Wednesday, February 24, 2010

178 days to Bar Mitzvah: bamboo and chopsticks.

Last night, my wife came up to me and said, "I realized today that it's only five months until the Bar Mitzvah!"

"Six months," I said, inexplicably confused because we'd been talking about something not even remotely connected to the Bar Mitzvah but should know better.

"Five. Less than six."

She was correct. The Bar Mitzvah is in five months and 28 days. Technically, that is less than six months.

"Sure, but I think you're still ahead of schedule."

She was unmoved. Later that night, after completing the massive work requirements one is locked into when they prove to be too successful at their jobs, inviting employers to reward them by giving them more work, she wound down by surfing the party supply sites she's bookmarked on her laptop.

This weekend, the design team converged on our house while I was out looking at houses in San Mateo. Prior to their arrival, Sandra Bullock arranged the mock-up centerpiece on the kitchen table. There it served dual purpose, acting as a living embodiment of the event theme and helping get the team in the Bar Mitzvah mood.

At 4 pm, I arrived home and found the three of them standing around the table. Seems they had too much collective energy to sit. In front of them, strewn about the table, were sample invitations, very small printouts of Godzilla movie posters (in Japanese) and a couple of pieces of bamboo.

The bamboo was a problem. The team can't find a consensus as to the proper bamboo length. Sandra Bullock is beginning to think two to three feet is the correct length.

"That seems long to me," I said to the plate of pita chips and hummus I found on the counter by the sink. The plate, like my wife, did not respond.

Bamboo is not cheap. Or rather, it is cheap, unless you're planning on sticking five pieces of it in the middle of at least 20 round banquet tables. If that's your plan, you're looking at probably a few hundred dollars. Even if you spend every free moment surfing party sites on the web, you may be unable to find bargain bamboo.

"I still haven't checked the flower mart," our Bar Mitzvah team leader said more than once this weekend.

As a family, we have a problem. When we estimate the cost of something, we only include the large items. I guess we assume a margin of error related to secondary costs, but, speaking only for myself, when I hear that first figure, I just assume that's it: the overall cost. It's kind of like living in a world where sales tax is always a surprise.

So when I do the numbers in my head -- which I do at least once a week, the same way I used to be constantly working credit card payoff schemes in my head back when we were buried in crushing debt -- I don't ever include the possibility of, say, bamboo cost.

Nor is there, anywhere on my mental list, an entry for "chopsticks." The chopstick search has been epic, due in part to the wildly varying asking prices for available chopsticks, but also to a disagreement between Sandra Bullock and the increasingly secretive Jawa over whether it would be cool to get chopsticks with little dragons on them. Surprisingly, in this case it is the Jawa going the conservative route. He doesn't want dragons.

One thing they agree on: plastic chopsticks are out of the question. Which I think makes them cheaper. I heard something like fifty cents per pair quoted, or maybe it was a buck-fifty. When we were last in Japantown, I pointed out a wall of chopsticks in one store. The cheapest sold for laughably less than the dragon ones, the plastic ones, than any of the ones Sandra Bullock had shown me. Why not get cheap chopsticks? Other than being perhaps a bit too cutely alliterative, I don't see any problem with cheap chopsticks. I made my case there, passionately arguing in favor of the cheap ones. In a rare show of solidarity, both my son and my wife ignored me.

Which, I have to say, is unusual. Normally, Sandra Bullock likes to share with me everything she is considering. She calls me over to wherever she is, sometimes at the kitchen table, this week sprawled out on the couch with ice on her left ankle, which she sprained while playing her famously aggressive style of basketball, to ask my opinion on wrapping paper, Godzilla figurines, flower arrangements and yes, chopsticks. As a project manager, she likes to gather as much information as possible before making a decision.

The only time that bothers me is when it involves a large decision, like remodeling the kitchen. We discussed possible alterations, picked out a number of potential appliances and made endless trips to Home Depot before finally acting. Over time, her vision for the project changed so many times that I finally had to tell her to stop talking about it.

We eventually got the kitchen done, but only after I suddenly decided, on our seven thousandth trip to Home Depot, to just go home and start demolishing. It worked out fine. We only had to wash dishes in the bathtub for six months.

My interest in chopsticks ran out about a month ago, when they all started to look the same. What can you do with a chopstick?

I'm curious to know if we really are ahead of schedule, if my wife's singular focus on this event has paid off so far. Slightly less than six months to go and we're scoping out bamboo. We've already nailed down the venue, the caterer, the DJ, the hotel and the bunch venue. We may have decided on the restaurant for Friday. We haven't paid for anything yet, I think.

Our next step is to go back to the Golden Gate Yacht Club, where they've been celebrating the America's Cup win by member Larry Ellison, and hash out some details Sandra Bullock has been recording on her Blackberry. Oh, and to go to temple twice in one week. Tonight we have "family education," which is mysteriously attended by people we know who've already had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, demonstrating a far less Catholic relationship with houses of worship than me. I go because I have to.

On Saturday, we will rise early and attend two hours of Torah study, along with some people we know and the lady who drags the box around with her. And then a Bat Mitzvah.

It's almost like we can tell the holidays have ended and we're back on our normal 2009-2010 schedule. Back from the far-flung lands of the secular, we are ready to dig into what I won't yet call the home stretch. Six months is still a healthy chunk of time. You just wait until summer. That's when the madness really starts.

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