Monday, August 16, 2010

5 days to Bar Mitzvah: parallel-parking, Shelley Berman and the Chai life

Less than a week to go and we've lost all control of our budget. Unplanned line items are killing us, but do we fight? No. There's nothing left to lose.

And still I try, clinging to some long-forgotten budget, nickel-and-diming myself to a good night's sleep, saving pennies and spending pounds.

Should I feel guilty for spending only $9.95 on a Challah cover made of polyester and not silk? How many times are we going to use a Challah cover? Were we industrious and resourceful Jews, I would not have been buying a Challah cover today; we would have borrowed one. I'll bet The Hammer didn't have to go to the "Judaica" store near the JCC and buy a $9.95 Challah cover five days before her son's Bar Mitzvah.

By the time I reached the JCC, I'd already parallel parked seven times and spent almost $500 on things I don't remember seeing in the Bar Mitzvah Master Budget. Did I plan to start today by going into Bank of America (parallel park #1) and buying $40 of quarters? Of course not. Anyone who actually plans to do that is obviously unstable, or possesses an enormous amount of laundry.

It is true that by sending our chartered bus home Friday night after dropping us at Tarantino's, we save hundreds of dollars. And yet, the $40 I had to take out of the ATM today and immediately convert to quarters felt like an unplanned expense. The quarters are for our guests to hand over to the MUNI driver when we board, en masse, one of the quaint and whimsical waterfront trolleys that conveniently run from Fisherman's Wharf to the Hyatt Regency Embarcardero. Even as I am saving over $200 in overall expenses, it still feels like I am spending money.

At times, my odd little chores take on a surreal glow. Today, shortly after parallel parking for the third time (on Nob Hill, after waving my arms in what I hoped was a menacing way at the fat cat behind me who was chomping on a cigar in his Mercedes and refusing to back up so I could park), I had a brush with obtuse greatness and also seized the opportunity to act rudely in the presence of a man who probably knew Milton Berle.

Shelley Berman was standing at the concierge at the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill, looking about 1,000 years old, trying politely to understand how his plane tickets to Burbank worked. I was the obnoxious middle-aged guy who ignored Shelley -- who as recently as 2008 was nominated for an Emmy Award for his role as Larry David's dad on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- before finding out that I wasn't even in the right hotel to begin with.

I would like to apologize to Shelley Berman, his wife Sarah (they have been married since 1948), the guy I mistook for a hotel employee when he was just a good samaritan helping Shelley with his plane tickets -- because who wouldn't help Shelley Berman with his plane tickets? What kind of boor shoves past a dapper, elderly, toupee-wearing Shelley Berman in order to meet his own selfish needs?

The kind who has completed 33% of his parallel parking for the day.

By the time I reached Dayanu, the Judaica store where I bought the Challah cover, my nerves were shot. What is a Judaica store? It is like a gift shop, only the t-shirts all have different whimsical puns based on the Hebrew "Chai" (life) written across the front.

This time, as I parallel parked (#7) amidst whizzing traffic on California Street, some wag in a Cadillac slowed down, rolled down his window and shouted, "I wish my car would park that easy!" I gave him a courtesy laugh. We get it, pal; you drive a Cadillac. I'll bet Shelley Berman drives one, too.

Then I'm standing in front of Dayanu. There is a sign on the (locked) front door of Dayanu, whose slogan, at least to me, should be, "Where else are you going to buy a Challah cover in San Francisco?" The sign reads: "Back in five minutes!"

I have learned over the past nine years that there is a thing called "Jewish Standard Time," which runs about ten minutes behind normal, Christian time. When Dayanu said five minutes, it meant ten. Squinting into the fog because this summer I have either lost or destroyed two pairs of prescription sunglasses and yesterday I tore my left contact lens in half, then went to the closet in the hall to find I had no more contacts lenses, leaving me wearing glasses and hoping Eye Q Optometry in Noe Valley can rush order some contacts to me by Friday, I thanked the gods of technology for creating my Droid, read Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" on and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Finally, a woman I have for five years been secretly thinking of as "Evil Lynn" even though I know her name is "Eva Lynn" -- not because I don't like her; I don't really know her except by sight. It's just that the first time someone mentioned her name, I thought they'd said "Evil Lynn." My sense of humor is juvenile enough that I still find it hilarious, five years later -- arrived and I bought my Challah cover. Embarrassed by my cheapness and still wondering if Evil Lynn was going to recognize me, I made some lame crack about how I "bought the polyester Challah cover."

"It's very colorful, and inexpensive," Evil Lynn responded, thinking she was speaking to a very sane, not-at-all-childish stranger. Or maybe she recognized me but, like me, did a quick cost-benefit analysis and decided that the 30-second conversation that would follow acknowledging each other was not how she wanted to spend that particular 30 seconds of her life. Maybe she had other things on her mind, like whatever had taken her away from her business for five minutes in the middle of a Monday, and just wanted me to leave with my $9.95 Challah cover.

"Oh, I don't care about that," said Joe Kennedy's debonair and long-lost Jewish son. "I mean, at this point, who cares."

What I didn't say but meant was this: come on, now; give me a little chuckle, a raised eyebrow, anything. Show me that you get it: a guy walks into a Judaica store, looking for a Challah cover. You think he might be that guy who used to run the Book Fair at Brandeis Hillel Day School, where you'd set up a table and sell stuff while everyone milled around, buying books. Maybe he has a kid who might be Bar Mitzvah age, which would explain why he's randomly buying a Challah cover on a Monday in August. What he's probably telling me with his little toss-away line is that by now, so soon before his son's Bar Mitzvah, he's been hemorrhaging money for so long that the difference between a $10 Challah cover and a $30 Challah cover is negligible.

I get it. We're all in this together.

Come to me, Bar Mitzvah father, wandering Jew in a city with Jews so rare and assimilated that you can carry on a 10-minute conversation with a Realtor about how blown away you were the first time you visited your cousins in Great Neck as a teen and found that their high school included Jewish football players and cheerleaders. I, too, am a Jew, and so understand how absurd this Bar Mitzvah process has been, how you've struggled with rationalizing the costs until you've simply come to the point where you'll worry about the money later. You are in the right place, balding Jewish man. We are sympathetic.

Am I asking too much? Stupid question. Evil Lynn, being of sound mind and right in the middle of her day -- which for all I know, might have included multiple parallel parking opportunities -- instead adopted the distant, careful air often employed around the insane or people who somehow wander past the security ropes at a crime scene and said, "Oh, well, I don't know anything about that." And then she told me about how Dayanu sells round Challah for the High Holy Days in the fall.

That was it, my one shot at finding human connection in a calloused urban environment, and it was ripped to shreds. I got back in my car, mailed something I needed to mail (parallel park #8) and drove home in silence. Tomorrow is another day, number four on the countdown. By then, Shelley Berman will be in Burbank, Evil Lynn will have sold t-shirts with (Chai) Anxiety! written across them, and I, odds are, will have parallel-parked another half-dozen times.

1 comment:

The Hammer said...

Challah cover? You're right - wasn't on my list. Never occurred to me.