What’s in a Name?

Over the course of my wedding-bearing years, I’ve had friends who fall everywhere on the name change spectrum. I’ve known girls who were so excited about making sure everyone knew they were married getting married that they adopted their future husbands’ last names before the royal blue bridesmaid dresses could even ship from China. I’ve known girls who were militant about keeping their maiden names.  My cousin Cathy and her husband both use both last names, with a hyphen. There are many ways this could go, and as is the case with all life changes, I remained ambivalent about the matter.

I’ve never loved or hated my maiden name. It is innocuous. Its ethnicity is not obvious, it doesn’t rhyme with any part of the digestive or reproductive system, it doesn’t belong to any serial killer (that we know of). At times, I’ve been mistaken for someone of Irish descent (really? REALLY?) and/or the heiress to a soup fortune, but I can think of worse problems. Perhaps if I’d been born with a name like Dickwat or Ashweip, or into the Rockefeller family, I would have felt more strongly one way or the other. But my maiden name was in fact the name I’d had all my life – it was just who I was: Traci Melissa K_____.

I knew Keith wanted me to use his last name, but he never pressured me about it. He asks so little and puts up with so much, I felt it was the least I could do for him. And in many ways, I looked forward to having his last name. I viewed it as a new beginning, a fresh start. It made Keith and me an official family, and it linked me to my new extended family – something I’d never had but always wanted. I liked that idea.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but veiw shedding my maiden name as shedding my parents, sister and roots. I hated that idea. I didn’t want to be the only one of them with a different last name. It didn’t help that my sister and I are the end of our last name’s line. I also felt, despite my best efforts not to, that taking your husband’s name was a smidge old-fashioned. I’m hardly a feminist, but it just didn’t seem necessary. Furthermore, while I haven’t accomplished anything much, the things I have done – survive journalism school, work at a real live TV network, create this blog – I’ve done with my original name — as me. Was I losing my past if I lost part of my name? Was I still going to be a short neurotic Jewish girl from New Jersey if my last name was suddenly Italian? Did I want to be a short neurotic Jewish girl? Was this really such a big identity crisis or was I, as usual, making a mountain out of a molehill? Who cared if I was Traci  Melissa K_____ or Traci Melissa D______?

Frick on a name-changed stick.

A good solution seemed to be this: I’d legally change my name to include Traci, Melissa, my maiden name, and Keith’s last name. It would appear as a mouthful on paper, but I’d use my maiden name at work and Keith’s in general. In the eyes of the law and in my head, I wasn’t getting rid of anything. I was merely adding something.

I had designated last week’s Summer Friday for the name change task, which involved stops at the Social Security office and DMV. I awoke with a mix of excitement and melancholy (which was due in large part to the fact that my current driver’s license photo is relatively smokin’, and I really didn’t want to fork that up with a new picture). As I rode the subway and made my way through Times Square en route to the Social Security office, the morning felt very momentous. In a few hours, I would have one more name. I would be someone else. Kind of.

My turn at the counter came quickly. I presented the clerk with a certified copy of the marriage license, my tattered blue Social Security card and the form I’d filled out ahead of time.

She looked at the form and then asked, “So you’re adding a middle name, ‘Melissa,’ and then your husband’s last name?”

Um …wha?!

Evidently, as far as the Social Security Administration and U.S. government were concerned, my middle name had never been Melissa — just the initial M.  She handed the card back to me as proof – I’d never noticed it before, but she was right.  I was Traci M (sans period, no less!) K_____.

For a few seconds I was upset by this revelation. It made me sad that Social Security believed my cute little parents had  only chosen a random letter for my middle name and not even bothered to punctuate it. My parents would never do that! They’re nice people!  They care! They love me! Then I was stunned  – my name was a sham! My life was a sham! Who knew what other parts of my identity were nothing more than an initial? Did I even exist, or did I just e?  I’d obsessed for months about changing a name I never actually had.

But then I caught on to the valuable lesson the Social Security deities were obviously trying to impart. I had gone about my business and lived a good (albeit angst-ridden) life believing I was Traci Melissa, regardless of what name the government had on file. Would I have turned out any different if the Social Security card had said “Melissa” instead of just M? Highly unlikely. Would I suddenly transform into a calm, care-free person who shuns chocolate and falls right asleep at night now that “Melissa” was really part of my name? Even more unlikely.  Surely, the same held true for my last name(s). 

Apparently, the answer to the question “What’s in a name?” is, “Not that much.” It doesn’t matter what you go by — it matters who you are. So now, I am a four-named neurotic Jewish girl from New Jersey with parents who DO care enough to have given me a proper middle name and a very patient husband who doesn’t mind being married to a pizza bagel.

What’s in a Name?

44 to Go

Rob, Dave and traditional pre-wedding peanut butter sandwiches

I have never been a wedding crier.

Maybe I’m too distracted by the prospect of mini hot dogs, looming on a butlered tray just a few feet away, to access the emotion.  Maybe I ration my supply of tears, saving it for sad people eating sad little homemade sandwiches out of sad little tin foil squares on sad little park benches.  Maybe I understand that conjuring tears during the matrimonial ceremony does not actually prove that you are the bride’s bestie. Or maybe I’m just frigid. I don’t know. But in the 18+ years since the first wedding I attended (shout out to my cousin Randi), there have been only two ceremonies at which I’ve cried. My own, and the one we went to on Friday: Dave and Rob’s.

Because Texas is one of the 44 remaining states yet to legalize same-sex marriage,  Dave and Rob tied the knot in our nation’s capital last week.  And as they have traveled a total of 5,016 miles to attend not one but TWO of my weddings, there was no way in hell I was missing theirs.

Somewhere out there is a picture of them successfully lifting ME at my wedding

As you would expect of a wedding planned by two gay men, everything about it was perfect.  Prior to the ceremony, I presented Rob and Dave with the peanut butter sandwiches I’d packed at home.  We had partaken of this tasty and nutritious pre-marital snack before my own nuptials, and so too would we partake of them on this momentous occasion. Side note: are peanut butter sandwiches still safe to eat after 18 unrefrigerated hours? Let’s just go with “yes” and put the cholera concerns behind us, shall we?

Rob’s cousin Liz, an ordained minister, performed the very tasteful ceremony on the roof of a friend’s apartment building. From there, you could see Rock Creek Park,  the National Cathedral, the Capitol, and a strange white orb no one could identify. Side note: I am thankful that the large-footed Universal Life Minister who married Keith and me does not read this blog, as much of Dave and Rob’s ceremony, I am honored to say, was taken directly from inspired by the one he performed for us.

Additionally, Rob carefully chose a reading for all the attendees.  This is the one Keith and I read:

May the door of your home be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love and all who are lonely for friendship. [Specifically, short Jewish girls from New Jersey.] May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express and hopes to nurture. May the door of your house be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity. May its threshold be no stumbling block to you or old feet, and may it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness or harshness. May your home be, for all who enter, the doorway to richness and a more meaningful life.

I don’t think I had ever seen either of them cry before, although I suspect they did on several occasions in Philly, when all the Yeungling was gone.  But at some point that day I saw a tear run down Dave’s cheek. You know how you suddenly feel like barfing when you see someone else barf? Same idea.  The no-cry policy had been broken.

Watching this wedding was just, in a word, awesome. It’s always nice to see your friends happy, of course. It’s always nice to attend a wedding at which you can clearly see the love between the two parties. (Trust me, this is not necessarily the case.) But at this wedding, you could see first-hand something else: progress.  This wedding could not have happened even a short time ago, much less 30 or 40 years ago when Dave and Rob were little kids, in the middle of nowhere, alone with the knowledge that they were “different.”  I think we all know what “different” feels like in one way or another.  Still, no matter how much of a freak I’ve felt like throughout my life, I can’t begin to imagine how hard their “different” must have been for them — and still must be, at times.

I am hardly the most politically correct person on earth. I know that many people are uncomfortable with who Dave and Rob are, and what they did last week. But I also know that they are two of the most remarkable people I have ever met. They are hot, hilarious and full of wisdom, and their goodness is extraordinary. A minute after meeting them, you feel you have known them all your life.  They are the best hello and the hardest goodbye.  Because of them, I know that I will always have a home, no matter what happens or where I am. Because of them, I know that family is not merely defined by blood. Because of them, I know that the people who are the least like you may be the people you have the most in common with. So while I understand this is a sensitive topic, I do not understand how you can look at Dave and Rob and say they deserve less than what we all have.

Dave and Rob, I love you and wish you a lifetime of happiness. You have made my life better in countless ways — and saved it more than once.

44 to Go

This Side of Paradise

I am married! Yes, mawwied! [insert voice of Long Duk Dong] [Side note: Sixteen Candles is on Lifetime tonight. Check your local listings.]

Thank you for all the WordPress love and support along the way.  Our week in St. Thomas was the happiest of my life (although admittedly, there wasn’t a lot of competition) and went off with only a few glitches.

Most really weren’t that bad:

  • Alarming speed and grace with which I downed a complimentary pee cup’s worth of Cruzan coconut rum at Cyril E. King airport
  • Ill-timed hair appointment that foiled Jan’s workout the day of the wedding
  • Delayed serving of ice cream at reception, prompting Alex the Flower Girl to tell my sister, “Traci said I was getting ice cream,” prompting my sister to tell me, “Um, Alex was under the impression that she was getting ice cream … can you confirm or deny?”
  • Complete omission of one fruit plate per table at reception
  • Receipt of bill at end of week

One really stank on ice:

  • At the last minute, Keith’s mom had to cancel her trip due to a nasty inner-ear problem that made flying a really bad idea.  Needless to say, this devastated Keith. Luckily, we were able to call Judy on speaker phone during the ceremony and she heard the whole thing.  

There were also countless highlights, but I’ll start with one of the biggest:

  • The beachside, candlelit betrothal of my lil sis /Maid of Honor Jamie to her gentleman friend on our last night in St. Thomas! HUGE congrats to her and my future BIL, and to Jan and Lew, who got both their daughters off their hands in the span of a few days.  Note to Jan and Lew – can I borrow a $100?

Others, for your reading pleasure:

  • The freakish deliciousness of the frosty adult beverage called “Lime in the Coconut” [insert funny 70s song lyrics]
  • The resort’s general manager, whom I’ll refer to as “Jacques,” walking the grounds and chit-chatting with guests in an allegedly French accent. The morning of the wedding, he stopped by our al fresco breakfast table and I expressed some concern that the weather would not hold up. “Do not wair-ee,” he reassured me. “You must undair-stand zee diffair-onss buh-tween REN and LEE-KWEED ZUN-EH-ZHINE.” There is little doubt in my mind he is originally from Queens.
  • Being able to ask, repeatedly, “What do you think this is, the RITZ?!”
  • The remarkable straightness of my hair
  • Experiencing a family vacation as a (quasi)grown-up
  • Beautifying with Jan, Jamie, Joanna, my new SIL Christine, Loren and the littles
  • Walking in the tropical rain at midnight to greet Dave and Rob with a welcome bottle of the aforementioned coconut rum
  • The sight of Alex and my new niece Bella carrying their petal baskets and walking the wrong way on the beach in their matching purple sundresses
  • The remarkable straightness of my hair
  • Walking down the “aisle” with Jan and Lew
  • The toasts given by Jamie, and my BILs Jeff and Craig, and the rhyming poetry of my besties Loren and Deena
  • Standing up for a few seconds on the paddle board
  • Happy, prego Kelly
  • Not puking on the Lady Lynsey cruise to St.  John (shout out to Jeff and Christine for treating us!, and to both my SILs and that random girl from Westchester for being so nice to me during my near-barf crisis)
  • Knowing that the people who matter to me the most  – my blood family, my new family, my may-as-well-be-family, my Philly family – traveled thousands of miles to be there for me

And, above all …

So I married the homecoming king ...

Hearing the barefoot, huge-toed Universal Life Minister – whose ceremony could not have been more beautiful – say, “From this day forward you will never walk alone” and knowing that it was true because of Keith.

This Side of Paradise

Love is All Around

Editor’s note: I was midway through the writing of this post when Allison, the talented proprietress of  No Shoe Left Behind, published a post about our friendship. The post — I am proud to report — earned “Fresh Pressed” status, and drove an insane amount of traffic to The Letter T. In fact, I owe pretty much all my traffic to Allison — she was the very first non-friend/non-relative reader I had. I am forever grateful for her support, encouragement, viral marketing, and appreciation of the finer things in life — T. Belden, ice cream, French macaroons. Huge thanks! May we both land lucrative book deals that are optioned into screenplays.

Another huge thanks for all the great feedback from the blogosphere — it’s very motivating and I really, really appreciate it!


First Nick Lachey and Vanessa Minillo. Then, in what I’m sure is just a total coinkydink, Jessica Simpson and that guy. Leeza Gibbons (a cougar at 53) and the 40-year-old head of the Beverly Hills Board of Education.  And of course, my personal favorite, Prince William and Kate Middleton. Betrothals abound! And I’m sure that even if Jessica did have to pay for her own massive ruby rock — even if Prince William did not go to Jared for the big ass sapphire his mother once wore — the affected parties are still in the pre-wedded bliss phase of their relationships.

Here comes the crazy ... (Image by The Knot)

With my own nuptials a mere 10 days away, it’s not that I’m not also in that phase. It’s just that said phase is now mixed in with a faint hint of anxiety. Maybe it’s more like a dash of anxiety. Fine, a few tablespoons. But you get the point. In the past four weeks I’ve had two bad colds, one of which is currently plaguing me. I can’t fall asleep. I feel like there’s a 300-lb man sitting on my chest, and when I try to inhale, the air isn’t getting all the way into my lungs. (It’s just a touch of psychogenic dyspnea –which I’ve had since 1981 — at least I hope.) My skin is so itchy that I have black and blue marks from scratching. I have an ingrown eyelash (simple trichiasis – yay!) and a deep crack where my top and bottom lips meet. Shout out to angular chelitis — thanks for making me look like the Joker. (Note – in some cases angular chelitis is actually caused by a riboflavin deficiency. Riboflavin! Please note I take this as a sign that I’m not eating enough Franken Berry cereal.) My big toe is sore from what I can only assume is gout. I’ve had to stop using my special keratin shampoo and replace it with Selsun Blue thanks to a delightful case of seborrheic dermatitis. I’m not kidding — think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. Picked cuticles? Check. In short, I am repulsive.

Now, this may sound really bad — and don’t get me wrong. It kind of is. But I’m not surprised by it. It would actually startle me if I went through a major rite of passage and didn’t have at least a tiny meltdown. The weird thing, though, is that I’m not consciously worried about anything. Keith is an amazingly kind, patient, big-hearted person and I still can’t believe he’s willing to marry me (especially in my current state). I’m fairly confident that St. Thomas will not implode into the Caribbean and am only slightly uneasy about the possibility of American Airlines losing our suitcases. So I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly the real issue is.

I think it’s partly just the concept of doing something with so much magnitude. It’s MARRIAGE. It means you have one of the answers you have long, long sought — that one of your greatest quests is complete: you spend years wondering how this particular facet of your existence will turn out, and now you know. It means you’re an official grown-up. It means a part of your life (albeit, not a particularly pleasant one) is over. And that means you’re getting old.

For me, it’s also the step that most people assume will follow the wedding. As you may have guessed from previous posts, the thought of having a kid(s) is absolutely terrifying on every possible level. And unfortunately, despite what Kelly Preston would have us believe — time is not on my side. If I’m gonna do it, I gotta do it pretty soon.

But ultimately, I think the thing I’m most worried about is myself. I have zero doubts about Keith’s ability to be a good husband — there is no possible way he could be anything other than that. But as you also may know from previous posts, this is my second marriage. And it’s really nice to think that the first one failed solely because of the other person involved or because we were just a freakishly bad pairing. But what if that’s not why it failed? What if it turns out I am fundamentally incapable of being a good wife?

Keith didn’t seem concerned when I brought up this idea. But to be fair, he was petting our new iPad at the time, and to be fair-er, very few things worry him.

I was then compelled to pose several things that I felt might indicate my bad wife destiny: I was blogging while I could have been helping him with his laundry; I became inappropriately agitated when my Blackberry froze the other day; I complain constantly; I buy too many pairs of shoes; I see the glass as entirely empty.

Keith typed the following into the App store search bar: diagnose mental disorders.

Then in typical Keith fashion, he spent the next five minutes reassuring me and telling me I could always talk to him about anything.

For a little while I felt better. But then another thought occurred to me: Maybe I was really just worried about keeping two families happy on a six-day vacation in the Caribbean. Or getting blood poisoning from my picked cuticles. Or barfing on the pl…

Maybe it really isn’t the wedding … maybe I just need something to worry about.

Love is All Around

Time and Place

Perhaps I haven’t made it clear why I am crazy. Perhaps you are curious. Perhaps you are not. But either way, perhaps you will enjoy some fine examples of the roots of this insanity, which become clearer and clearer as the wedding plans progress.

Keith and I have decided to get married in the Caribbean. To avoid the paparazzi and jinx-ation, I will refrain from mentioning the exact location at this juncture, but suffice it to say it’s a U.S. territory other than Guam, the water is safe to drink and no vaccinations are required for entry. Unless you are made of coral or eat barracuda (in which case you could theoretically fall prey to bleaching and/or ciguatera, respectively), the prognosis is pretty good.

Here are the reactions I got when I told a few people about the destination.

Jamie:  Can’t wait!

Dave and Rob:  We are there!

Future SIL:  So excited!

Loren:  It’ll be like group vacation!


Um … Lew?

Lew:  [five minutes later] Are you SURE you want to get married there? What about a nice domestic place like Maine … or Cape Cod?

Ah, Cape Cod. Site of at least 10 family vacations and one uber-traumatic barf (circa August 1982). Accessible only via mind-numbing six-hour car ride, about which Lew complained non-stop for two months leading up to each of these family vacations. What a great idea! We can have the reception in the kitchenette of our efficiency room at the Salty Sea Cap’n Motel, where the disposable paper bathmats are decorated with a cartoon map of “the Cape” and the carpet is the softest of Astroturf.  And OMFG! That old man from Nantucket — of every limerick fame — could officiate!

Me: Yeah. We’re sure.

Jan: What about Dave and Rob’s beautiful backyard in Dallas?

Lew: What about … Tampa? Southern California?  [increasing desperation] Gulf coast of Mississippi?! Little Chapel of Love in Las Vegas???


When pressed, neither parent was able to articulate exactly why a five-star hotel in a place where American cell phones worked just fine and to which you could fly non-stop on a major airline was so far beyond their comfort zone [the Upper West Side and three European Union countries]. 

I tried to accept their anxiety and get past it, but, as is always the case, guilt and sad imagery of Jan and Lew began to haunt me. Was I a horrible daughter for asking them to come to a wedding somewhere they didn’t want to go?! Was I being totally selfish?!

I decided to inquire, hoping they’d reassure me with something like this: “Put such thoughts out of your head! This is your day, and we are beyond happy to travel anywhere for you. You’re a fabulous daughter and we love you.”

Instead, the response was more along these lines: “We’d really prefer you get married closer to New York. [pause] But we’ll still come.”

My utter relief was short-lived as they went on to obsess about who would take care of the cat while we were all away.

Jamie suggested we just cancel the wedding, given that it was seven months away and they were still short a catsitter.

Then Jan had another idea.

“You know, Marsha Feldman’s son just had a gargantuan wedding at the Breakers in Palm Beach. It sounded absolutely breathtaking.”

Breathtaking, you say? You know what else sounds breathtaking?! A PANIC ATTACK, which I’m about to have.

Time and Place

Three Shout Outs and Two Notes

  • Shout Out 1:  To my friend Lauren, who became engaged whilst vacationing in Savannah. Yay!!!
  • Shout Out 2: To my friend Jess, who is tying the knot in a few hours here in New York. Yay!!! I am honored to be serving as black-clad bridesmaid.
  • Shout Out 3: To Jan and Lew, who celebrated their 37th anniversary on June 20th. Yay!!!
  • Note 1: You may or may not have noticed that of late, I’ve been even less prolific than I usually am. That is due to a combination of laziness, malaise and nightmarish conditions at work. We are preparing for a massive trade show in Texas, and sadly, it may be a little while longer before I can return to bi-weekly bloggery.
  • Note 2: I have asked my sister Jamie to serve as guest blogger. She has at least two highly entertaining tales to share, and I think I have trained her well. Please stay tuned, and enjoy.
Three Shout Outs and Two Notes

New at the Viennese Table!

I should be adding this to my “Annoyances” page, but it may even be too irksome for that forum. Have you seen the latest in a series of commercials featuring interracial female friends and the foodgasms they experience while eating Yoplait yogurt? 

“This is cute check-out boy good,” says one.  

“This is thank god my cramps are gone good,” says the other.

“This is I got the big promotion you wanted good,” says the first one, a little smugly.

“Oh yeah? Well screw you! This is I bashed your funny-looking face in good.”

In this particular installment, the girls are sporting heinous lilac bridesmaid frocks as they kick back on a pair of folding chairs that were obviously used during their friend’s very recent outdoor wedding ceremony. We can safely assume that the bridesmaids have access to a plethora of hors d’oeuvres, but yet they’re eating Yoplait.  And I just want to know: how often are individual containers of Yoplait actually SERVED at wedding receptions these days? I got married three years ago, and yogurt was not one of our butlered options. Nor was there talk of a yogurt station, a yogurt fountain or a yogurt bar.  Have times changed that much?

New at the Viennese Table!