MINOT, ND—At the outdoor wedding reception of Kevin Thomas and Elaine Schroeder on Saturday, a party guest identified only as "Gary" alleviated tensions and endeared himself to guests with his unpredictable and irreverent actions, turning the miserable event into one of marginal tolerability, sources reported Monday.
"I'm not sure who he is, but that Gary guy was the best thing about the wedding," said Warren Thomas, Kevin's father. "My wife must have invited him, because he sure couldn't have been a friend of sticks-in-the-mud like the Schroeders."
According to other guests, Gary, estimated to be in his late 50s, seemed to have attended the event alone. Although he made his biggest impression at the reception, witnesses said he was present at St. Paul's Catholic Church during the ceremony.
"The first time I noticed [Gary] was in the church," best man Joseph Farrel said. "The flower girl kept giggling during the vows. It took me a while to realize [Gary] was making faces at her. It was pretty funny, I guess. Then after the ceremony, I ran into [Gary] in the bathroom. He came up to the urinal next to mine and said, 'This must be where all the dicks hang out.' Normally, I'd punch out any guy who tried to talk to me in the john, but the joke was a relief after listening to those awful self-written vows."
According to guests at the reception, relations between the Thomases and the Schroeders have been strained since January, when Elaine announced that she was not taking Thomas as a last name. Additional tensions arose when the Schroeders learned that Kevin was not Catholic and did not want a church wedding. Guests said these factors, among others, lent the event an air of discord from the start.
At the reception, however, Gary reportedly lightened the mood by telling jokes, singing, and repeatedly clinking his glass to make the bride and groom kiss.
"There was this funny-looking guy [Gary] at the table next to mine," said Jeanie Schroeder, Elaine's cousin. "He was cracking people up by making a tie out of one of the streamers hanging from the ceiling. Meanwhile, at my table, everyone was just gossiping about how Kevin made so much less money than Elaine's first fiancé. I kept thinking, 'I wish I was sitting at the goofy guy's table.'"
After dinner, guests milled about the tent, making uncomfortable small talk about relatives and complaining about the middling quality of the buffet food and the cost of drinks at the cash bar. As the evening wore on, the children and more adventurous guests gravitated toward Gary, who told corny jokes, pretended to steal items from the gift table, and did impersonations of celebrities.
"That Gary was doing this impersonation of Father Spencer performing the service with a thick lisp," said Gilbert Szigmond, a friend from the Schroeders' parish. "I usually wouldn't stand for someone showing disrespect for a man of the cloth, but the levity was welcome relief after that hostile toast by Kevin's mother. It was the only thing that kept me from ducking out before the cake was served."
An informal poll of the wedding guests and hosts revealed that no one was certain who invited Gary, but all were relieved that he was present.
"Everyone lined up for the cha-cha slide, and it was like 'Oh, boy, here we go,'" said groomsman Jeff Canzanovia. "I had to dance with [bridesmaid and Elaine's sister] Erica Schroeder, who I can't stand, but we were all going through the motions to make Kevin and Elaine happy. Then this guy [Gary] comes onto the dance floor and acts like he can't dance, pretending to trip and fall. I usually hate ridiculous behavior like that, but I have to admit his antics were pretty much the only thing that made the night halfway bearable."
The level of barely suppressed tension turned into outright hostility when the groom's brother, David Thomas, got into a fight with the DJ.
"By the time we had to catch the bouquet, we were all pretty much fed up," bridesmaid Helen Perry said. "The fight really freaked everyone out—Elaine's family is pretty strict, and that's putting it nice. No one was mingling, and everyone was just sort of sitting quietly at their tables and waiting until they could slip out unnoticed. But when the DJ announced that all the single women should line up, that guy [Gary] ran over, jumping and clapping and pretending to be really excited to catch the bouquet. Elaine's dad gave him a look, but Gary didn't seem to care."
By the end of the reception, the room was nearly empty, except for a handful of stragglers and Gary, who wished the newlyweds well.
"Ordinarily, a guy like Gary would annoy the shit out of me," the bride said. "But between the fights and my little sister getting plastered and Grandma not showing up because Kevin's not Catholic, that Gary was the one thing stopping me from screaming at everyone to get out and let me start my new life with my husband."
Added Kevin: "Yeah, where did that Gary dude come from?"