Monday, May 10, 2010

103 days to Bar Mitzvah: something's missing

Earlier today, as I ticked down the last minutes of sleep before embarking on my weekly ritual discount soul-selling, my Jawa tip-toed into the room, jumped up on the bed and put me into a headlock. “Bye, Dad,” he said, squeezing my head a little. Then he jumped back down and was gone for the week.

At 6:45 this morning, surrounded by 40 seventh-graders who may or may not be his friends this week, plus a few teachers and administrators, the Jawa boarded a bus headed for Camp Whitsett and a week of Outdoor Education. It’s one of the perks included in the ungodly sum we pay each year in tuition. Each year, beginning in fifth grade, the class has packed up during the school year and gone on some kind of camping trip, thus adding a welcome dimension to their otherwise landlocked and urban education and disproving my theory that Jews don’t fish and my sister’s that hotels are Jewish camping.

Each year, the trip grows in length and scope. They were gone overnight the first year. Maybe that wasn’t fifth grade, it was fourth grade. I can’t remember. What I do remember is that for a few years the trips were organized by Outdoor Educator and BHDS parent Danny Meyer and that they have suffered since by his absence. For reasons still only known by the kind of total insiders I stopped being two years ago, Meyer and Brandeis parted company after a too-short professional marriage. With his son having moved on to Drew High School and his wife The Mack Daddy having returned to the professional world, thus denying Brandeis irreplaceable design skills employed yearly by the bookfair committee, Meyer is now represented at BHDS only by his incredibly cool and effortlessly hip daughter, whose Bat Mitzvah included live music from a band featuring her on drums.

Unfortunately, Outdoor Education now comes sans Danny Meyer. We cannot let this sad fact detract from the Camp Whitsett trip. By now, they have arrived and set up their tents. What they will do for the next four days is a mystery to me, even though I represented our family at the meeting several months ago where we discussed that very topic.

At the time, I was too distracted, wondering how Danny Meyer felt being at this meeting to discuss the yearly project that was taken away from him. I kept looking for negative body language, waiting for him to begin firing unanswerable questions at the new Middle School head to demonstrate the gap between present-day Outdoor Education and Outdoor Education as it existed during the Meyer Era. When he simply sat there like everyone else, asking a few practical questions minus bitterness or anger, I imagined I was not alone in being relieved.

Meanwhile, here at home, I’m not sure what I’m going to do with myself for the next week. As I told Sandra Bullock last weekend, I spend pretty much all of my time these days either worrying about the Jawa or yelling at him. I don’t know how she finds the time to do the work of three normal Genentech employees, plan the Bar Mitzvah and continue her amazing lifelong commitment to exercising sporadically and not gaining any weight. My plate is full just managing an increasingly challenging pre-teen.

On Friday, he will return, but only for a split-second. As soon as that luxury coach pulls into the Brandeis parking lot, S. Bullock will whisk him up with what I hope will be an approximation of how we used to be able to scoop the entire Jawa up and transport him wherever we wanted and drive directly to the airport. There they will board a flight for Seattle, joining me to honor the 15th anniversary of the Price family’s continued ownership of the Roanoke Park Place.

This bar, whose future is presently cloudy thanks to inexplicable landlord hijinx, was the controversial site of our first baby shower in the spring of 1997. Three years later, we had our going-away party there. Had we not moved to San Francisco in 2000, I’m sure we would have collectively spent at least $10,000 there over the past decade. Instead, we are sometime visitors, dropping in on a self-contained world we can appreciate but never fully inhabit.

The original plan was for Sandra Bullock and I to both fly up there Thursday afternoon. Events of the past week have convinced us that now is not the right time for a romantic getaway, not when our Jawa is so unmoored. Looking ahead at what would have been five days at Outdoor Education followed by two more sleeping at a friend’s house after being picked up not by one of his parents at the bus but by someone else’s parent who no matter how familiar they are and how well-meaning, cannot replace in the heart of a 12-year-old whose been gone for a week the sight of his mother coming to gather him and take him home, we decided he would accompany us to Seattle.

And I’ll make a prediction right here: although it would take more than two hands full of fingers to count the number of times Sandra Bullock reminded the Jawa last weekend that he needs to take “a good shower” Thursday night, he will arrive home Friday looking like a cowhand following a month-long cattle drive. He will be dusty. His hair will resemble brown straw.

A short battle will ensue, as Bullock tries on-the-fly to figure out a way to make her Jawa presentable in the 85 minutes she has to go home, drop off his enormous camping duffle bag, drive to the airport, grab something to eat and board the plane. Somewhere in the middle will be a shower. The shower, if left on its own, would last a half-hour or more, so I also predict Sandra Bullock standing in the hallway outside the bathroom, telling her son, who, after five days of rolling in the dirt deserves a nice, long shower, to hurry it up.

And then they will arrive in Seattle, where I will have spent 24 hours alone in lieu of the scheduled romantic weekend. I’m not sure who said it first, but I’m giving it to Woody Allen: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Welcome to adolescence. Please fasten your seat belts.

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