by Kevin Fedarko
IN OCTOBER 1996, ON THE NIGHT BEFORE MY FRIEND BRETT MOUTON got married in New Orleans, he presented each of his groomsmen with the gift of a Leatherman all-in-one tool. It was a pretty swanky model, with all the bells and whistles: regular pliers, needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, hard-wire cutters, knife, scissors, wood/metal file, large screwdriver, ruler, bottle/can opener, wire stripper, the works.
As groomsmen's gifts go, the Leatherman was a pretty cool idea. In addition to its MacGyverish cachet and flat-out usefulness, the tool also symbolized the kind of seat-of-your-pants sensibility that had led Brett to his fiancée in the first place. But that's another story for another time.
Teetering on the threshold of marriage, Brett had begun to wonder whether he'd made the right decision. The funny thing is, I knew from the start he was marrying the right girl. His fiancée was a willowy blonde from Long Island named Elizabeth Kelly. Elizabeth was elegant and incredibly funny, and her eyes harbored an elusive shade of blue that mirrored the cobalt mysteries lurking deep beneath the lagoons of the South Pacific (or so Mouton had insisted to me, in language almost that overwrought, after he'd met her for the first time three years earlier). In short, Elizabeth was far better than anything Mouton even remotely deserved.
Unfortunately, he would only know this after the ceremony was over. Like any man about to commit the rest of his life to another human being, he was a wee bit anxious. "What will it be like to never feel the soft lips of a strange woman . . . ever again?" he'd asked me earlier that day. At the moment, he was a bundle of nervous energy as he began to greet people at the entrance of a private room in Antoine's, a storied restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter, where the rehearsal dinner was about to begin.
It was here that I witnessed his first fatal mistake. Brett was so excited meeting and greeting friends and family from far away and long ago that, despite the platters of jambalaya, rice and beans, and barbecued shrimp on every table, he barely ate a bite. But he seemed to love the taste of Abita beer, the local brew—in the soft glow of the electric candelabras, I watched my friend pound beer after beer after beer.
Brett is a bonafide Cajun. He is small and he is muscular and he can do two things well: eat crawfish and drink beer. (His favorite joke that night: Q: Do you know why Cajuns don't eat M&M's? A: They're too hard to shell.) On this night, though, it was as if he were a human sponge. His cheeks grew rosy. He smiled a wide grin. And he didn't talk much. But here's the rub: By midnight, he still didn't really look drunk.
As the rehearsal dinner was winding down, Brett suggested those of us still hanging around head across the street for a nightcap, to a bar he liked called the Old Absynthe House, on Bourbon Street. Not wanting to abandon the guest of honor, a small congregation of family and friends (myself included) accompanied Brett to the bar, where we each began treating Brett to drink after drink.
This is when Brett broke another cardinal rule of drinking: He switched to hard liquor in the form of mixed drinks. At one point, he actually drank an entire Sex on the Beach shooter, which, for those of you unaware, consists of melon liqueur, raspberry liqueur, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice—oh, and lots of vodka.
Brett was sharing a room at the rather swanky Le Meridien Hotel on Canal Street with me and his best man, Stew Creed. By the time Stew and I managed to drag Brett out of the bar, our Cajun friend couldn't stand up without assistance. Which is why Stew and I had propped him against the double-hung French doors of the Meridien's bridal suite while we attempted to unlock the door to our own room, located directly adjacent to the bridal suite. (Elizabeth, who was spending the night with several girlfriends in another hotel, hadn't yet moved into the bridal boudoir.) As we fiddled with the key, Mouton somehow revived himself, seized the ornate brass handles to the bridal-suite doors, and pulled as hard as he could while yelling at the top of his lungs, "This is where we're stayin' tonight, boys!"
Now, Brett isn't exactly built like a linebacker. But the force of his drunken pull popped the hinges, locks, and plates completely off the latches. And the doors swung open, revealing the interior of the suite in all its splendor.
Since none of us had ever actually seen a bridal suite before, the first order of business, obviously, was to venture inside and check the place out. We whistled softly over the contents of the bar. We merrily clomped up and down the staircase to the canopied, king-size bed. And we conducted a close inspection of the gold-plated fixtures inside the walk-in shower—which was, I think, about the time that the suite's ivory-engraved telephone started ringing.
By this point, Brett had passed out on top of the bed, so I was the one who picked up the receiver. It was a guy down at the front desk, who had somehow learned of our break-in and was calling to announce that he had dispatched a security team to deal with "the situation." I hung up and informed Stew that we had about two minutes to fix this mess, and that if we failed, Brett might be waking up to rays of striped sunshine inside a New Orleans jail cell. On his wedding day.
At this point, Stew remembered the groomsmen's gifts in our pockets.
I'll limit the description of what happened next to simply saying that Stew and I will forever be indebted to whomever designed the Leatherman all-in-one, whose needle-nose pliers, awl, diamond file, and triple assemblage of screwdrivers all played crucial roles in our emergency repair procedure. After ejecting Brett into the hallway, we managed to scoop the screws off the carpet, re-anchor the plates, reassemble the entire latching mechanism on the door, close and relock the doors, and drag Brett into our room next door before the security team even made it off the elevator.
I don't think an Indy pit crew could have done a more professional job—a fact which Mouton, to his credit, has never forgotten.
Each year, just as his anniversary is approaching, Brett picks up the phone and gives me a call.
"Thanks for being there, my friend," he says, muffling his voice so his wife won't overhear. "I owe my entire marriage to you and Stew."
Kevin Fedarko is a writer living by himself in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He owns neither a dog nor a cat, but is in the process of acquiring a set of very cool power tools, with which he plans to build his own house. He recently committed to a domestic partnership with a potted geranium.
Was this article helpful?