I recently sat in a hotel suite in downtown Philadelphia sipping a pre-mixed cocktail called "Kinky" from a pink straw shaped like an erect penis. An episode of Friends flashed '90s blandness from a boxy TV set while the sound of 23-year-olds blow-drying their hair, applying gobs of mascara and talking about uncommunicative dudes and bitchy friends from high school seeped into the living area. Eleven pink buckets lined the floor and bulged with shot glasses, purple Gatorade and twig-and-berry cookie cutouts.
It was my future sister-in-law's surprise bachelorette weekend.
Like many people approaching 30, I've been invited to an overwhelming number of weddings in the last two years -- this summer I attended seven and still managed to miss two due to overlapping dates. This, though, was only my second bachelorette party and it was for my little brother's marriage to his college girlfriend, five and six years my junior.
Honestly, I wasn't excited. Could we really strengthen feminine bonds and help assert independence one final time by going crazy together? The first bachelorette weekend I was a part of centered around a wine tour and dinner in Sonoma, California. A lot of fun, but pretty tame. Tonight promised something different. Tiny nighttime attire, mile-high heels and sexual energy following us around the streets of Philadelphia like a bulging pink orb. Who knows, maybe this would make us all feel close and strong, too. Whatever the outcome, I'd see it firsthand!
After an hour of boozy glamming up, we traipsed to dinner across downtown Philly with thighs exposed in clingy black dresses and my soon-to-be sister-in-law wrapped in a big pink sash. Our male waiter could hardly contain his thrilled smirk when we walked through the door. He delivered an abundance of sangria pitchers and cocktails without delay, and we took out our portable penis straws, using them to empty our glasses with exuberance. Loud, lewd comments flew across the table. The staff whispered among themselves. Bachelorette truth or dare was unleashed. "Here's a great question for you, Natalie, because I know you've traveled," said one bachelorette: "Would you have sex on a train?"
Post-dinner, a white limousine with neon lights and buckets of champaign on ice escorted us across the city -- the LOVE statue, the liberty bell, the steps of the art museum -- while the girls yelled every word of the pop hits that blared through the speakers. A wake of gaping jaws and whistles trailed us everywhere. My sister-in-law looked at me solicitously: "Are you doing OK, Natalie?" "I'm having a great time!" I said, an unconvincing liar.
At the art museum I stayed in the limo with the drunkest bachelorettes. I could tell they were curious about me, the outlier. One looked like she was soliciting her guidance counselor and asked if she was a failure for not having started a career at 23. I told her no, I hadn't started one either. The other said (while pleading that I not take it the wrong way) if I was bothered that my little brother was getting married first. "To each his own!" I said with a reassuring smile. They told me I was alright in slurred exclamations.
After a bout of sloppy clubbing -- where tongues were stuck down strangers' throats -- one girl who had previously become too drunk to stand went missing. She hung up when we called or sent us straight to voicemail. Without further recourse, the girls texted our hotel address so a taxi would know where to take her.
At this point, the only thing for me to do was get really into it. We entered a weird club brimming with slick dudes. One of the other girls and I stationed ourselves in the center of the dance floor, letting some of the slicksters serenade us. I felt the beat like I was the music itself and took my dance moves to the next level. Feeling great but out of breath, I walked to the back room where a group of girls sat in a booth, resting. Someone asked for a picture of me and my future sister-in-law. I put my arm around her shoulders, pulled a face and pointed at her from above when the camera flashed. "I didn't think you were anything like your brother!" said one bachelorette. "Now I can see it!"
2 a.m. cheesesteaks at Philly's famous Pat's was our last stop. Earlier, while racing up and down the art museum steps, someone told my sister-in-law how to order the greasy monstrosities like a native ("Steak, wid or widdout!"). At Pat's, I watched her waltz up to the window among a crowd of quiet locals. "Steak wid!" she piped like a care-free schoolgirl. A Philly couple waiting for their own sandwiches and wearing orange velour track suits turned toward her and shook their heads, disgusted. Apparently, it was too much enthusiasm for a cheesesteak!
Alright. I know how we looked. And we may not have been the most unassuming girl-pack in Philly. But all we wanted was to experience the unbridled joy of eating a late night cheesesteak together. Innocent enough! And we did not deserve the judgement of fellow cheesesteak eaters. Before I could stop myself, I was confronting them.
"Hey, what's wrong?" I asked breezily. They turned their backs on me. "We're just here for some cheesesteaks, guys. No big deal!" They turned further away, almost doubling over to avoid eye contact. "Alright, then I guess there's no problem!" I said, giving them a friendly pat on the back.
I returned to cheers. Never had I been so happy to be welcomed by girls in tiny black dresses after midnight. Afterward, we sat together at picnic tables inhaling gobs of alcohol-absorbing meat and pump cheese. Another guy who didn't seem to loathe us walked over and offered the rest of his cold 12 pack. In the limo we shared the cheep beer and sang along to pop songs, tired but happy.
As luck would have it, our lost bachelorette sat slouched over on a curb in front of the hotel. We jumped out of the limo and rushed her like a group of loose but loving mothers. The next morning I woke to my sister-in-law climbing into bed with me. My head pounded. She grabbed some purple Gatorade and Tylenol from one of the pink buckets and told me to take it. "I'm so glad you're here," she said. I drank the sweet liquid and threw back the pills. I looked over at her in her pjs, cute as a button. "Me, too," I said. And best of all, I meant it.