The Lord our God must have been looking over Sandra Bullock and I tonight as we capitalized on the Jawa's two-week camp trip to shop for appropriate Bar Mitzvah clothing. No way can science explain why we were so successful.
As you may already know, we are booked for the maximum Bar Mitzvah-related appearances on the weekend of August 20-22: the Friday night service, followed by dinner, the Saturday morning service (the actual Bar Mitzvah), the Saturday night party at the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the Sunday morning brunch at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero; an impressively full weekend requiring an impressive and potentially wallet-draining wardrobe of clothes.
While Sandra Bullock's approach has been to slowly accumulate a closet full of dresses, taking time to get to know the nuances of each garment before making a final decision to commit or move on to the next potential sartorial suitor, mine has been to wait until the last minute then try to get enough stuff for the whole weekend via one blitzkrieg-style shopping trip. Her long journey ended last weekend, with the help of a visit from her de facto personal shopper, known in this space as Butter Goats. They got together and nailed down the last outfit, leaving one to be returned this week. Mine took place tonight, between 6:00 and 7:30 PM.
Seeing as how my approach to this conundrum begged for a little divine help, I can only conclude that Adonai, the God of Abraham, had a hand in tonight's unprecedented downtown run. Why else would the majority of sales clerks helping us be Jewish? This is San Francisco, not Scarsdale.
Ninety minutes. That's all it took -- the same amount of time it takes to complete two Sunday New York Times crossword puzzles. During that very brief period of time, we visited four stores, buying something at each one. Absolutely no time was wasted browsing. We went in, found what we liked, tried it on and paid. And when the final bill was tallied -- in my head, while bombing up Sutter Street toward Van Ness -- our total outlay represented approximately 65% of the ticketed price of each item. Everything we bought was on sale by more than a third.
Sure, there were short periods of uncertainty. Was it was wise to buy the first suit I trid on? Is the perfect suit now sitting on its rack at Bloomingdales, neglected? Should I have recklessly dived into the Kenneth Cole store and emerged with two pairs of shoes (one for me, one for the Jawa) when I'd imagined myself finally making the jump to a more grown-up brand? Who was I kidding? Freelance writers don't wear Ferragamo.
Appropriate clothing seemed to be looking for us, rather than the other way around. I'd never considered a seersucker jacket until one my size suddenly appeared on the sale rack at J. Crew, marked down to a third of its original price. No way do I buy that thing at full price. Even at 25% off it doesn't make it from the rack to my shoulders, especially after pairing it with a white shirt and khaki pants that make me look like William F. Buckley's cavalierly overweight Jewish son.
Elohim once again had my back. Was it a coincidence that steered us toward the dark-colored pants and light blue polo shirt (both on sale, of course, for a combined 40% off) at Nordstrom's? Or that the nice girl who helped us was from Westchester County where, when you're 13, you go to "two or three Bar Mitzvahs a month?"
No. This was a reward of some kind. You don't just go out and nail down your Bar Mitzvah garb in 90 minutes, and the whole take doesn't add up to what you'd planned to spend just on a suit, especially when you leave the house having absolutely no idea of what you're looking for. It just doesn't happen.
That it did almost overshadows the weird fact that we ran into three of my former co-workers at The Examiner while downtown. One was the guy who you'd pass in the hall and he'd either look down or just raise his eyebrows instead of saying anything, so it didn't make me feel very guilty to not say "Hi" to him here in the outside world.
If there were there any doubt of the sectarian aspect to our trip, it was erased the minute we saw Sid Berger at the Vietnamese place downstairs from Bloomingdales (where we did not go). Sid Berger, who is almost always seen wearing a tweed sport coat and a tie, was a very visible Brandeis Hillel Day School parent before his daughter graduated and moved on to Lowell High School. While I run into Sid Berger everywhere, running into him tonight was a nice piece of punctuation for our evening.
As deep as we are into preparations, we've been working in a virtual vacuum for the past several weeks. Save for The Hammer, we've been living in a gentile world since early June, which has changed our approach to our big event in subtle, barely-perceptible but very significant ways.
For nine months we were surrounded by people focused on a common experience: the B'nai Mitzvah. Then, for two months, nothing; just us and a world of civilians, eager to learn about the process and meaning of our Bar Mitzvah but without the context of knowing its meaning. And we haven't helped. Most of what they've heard from us involves the massive preparations necessary to stage this event. "It's like a wedding," we've told many people, which is an unsatisfactorily partial explanation.
Tonight, when Sid Berger said, "Mazeltov!" before leaving us to our Vietnamese noodles, the term "joyous event" suddenly flashed into my head. For almost a year now, we've had our heads down, putting everything together to make this work. And over the next 26 days, it's only going to get worse. By August 20, we'll be right where my in-laws were on September 19, 1992, except we won't be slicing luncheon meat with an industrial slicer on our kitchen table. We'll be at this fever pitch, a black hole of intensity, ten million pounds of energy compressed to a single point.
But it's a joyous event, a rite of passage, something that happens only once in a (Jewish) person's life. Once the Jawa shuts the book on his Haftorah portion, he'll join an exclusive club. Twenty years from now, he could be talking to a co-worker. One of them will mention their Bar Mitzvah, and suddenly they'll have something to talk about for hours. I get you, buddy, because I'm one of you, too. Gabba Gabba Hey.
So thank you, Sid Berger and your tweed coat and tie, because after I heard you say "Mazeltov," I thought back and remembered that the two sales clerks had also congratulated us, and maybe the reason Yahweh smiled on us tonight was because in doing all we can to create the Jawa's special day, we're doing the right thing.
And if that means 40% off at Ted Baker, man, I'm right on board.