Exactly 30 years ago this month my wife Teresa was somehow tricked into marrying a devil-may-care slob pilot and writer of books… me. Yet, someone tried to throw a last minute monkey wrench into our turbofan. Here’s the story…
WEDDING CATCH 22
I was up in Michigan and Teresa was in Sterling VA working for Presidential Airlines just a few weeks prior to our wedding date. To tie up a few loose ends in at my parents house was my chore as all of the other pieces had already been moved toward their proper positions while the wedding date approached. Some guys think of their wedding day as “the end of their freedom” but not me. I wanted to be married to Teresa in a big way. I’d been single for three decades and as far back as high school I detested it. I like being a “couple” and I’m hard wired to be in a relationship. Teresa is the best thing that ever happened to me- a perfect fit. My only hope was that I could be good enough for her and that was the only thing that made me nervous. Now the tux’s had been fit, the invitations ordered, received, sent back, corrected and received again then sent out. The ceremony had been scheduled and people were literally flying into Daytona Beach from all over to witness us get married.
Originally, we had scheduled the wedding to be in Michigan in the summer of 1989 so that my huge extended family could all attend… but there was a problem. Teresa, who was born in Japan had very few relatives to sit on her side of the aisle… in fact she had none other than her mom and dad, because her cousin and sister were both bride’s maids. Awkward? Oh yeah.
While at an alumni event at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University we were standing with some faculty as well as the director of Alumni Relations and this problem was mentioned. It was then that Phyllis Salmons, the physics teacher whose class Teresa and I were in when we first got together, came up with a formula that solved the problem.
She suggested that we move the wedding up to homecoming 1988 at the university, get married on campus and then we could have family and alumni attending- thus filling both sides of the aisle. Brilliant! Tom Arnold, who was the alumni relations director immediately chimed in saying we could hold the service in the atrium of the new administration building. Tom and I had worked closely together to further student and alumni relations. In fact, in 1987, with his help I founded the first ERAU Student/Alumni Association and Teresa was the first SAA president.
Student Alumni Assn. President Teresa conducting the "Day In The Life Of A Pilot" forum
So, this was great because both students, alumni, faculty and staff could all attend the wedding. Even the university’s co-founder J. Paul Riddle said he would attend. We were off and running… until that one day a few weeks before the wedding.
I was down in the basement of my parents house clearing some more of my stuff out when the phone rang. Mom answered and shouted down that the call was for me and it was Tom Arnold on the phone.
“Wes I have some bad news,” he began in a somber business-like tone, “you can’t hold the wedding in the administration building’s atrium.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because it’s already been reserved,” he sighed.
“For who?!” I barked
“Well, that’s the tough part. It’s been reserved for you by me so you can’t have it. You see [PERSON’S NAME CENSORED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY] is in charge of all buildings during homecoming and since we didn’t ask her for permission before booking the event, she feels we went over her head. So now she says you can’t have it because we reserved it. She’s also concerned because there is expensive artwork on display in there at the same time.”
“Does she know that many of the guests will be faculty and administration?” I asked pointlessly.
“It makes no difference, she says you can’t use it and that's it. I’m really sorry Wes, but I’ve been told that this is completely out of my hands.”
“Nice catch 22 eh?” I quipped.
“Like I said Wes, I’m really sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” Tom sounded deeply troubled about the situation.
“Don’t worry Tom,” I assured him, “I’ll handle it.”
“Okay, you can try, but this is really final.”
“I’ll handle it Tom.”
Apparently this middle level administrator who had just decided to go on a fun little power-trip had little or no idea who she was messing with. In one of my sit-downs with President Hunt, way back in my early days as the cartoonist, he said to me, "You have no idea how much power you have," and of course I scoffed. When he made his point clear to me, however, I was struck with a huge sense of responsibility. Being the campus cartoonist of a hugely popular strip read by pretty much everyone at the university was like walking around with a phaser in your pocket... there is a lot of power at hand, but you have to be damned careful where you point it. I once had to go through three layers of administration just to get an unofficial transcript that I needed to apply for some financial aid. Why? Because they were scared shitless that I had walked into their freaking office!! Finally I ended up talking to the director! He said that he just wanted to make sure his office wouldn't end up in next week's cartoon strip. I told him that if he simply gave me that little sheet of paper he was holding I could assure him they wouldn't... but after that circus I was tempted. Yet, in all of the years that I held the pen to the throats of the self-important little Napoleons on campus at ERAU and all of the times that I found ways both in print and behind the scenes to squash them I never did so on my own behalf. It was always for the greater good or in the defense of someone held defenseless. In the face of this bullshit game, however, I didn't hesitate to use that accumulated influence to step on the neck of a weasel for myself and perhaps for anyone else she may decide to screw with in the future.
After I hung up the phone I went and got my little black book… the one where I had my really important phone numbers. Thumbing through it I located the number for University President, General Ken Tallman. NOT his office number mind you… but the private one that would ring right at his desk. You see, I was one of the first students that General Tallman had been introduced to when he first came to ERAU. Subsequently we got to know one another on a first name basis… well that is… he called me “Wes” whenever I strolled into his office and I called him “General Tallman”… always.
General Ken Tallman... whose signature is on my diploma BTW
I remember this conversation as if it happened this morning…
“Ken Tallman,” the general answered his phone.
“Good afternoon General, it’s Wes Oleszewski.”
“Hello Wes,” he answered pleasantly, “hey, I’m sorry I won't be able to attend the wedding. They’re sending me out of town that weekend.”
“That’s okay sir. I have a bit of a problem on my hands sir.”
“Well sir CENSORED says that we cannot use the administration building’s atrium for the wedding because it’s already been reserved.”
“Reserved for who?” The General asked.
“Reserved for us sir.”
“You’re kidding?” he groaned.
“No sir. Apparently she feels that since we didn’t clear it with her first, we somehow went over her head and stepped on her toes in the process. Tom Arnold says the matter is completely out of his hands and there’s nothing anyone can do sir.”
There was a brief pause as the man who has dealt with countless military catch 22s spooled up his turbines.
“Don’t worry Wes, you’ll get a call back within the next half hour and this will be taken care of.”
“Thank you General Tallman.”
“No problem Wes, have a great wedding and kiss the bride for me.”
I’d like to say it took 15 minutes, but it was probably more like 10 minutes before the phone, at my parents house and not at my home in Virginia, rang. It was CENSORED’s administrative assistant telling me that we could now use the atrium. I asked her if CENSORED was in the office and she replied that she was. I said I wanted to speak with her and not her assistant. The administrative assistant tried to argue, and I firmly insisted. I was on hold for about 20 seconds…
“CENSORED,” she answered in a forced pleasant tone.
“Yes, this is Wes Oleszewski,” I replied calmly, “I understand that our problem with using the administration building for our wedding has been cleared.”
“Yes,” she snapped, “you can do whatever you want.”
“You would do well to keep that in mind when dealing with alumni,” I retorted, “good day.” And I hung up.
My mom said later that I should’ve invited CENSORED to the wedding just to rub it in. But I replied that then I would have given her the satisfaction of turning me down.
That evening I called Teresa and told her about the little catch 22.
“How long did it take you to fix that one?” she snickered.
“About as much time as it took me find General Tallman’s number in my book.”
Teresa just laughed.