Friday, April 16, 2010

128 days to Bar Mitzvah: denon, doyle and dan

If you want to meet Denon and Doyle on their own turf, you’ll first have to drive out to Pleasant Hill, which will take you about an hour and 45 minutes during rush hour. With any luck, and your meeting ends after all the East Bay commuters have made it home, your return drive will be a breezy 40 minutes.

And you won’t meet Denon or Doyle, if they exist at all. Instead, you’ll shake hands with Executive Director Dan Ohrman, wearer of Vans slip-ons, who, according to, was once an all-league tight end at Ingraham High School in Seattle. If you wait until the day after your meeting with Dan, you may be kicking yourself for not finding that our earlier, which could have created an instant bond between Dan, the former Seattle high school football star, and you, the former Seattle high school teacher.

Fortunately, you may also think, Dan was long gone from the Seattle high school universe by the time you started teaching. Otherwise, you’ll feel about 100 years old.

For all of their flash and zing, Denon and Doyle is located in an anonymous strip shopping center, surrounded by post-war ranch homes and the sweet dry air of suburbia, which might surround you in comforting warmth, reminding you of high school parties and little league practice and make you wonder, only in the flash of time it takes to estimate how long you’d last making a 105-minute daily commute before keeling over or going insane, if it would be possible to ditch your city abode and flee for the country.

Five years ago, according to Dan Ohrman, Denon and Doyle was a minor player on the San Francisco Bar and Bat Mitzvah scene. Bookings were dominated by Miguel “DJ Hightop.” Fonseca. Eventually, Denon & Doyle got a foothold in the city. Word of mouth led to more bookings until events DJ’ed by Hightop became the exception to an almost iron-clad rule. These days it’s not whether to choose Denon and Doyle but rather how to maneuver yourself into getting your pick of DJs.

It’s as easy to understand why. After an hour with Dan Ohrman and his Mac laptop, I had to wonder how we thought we could run a Bar Mitzvah without the steady hand of Denon and Doyle (and the very creative and dynamic yet reputedly slightly absent-minded DJ J.T.).

How, exactly, were we planning to handle the logistics of two floors of guests? Were we going to purchase a pair of megaphones to use, cheerleader-style, during crucial moments that called for group announcements? Was I to croon like Rudy Vallee, “Everyone go downstairs… the Jawa will now be doing the Kiddush and the Hamotzi?”

There are things we’d never considered before setting foot in the nondescript offices of Denon and Doyle. Who knew, for example, that there was a glossy, attractive trade magazine dedicated to the DJ industry? Several issues of “DJ Monthly” were fanned out on a table in the foyer.

Dan Ohrman was concerned with one thing: the length of our party. Five hours. An hour longer than usual. “Are your friends party animals?” he said, not unsalesman-like.

I looked at Sandra Bullock, thinking, “Well, we had a keg at our 40th birthday party. Does that answer your question?”

“I think they’ll hold up okay,” I said to Dan.

Using a sixth sense honed during what must be hundreds of such meetings, Dan quickly decided that one issue would be my personal comfort level. He also referred to Sandra Bullock as “Mom” and me as “Dad,” which seemed kind of cheesy, but the guy makes his living emceeing Bar Mitzvahs and weddings; what do you want?

“You don’t want things contrived, Dad,” he said to me, misreading my horror at the suggestion of J.T. “aggressively” encouraging people to dance. He was convinced that I cared deeply about keeping things “organic.” Actually, I couldn’t care less if they’re “organic” or sprayed with the strongest pesticides currently allowed by the FDA. I just don’t want anyone making me get up there and do the Hula like they did to my dad at my little sister’s wedding.

I don’t want my dad to have to do that, either. He already had to do it once and it just about broke my heart. We’re not those guys. We wish we were, honestly, just like I truly wish I loved eggplant and mushrooms and salmon and all that other stuff that makes people flip out when they hear I won’t eat it. They may as well fit me for a pair of oversized shoes and red nose. That’s how much I like being put on the spot.

While this eluded Dan, in his efforts at avoiding “contrivance” he managed to also avoid anything involving the greatly overrated entertainment value of my embarrassment. Sandra Bullock and the Jawa are very cool with kicking off a mother-son dance. Mom, you’re going to have to find a stand-in. It wasn’t by mistake that my sisters both married unembarassable guys.

I’ll be on the sidelines, enjoying watching everyone else have the kind of good time that just isn’t programmed into my DNA.

Our guests will be asked to come downstairs three times, the last coming at 8:45, when we show a no-longer-than-10-minute video tracing the Jawa’s early development from newborn to faintly mustached teen. After this heartwarming break comes an hour of “blowing the roof off” dancing, featuring giveaways of 194 items including Disco Ball Necklaces (12), Sweatbands (24), Stunnas (24), Blues Bros Sunglasses (24), Starballs (12), Stovetops (12), one tube of Streamers, one tube of Glowies, Bandanas (12) and Slap Bracelets (12), because how can you call it a party if you don’t have Slap Bracelets?

After our meeting, Dan took us into the inner bowels of Denon and Doyle, where the equipment is stored. Earlier that day, I’d run into Janelle Ticktin, Bar Mitzvah veteran, who advised me, “Hold onto your wallet,” when meeting Denon and Doyle. “They’ll try to sell you lights,” she warned.

Later, as we stood surrounded by flashing lights, fog machines and lasers, I found out why Janelle was fixated on lights. “The Ticktin Bar Mitzvah,” Dan told us, gravely, “had 60 ‘up lights.’” We’re toying with getting four, maybe six if we go wild. I’m with the Jawa, though; if we can fit any of those light box things, we’ll swallow the cost. Even someone as recalcitrant as me might jump at the chance to dance on top of a large, Plexiglas box full of flashing colored lights.

By eight, we were back on the road, leaving the honeysuckle-scented suburban air in the rearview, confident that we’d just completed a major step in organizing our Bar Mitzvah. By the time we pulled into where a driveway would be if we lived like normal people and had a driveway, Dan had already sent us an email outlining the evening’s discussion.

We reserved a little variable for ourselves: all music upstairs will be programmed by me. Just like J.T. and Dan Ohrman, I am the DJ. If you don’t like it, you know where to go to complain.


Dave K said...

You don't like mushrooms?!

The Hammer said...

You will see DJ Hightop at the June event. We did 10 uplights while Dan suggested 15 (didja notice?). Everything gets cheaper, the longer you wait. The D&D Hard Sell starts a month before your day. Your meeting with JT will be another interesting one.