Wednesday, April 21, 2010

123 days to Bar Mitzvah: who can make the sun rise?

The greatest non-Artisan dessert item in the world sat anonymously on a plate at Samara Goldbrenner’s Bat Mitzvah. The theme (all Bar Mitzvahs have themes now. My theme, I guess, was “the 70s.”) was “Samara’s Sweet Shop(pe)." There were bins of individual candies, but nothing short of an act of God was going to move me from the plate full of the greatest non-Artisan dessert item in the world.

Why do I insist on referring to chocolate brownies with chocolate chips and caramel, dunked in chocolate then put on sticks the greatest “non-Artisan” dessert item in the world? Because common understanding at Brandeis Hillel Day School is that the greatest Artisan dessert items in the world are produced by Chuck Siegal, whose daughter is in seventh grade and whose eponymously-named line of chocolates are the go-to for BHDS parents looking for impressive hostess gifts.

Were I to supplant Siegal in favor of mass-produced brownies, I would be cast even further from the nucleus of Brandeis social activity than the distant black hole I chose when I opted for self-appointed exile two years ago.

So good were the Bat Mitzvah brownies that they almost erased the fond memory I have of the legendary “Liz O’brownies” served at a women’s rec league soccer party the day I finished grad school at Seattle University. While everyone else danced, David Ticktin and I stood there eating brownies one after another. By the time the evening ended, we’d had ten between us.

The cleverly-named “Candy Bar” is a Bar Mitzvah fixture. Where in my day we had dried-out pieces of cake (a sad contrast to the Carvel cart, manned by Eddie something, the arrogant Villa Park High School first baseman whose dad owned the cart, that appeared at my parents’ 25th anniversary party a few years later), today’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs enjoy ingenious dessert concepts.

Josh K had a chocolate fountain at his Bar Mitzvah. The Jawa spent the evening covering unlikely food items with chocolate then trying to make me eat them. “Look, Dad,” he’d say, “Chocolate-covered crackers!”

By now the repercussions of the Josh K. chocolate fountain are well-documented. On our end, it cost us a quick trip to the drycleaners to remove chocolate from the Jawa’s only Bar Mitzvah suit. For the Hammer, it meant hauling home a giant amorphous chunk of chocolate, then consulting with the aforementioned Chuck Siegal as to the options offered someone with a giant amorphous hunk of chocolate in their refrigerator.

We are having a candy bar. We’re also having regular old desserts, for adults either lacking the youthful twinkle required to eat Zotz until they get sick or the courage to battle 70 kids for a Tropical Punch-flavored Starburst.

Last week, the Jawa and Sandra Bullock ordered our candy. The minute they finished, the Jawa bounded downstairs, where I was sweating to the oldies on my stationary bike, and announced, “We just bought 60 pounds of candy!”

If you’re wondering what 60 pounds of candy looks like, join me in being surprised at how unoverwhelming it turns out to be. Our candy arrived Monday. Normally Sandra Bullock’s carpool day, the Jawa crossed us up by getting a ride home with a nearby neighbor instead of waiting for Sandra Bullock to pick him up in the “homework room” at five.

This new habit of his, I’m not so sure I like. He did it again yesterday, arriving home 90 seconds before I’d planned to pick him up. Two minutes later and I’m at Brandeis Hillel Day School -- where we’re taught the minute we first see the enormous, cocksure Russian security guys out front to be aware of the unique security challenges faced by a Jewish Day School -- wondering where on earth my child can be.

On this occasion the timing worked, but I was left with the nagging image of my child shuffling around the school after the last bell, going up to his friends’ parents – our peers -- and bumming rides. If he becomes a pandhandler some day, I’ll blame myself for thinking that aftercare was a great place to get his homework done when he obviously has no problem basically hitchhiking home after school.

I got home at 5:30 Monday to find five clear plastic bags of candy covering the surface of our kitchen island. “That’s six pounds of gummy bears!” said the jumping-out-of-his-skin Jawa.

“Six pounds of Skittles!”

“Six pounds of Hershey’s kisses!”

“Six pounds of those Sweet Tart things that usually come in long cylinders!”

Honestly, it didn’t look like much. 30 pounds of candy should have more heft. It should add up to mounds tall enough to rival the slag heaps we used to drive past on our way into Scranton when I was a kid. I’d imagined us diving into pools full of fun-size Milky Ways, throwing the candy in the air like lottery winners. Nope. 30 pounds of candy is five six-pound bags. “This is only the first shipment,” the Jawa cautioned.

An hour later, Sandra Bullock got home. “That’s it?” she said, pausing briefly from her usual 14-hour at-the-office-and-then-with-a-laptop-on-the-couch workday.

“We have 35 pounds more coming,” advised the Jawa, getting weary of our criticism.

“Isn’t it going to be weird at the Bar Mitzvah that our candy is four months old?” interjected the Jawa’s buzz-killing father.

“No!” Enough of this negativism. The Jawa pressed down on the gummy bear bag, wearing a dazed, faraway expression.

“Are you going to have it in bins, like at the candy store in North Beach?” I asked, shifting to a more positive, safe mindset.

“Yeah. Just like that.”

We ordered it early “so there would be one less thing to worry about,” according to my wife, the Generalissimo of Bar Mitzvah planning. “We had to send it express mail because chocolate is a perishable.”

I pondered that for a moment.

Actually, what I was really pondering was sort of related: I’m looking at several bags of fruity candy. Where’s the chocolate? I mean, what are my dad and I going to eat while everyone else is getting jacked up on Sweet Tarts?

Mine is a lonely quest. As a lifelong Starburst enthusiast, the Jawa couldn’t be less concerned with our chocolate-to-fruity candy ratio. However, he did offer a glimmer of hope. “The next shipment is almost all chocolate,” he said.

Now we’re talking. I lobbied hard for the brownies, but in their absence I’ll accept 30 pounds of chocolate. Fifteen for me and fifteen for my dad.

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