Wednesday, March 10, 2010

164 days to Bar Mitzvah: on the guest list

The guest list. As a former rock and roll journalist, let me tell you, there's no better place to be.

But for the purposes of this discussion, lets forget about that guest list. No one is paying a cover charge -- except for Sandra Bullock and me -- to get into this gig. That doesn't mean, however, that tickets won't be nearly impossible to come by.

Who gets invited to the Bar Mitzvah? Where do you draw the line? If we invited everyone we wanted to invite, the total cost of this event would equal the annual operating budget of a Fortune 400 company. We are a humble, middle-class family. Trying to finance such a Bar Mitzvah would have meant financial ruin.

So we had to make a guest list.

Remember all those times when, as a child, you vowed that once you were the adult you'd do things YOUR WAY? How great that felt, knowing that someday you'd be in charge. You may have been ten years old, penniless and at the mercy of the adults, but you knew that some day, things would go your way. You'd have the power.

Except for two instances: you wedding and your kid's Bar Mitzvah.

I shouldn't complain. In the almost eighteen years that have passed since our wedding, our familiar guest list obligations have lessened. Each parental team submitted a guest list in single digits.

Which leaves us free to allot the remaining 150 or so slots among the people we know and have known. Using our holiday card list as a guide, we began compiling a list of people we'd like to see at the Bar Mitzvah. Our first list, akin to the list of home improvements kept in a manila folder by my bride of 17-plus years, was fantastic and unrealistic. Our total party was pushing 300.

So we started cutting. Out went people we used to know really well but no longer see. We felt cold and unfeeling, as if we were treating our friends like old clothes hanging in our closet; haven't spoken in the past year? Not invited to the Bar Mitzvah. It wasn't quite that extreme, but you get the idea.

The problem is that we have lived in a few places and have accumulated friends along the way. We have some friends from before we met, people from the years we lived in Seattle, people from school, people we know here in San Francisco, work friends, family members, people we don't see much anymore but used to know really well and couldn't imagine cutting them out of this event since they played a pretty significant role in our wedding, almost eighteen years ago.

One of the few things Sandra Bullock and I have in common is that we like to host parties. Over the years, we've put on an average of one party per year, not counting the impromptu gatherings we've become known for on Surrey Street. We are the Kool-Aid family. We take it seriously.

Unfortunately, when it comes time to create the guest list, whatever the event, we invariably over-invite. I remember a party we once had when we lived in Federal Avenue, in Seattle. Our one-bedroom apartment was so crowded that people had to go out through the front door, walk around the building, climb a flight of stairs and enter through the back door to use the bathroom. They simply couldn't get through the apartment otherwise.

We want everyone to be there. We want everyone to have a good time. Naturally, this usually means that we end up spending no more than five minutes with any one particular party guest. Hopefully, they're having a good time talking to each other.

For our joint 40th birthday party, instead of having a tasteful cocktail gathering, we bought a keg and threw it in the backyard, hung a disco ball downstairs and let the good times roll.

So to say that trimming our Bar Mitzvah guest list has been painful is an understatement. We've still got five-plus months and at least two more passes to go.

Right now we're at about 180. That's the list. It mostly accounts for individual invites that result in multiple guests, including my cousin and his reputed five children who we've never met.

Other cousins weren't so lucky. We were thick as thieves with my Uncle Jules' kids when we lived in Pennsylvania and they lived in New York. Not so much after we moved to California. Last time I saw any of them was 1986. When my mom asked me if I was going to invite them, I said, "Do any of them have any kids? Have any been Bar Mitzvahed? I have no idea."

Mom understood.

Because our guest list threatened to get away from us, we had to cut all of the "Boy, it sure would be nice to see" people. It would have been great to see them, but it's not going to happen. Maybe we should have devised a short quiz to give those on the bubble. If they can correctly answer nine out of ten questions about our present life, they're in.

Q. What was the name of the Jawa's first girlfriend?
Q. Who is Sandra Bullock's employer?
Q. What sort of dog is Shack?

And then there's the question of our fellow Brandeis Hillel Day School parents. Though we've been told that we should not base our invitation policy on whether or not we're invited to other people's Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, we're hoping that our invite list matches the list of blessed events we receive invitations to. So far so good. When I tell people that I've tried to alienate as many people as possible to avoid difficult Bar Mitzvah guest list decisions, I'm only halfway kidding.

There is an unwritten (or maybe written; like I'd know) rule that says anyone can attend a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, be they the lady who drags around the box or a classmate's parents. So we've gone to a few, which has been nice. I mean, we've known these kids since they were five years old. It never stops being a mind-blower to watch them up there, rattling off the Hebrew and making speeches.

More uncomfortable is the moment you arrive to collect your pre-teen or teen at the Bar or Bat Mitzvah party you have not been invited to. I think as the year's gone on it's gotten better, but there's always this little moment of tension when the hosts, who you've also known for eight years and may or may not have done things socially with, perform the tricky dance required when greeting non-guests at your party. Almost always, they hosts tell you to help yourself to cake. We break bread; in this way, all is serene.

I can't speak for everyone, but I haven't yet felt snubbed by a non-invite. I'm pretty sure I'm far from the only person to feel this way. We get it. I guess it's a nice gesture that everyone feels they should be at least vaguely apologetic, because it is kind of weird, showing up in your jeans and fleece when these people that you've never before seen dressed up are hosting one of the biggest events of their lives.

Overall, I think we've got about a half-dozen Brandeis families on our guest list. If that seems a bit low, chalk it up to my concentrated alienation program. These things don't happen by accident, you know.

And for everyone else, especially the people who made the cut so many times before but are now left on the sidelines, people we've known for a long time and have so many fond memories of, we wish you could all be there and feel weird talking about it on Facebook and in this blog. Knowing that at least a couple of you will be very unpleasantly surprised when your invite never comes feels awful.

And if you are on that list, and you receive one of the invites pored over by Sandra Bullock's design team, please RSVP. By the time August rolls around, we will be full to the brim with surprises. A little predictability will be much appreciated.


ted_dagnese said...

have you told the Gagans yet that you had to cut them?

Butter Goats said...

Whew. I know the answers to those 3 questions.