"The Rest of the World 2013" story # 1

Baltimore, Maryland, USA           July 9, 2013

Several Johnnies were present during a week of wedding celebrations that took place in Baltimore, U.S.A. this late June. These included:
     Justin "Johnny" Breen -
     A writer of travel stories under the pseudonym of "Modern Oddyseus", I had come to Baltimore after spending the last six months home in Michigan. I hoped to travel onward from here to ... the horn of Africa, north-central Africa, and central Asia (the three parts of the world I had yet to visit). I was embarking on, perhaps, my final journey - oh no, gasp!
     Cory "Johnny" Anderson -
     Cory had gone to school with me at Eckerd College, where I began to call everyone "Johnny" and everyone like-wise called me "Johnny". Blue-eyed Cory was eager to learn about the world, eager especially to help the poor and oppressed. His blond shaven head bombarded new acquaintances with questions about their experiences. He was the first humble and inquisitive person, so good at listening, I'd ever met. This attitude of Cory's would influence my behavior as a traveler. He currently worked as a school-teacher, teaching students in Minneapolis to support the working class. He had two kids with his wife, Anna from Kenya.
     Lucas "Johnny" Seipp-Williams -
     This little Johnny - with playful navy eyes and fuzzy black hair - had also gone to Eckerd College, and in 2003 he hitchhiked across Canada with me. After that, he made himself into the "Baltimore Health Coach". Johnny used his knowledge to help people eat healthier, organize their days better and have less stress, build loving relationships, and pursue their passions. He was about to wed Richele, a female health coach. Such a union would make them invincible.
     Adam "Johnny" Rohr -
     Like Cory and I, Adam had no idea what to expect from the "Mens' Circle of Blessings" that would precede Johnny's wedding. Was it going to be weird? Adam lived in Baltimore, but was no health coach. He was a fuzzy-bearded, glasses-wearing dude with a shaggy, 1970s haircut that flopped around his head. He thought life was pretty funny. Since hitchhiking across Canada with Johnny and me, he'd gone on to: walk the Appalachian Trail, and experience living in New York City, Colorado, and Tanzania. He currently hosted Cory and me, and generously bought us much of the ice cream and Iggy's Pizza and an oyster (one was enough; yuk!) we would need.
     Jessie Greenspan -
     Adam was living his dream of dating a redhead, and her name was Jessie. She didn't mind having two strangers stay in her apartment, and she became an integral part of "Jessie and the Johnnies". As we hung out in dungeon-like bars, she pushed her curly shoulder-length hair from one side of her face to the other while her eyes lit up brightly behind her glasses. She spoke excitedly about coming from a Jewish family in New Mexico. I said I loved reading Jewish short stories, especially those about bachelors-for-life who struggled with getting old and being unable to attract women. Jessie said that neither she nor her sisters had ever sought to be married.
     Molly "Jovial Johnny" Rockamann -
     Jovial Johnny was the fourth Eckerd College grad present. This happy blonde loved to wear dresses and dance bare-foot outside. Since college, she had started an NGO called Earthdance. It helped organic farmers grow and sell fresh produce.
     And so, "Wedding Week" began.
     Johnny had devised a healthy, Bachelor Party agenda I was excited for. It was to include a hike-and-swim, delicious food, an evening of board games, and a day of sports. Johnny, Cory, Adam, and I were joined by Zeke (a muscular health coach) and "Johnny Peralta" (a fun-loving guy who gave surf lessons in Hawaii).
     We drove out to the Maryland countryside. Foxes ran across quiet roads to horse farms. The Gunpowder River Valley gently rolled through green land, concealed by forest. We arrived at Zeke's childhood home, a large and old wooden building decorated with an old-fashioned sign reading, "General Store".
     We jumped off rocks and swam/skinny-dipped in a clear and peaceful reservoir. We ate Zeke's grilled steak; onions fried with yellow and red and orange peppers; and organic sausage balls.
     And we invented a sport called "Simul-Toss". It involved: a team of guys standing in a circle; an American football, soccer ball, baseball mitt, frisbee, and lightweight disc; simultaneous throws and catches and chants of "Simo-Toss"; and lots of chaos and clumsiness and guys getting hit in the head with things.
     Yep, it was a wild Bachelor's Party. But how would it compare to the Mens' Circle of Blessings?
     "Welcome to the circle of brotherhood. Come as you are!" We found ourselves singing this song on a Friday night, along with thirty guys who joined hands and raised them skyward. "Welcome to the circle of brotherhood. Let your spirit soar!" For the second half of our dance, we each held hands with only one guy and turned around him while maintaining eye contact. Whoa, this was weird! I searched the crowd for other Johnnies' faces, and saw looks of nervous amusement on them.
     Things calmed down after the opening dance. We members of the Circle were apparently sworn to secrecy regarding its events. But, I doubted anyone would mind if I reported that people soon caught on to the fact that I called everyone "Johnny". "This is going to catch on like a hot fire," Johnny Peralta said under his breath. Sure enough, people were soon introducing themselves by saying, "I'm Alex - or 'Johnny." It added some humor and confusion to the Mens' Circle.
     I doubted anyone would mind if I said that most of the important men in the groom's life were present. Men of every age and personality had come to support Johnny. We spoke up to offer him our wisdom concerning marriage, and our best wishes.
     And I doubted anyone would mind if I reported that Fred "Johnny" Appleton of E. Maryland Lane burst into tears because his daddy never loved him.
     Just kidding.
     The spiritually uplifting Mens' Circle ended after three hours. "Jessie and the Johnnies" went straight to a bar.
     Over Belgian beers in "Brewers' Art", Cory talked about marriage. He thought it was over-emphasized by society, that there was no difference between a married couple and an unmarried one that had been together for years. He'd told his wife before marrying her: "I hope we'll be together forever. But, you can never be sure ..."
     Adam and Jessie, meanwhile, had been together five years. Their biggest problem was that Adam worked too much in Baltimore, managing a friend's bar. He said he might like to try living in California next.
     Jessie spoke about their recent attempt to live in Tanzania. She said sadly, passionately, that she felt a white person there would always be viewed by the locals as a financial opportunity and not as a friend. I felt bad for her, and hoped I wouldn't encounter a similar welcome when I traveled to Ethiopia in the horn of Africa.
     My traveling life-style meant that, unlike the other Johnnies, I was always on the lookout for new girls. I explained to Jessie that I hadn't had much of a connection with Michigan girls in the past six months. Maybe she'd noticed I kept hitting on girls in Baltimore? She had. "I like it," she said.
     On this night, I boasted to my friends that I could tell - just by looking at someone - how many younger and older siblings he had, and whether these were brothers or sisters. To demonstrate, I turned to a black girl whose straight hair fell to the back of her blue dress. In what seemed like the perfect opening line, I tried to guess her siblings.
     My guess was way off. Jessie and the Johnnies laughed at me. Nevertheless, the girl and I got along fairly well. I told her: "I don't believe you're older than me, as you say. But, if you're older, let me just say it's nice to meet a pretty, older woman." Jessie and the Johnnies made fun of me for calling someone "a pretty, older woman".
     Maybe I should've taken advice from Johnny the groom? He was told by Richele (in her marriage vows given the following day): "I promise to never know you, never need you, and always rock your world." Johnny shook his fist in the air, happily.
     In his vows, he told the sandy blonde from Indiana: "You always get what you want. So ... here I am." He smiled towards the crowd. "I'm marrying you, because I'm marrying you," he also said mysteriously. Was Johnny now a Buddhist?
     The vows were emotional, as were the blessings offered from the crowd. Jovial Johnny - straight off the plane from St. Louis - stood and blessed them: "I wish you lots of good dances."
     Richele - and many of her friends - had actually studied dancing in college. As a result, the reception featured the most energetic crowd of dancers I'd ever seen at a wedding. I only wished there would've been a few more romantic songs; I hoped to dance with a sarcastic-nosed blonde who owned yoga studios, and whose thin figure wore a cosmos-blue dress. I should've tried calling her "a pretty, older woman."
     "Jessie and the Johnnies, plus Jovial Johnny" retired to Adam and Jessie's apartment. As usual, we talked until four a.m. Cory and I debated my opinion that couples should neither have sex nor be monogamous. Cory believed both sex and marriage were good things. He wondered why I'd want to eliminate sex, which was a natural urge.
     Jovial Johnny, who was about to fall asleep, offered a valid point. "I don't think monogamy is natural - at least, not for men."
     It was tough to tell if marriage was good or not.
     Newly-wedded Johnny came over the following evening. He used to insist he'd never get married.
     Now, he said of his wedding:
     "It was the best day of my life!"

- Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Mom & Dad in Michigan; Joanna, Art, Flora, & Aquiles; Jewell, Ben, & Bill; Adam & Jessie; and Zeke & Paul for places to stay!

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