Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Beyond the Sea by Said Sayrafiezadeh

OBJECTMementos in a Bottle


My idea for getting married on a boat in the Hudson River was, in theory, a good one. It had come to me in a flash one afternoon at Shelter Island where my fiancée Karen and I had gone to scout out possible venues for our wedding. We were hoping to have a ceremony that was simple and secular, quirky but classy, something that incorporated our abiding love and affection for New York City, and also something that didn’t cost too much. Most of these requirements, however, seemed to have little chance of being satisfied by what we had seen during our six hours on Shelter Island, and it wasn’t until evening, while the two of us sat on the shore, depleted and dejected, imagining the worst possible cookie-cutter wedding, that we happened to observe a sailboat serenely floating past.

“What if we got married on a boat in the Hudson River?” I suggested.

“What a great idea!” Karen said.

And how easy it all seemed. Through Craigslist we found a beautiful wooden sailing yacht at a reasonable price, with a captain who was down-to-earth, who had done weddings before, and who, being in active service in the Merchant Marines, would be able to marry us. Karen bought a wedding dress at a sample sale on Mulberry Street that made her look a bit like a mermaid, and we chose, as one of our theme songs, Beyond the Sea by Robbie Williams. Our invitations, pink and brown, were designed by us in painstaking detail, and had an old map of New York City that I had tracked down one afternoon at the public library, and which showed the Hudson River—or the North River as it was once called—where we would be having our actual ceremony. In the middle of saying our vows, which were written by me, also in painstaking detail and plagiarized in part from E.B. White’s Here is New York, we planned to toss into the river a vintage bottle—never mind the environment—that I had purchased for five dollars at the Good Will on Twenty-third Street, and which was stuffed with Karen’s and my mementos and remembrances and wishes for our life going forward. And then we, and our twenty-five guests, would sail around New York Harbor for two hours.

I say that “in theory” getting married on a boat in the Hudson River is a good idea because it fails to assume the possible reality of that day. That day which, as everyone knows, is already filled with so many intangibles and variables and unforeseen conflicts and surprises, where stress rises and emotions are laid bare, and where my stress and emotion would not only be laid the barest because of my repressed and dysfunctional family, but documented forever by a thousand unsmiling photographs. Karen and I began to have an inkling that we had exposed ourselves to undue anxiety, when, five months before our wedding day—June 25—we began desperately trying, through almanacs and websites, to see if we could determine whether or not it would rain. Our captain tried to allay our concerns with his foolproof contingency plan that involved ponchos for everyone, but this did not set our minds at ease.

As it turned out, however, it did not rain. Instead, it was sunny and hot. The hottest day of the year, in fact. I was wearing a new suit that happened to be black and for which I had paid so much money that I refused to take off the jacket. Within ten minutes I was sweating profusely. My mother, whom I hadn’t spoken to in two years, showed up with accusatory eyes and a firm handshake. My father didn’t show up at all. He was too busy. Or too disinterested. (Which is its own story.) Furthermore, Karen and I hadn’t realized that when we set the date it coincided with Gay Pride weekend and that traffic in the city would be heavy, nor had we realized that if any of our twenty-five guests were late, even by a few minutes, they risked missing the entire ceremony since we were on a boat, and the boat was scheduled to sail promptly at one thirty. The concern I began to feel at one o’clock for stragglers became panic by one fifteen, and despair by one twenty. By one twenty-five I was defeated and exhausted and could only watch in half-hearted relief as the final guest arrived and strolled unevenly up the gangway.

We were all optimistic that the breeze off the river would cool us down, but ten minutes after we began our voyage the fan belt in the engine broke and we were stuck sitting in the busiest part of the Hudson River, bobbing up and down in the turbulent and taunting wake of the ferries and motorboats as the sun beat down. Because of this unexpected turn of events, the sails of the yacht had to be raised earlier than anticipated, and the guests were told to duck continuously, like they were in a war zone, while the boom passed back and forth over their heads trying to catch that nonexistent breeze. We had not planned for this initial part of the journey to take one hour, and the hors d’oeuvres we wanted to eat after the ceremony had to be eaten before, and the playlist we had assembled with such care and attention ran in an endless, irritating loop. In addition, the constant motion of the yacht made our wedding photographer ill, and she was observed every so often hurrying with her cameras down into the captain’s quarters. As for one of my wife’s best friends, she eschewed any form of privacy and vomited straight over the side.

Finally we arrived at the still and calming waters by the Statue of Liberty. Everyone roused themselves and took their places, and the captain made a formal declaration about being “empowered by the laws of the United States of America to perform this service.” And then he read our vows that I had spent a lot of time writing and that described how lucky Karen and I were to have found one another, and how no one should come to New York City unless they are willing to be lucky. I also had included a rather pedantic survey of the various names that the Hudson River had been called dating back to the Mohawk. Midway through the ceremony, as directed, the captain handed over that vintage bottle we had stuffed full with our mementos, none of which I can recall now except for my therapist’s business card. “This river contains the history of this, the greatest of all cities,” the captain recited in my overblown prose, “and now it will also contain the love of these two people before us.” Then I corked the bottle and handed it over to Karen who stood at the helm of the ship. She hurled it as far as she could, which wasn’t very far, and we watched it bob around anti-climatically for a few moments before going back to finish our vows and exchange our rings. When we were all done we kissed, were kissed by others—my mother shook my hand—and then everyone got down to the business of celebrating our marriage and sailing around the harbor in ninety degree heat.

That was five yeas ago, and Karen and I are still happily married. Every so often I will remember that bottle of ours and I will think about how it’s floating out there somewhere. At least, I hope it’s still floating. Maybe it’s only just a few feet from where Karen threw it. Or maybe it’s made it all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Perhaps one day we’ll receive a message from someone who’s found it. Or perhaps it will be discovered many years from now after we’re all gone.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh was born in Brooklyn and raised in Pittsburgh. He is the author, most recently, of the short story collection Brief Encounters With the Enemy, and the critically acclaimed memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free, selected as one of the ten best books of the year by Dwight Garner of The New York Times. His short stories and personal essays have appeared inThe New YorkerThe Paris ReviewGrantaMcSweeney’sThe New York Times and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other publications. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a fiction fellowship from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Saïd lives in New York City with his wife, the artist and designer Karen Mainenti, and teaches creative writing at Hunter College and New York University, where he received a 2013 Outstanding Teaching Award.