I am not a small guy. That's why elderly congregants sometimes mistake me for Rabbi Bauer and why Jenny From the Block's husband, a wiry, supremely confident guy who could probably kick my butt four ways to Friday thanks to his extensive martial arts knowledge, always gives me grief about "looking tough." "I don't like hanging out with you," he told me once at a party where the median age of male guests was around 55. "People might think you want to fight them."
Nothing could be further from the truth. Alas, I am probably the least tough big, swarthy-looking unshaven guy in the nine-county Bay Area.
Still, I'm not a little guy, which is anyone who saw me Sunday, walking through Beverly's Fabrics and Crafts in Colma, holding a basket full of 2 1/4" candles in one hand and a clump of imitation flowers in the other, can be forgiven if they had trouble stifling a chuckle or two. I was like Henrietta Hippo in her ballet skirt, Danny DeVito trying to look sincere so Chloe Webb won't break up with him in "Twins." It was not a proud moment.
As the Bar Mitzvah nears, Sandra Bullock's focus becomes even more laser-like. Yesterday, with the Design Team scheduled to meet at our house at two p.m., she enlisted me to help her find netting for the centerpieces. Not just any netting; this netting must not be too dark; and it must be soft, requiring a trip through the washing machine.
The netting, she hoped, was at one of the party stores in Westlake, an outdoor mall in Daly City. Bar Mitzvah shopping does not take place in San Francisco for the most part. There's just not enough room in the city -- San Francisco is the second-densest urban setting in the U.S., trailing only Manhattan -- for 10,000 square-foot stores that stock netting.
Unfortunately, the Westlake party store only had black netting. Sandra Bullock had bought them out last month. So we went to Beverly's, where I found myself, flowers in hand, wandering lost through the paper lantern aisle.
"We need to find some fun tissue paper," my wife said absently after rejecting Beverly's pathetic paper lantern inventory. Fun tissue paper became necessary when we ditched the colorful paper bags necessary to hold all of the San Francisco-centric items that will greet each guest when they check into the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero infavor of brown ones at $3 for a dozen. Showing a much greater ability to imagine our guests' disappointment at being greeted by a simple brown bag -- no more special than the anonymous brown bags that held their school lunches, a sandwich, a small bag of Fritos, an apple, in fourth grade -- Bullock tried to convince me that only fun tissue paper, plus a vintage post card affixed to the outside of each bag, could make the guest bags appropriately festive.
These small gifts, coming at the beginning of our guests' weekend San Francisco adventure, should reinforce their collective beliefs that coming to the Jawa's Bar Mitzvah was most definitely worth the cost of air fare and hotel. Would they feel that way upon finding a plain brown bag in their room? No.
But I still didn't know what made tissue paper "fun." Would it be a party version of novelty toilet paper, covered with one-liners and puns? Perhaps it would come in brilliant colors -- a blaze of red, a riot of yellow, an explosion of purple -- to set the tone for an exciting weekend.
One thing you can say for Beverly's: their tissue paper aisle completely shames their paper lantern selection. The racks full of tissue paper, arranged by color, were bold and confident while the lanterns were ragged and apologetic. And yet, even when faced with such a display of strength, I couldn't figure out which tissue paper was fun and which was sadly prosaic.
This was the moment I chose to say, "Boy, you want to talk about a place that makes its living selling stuff nobody needs," causing an eavesdropping nearby shopper to wince in pain and earning a sharp glance from my wife. But I couldn't help myself; I just didn't get it.
Here's 10,000 square feet of merchandise: candles, bags, tissue paper, sparkly stuff, flat pieces of cardboard shaped like farm animals. To me, a store selling rocks would have made the same amount of sense. How much of this stuff would Peter Minuet have needed to buy Manhattan from the local tribe? Would it have mattered to them whether the tissue paper was fun or merely bemused?
Despite my disenfranchisement, we managed to spend $168 at Beverly's in Colma, leaving with a twenty-pound bag full of candles and brown bags. Which is fine, because while I clearly cannot fathom why we would spend $168 on candles and brown bags (and particularly foul-smelling netting that requires a trip through the washing machine to make it usable), I also understand that I am in the minority. Though I would be gone later when the Design Team met at our house (I was walking through San Leandro with the Jawa, on our way to a Lego show staffed by the guys who weren't cool enough to get into the model train club. Seriously, these guys looked like mutants. Who walks into LensCrafters, tries on a pair of glasses that are bigger than their face, and says, "Yeah, these are good. I'll take them."?), I'm pretty sure there was much excitement over the candles.
The simple brown bags in particular sent the team into an intense creative electrical storm, as they traded lightning-like ideas back and forth before deciding to add a strip of wrapping paper to each bag, along with the vintage postcard.
It's the little things, and for the past month I've been spending about $20 a week hitting golf balls in San Bruno, which is most definitely money spent on something nobody needs.
Come Bar Mitzvah day -- less than eight weeks from today -- please pause and appreciate the candles, the paper lanterns, which will be hanging elegantly along the wall facing the bay, the softened, deoderized and lightened netting and the centerpiece flowers. Know that someone has spent hours putting them all together for your enjoyment. And that her husband can walk through Beverly's Fabrics and Crafts holding several white flowers and a basket full of candles and still look like he's going to knock the tar out of the next guy who looks at him wrong, even though what he's really doing is being amazed at how heavy a hundred dollars' worth of 2 1/4" diameter candles can be.