Sunday, June 27, 2010

55 days to Bar Mitzvah: pretty as a picture(s)

The shock hit my unflappable wife halfway through the third aliyah on Saturday. We were sitting several rows from the bima, watching Josh S. complete his journey from apprentice Boy About Town to join his father, uncles and grandfather in the exclusive fraternity of full-fledged Men About Town when Sandra Bullock suddenly grabbed my arm, gasped, and stage-whispered, "WE'RE NEXT!"

Technically, that's not true. There is one other Bar Mitzvah, a tandem effort by a pair of twins, between yesterday's and ours. We will be out of town for that one, though, so it is a fact that the next Bar Mitzvah the Jawa attends will be his own.

A sobering thought.

"We have so much to do!" she added, interrupting me as I silently repeated the blessings before and after the reading of the Torah, following along with each aliyah until I got past my blind spot on the blessing after the reading and trying to remember that "asher bachar banu" is from the blessing BEFORE, while "asher natan lanu" is from the blessing AFTER.

Our Bar Mitzvah is scheduled for August 21. That's a little less than two months from now. Three more days of June, 31 in July and three weeks in August. Take away the three weeks the Jawa will be gone for vacation and summer camp and that leaves a little more than a month of preparation. Sobering, indeed.

Tonight, parked downstairs on the sectional, we started the long process of choosing photos for our slide presentation. With the recommendations of Dan from Denon & Doyle ringing in our ears -- "It should be between six and ten minutes in length" -- we pored through photo album after photo album, marking chosen images with post-its. Our subliminal voices were joined as one, all shouting, "HOW ARE WE GOING TO WHITTLE DOWN FROM A THOUSAND PHOTOS TO ENOUGH FOR ONLY SIX TO TEN MINUTES?" The Jawa's photoshop effects, which include zooms, quick cuts and very slow pans, add to the challenge.

How would your seventh and eighth grade years been different if every member of your class took a turn as the Guest of Honor? Think about it; just about every Saturday this year, one kid in the Brandeis Hillel Day School Class of 2011 stood in a ballroom somewhere while a big-screen TV showed a six-to-ten-minute-long slide show of his or her life. There's Josh S. as a toddler. There he is with his sister in Japan. There he is at his eighth birthday. I remember that. They all went to the skatepark in Millbrae.

I'm not sure what it does to their fledgeling teenage development or how it effects schoolyard politics. Do kids predisposed to having big egos have even bigger ones after hearing a room full of 200 people go "Awww" in unision at a photo of them, taken at their second birthday, with cake smeared all over their face? Do kids horrified at being singled out suffer shots of their first trip to Disneyland over a bed of Jason Mraz as a fate worse than your mother dancing the Hora in front of all your friends?

Whether intended or not, the slide show also has a political impact on the larger crowd. Everyone stands around wondering if they're going to show up or not. "Hmm," we might be thinking, "my kid was better friends with the Bat Mitzvah girl in first grade. They haven't hung out much in the past few years, but I'd like to think their great pre-school friendship had some meaning. Will my kid appear...oh! There she is! How nice!"

As we began the initial machinations of putting ours together, we realized that familial politics would also come into play. Why, we asked ourselves as we dug through the album tracing our first year in San Francisco, are there no good photos of the Jawa with my parents that first year they came to visit us? How many photos of the Jawa with his cousin Shea are too much? Will the now almost-teenage Emma Price be horrified when she finds herself standing in a room full of strangers, looking at a ten-foot-tall picture of herself as a toddler, wearing footie PJs identical to the ones worn by an ear-to-ear grinning toddler-sized Jawa?

Then, once you get past the fact that balance is impossible, you're free to focus on the the really painful things, most notably how much you've aged in the past 13 years. Thirteen years ago, 32 years old with only a small bald spot and about 30 fewer pounds of heft, would I have been mistaken for the hulking Rabbi Bauer, as I was during the kiddush lunch on Saturday? Probably not.

Hopefully, we will put together a slide show that accurately tells the story of the Jawa's childhood, giving just enough time to each friend, past and present, honoring our guests, not favoring any one grandparent over any other and, not incidentally, reminding people of what a thrill ride it's been shepherding a Jawa through an occasionally confusing, sometimes perilous and often kick-in-the-pants world.

Put together right -- or even sort of close to right -- "this is your life" slide shows can elevate the guest of honor to a level of sentiment and drama that doesn't actually exist in real life.

I first noticed this during an otherwise rowdy fraternity dinner in 1986, when Greg Baker stuck a few seconds of Simon & Garfunkel's "Old Friends" behind otherwise banal photos of drunk guys in Greek letter sweatshirts hanging off of each other at parties: "Time it was and what a time it was it was... a time of innocence (picture of intramural football), a time of confidences (two smiling guys holding beer bottles); long ago it must be, I have a photograph; preserve your memories (group of guys looking impossibly young, sitting at the beach during a sorority volleyball tournament) they're all that's left you." Excellent job, Bake. You really stopped that dinner cold.

I saw it again a few years later at the Austin, Texas rehearsal dinner for my high school friend Mike's wedding.

Not knowing Mike's fiancee and not having spent much time with him over the past five years, I was stunned by how romantic his life looked when laid out in a series of photos. Mike with his future wife at the beach, squinting into the camera, wearing a really cool denim jacket with the collar up, looked like a J. Crew catalog come to life, except that in 1990 I didn't yet know what a J. Crew catalog was. It was both celebratory and melancholy at the same time, like it referred back to some halcyon time that was brimming with meaning and completely devoid of things like hay fever and bad hair days. It was life with all the dull parts removed.

Same goes for the Bar Mitzvah slide show. When that room full of Bar Mitzvah-goers from all parts of the Jawa's life gets a glimipse of that photo of us at Cardoza's, picking out our pumpkin on an unusually warm October day in 2003, they will forget that have ever been times when I have gone into my bedroom, closed the door, put on my iPod and laid on the floor, doing crossword puzzles and listening to Nick Drake until I'm calm enough to speak to my son without doing any more damage to either of us.

This is the power of pictures. And cool effects like fades and split-screens.

1 comment:

Butter Goats said...

Excellent. I won't warn the Girl Child, so we get the full effect.