Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seven months and twenty-three days: high-tech

In some ways, it's impossible to compare my Bar Mitzvah with the Jawa's. That doesn't stop me from trying. But every time -- no matter what detail we're discussing -- I'm never far from being amazed at how technology has shaped so many of the changes between 1978 and now, from the obvious -- the Jawa has never owned a single cassette tape; his Torah portion (which he could read, despite the sacred text's confusing lack of vowels), should he chooose to memorize it, comes to him as an audio file, downloaded onto his iPod -- to the subtle.

As impressed as we were by the retro feel of Tarantino's restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf, this Bar Mitzvah will take place in 2010, not 1962. If we choose Tarantino's for our Friday night dinner, our guests may feel a winsome golden age vibe as they ride to waterfront trolly back to the hotel, but they will be surrounded by a city re-built on the broad, monetized back of the internet.

Thirty-one years ago, my mother drove to a stationary store and asked to see some examples of invitations for formal events. The guy at the store -- it being 1977, when there were still adults working retail jobs, he may have been a guy in his 30s, married, maybe a kid -- went into the back room and brought out a big stack of paper, examples of invitations that could be made.

I think I remember having something to do with the final invitation decision. I might have picked the font, which would mean I was there at the stationery store, rifling through an oversized book full of font choices. We chose a very modern-looking, rounded, sans-serif font.

The invitations themselves were chocolate brown on one side, a lighter tan on the other. Looking back, they were very much of their era, which makes me kind of proud. As part of the first family in the greater Scranton-Wilkes Barre metropolitan area to purchase a waterbed, I once wanted very badly for people to perceive me as one always on the cutting edge.

While too old for the hippie demographic, the 1970s version of my parents fancied themselves quite fashion forward. Prior to moving to California, they'd transformed our dull Pennsylvania ranch house, adding redwood decks and startling interior colors. For dinner, we sat around a bright orange octagonal table. My mother wore her hair in a fashion-forward Florence Henderson shag and we drove small, quirky Subarus instead of the more easily comprehended Buicks and Fords of our neighbors.

Upon moving to California, we quickly became "Eichler People," purchasing one of the mid-century glass-and-wood creations of Joseph Eichler (whose subdivisions sought to bring the mid-century ethos to the middle-class), eschewing the standard green stucco dwellings so popular in Southern California during the "Bad News Bears" era.

As a kid, I enthusiastically adopted my parents' modernist aesthetic, until Sandra Bullock's influence led me down a more traditional style road. In my house, we eat dinner around a table given to a now-retired San Jose librarian's parents as a wedding present in 1947. How do I know this? She told us the whole story when we answered her ad on Craigslist.

While we will be getting input from our next-door-neighbor the graphic designer, I expect that the Jawa's Bar Mitzvah invitations will be somewhat traditional, understated and tasteful. Nothing too gaudy or inventive, they will be the J. Crew of Bar Mitzvah invitations.

However, while may appear to be painstakingly lettered by Brother Theodore by hand, our invitations will be the result of an exhaustive online search, followed by a collaborative (between my wife and my neighbor) effort that takes place mostly on a Mac. No one will put pen to paper and I doubt a printing press will be involved. So while the Jawa's invitations may look staid and conservative if compared to the me-generation hipster look of mine, their creation will have involved practices and tools unthinkable thirty-one years ago.

Of course, we'd broken the bounds of traditional gravity much earlier, when we sent an Evite "Save the Date" to many of our out-of-town guests last August. A simple email allowed us to estimate how many rooms we'd need at the Hyatt Regency. If not for Evite, the effort would have involved dozens of phone calls and/or letters. You know, "snail mail."

One thing is unchanged: we will rely on U.S. Mail for our response cards. I'm going to assume that even that process has been updated in ways that make it virtually unidentifiable as the simple evolution of post office methods, circa 1978.

As for my parents, they waited their whole lives for the time they could truly express their design sensibility. They suffered through the ranch house in Pennsylvania and the Linda Vista Street Eichler, patching together whatever unique style accents they could manage (the orange and brown graphic on their Eichler bedroom wall was a particularly notable detail) before moving to a 1980s-chic, multi-level townhouse in 1987.

Even then, they could not express themselves fully. It wasn't until retirement, when they left Orange County in the rearview, that they found the proper canvas for their singular vision. If you were a subscriber to the daily newspaper in Sun City, Arizona, a few years ago, you might have come across an article describing the forward-thinking interior design of the home at 13038 Ballad Drive, in Sun City West.

This particular retired couple, now settling into post-career vocations in the arts, rejected the standard, conservative approach to decor. Turning their backs on the sensibilities of their neighbors, they attacked the challenge of interior design with bold colors, sculpture-like lighting fixtures and spare furnishings. Their retirement home more resembled a work of art by their beloved Joan Miro than it did grandma and grandpa's house. Finally.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, we will continue to use modern methods and technology that did not exist in 1978 to prepare for the day our son becomes a man. Like a tomato, we will present a smooth, unblemished surface to the world, hiding behind it a year's worth of preparation cacophony.

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