Those hokey wedding rites

Kevin Cowherd

November 04, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

There have been many frightening experiences in my life, but none worse than a recent wedding reception when I found myself surrounded by 200 drunks doing the Hokey-Pokey.

The bride and groom were a lovely couple -- it was not their fault that the band ruined what was otherwise a memorable occasion by playing the single most insipid song in the history of music.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Three hours into the reception, sensing that the guests were fairly well-oiled, the dough-faced leader of Vito and the Ventures smiled and whispered something to the other band members.

With that, the first sickening strains of the Hokey-Pokey drifted through the room.

Seated as usual at a rear table about two feet from the kitchen door, my reaction was about what you'd expect.

Immediately, I was overcome by violent nausea. Then the room started to spin.

Somehow I managed to stagger from the table to the men's room, where I spent several minutes splashing cold water on my face and trying to stop the pounding in my head.

An off-duty paramedic happened by at one point and offered assistance. When I explained what had caused the terrible reaction, he nodded knowingly.

In his line of work, he sees this sort of thing all the time; ambulances screaming up to the curb have become a common sight at wedding receptions whenever the Hokey-Pokey is played.

We've been over this terrain before here, but my philosophy on the Hokey-Pokey is: There's not enough booze on the planet to get me to do that stupid dance.

What amazes me, though, are the number of people who, instead of fleeing the room in terror, actually seem to enjoy the Hokey-Pokey.

When Vito and the Ventures first began playing it, I managed -- before nearly passing out -- to steal a quick glance at the other guests at my table.

There was a look on their faces of . . . well, exhilaration is not far off the mark.

And within seconds they were practically trampling each other to get to the dance floor.

At times like these, I find myself wondering: Is it me?

Am I the guy out of step here? Am I some sort of grumpy killjoy who insists on making far too much out of what essentially is a harmless little ditty?

The answer, of course, is no. Millions of other decent, God-fearing citizens experience similar adverse reactions whenever the Hokey-Pokey is played, despite the efforts of wedding bands such as Vito and the Ventures to convince us that this is an appropriate song for adults.

(By the way, who exactly was the stylist who sat down one day and penned such memorable lyrics as: "You put your right foot in, you put your right out, you put your right foot in and shake it all about . . .?")

This is not something I'm proud to admit, but I actually did the Hokey-Pokey once -- although the circumstances were completely out of my control.

When my oldest son was 5, the two of us had the misfortune of attending one of those father-and-son breakfasts as part of his pre-school program.

I didn't want to go at first, figuring (correctly, as it turned out) that the place would be crawling with a lot of peppy, Montessori types who come up and pump your hand 400 times and tell you how darn glad they are to see you.

Sure enough, things got off to a rocky start when we found ourselves seated next to an insurance salesman and his son, which prompted the usual dreary 20-minute seminar on term vs. life.

Then just before the sausage, eggs and toast arrived, one of the pre-school teachers leaped to his feet.

Flashing that thin, eerie smile of the truly deranged, he chirped: "Hey, dads! You have to earn your breakfast this morning!"

At first I managed to beat back the familiar sense of panic, figuring all we'd do is maybe play a quick game of Simon Says with the kids.

But it turned out to be much, much worse. Suddenly the teacher, Mr. Moonbeam, flipped a tape into a nearby cassette deck. And with that the familiar fingernails-on-a-blackboard sound of the Hokey-Pokey filled the room.

My first thought was: This is what it must have been like in the final minutes at Jonestown, when the loudspeakers clicked on and they started filling the vats with tainted Kool-Aid.

To this day, I'm haunted by the image of 52 ill-at-ease fathers and their sons doing the Hokey-Pokey in a stuffy school cafeteria.

And you wonder why the quality of education in this country has nose-dived.

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