Thursday, July 29, 2010

22 days to Bar Mitzvah: still wandering around

Thirty-two years ago today, I was called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. And then, the following day, I woke up, my Sears-Roebuck rust-colored corduroy suit hung neatly in my closet, and looked into the mirror: still a boy, not a man, though $3,000 dollars richer, more concerned with the pending arrival of eighth grade than the after effects of the culmination of a big event.

That day, July 30, 1978, was my older sister's 16th birthday. Still reeling from the after-effects of our 1976 move west, she accepted a Sweet Sixteen party assembled from the still-standing building blocks of my big day (the tables and chairs set up in our backyard), rather than ditch us for a more debauched teenage version of the the celebration. So our family photo albums have two events, held back-to-back in the same setting, with the same people wearing different clothes. The effect is kind of surreal.

Bar Mitzvahs were different then. At least mine was. It was 32 years ago. The funny thing is that at the time we were certain they'd become gross parodies of the Bar Mitzvahs that happened 32 years before that. My cousin's Bar Mitzvah, held the year before mine, was an orgy of excess, a real "event" held at Leonard's of Great Neck with a band and a big cake. It more closely resembled a wedding than it did the party we threw a year later. It had no theme, however; no Godzillas in the middle of the tables.

Nor did mine have a theme, other than, "We're going to try to remind ourselves that we're Jewish, even though we're out here wandering in the wilderness, swarthy outsiders gasping for air in a blonde world." Something like that. And neither party had a DJ.

You want to stop dead in your tracks? 32 years before my Bar Mitzvah was 1946. The Vietnam war had been over for five years. Woodstock was less than a decade in the rearview. Mamie Eisenhower was still alive.

And still, it seems like last week.

Right now, if you flew me via Jet Blue to Long Beach, then drove me to Orange and put me in the middle of Santiago Junior High School (now Santiago Charter Middle School) and told me to find my eighth grade locker, I could approximate its location. It was on the wall between the Social Studies wing and the wing I now understand was devoted to languages; all languages, from Mr. Peralta's Spanish class to Don Sevier's eighth grade honors English class.

And if you then asked me to find where I was sitting in Mr. Peralta's class the day Jack Larson intimidated me into letting him cheat off my quiz, only to get caught by Ben Peralta himself, who busted Jack but not me because he probably, as an experienced teacher, understood that my options were limited: cheat, or risk getting pummelled by a guy reputed to have pulled a chain on Lane McAllister, I could show you.

It was the second seat in the second row of seats on the side of the room, near the door where the MECHA club used to set up a table and sell chips and salsa after school, except instead of selling the chips and salsa, they'd stand there and actually drink the salsa straight, like they were slamming Kamikazes, out of little water cooler cups. I sat there because Chariya Koepke was sitting in the seat at the front of the row and I had a mad but brief crush on Chariya Koepke, mostly because she was exotic and a cheerleader. Had I known that her vague connection to Jack Larson (a football player as well as aspiring juvenile delingquent) would also draw him into our row, leading to a semester of terror disguised as criminal abetting, I might have set my sights lower.

Today, on a Thursday, I went downtown to do some errands. I went to get my new suit altered and to buy the Jawa a birthday present, plus the book "This Boy's Life," required reading this summer for incoming eighth-graders. Forty-five years old and I'm walking up Polk Street on a Thursday past the apartment we lived in as newlyweds, in 1992. Same scene, same guy, different clothes.

I'm not sure if I should feel blessed, sheepish or defeated by the fact that I spent yet another workday out walking around, this time at age 45. As I passed our apartment building (in which a one-bedroom unit rented in 1992 for $550 per month), I tried to imagine what I might have been doing during the various July 29ths of my life. We already know what I was doing in 1978.

Twenty years ago, July 29, 1990, I was probably riding a mountain bike near Alki Beach in West Seattle, struggling to keep up with my girlfriend at the time, who took to that sort of thing naturally, forcing me to pretend I, too, was an outdoor enthusiast. Odds are good I worked that night at The Last Laugh, serving drinks to cigarette smokers while some comedian whose name is lost to history bombed onstage. I know one thing: I had no idea I was exactly five months away from meeting my future wife.

Ten years ago, July 29, 2000, I was sitting at a desk in a very cool-looking building in Chinatown, downloading songs from Napster and pretending that being a part of an early-stage startup that makes not only widgets to add to your company homepage that will allow you to sell items but also handles fulfillment and customer service was the culmination of a lifelong dream, even as the company's founder and CEO paced nervously outside his office, just a few feet behind me.

That I was worried he'd see me dowloading music instead of working shows how clueless I was. My job performance was the last thing on his mind.

He was pacing because the company he'd founded and sunk a bunch of his own money into was already circling the drain, soon to shutter its doors, leaving both me and the CEO on the street, him pacing, me wandering aimlessly.

Me wandering aimlessly. Every so often I google that guy to see which his entrepreneurial brass ring he's grabbed at this time. I just checked. He's the CEO of a company in Utah that sounds very much like a clone of Amway. Still selling things nobody really needs, though probably still making a ton of money.

Everyone picks their own kind of aimless wandering, I guess.

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