I have a friend who's made a lifelong study of the terms we use to measure things. Not content with existing uses of words like "gaggle," "pack" and "group," he spent long nights during college (we were roommates) thinking of new applications for words that measure. Certain items, he reasoned, lacked a standard term for describing them in plural, so he took it upon himself to assign them himself.
He was particularly intrigued with the term "loaf." It was brutally underutilized. So it was that we began to refer to a "loaf" of yak. Or smelt. Added to my older sister's pronouncement (many years earlier) that from that moment hence "hippies" would be measured in "gaggles," and we had the basis for a language revolution.
Sadly, it never caught on, much as the earnest attempt one summer by my little sister and I to install "take the Fritos" into local lexicon as a synomym for "get lost." All these years later, my college roommate and I are still the only ones who measure yak and smelt in loaves.
Earlier this week, 120 yarmulkas arrived at our house. That's about twice as many as we need, we found out too late. We'll probably leave the extras at Temple Emanu-El. They'll show up at other people's Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. It's common to arrive at a Bar Mitzvah, grab a kippah and find a name of some kid you've never met written inside, along with a date that passed several months ago. Kids find it a little unnerving, but adults know the score.
I just asked Sandra Bullock how many kippahs 120 is. "I don't know, ten dozen?" she said.
"Maybe it's a gross," I suggested.
"It's more than we need," she responded, as usual cutting directly to the heart of the issue.
My college roommate will be at the Bar Mitzvah, but I don't think I can wait that long for an appropriate handle for 120 yarmulkes. I'd like to use the always utile "buttload" to describe 120 yarmulkes, but this being a faith-based, family event, that might not fly.
"Loaf" might apply. 120 yarmulkes could easily be arranged in a way that would resemble a loaf. But I don't want to compromise the simple genius of 25 years of loaves of yak and smelt.
A "collection" of yarmulkes suggests they are Isaac Mizrahi's new Fall line. If any designer could pull it off, it's Mizrahi. Nor are they a "troupe" of skull caps, though history will show kippahs worn in the past by Yiddish theater "troupes." And while our kippahs cost only pennies, I would not describe what we have as a "great deal" of them, unless I was trying to be erudite.
A "clique?" Only the cool ones.
Yarmulkes would never travel in a "pack." Nor could they effectively represent the shady hidden agendas of a "consortium" or have the far-reaching tentacles of an "amalgam," no matter how many hats you had. Unlike fish, they cannot be measured in "schools."
No, when it comes to kippahs, it's best to turn back to the simple, pithy handles that have served as the building blocks of language since the beginning. 120 yarmulkes? That's a whole bunch. Twelve dozen buttonless satin skullcaps? That's quite a load.
120 yarmulkes are a heap, a bundle, a swarm, a mess, a pile and a drove. We've got a big bevy of yarmulkes, a multitude of lightweight headgear, a mass of traditional men's religious symbols, a blowout of yarmulkan proportions.
If we were in New England, my Reading, Mass.-raised friend Ted tells me, we could jam a yarmulke on our head, point to it and announce, "This kippah's a keepah!"
Whatever you want to call them, one thing is clear: we've got too many.
This morning, I awoke to find Sandra Bullock sitting at her laptop next to a big stack of Bar Mitzvah-related documents. "We have alot to do," she told me, rattling off a list of procedural issues that included finalizing the menus for both Friday night and the oneg/Kiddish lunch and determining the amount of the surprising (to me) number of charital contributions expected by Temple Emanu-El. There's the cantor fund, the Rabbi's charity fund, the flower fund and one or two more whose names I can't recall, if in fact I have recalled those three correctly.
Proper etiquette is to donate in multiples of 18, the numeric translation for "chai," Hebrew for "life."
And there are unopened boxes of vases downstairs, candles to purchase, hotel information to send and bamboo decisions to be made. And that's only counting the little pile of notebook paper and post-its I just glanced at.
Yesterday, during our afternoon-long family shopping outing, we went to Nordstrom, where the Jawa and I sat in front of a giant mirror while Sandra Bullock tried on various dresses. She finally decided on a very nice black-and-white number, then comically tried on several "shrugs," very small cardigan sweater-type things that stand for everything my wife abhors about lightness and frivolity. "They're so dainty," she grumbled, wriggling into a fuschia shrug then involuntarily slumping her shoulders like an angry teen under the pointless weight of a white one.
Finally, having found a shrug that didn't make her fly into a blind rage, she stood patiently while the in-house Nordstrom tailor poked her with pins. We left Nordstrom with one major Bar Mitzvah task completed: "buy dress for service" is crossed off the list.
In the end, she was happy enough with the purchase to write about it on Facebook, yet not satisfied to spend Sunday basking in the glow of her Everest-like accomplishment. Instead, she got right back on the Bar Mitzvah horse, which is why she is Sandra Bullock and the rest of us -- most notably me -- are not.