Monday, May 24, 2010

89 days to Bar Mitzvah: making lists

Long ago I learned that I was the kind of person who would make lists; not out of Platonic love for lists, but because if I didn't write a list, nothing got done.

Naturally, my predeliction for making lists quickly became an invaluable item in Sandra Bullock's "How weird is my husband" toolbox. You can tell the difference between that and her normal toolbox because her normal toolbox is red and says "Craftsman" across the front. Her father bought it for "us" as a Christmas present one year. Yes, my wife has a toolbox. I have books. How weird is her husband?

The joke around here is that if something is not on the list, it does not exist. I go to Safeway or Trader Joe's and purchase everything on the list. The pen I always carry is used to cross off each item on the list as I put it in my cart, at Safeway always stacking items toward the front of the cart to obscure the picture of Realtor Susan Ring, who once accused me of "yellow journalism" at an open house. You'd better believe she found out what "yellow journalism" looks like the very next Sunday.

If I forget the pen, I buy one. Otherwise, how will I know what is already in the cart and what is not? The list grows organically during the week. When someone thinks of something we need or they'd like, they add it to the list.

Before Sandra Bullock and I first moved in together, my idea of "grocery shopping" was crossing the street to buy a sandwich. I got used to grocery lists pretty quickly though, after a short period in which I would sabotage each week's list by adding things like "donuts," or "lechuga."

If I were King of the shopping list and had free rein to build it as I wished, I'd organize it according to supermarket aisle. "Fruit" would be at the top. The last item would be "bread." This, to me, is logical and sleek, the grocery list equivalent of my system for doing laundry, which involves separating colors into "above the belt" and "below the belt." This limits the number of clothing categories during folding time. Otherwise, you could cover the bed with one- or two-item stacks of boxers, socks, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans, etc. until you run out of room and either have to use the nighttables or try to air fold, something I cannot do. I need a flat surface.

Sandra Bullock claims to be exasperated by my laundry system and undermines it every chance she gets. If she hates it so much, why does she often bring it up at social functions? Becase her husband is so weird, that's why.

I might think it weird that there has been a small, green post-it on the kitchen island for the past two days with "wire brush" written on it. "I can go buy that," I volunteered. "What's it for?"

"I want to use it on the stucco, so I can do touch up paint. Or if I just want to paint the outside of the house. Do you know what kind of wire brush to get for that?"

"No," in four-point font.

After I checked to make sure I still had male reproductive organs, I went to get a glass of water. While I was changing into my PJs, she'd emptied the dishwasher. I could have easily done that myself, but it wasn't on the list.

Tonight, after a long period of radio silence caused, in part, by the fact that for various reasons -- illness, prior commitments, block party -- the Jawa has skipped three of the last four Bar and Bat Mitzvot, we reprimed the Bar Mitzvah machine and attended a "B'Nai Mitzvot Preparation Class" at Temple Emanu-el. Here we would learn the intricate details of the coming weekend event.

We discussed details, all right, if you consider a "discussion" to be a situation in which one person tells a room full of people exactly how things are going to be, interrupted a few times by timid and sometimes repetitive questions.

Seems that for all of our loopy San Francisco grooviness, there is a definite right and wrong way to be Bar Mitzvah'ed at Temple Emanu-el. You will donate $300 to the Flower Ladies, who used to be part of the Sisterhood until it dissolved, because they go to the Flower Mart every week and their creations are lovely. You can go with FTD, we guess, but it seems nonsensical.

You will add 75 people to your Oneg/Kiddush lunch, because for some of those people, the ones you may see shoveling bagels into their shoulder bags, it may be the only meal they have that day, or possibly that weekend. This your special event, yes, but you must remember that for many people, it is just another Saturday service.

It is a mitzvot, as you know. If you do not do it, you are bad.

Consideration for the temple's congregation is also why, though you may be the reticent type, miserly with their emotions, who sees a Bar or Bat Mitzvah as the perfect time to unleash onto your child an appreciation so overwhelming that you all fall to the floor in tears, you will want to keep the "parents' blessing" to around three to five minutes. You must be cognizant of the fact that, basically, you are renting the temple for one day and while it may be your "special day," in the life of the temple, it is another Saturday service.

If you want to have extra musicians and will be having your event in the Martin-Meyer sanctuary, please tell Marcia. She will choose extra musicians for you. And you should attend several Saturday services before yours, so you'll know what goes on in them, because even though you are a member of this temple, we're going to assume that you're one of those Jews who, when asked his religion, begrudgingly says, "Jewish," before quickly adding, "but barely. I'm not religious or anything."

The Saturday before your Bar Mitzvah, you should be prepared to work during services as a greeter, handing out prayer books and saying, "Shabbat Shalom!" to visitors, regardless of how badly your social anxiety has been acting up as a result of all the people who solicit you for contributions to Calpirg or Greenpeace, want to shine your shoes or give you a massage or simply want to know if you're a registered California voter every day while you walk from the BART station to work.

Don't plan to have dinner on Friday before 7:15, and don't stay out late. You will be at the temple very early the day of your child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah. And while you can hand down a Tallit to your child, that would leave you without one. Better to buy a new one for him.

("If Grandpa gives his Tallus to the Bar Mitzvah boy, what's he going to wear?" said Abra, our Family Education Coordinator. "A new Spooner, of course!" I answered cheerily, to the delight of my wife and utter confusion of everyone else.)

There are definite ways to conduct yourself at services. Each Saturday, Abra told us, begins with the rabbi making some joke about turning off cell phones and getting rid of gum. "I'll be happier when he doesn't have to make that joke," she said.

This is not to frighten you, neophyte Bar Mitzvah-goer. We encourage you to come and wear our inscripted yarmulkes that Abra thinks are a waste of money. If, when I am on the bima, it appears I am chewing tobacco, it will actually be gum, hidden in my lower lip. I chew gum every day and will likely be chewing some on August 21.

I suspect that, based on what I've seen at past Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, tonight's semi-stern lecture was delivered in the hope that we'd follow 75% of the laid-out rules. I can clearly remember, for example, several "parents' blessings" that were much longer than the five lines Abra showed us on the "parents' blessings template." Once you're up there, what are they going to do? Bring out the huge, vaudevillian hook?

I'm making a list. It's called "Bar Mitzvah." Some things I heard tonight will go on it, like "Show up early," "Write parents' blessing," and "send transliterated versions of the blessing before the reading of the Torah to my parents." Other things I heard tonight will not be on the list. Which, as you now know, means they don't exist.

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