk took the book and, satisfied with my penmanship, closed and placed it under the counter. She then handed me a copy of a mock marriage license to demonstrate how to correctly fill one out.

“Spouse A fills out here, then signs there. Spouse B fills out this space, then signs here. This is where you sign. Be sure to spell minister correctly.”

When I got married in Lake County, Ohio the Spouse A and Spouse B blank fields were marked Bride and Groom sparing me from a Spouse B designation. I mean, I am Spouse B but it’s one thing to admit it and another to legally certify the fact.

In truth, I don’t wish Spouse B status on anyone. How about we fill out our personal information in boxes labeled Equal Partner Times Infinity and Equal Partner Times Infinity Plus One. Then the minister signs where it says No Takebacks.

She continued to explain the nuances of marital clerical work but her words faded as my own thoughts took the forefront of my mind.

Who’d have thought that within the confines of this old municipal building I’d discover physical evidence for the existence of love. The laughter and knowing smiles and tears of joy — all of it was proof that it’s not just a chemical reaction in the brain tricking us into procreation. Love is a universal truth and if you need to see it for yourself it’s a 7 minute walk from the F train.

In the last 3 years I’ve attended 12 weddings and if you tally it up I consumed 6 filets, 5 chicken breasts and a piece of salmon. That’s 3 summers and 25 pieces of cake which means on average I eat over 2 slices of cake per wedding. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on travel and presents and lodging, every penny of which I’ve attempted to recoup at the open bar.

There’s been fancy hotels, rooftops, botanical gardens, signature cocktails, laser light shows and husbands missing because they’re off doing cocaine. It can be the social event of the year but what the City Clerk’s Office revealed to me is that your wedding will always be inferior unless there are two souls present, standing together in rapturous affection.

Gazing around the room one last time it dawned on me that what began as an errand became an ordination of sorts. It didn’t matter that I was an internet minister who’s certificate was one step removed from a meme because, just like the Marriage Bureau itself, I could be a vessel for the human spirit and wed my friends with veracity and a joke about the groom’s family members from New Jersey.

I tuned back in as the clerk was finishing her spiel and I began to feel the matrimonial power flow through me. Before leaving I asked, “Do you have any more advice?”

She shook her head no. “The rest is up to you.”