Sunday, February 7, 2010

Seven months and sixteen days: super sunday

Over the past forty years, Superbowl Sunday has become the equivalent of an American bank holiday. No one gets off of work, but people anticipate it, make usually disappointing plans for it, then judge themselves afterwards if they feel they haven't made the most of this special day.

In San Francisco, of course, people use the "holiday" as a chance to demonstrate their sophistication and enlightened worldview, purposefully and loudly proclaiming their disinterest in the game. Whether it's participating in a beach cleanup, attending yoga class or simply going to the movies, the message is clear: we have better things to do.

It is now 8:10 on Superbowl Sunday. The extent of my "better thing to do" ended an hour before kickoff, so my downstairs TV is presently cooling down after a marathon session that saw me eat almost a full bag each of tortilla chips and my neighbor The Poet With the Forty-Inch Vertical's special Utz pretzels, drink a Mexican Coke, take two short naps, read Oren Canfield's memior of drug addiction and watch approximately 75% of snaps taken by the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints.

Meanwhile, upstairs Sandra Bullock had assembled a team of graphic designers -- okay, two of them and one is married to The Poet With the Forty-Inch Vertical -- to tackle the job of creating Bar Mitzvah invitations, seven months and sixteen days to Bar Mitzvah.

In preparation, she'd taken every Bar or Bat Mitzvah invitation we've received and spread them out on the kitchen table. There they were joined by scraps of decorative paper and a mockup of our centerpiece. Whether or not this tableau was designed to drive me downstairs I don't know, but that's what it did.

Besides, I'd already completed my major parental obligation for the day.

I remember when the Jawa was about six, realizing that I was no longer an integral part of his playdates. Somewhere between pre-school and first grade, I'd become catering. Almost seven years later, today I passed another rite of passage, going from catering to chauffer. Today was the day of the first date.

"Now look," my pre-adolescent Jawa told me as we drove across town. "You can't say anything."


"I don't want you to say anything. When we're driving to the movies. You can talk now."

"Okay." Actually, it made sense. I could see his mind working. He was amped up, and I was impressed at how lucid and eager he seemed. The only anxiety was coming from me.

"No listening to the radio either."

Did he know what he was getting himself into? I sure didn't.

The first clue came when we reached California Street, seven blocks from our target destination, where we would pick up his date, The Chef's Daughter. "Dad!" my Jawa suddenly screeched. "It's only 1:21!"


"I told her we wouldn't be there until 1:30!" We were, at most, two minutes away.

How interesting, I thought. Though it had been at least twenty years since that kind of logic dictated my actions, I caught on pretty quickly. For me, this trip was organized no differently than if our final destination was Temple Emanu-El. My internal clock was calibrated to get us across town and then to Daly City in time for the movie's 2:15 start time. The idea of being "too early" never occurred to me.

"Okay, I'll drive around for awhile," I said.

"Good idea."

So instead of turning onto Seventh Avenue, I continued down California Street, turned right on Twelfth Avenue, right on Lake Street and then right again on Seventh. We arrived at 1:27.

The Jawa and I looked at each other. Here it was. He gets out of this car and crosses not just Seventh Avenue, but one of the major gates that will eventually lead him from little kid world to adult land.

We'd already briefed him on how to act around his date's parents. "Be polite!" admonished an amped-up S. Bullock before we left. "Tell her parents when you expect to be home. You can't just say, 'I'll text you!'"

As soon as the Jawa left the car, my anxiety level ramped up. Suddenly, I became very aware that I was sitting in an idling car, double-parked. Should I turn the car off? Should I turn on my flashers? What's the protocol? I started picturing the back of my dad's head, I don't know why, imagining what it looked like from the back seat of the Alfa Romeo Alfetta we owned when I was 12. Did the back of my head look like the back of his head? I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Did that look appropriately parental?

And I was wondering if the Jawa's green t-shirt, which showed sillhouttes of every monster to ever appear in a Godzilla movie, was appropriate for a Sunday afternoon movie and ice cream date. What if his new girlfriend showed up dressed up? What if she, like me, had been a little put off by the way he followed us up the Cliff House staircase, four steps ahead of her and staring straight ahead, the night before when we'd picked him up at the Bat Mitzvah?

I stared at the house across the street. The front door was open and I heard an adult male voice say, "Hi." Then, after what seemed like an hour, the Jawa and his gal came out. My son wore a grave expression as he led their two-person parade across Seventh Avenue. His date wore a BHDS sweatshirt and carried a small purse.

When they reached the car, he opened the door, then stood back to let her in. I was impressed. "Wow," I thought, "I don't remember teaching him that."

I wasn't allowed to talk, but I figured saying, "Hi," wasn't a violation of my contract. What I hadn't figured on was the heavy, oppressive silence that followed.

Two blocks, three blocks, turning right onto Geary, all the way to Park Presidio, no one said a word. I felt like a cab driver.

I looked at them in the rear view mirror. The Jawa was staring fixedly at something out his window. The Chef's Daughter looked straight ahead, wearing a pleasant half-smile.

How do pre-adolescent girls deal with pre-adolescent boys? Besides it seeming like they're from entirely different planets, 12-year-old girls possess a poise that cannot be found in even the largest Lego set or the most intricate Star Wars miniature.

So I sat in the front seat, trying to look expressionless, wracked with anxiety. Someone had to say something. What if this date turned out to be a disaster and our Jawa spent the next month trying out the post-breakup depression I could easily have trademarked during the 1980s? I wasn't supposed to talk, but I had to do something.

Finally, as I turned onto Park Presidio, I said, "So, how was the Bat Mitzvah last night?"

"It was okay." (Chef's Daughter)

"Yeah." (Jawa)


"Was it weird not having dancing?"

"Yes!" (both)

That got them talking for a minute or so. Dancing was the key to a successful Bar or Bat Mitzvah party, it was generally decided. Having agreed to that, they tentatively threw out a few conversation starters, ending up having a very strange discussion about Cain and Abel. Something about Cain painting the walls of his bedroom black when he was fifteen.

"How could he do that?" asked the Jawa, who, like almost every panicked single male since 1953, had adopted a cynical, world-weary attitude. "There wasn't even paint in biblical times, was there?"

I remember once taking that tack. It was sophomore year, and we were playing basketball against Los Alamitos at Los Alamitos where, I hadn't known, this girl named Judy Thomas that I'd met the summer before at UCI sports camp went to school. I sat with her in the stands before the game, going on and on about how retarded our team was and how we'd probably lose badly. Then I went out and scored four points as we were trounced, 79-18. I didn't make that score up. The next time I saw her was on Catalina Island, when her friends yelled out my name as I was walking with my dad in Avalon. I quickly turned beet red, started sweating, and ignored them. "Do you know those girls?" my dad asked. "Nope," said the suave, completely clueless teenage me.

"Maybe he used berries or something," said the Jawa in the present, with great nonchalance.

Today, Nineteenth Avenue seemed worse than usual. I had one job: to get them to the movies in time. It wasn't my job to make sure they were talking to each other. And they'd loosened up over time. As we neared the campus of San Francisco State, they were comparing cousins. The Chef's Daughter has no male cousins. The Jawa has one.

At 1:52, I let them off in front of the Daly City multiplex. They could have gone downtown, I guess, to take full advantage of their status as city kids, but the Centurys in DC were so much easier to get to. Even though on Friday and Saturday nights, they were overrun with the kinds of scary teenagers that are a frightening urban legend to the students at Brandeis Hillel Day School.

I could have pulled out right away, but I stayed in the parking cut-out and watched as my little boy walked his girlfriend to the theater entrance. Armed with his Fandango printout, he didn't even need to stop and buy tickets. It was all taken care of. I don't know if it was confidence, nerves or a combination of both that I saw, but the kid I watched walk away seemed eons older than the one who'd climbed into my car about an hour before.

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