Once upon a time, Lauren and I worked as comedy performers on a cruise ship.On the 4th of July in 2008, we had the strange fortune of being at the northernmost tip of continental Europe.
It was cold up there.
We saw an actual reindeer.
We built inukshuks like the tourists do.
We drank hot cocoa like the Vikings invented.
It was a grey, grey, stupidly nice Independence Day in The Land of The Midnight Sun.
So at a gift shop in the oily port town of Honningsvag, I bought a postcard.
The postcard featured two trolls.
A boy troll presenting a diamond ring to a girl troll.
I bought it for Lauren.
In a few weeks, I would be leaving the ship.
Lauren would be staying on for another four months.
We didn't know what we were going to do.
All I knew is that I wanted to see her again.
I thought she might feel the same way.
So on my last day on the ship, I gave her the postcard.
Though the card contained goofy trolls, they could not offset the heaviness created by the presence of the diamond ring.
We hadn't even said "I love you" yet.
So on the back of the card I wrote:
Don't worry. It's not an engagement ring. It's a DONUT!
Kind of dumb.
But so is love sometimes.
We ended up each fitting an "I love you" into our big goodbye that day.
I brought the troll postcard with me to Door County.
• Go to a donut shop
• Present Lauren with a donut and the postcard
• Say "Don't worry. It's not a donut. It's an engagement RING!"
The old switcheroo!
The only problem was I couldn't find a fucking donut shop in Door County.
There were some bakeries and coffee shops and this sort of thing.
But no donut shops.
So at the motel I grabbed a couple of plain dunking donuts from the continental breakfast station.
I wrapped them in a few napkins and shoved them in my bag.
These would be the back up donuts.
Lauren made coffee.
We enjoyed a brief, spartan breakfast in the vintage kitchen.
Washington Island was the destination for today.
I scrambled my brain like eggs (not included in a continental breakfast) for an alternative plan to the donut shop.
While racing up the peninsula to catch the 10 o'clock ferry to Washington Island, I came up with this:
• Find scenic bluff on Washington Island
• Have donut picnic from back of van overlooking scenic bluff
• Present troll postcard, "Don't worry", etc.
Ah, but we missed the 10 o'clock ferry.
So we grabbed coffee at the one coffee shop within ten miles of the ferry.
They had pastries and crullers and muffins.
Some things that resembled donuts.
I looked around.
The cashier girl seemed spacey and nervous.
Like she was on shrooms.
I looked around some more.
A child's playpen, all messy and shitty.
A big smelly dog.
A hippie guy rambling on about hippie nothing.
I think Aerosmith was yelling quietly on the radio.
I was not going to ask Lauren to fucking marry me in this UFO of boneheads.
We got our coffee to go.
The caffeine enhanced my jittery madness.
I appeared generally stressed.
Lots of quick nervous movements.
A pressing feeling of sands sifting impatiently though the hour glass.
We drove up to the ticket booth for the ferry.
The nice man in the booth informed us that the van needed to pay, too.
So to get to Washington Island it would cost us $50.
That suddenly seemed ridiculous.
So we left the van behind.
And with the van went my alternative plan.
The ferry was a magical ride to a magical place,
Our senses came alive, we felt the wind in our face,
It was a fun ride to great moments and memories,
The Washington Island Ferry-ee!
I had moved the ring from my bag to my person.
Specifically, the left pocket of my jacket.
I played with its velvety velourness while the ferry crossed Death's Door.
And looked for scenic bluffs.
A fellow passenger talked at us about life because she thought we were in our twenties. Her husband had been laid off from his job and was now working at McDonald's. She talked about hardships and struggles and the economy and job security.
All I could think about was that I was about to propose to Lauren and that this was it and oh no I still don't know how or when.
So far I hadn't seen any scenic bluffs.
It was a crisp, grey day.
The port of the island looked drab and flat.
We walked on its industrial non-beach.
That fringey coffee shop was looking better than ever.
The donuts were in my bag.
The troll postcard was in an inside pocket.
My hands were in my pockets, guarding the ring.
To my horror, Lauren reached into my left pocket to hold my hand.
I thought I felt her fingers brush against the plushy ring box.
Would I be forced to propose to her right then and there, on a dull patch of damp concrete for a handful of distracted drivers and nose-in-map tourists?
I reflexively boxed her hand out of my pocket.
It was of course very weird.
I gave Lauren a brainless smile and held her hand in the outdoors, far away from my jacket pocket.
She didn't seem too fazed by my psychotic quirks.
Momentarily relieved, I scanned the gloomy shoreline for any sign of romance.
I swore I heard the island laughing at me.
We decided to rent bikes.
At the visitor's center a woman showed us a map.
"Are there any scenic bluffs?" I asked.
"Umm," she stalled and vaguely pointed at a blotch of nondescript green on the map.
"Maybe over here?"
What a shit fire.
What was I gonna do?
Hopelessness poked its head into the frame.
My sweating ears heard her pointing out other landmarks.
"Ostrich farm", "stave church", "restaurant"...
Wait a minute.
You mean those tall, black, wooden Norwegian churches that look like Viking vessels?
In July of 2008, Lauren and I had the strange fortune of being in Bergen, Norway for a few hours.
We visited the Fantoft stave church.
It loomed large.
It was originally built around 1150.
But in 1992, a black metal kid burnt it down to the ground.
Undeterred, the town soon reconstructed it.
Later we listened to some black metal.
Those Darkthrone boys.
We weren't so into it.
But the spookiness of the stave church stuck with us and remained one of our favorite memories of Norway.
That was it!
I would propose to her at the stave church.
With that postcard from Norway.
And the donuts.
It actually made sense!
The bike ride was now fun.
We spun stressless through the damp Wisconsin woods.
Now we were hungry.
And this bike ride was long.
And it just started to rain.
The thought of proposing while we were cranky hungry and wet would appeal to no one.
And donuts would guarantee a low blood sugar coma crash.
So I announced a plan.
"• LET'S GET SOME LUNCH IN TOWN
• THEN WE'LL DO THE DONUTS AS A SNACK
• AT THE CHURCH!"
Lauren does like donuts.
But she must have wondered why I was so obsessed with them on this trip.
"OKAY!" she said, now soaked.
It was beating down hard by the time we pulled up to Nelsen's Hall.
Built in 1899, it has housed a tavern, restaurant, movie theater, dentist's office, pharmacy, ice cream parlour, and The Bitters End Motel.
Inside it was brown, cozy, and dry.
We sat at the bar.
The bartender asked if we'd like to join The Bitters Club.
We said okay!
A shot of bitters happened.
Then we signed a book and were given membership cards.
Lifetime members to the bitter end.
Outside it still rained and rained.
We ate lunch.
It continued to rain.
We ordered a round of drinks.
Still it rained.
One more round of drinks.
One more round of rain.
I told Lauren I was determined to see the stave church, even if it meant getting drenched.
She swallowed and nodded supportively.
And finished her bloody mary.
We asked the bartender if they had any garbage bags to use as a raincoat for Lauren.
A jacket that had been in the lost and found for a year was offered.
It was a huge Chevy raincoat.
I was wearing a GM jacket.
We got on our bikes.
This was it.
I was actually going to goddamn do this.
We rode through the rain for a mile or so.
It really was a dreary one.
We pulled off the road and rode over a small stone bridge.
There it was.
The stave church.
It loomed as large as the one we saw in Norway.
It was incredible.
Agh, but a tour group was all over the place.
We poked around among the crowd of Badger clad tourists.
I got nervous again.
They eventually vanished, albeit slowly.
Now we had the whole stave to ourselves.
I found a little nook on the porch of the church.
I pulled out the troll postcard.
"Remember this?" I asked.
Lauren was surprised and intrigued.
I realized the donuts were still in my bag inside the church.
Too late now.
I made the executive decision to abort the whole dumb donut thing.
And I got down on a knee.
And I included her middle name.
And I asked her if she would marry me.
She said yes.
Another couple approached the church.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at them.
They were polite and took our picture.
We rode bikes in the rain.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at me.
Back at Nelsen's Hall, I opened the door for my fiancé.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at everyone.
"SO DID WE!" yelled another gal.
Yes, another couple had gotten engaged that day on the island.
They had found a scenic stretch of beach!
Everyone bought us rounds.
We told our tales.
It was fun.
We returned our bikes in the neverending rain.
"WE JUST GOT ENGAGED!" Lauren yelled at the rental bike lady.
She didn't charge us.
So far, being engaged meant lots of free stuff on Washington Island.
We called our families.
Lauren's made celebratory noises along the lines of "woo hoo".
My mom thought I was playing a prank on her.
But she seemed happy, albeit shocked.
We had dinner at the restaurant that had been featured in Bon Appetít.
Lamb shanks, lemon risotto, white asparagus salad, Chilean pork.
The waitress did pronounce chipotle "chipolte".
We're getting married.
Pronounce it however you want.
Lauren really liked the ring.
She used words like "perfect".
It ended up being perfect.
A truly perfect day.