I haven’t posted anything lately (those Bar Mitzvah essays took a lot out of me), but I haven’t been completely away from my keyboard.
The mind-readers at Maine Camp Experience (who took one look at my writing and somehow knew that I had attended a Maine summer camp in my youth) asked if I would share some thoughts on my, uh, Maine camp experience. But instead of talking about my days as a skinny, freckled miscreant wearing shorts at least three sizes too small, I was inspired to share the tale of my daughter’s summers up north, and how they connected her to more than just new friends.
You can read the post by clicking here. Hope you enjoy it!
Welcome back!! The celebration is well under way, but if you’ve missed the service and the beginning of the party, read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Caught up? Good. Let’s keep eating.
THE PARTY, HOUR 3
- The meal will begin. A plate of salad will have already been placed on the table in front of you, and it will look…like salad. You will eat it anyway, because it’s salad, even though you’ve just consumed four pounds of widely available chicken satay at the cocktail reception.
- For some reason, despite the plethora of expensive food being thrown your way this evening, you will only be given one bread roll. Leave your roll exposed for too long and it will be picked off by a carb-depleted member of your table. Eat it quickly, or guard your bread like the Hope Diamond.
- During the salad course, the father of the honored child will take to the stage to give a toast. He will thank everyone for coming, “from near and far”, mentioning each individual state like a Congressional roll call.
- He will also thank his lovely and beautiful wife for putting so much time and effort into such an incredible event. Try to catch a glimpse in the background of the exhausted professional party planner getting intravenous fluids and shedding a quiet tear (or possibly seething).
- The husband will also salute the amazing job his child did at that day’s ceremony. Note that this speech was written at least 72 hours before the event, having no idea whether his child excelled or butchered the Torah portion. Shake off the hypocrisy and clap politely at the stump speech. He’s paying for your drinks.
- He will then introduce a video montage, featuring 735 still images of his child with various friends, family members, and Disney World cast members. The main goal of the video is to provide visual evidence that the family’s life together is much more enjoyable than yours.
- This will be the most difficult and trying portion of your evening, as watching the average Mitzvah Montage is akin to watching paint dry, if the paint took family trips to Boca, Costa Rica, and Bubbie’s 95th birthday party at The Red Barn.
- The length can also be trying. This video will last approximately 12-25 minutes, but will end up taking at least an hour off of your projected lifespan.
- Jewish law requires that “Time Of Your Life” by Green Day be featured somewhere within the montage. And no, most parents are unaware that the real name of the song is “Good Riddance”, which is both hysterical and, since we’re being honest, possibly more appropriate.
- Now that your legs have atrophied from lack of use during the endless montage, dancing will officially commence. For the next 40 minutes, as the DJ begins to blast his set of electronic music you’ve never heard of through speakers the size of SUVs, you will no longer be able to communicate with the person directly in front of you without screaming in their ear.
- Somehow, the inability to communicate verbally will inspire all kids under 18 to put down their phones and acknowledge each other’s presence on the dance floor. The boys will dance with the motivators, while the girls will dance with each other. One crazy aunt will dance wildly by herself, and later dominate the Bar Mitzvah video footage.
- Hard core rap songs will play a prominent role, spun at slightly higher speeds and distortion to disguise the lyrics about drug consumption and sexual misconduct. Surprisingly, the grandparents will try to join in the fun by singing along to the chorus of the one song they recognize, blissfully unaware of why the lead singer “can’t feel his face”.
- Once your ears have melted and your larynx burns like wildfire from trying to hold down a conversation with a similarly deaf adult, the music will quiet down and the kids will retreat to their white couches for a fresh smoothie. The main course will then be served to the adults, likely including a carefully-planned and orchestrated menu of classic dishes served elegantly on formal plates.
- At least one person at your table will sneak into the kids section and make himself (or herself) a plate of chicken fingers and sliders. These will become tradable commodities at your table, ultimately developing into a black market of finger foods as one curly fry sells for $45 to a hedge fund manager.
(If you’re confused as to why this guide begins at #27, click here for Part 1)
You’ve survived the service. You’ve properly enclosed your cash or check into an appropriately themed card and sealed the envelope (remembering at the last minute to add your name to the card). But you’ve only just begun your journey. Consult your original invitation, curse yourself for accidentally throwing out that helpful directions card, drive successfully to the proper location, reluctantly hand your keys to the valet knowing how long it will take to get your car back at night’s end, and make your way into the main event.
THE PARTY, HOUR 1 – THE “COCKTAIL” HOUR
- When you arrive at that evening’s party for the “cocktail hour”, you will immediately notice the attire worn by guests. Adult women will be wearing stunning dresses from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, while the teenage girls will be dressed like hookers.
- Concurrently, the suits worn by both boys and men will be at least two sizes too big. This will not matter, for within the first 10 minutes all boys will deposit their suit jackets on the floor of the reception hall, and will later return home with the wrong coat belonging to a camp friend from Massachusetts.
- As you enter, adults and children will split into two rooms. The kids will move to a room filled with games, candy, unlimited pizza and organized activities, while the adults will file into a room with elegant music and fine passed hors d’oeuvres.
- Most adults secretly wish they were in the kid’s room.
- The name “cocktail hour” is misleading. Despite the moniker, this is not really about cocktails. It’s about FOOD. As Jews, we are trained at birth to crave appetizers, and consumer research shows that when given the choice between a libation or a toast point with filet, Jews will choose the beef 89.7% of the time.
- The sheer volume of food offered during the cocktail hour will be staggering. You will be offered a stuffed mushroom or a piece of meat on a stick at least once every 14.3 seconds.
- Despite this, you will still complain about the length of the line at the moo shu chicken buffet table.
- No matter how elegant the appetizers, nothing will be more treasured or fought over than a passed tray of mini hot dogs wrapped in puffed pastry.
- And they won’t come easy. A Bar Mitzvah professional knows to scope out all entrances and exits to the room like a secret service agent, eventually positioning themselves as near as possible to the entrance used by servers and aggressively attacking the mini hot dog server until there is nothing left on their tray besides parsley and a lonely dish of brown mustard. If you desire the mini hot dogs, don’t make the rookie mistake of getting stuck in the middle of the room with the dieters. Be a pro.
- This strategy should also be employed for potato pancakes.
- Conversely, take your time with the chicken satay. There will be plenty of those left.
- If you are male, within 10 minutes of entering the event you will spill some kind of red sauce on your white dress shirt. You will attempt to cover this up with an awkward combination of club soda and potato pancake grease (assuming you positioned yourself properly, see previous note) and hope your wife is too distracted by the action at the sushi table to notice.
- You will quickly surmise that a Jewish man must have three hands. There is no other explanation as to how he manages to hold his wife’s plate of salmon, her Cosmopolitan, and either her purse or his own fought-for mini hot dog without the pile tumbling onto his already-stained dress shirt. This may also explain why most Jewish men are thin, as they lack the necessary number of available appendages to hold or utilize a fork.
Over the last few years, my wife and I have been to a total of 15,462 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, which seems about average for our peer group. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 Hour Rule” on how long it takes to achieve world class expertise, I believe I passed the minimum requirements for a PhD in the Bar Mitzvah Arts about 23,000 hours ago.
An exaggeration? Perhaps a bit. But as the male head of household of a Jewish family in the Northeast United States, it’s fair to say that I’ve been to my share of Bar Mitzvahs. Perhaps you have too. But if not, I believe you could benefit from my store of knowledge, especially if you have a 13 year-old child. Be forewarned: all 13 year-olds and their families in certain geographic regions enter a Twilight Zone-esque parallel and confusing universe known as “The Bar Mitzvah Circuit”. This will require not only a complete commitment of your free time, energy and financial resources, but also a twisted understanding of human nature that you’ve never seen before, and likely never will again. Before you or your children step one foot out of that Volvo and towards the synagogue doors, learn from me. I’ve assembled the definitive rookie’s guide, which I’m calling YOUR FIRST HORA: THE 90 (GIVE OR TAKE) THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ATTENDING YOUR FIRST BAR MITZVAH.
I’ll work roughly chronologically through an average experience. Feel free to jump ahead if you’re stuck in any one category.
- Several weeks before the event, a printed invitation on paper stock roughly as thick as a strip steak and with enough stamps on the envelope to kill George Constanza’s wife 20 times over will arrive at your home.
- Pay careful attention to the opening of the invitation: the amount of enjoyment you will ultimately experience at the event is inversely proportional to the amount of glitter that falls out of the envelope when you open it.
- There will likely be a reply card included in the invitation. Pay no mind to the fact that the RSVP date is only two days away and is a clear indication that you are on the party’s B List and are only invited because Aunt Martha can’t make it in from Chicago because her rheumatoid arthritis is acting up. Make a note to order premium spirits at the open bar later.
The phone rang abruptly as I was driving home from work. Even over my car’s crappy bluetooth connection that makes most voices sound like they emanate deep from the ocean’s floor, I could tell my wife sounded anxious.
“I can’t just sit here and watch him suffer,” she said. “It’s just not right. We need to do something, now. Any ideas?”
I paused, carefully considering the difficult decision placed before me. It was surely the first time I had ever thought about the possibilities for such a drastic but merciful act. What did I know of such things? I struggled to answer, so I decided to consult the experts.
“Why don’t you google “fish euthanasia”?”
The first time my wife asked me to get a tattoo, I nearly crashed our Toyota Highlander Hybrid into the lane median.
There’s been no second time, mostly because I’ve avoided conversing with her altogether.
Allow me to add some brief context. I am a 47 year-old father of two, with a size-able home mortgage and a growing gut that is having some trouble staying above the underwear line. Beyond listening to the occasional AC/DC track, my tastes tend to run toward the mundane and ordinary. I am, by all reasonable definition, no bad-ass. I wear slippers with little tassels on them when the house gets chilly, and I sometimes add jicama in my salad to give it a little jolt. Trust me, I’m about the last person you’d expect to sport a tattoo.
And yet there it was, a call to arms. The woman I married 20+ years ago, who has as clear an understanding of who I am as anyone on this or any planet, wants me to put permanent paint into my skin for show.
The email came forwarded with a short note from my wife, direct in its simplicity:
“You’re doing this.”
The email was a plea from Westport’s Academy of Dance, my daughter’s ballet school. Their upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker”, the annual holiday blockbuster that had entertained and tortured parents for the last century or so, had had an unfortunate setback: the gentleman who had volunteered for years to play the role of Clara’s father had a conflict and would be unable to perform. Would anyone be willing to take his place?
I stared at the email for a few minutes, thinking about the implications, and a classic quandary emerged: does the chance to engage with my daughter’s passion outweigh the outright possibility (or probability) of making a fool of myself?
On the one hand, I am not shy about public performance. The stage doesn’t bother me, and I have absolutely no pride once the lights are shining down on me. Anyone who’s been unlucky enough to have seen me scream David Lee Roth songs on karaoke night can attest to this unfortunate side of my personality. I have a philosophy about performing, most likely born of necessity: enthusiasm helps cover for an utter lack of measurable talent. Scream into the microphone and act like you’re a rock star, and you are one (provided said rock star is surrounded only by inebriated friends as witnesses before the alcohol-fueled memory loss sets in).
But this was something altogether different. I’d seen the Nutcracker dozens of times since my daughter’s first appearance 8 years before. And I’d seen what the part of the father entails. He’s only on-stage for a short time, and the demands are mostly cosmetic, but about halfway through his scene, as the music shifts to a slow waltz, it happens: the dad dances.
Oh man, it’s been ages since I’ve posted. No excuses, just life getting in the way and lacking the discipline to sit down and get it done. Remember the title of this blog, and pay heed. But I’ve been working on a new piece that is kind of a sequel to one I wrote years ago for the Westport News, so as a tease (and a public prod to get me going on the new one), I thought I’d re-post the original. Anyone with young ones at dance school should find some familiarity here. More to come (maybe).
For those of you who have been kind enough to read my column each month, you are familiar with my tone. I’m trying to give humorous voice to many of the foibles of our lives as modern men, as professionals, as commuters, as husbands, and as fathers. Some of the issues may seem serious (and some of you may have worried about the sanctity of my marriage’s privacy), but I’d rather look at our lives with a lighter focus.
But now I’m going to play with fire. I’m taking on an institution so revered, so beloved, so entrenched in so many lives that the sheer thought of writing this column has me fearing for my safety. I will be accused of blasphemy. I will be ostracized. Mothers will scream “How dare you!” as they shield their kids’ eyes and pass quickly by me in the aisles of Whole Foods. Alas, the hordes may never forgive me, but I must forge on in the name of my, uh, art.
This month, I’m writing about The Nutcracker.
Despite the complicated nature of his everyday life, the decision that lay before him at this very moment was direct and simple: to snip or not to snip. The fact that the cut in question related to the ever-important ducts that lay within his genitals is what made this black-and-white decision a bit more, uh, sensitive.
Vasectomy. The word just hung there limply in their conversations like an ugly jacket, something to be avoided unless the weather turned and all other options in the closet were somehow unavailable. And yet here it was, this vasectomy, on the table and being considered as a real sartorial possibility. More than that…it was turning into less of an option and more of a mandate.
Her argument was direct and logical. They had two healthy kids who provided more than enough sturm and drang to beat the thought of more children out of them. So for years, she had poisoned her body with all kinds of chemicals in the name of birth control. She had taken on the responsibility of consuming the small round tablet that allowed her body to become a harmless but welcoming playground, where the risks of their activities were easily ignored (and much more fun than the standard slides and swings). But the years of scoffing at the laws of Mother Goddess and her retched storks had begun to take their toll. His wife didn’t like the changes that her body was being forced to endure in the service of their carnal thrills. Inevitably, there was a price to pay for this kind of avoidance, and she was sick of picking up the bill. It was time to go dutch on their sexual behavior, and he had built a gigantic debt over the years that only drastic measures could begin to overcome.
Several years ago, I wrote the following column, which appeared in our local newspaper. Headlined “Beware The Bored Games”, it warned spouses to tread lightly around the interactive games that had become a standard feature of suburban Saturday nights, and seemed to result in spouses wanting to politely kill each other in mixed company.
After it was published, I began to hear from friends who decided to ask their significant others the open question that I answered so poorly (and is still held over me to this day). But since social media hadn’t taken off, I rarely heard about the results. And I’ve always been curious how many husbands (and wives) might have fared better than I did.
So, this blog provides me a fresh opportunity. Read this column, and then ask your significant other the central question that “The Newlywed Game” so kindly introduced into my marriage. Post their response in the comments section below, as well as your reaction to it.
Do you remember those first few years of your marriage? It was easy to stay entertained then.
You’d spend hours listening to each other’s stories, learning about your histories and ex-girlfriends and occasional lapses of sanity in college (“Wait, did you just say you once brushed your teeth with grain alcohol?”). You’d take long road trips without the radio on (gasp!), exchanging tales of bad family gatherings and athletic triumphs and how you once played “barber” with your 5-year-old sister and cut her hair down to the scalp with only a few strands left to make it “pretty” (sorry, Sharon, that one was kind of rough on you; but karma has its way of balancing things, as my balding dome makes perfectly clear).
There was so much to learn, so much to keep the conversation flowing and interesting. And yes, it seemed important to know that your Aunt Ethel was a hypochondriac, that you hate zucchini and opera music, and that you once appeared on an MTV game show and accidentally and noticeably spit when saying the word “Twinkies” (I will continue to deny this publicly until it shows up on YouTube).
And then …