It's 3:35, two weeks before our Bar Mitzvah and we're tearing across town for a four p.m. meeting with Rabbi Jaffe, our second-to-last meeting before the big day. On a good traffic day, this drive takes 30 minutes, and it's not a good traffic day.
I've been told that "yelling" while driving really stresses out a certain 13-year-old Jawa, so I'm doing my best to say nothing, just stare straight ahead, silently noting that once again, a single rose protruding from the built-in bud vase of a Volkswagen Beetle is a failsafe indicator of someone who will drive exactly 22 miles per hour down Clayton Street, where the speed limit has to be at least 35. I am convinced that Lucifer had a hand in designing this particular half-hour segment of my life. He's giving me a preview, in case the ledger sheets don't add up when I leave this mortal coil.
With only two weeks remaining until the Bar Mitzvah, tensions are running high. Following our Hallmark-ready birthday outing to Raging Waters, the Jawa and I have spent another difficult day: me nagging him to work on Bar Mitzvah stuff, him fending off my verbal blows by hiding under a pair of inexpensive Radio Shack headphones. And now we're rushed, my least favorite thing to be.
It doesn't help that, once we arrive at Temple Emanu El (at 3:53, thanks to a campaign of silent but intensely focused and slightly illegal behind-the-wheel maneuvers employed by me in the last 20 minutes) we spend 15 minutes sitting on the dusty couches located outside Rabbi Jaffe's office, absorbed by our individual Smart Phones and wondering if there's been a scheduling snafu.
Finally, I call the temple -- from inside the temple, a weird type of 21st-century phenomenon that's surprising, given that two hours earlier I refused to use my phone to call the Jawa, who was about 100 yards away swinging on a swing while I kicked the ball in a field for Shack. "Call me when you're ready to go," he had advised me. Instead, I just yelled for him, old-school-style -- and find that Rabbi Jaffe has a new office. The junior team member has been moved from his Siberia-recalling location to new digs closer to the inner sanctum. Good for him; would have been better for us if someone had told us before we spent the first 15 minutes of our 40-minute appointment sitting on dusty couches playing solaitare on our Droids.
To Rabbi Jaffe, we must look like exactly the kind of basket cases he sees in his office every day. I'd thought about complaining that the Jawa is procrastinating, but realized quickly that he actually isn't the first kid to procrastinate doing his Bar Mitzvah stuff. Just as I hadn't given any thought, a few weeks ago, to the possibility that I wasn't the only guy losing golf balls in the trees, I'd forgotten that we weren't the first and only people ever getting Bar Mitzvahed.
This meeting was the kind Sandra Bullock loves -- a step-by-step layout of the actual Bar Mitzvah ceremony, revealing every opportunity to involve/honor family members and friends by giving them things to do. Even non-Jews like the kind comprising over half of our Bar Mitzvah party can be slotted into the service. They can open the ark, quickly stepping aside once the Torah itself emerges, not because they're not "allowed" to hold the Torah; more like since this is a traditional rite of passage, it'd be weird to have people hold it for whom it represents nothing more than a 25-pound scroll of paper whose exterior adornments seem to have been inspired by Liberace.
They can walk with us during the joyous Torah procession, in which we (the parents and Bar Mitzvah boy) walk up and down the synogogue aisles, shaking hands with our guests like Bill Clinton at a political fundraiser. Nobody shakes hands like Bill, but we'll try.
At 4:40, the Jawa dashed from the room for his meeting with Cantor Roslyn Barak. "You guys can wait in the car!" he shouted over his shoulder as he disappeared down a hallway.
Which is exactly what we'd planned to do until we passed the message board in the temple lobby and saw listed among today's events our child's "Bar Mitzvah Rehearsal."
"Rehearsal? Isn't that what we're going to do on Friday?" I asked.
"It's not a wedding," said my bride of 18 years. "I think he's in the main sanctuary, practicing his Torah portion. Lets go spy on him."
Five minutes later we're huddled in the foyer of the main sanctuary. Sandra Bullock's shoes are off and I'm inching silently toward an open archway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the chanting Jawa without getting caught.
There he is, up there on the bima in his blue hooded sweatshirt and jeans. He sounds ready, our Jawa. His pre-Peter Brady changed voice fills the sanctuary with chanted Hebrew. It only stops twice; two glitches. Satisfied, I slink back to a bench and sit down.
"I see you, Mom." Sandra Bullock, who will later claim she "meant to get caught," is not as slippery as her husband.
"Are you spying on us?" I hear Cantor Roslyn Barak say.
You're not supposed to spy on Bar Mitzvah rehearsal, but they let us off with a slap on the wrist. Afterwards, a confident Jawa emerges and pronounces himself "ready." Save for the five photo albums he needs to scan for his slideshow, the multiple playlists he needs to make for our boyband-looking Denon and Doyle Emcee, A.J., his intros for the 13 people we will be honoring with a candle-lighting and the last touches on his Bar Mitzvah speech. We celebate a few blocks away at the Hukilau with terayaki garden burgers and fries while some jingle Kevin Gagan made up while we were pledges keeps running through my head. It's to the tune of "We're going to a hukilau," whatever a "hukilau" is.