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Okay, so there are some name changes in characters this week. To protect the innocent AND the guilty, I wanted to make it clear this was FICTION.
If you need to catch up, here is part 1 and here is part 2.
Here's where we left off last week:
I held the Rob-squeezed hand with my other hand. Rob and I had never really touched before. His hand had been sweaty, but I guess that’s what happens when you have to read the Torah in front of a few hundred people. I wiped my hand on my dress and continued on into the ballroom.
And here's where we start off this week:
I walked slowly to my place on the dais. I noted, with longing, that the other kids were all seated at large tables together, and even if my experiences with the girls hadn’t been stellar, I would have given several weeks’ babysitting pay to not be up in the spotlight on that raised platform. Next to a bubbie, no less.
But my mother had raised me to be polite and I hadn’t yet learned to rock the boat (that would come in about six months or so), so I climbed the stairs of the platform and took my appointed seat.
And sure enough, there was the bubbie. It was Grandma Clara, and she introduced herself as Grandma Clara and she insisted that I use that moniker, as well. I told her who I was and how I knew Rob and she looked me up and down and said, “Ooooohhhhhhhhhh.” She managed to draw one word into three.
My other side was blank, but the card read “Marissa.” I knew Marissa was the little sister that Rob complained of with vehemence from time to time. I was usually okay with little kids, so probably Marissa wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
I looked at all my stuff at my place. I had a matchbook with Rob’s name and the date. There was a little blue paper cup, like a muffin wrapper, but decorated with gold designs, and filled with little blue and white candies. There was a psychedelic pen and a pad, with Rob’s name and the date stamped on top. Fancy.
Soon enough the other guests took their seats. Marissa’s seat remained empty. I was finally able to pick her out among the sea of faces below. She had flown the coop and was happily ensconced at one of the kids’ tables. I guess she had more backbone than I.
A short, muscled man in tuxedo pants and a blue and white spangled vest with a ruffled matching blue shirt took his place at a mike stand just below me. He grabbed the mike, music blared, and the lights dimmed. Spotlights began dancing across the floor and a mirror ball started shedding dots of light across everyone in the room.
“Ladies and Gentleman! I’m Shlomo Lieberman, the Davening DJ,* and I’ll be your host for Rob’s Bar Mitzvah! He did a great job up there this morning, didn’t he?” At this he raised his hands to the audience indicating the need for applause.
And applaud they did – the kids and adults alike whooped and clapped. I tried to whoop, too, but I was feeling a little too scared to be very whoop-y.
I also noticed that waiters and waitresses were flying around the room, pouring champagne for the adults and getting cokes and 7-up for the kids.
“And here’s the Man himself – Mr. Rob Schoenfeld! Let’s give him a big hand, shall we?”
And Hava Nagila* started playing, and Rob entered from the back, framed by his mother and dad. And the audience went wild. Folks were clapping, stamping, and whistling. I’d never seen anything like this in my life, other than watching the nuts on Times Square when the ball dropped for New Year’s Eve. Apparently, our New York City Bar and Bat Mitzvahs were just little affairs compared to how they partied on Long Island.
Everyone on the dais stood up and began clapping and hooting and then everyone in the audience followed suit. Needless to say, I joined, too, feeling weirder and weirder by the second.
I looked for routes of escape.
There weren’t any.
Rob shook his hands over his head in a victory sign, like a prize boxer after a fight. He looked goofy and arrogant, and honestly speaking, I was kinda grossed out.
They paraded all through the room, folks shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. All in all, the parade probably lasted a good ten minutes, with Hava Nagila blaring in the background and more and more champagne being poured. And champagne being drunk. Man, this crowd knew its way around a drink.
Finally, Rob made it up to the dais, where we were all expected to make a similar fuss. And we did. And Rob took my hand again. And his was still sweaty. Ewww.
And he sat, in his seat at the center of everything. And the music stopped. And there was instant silence.
Shlomo paused, while an enormous array of thirteen, giant candles was wheeled out in front of him. “Rob, Man, get down here and thank all the people in your life who got you here today.”
I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, but apparently the audience did, because there seemed to be a sense of hushed, if slightly inebriated, anticipation. Rob rose, with exaggerated dignity, and proceeded down below to the table of candles. I couldn’t believe how “into” all this he was. It kind of scared me, and yet, I hadn’t had a Bat Mitzvah, being a half and half kinda girl, and going to Unitarian Sunday School to boot, which I’d recently been kicked out of (another story for another time), so I really had no idea what he was going through. Plus, I had a feeling that today would be the last time I’d ever see him, and in four hours or so, I’d be free.
So, Rob gets down there, to this enormous table; “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof starts playing, relatively softly, in the background; and Shlomo starts reading from cards. The ceremony went like this: Shlomo would read an introduction; Rob would take out a match from a huge, round, gold-sparkled fireplace matches canister; and then Rob would strike it into flame, light the appropriate candle for that particular category of people in his life; and then said person, or persons, who were representing that particular candle would come up; Rob would say something nice to them off a card; and they would say something nice back. Usually off a card, but sometimes not.
I watched the ceremony with some boredom, tried not to let my stomach start growling (it was probably 1:30 by this time), and waited for this ceremony thingy to be over. The first two candles were for his mom and dad, then he had candles for his bubbies, then for his dead grandfathers, then for aunts, cousins, uncles, etc., etc. I think there may have been one for leaving the Viet Nam War, and finally, I heard my name being called out over the microphone.
“Jennifer? Where is she? Jennifer, special friend in Rob’s life, come on down and represent all the wonderful friends Rob’s had over the years.”
Did I tell you I hate any sort of spotlight?
Okay, so I get up and walk to the end of the dais, down the stairs and around back to where the table with the candles is. The candles are hotter than I expect them to be. Thirteen mega candles can throw off quite a light, and mine was the last one to be lit. The strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” play over and over on some maniacal tape loop. My hands are sweating so much that I feel that they’ll start dripping on the floor and I’m hoping that my spritz of Right Guard that morning really did do what the advertising campaign claimed.
I bet you all want to know what Rob said about me, and what I said back.
Honestly, I have no idea.
But somehow I got through it, and must have said something nice enough because all the adults sighed a chorus of “aweeeee” and then everyone began cheering. I remember staring out at the masses and feeling like a wooden puppet. I was frozen. Rob finally whispered in my ear that it was time for me to go back up to the dais. I smiled at him gratefully and complied.
The table was wheeled away, candles all creating torches. I wondered if the place was going to catch fire.
The music changed. Some kind of waltzy stuff came on. I sat at my place and sipped my coke. I could now smell the scents of matzoh ball soup and brisket coming from the kitchen. I could see the untouched appetizer tables surrounding the edges of the room. I had no thoughts for anything other than being hungry and wanting out of there, each in equal measure.
Rob was still down below.
“And now, Ladies and Gentleman, and those that aren’t ‘Ladies,’” Shlomo paused, “Or ‘Gentlemen’,” and here everyone broke into uproarious laughter. I swear. This crowd was easy. “… the moment you’ve all been waiting for! The dance that will sweep Rob the rest of the way from childhood to manhood!” And everyone assumed that same, earlier demeanor of quiet waiting.
And again, I had no idea what they were waiting for.
But what it turned out to be, was a quite creditable waltz between Rob and his mom. And cameras flashed everywhere, and I saw various women wiping away tears, and everyone seemed happy. And the smells of food grew stronger, which made me happy.
And then Rob’s dad got up from the dais, and made his way below. The music faded out. Shlomo took his spot. “Now we have the changing of the guard, so to speak. Rob’s father will take his rightful place with Rob’s mother for the next dance, and Jennifer, Rob’s special friend, will come down and dance with Rob.”
Jennifer, Rob’s special friend . Me? Is he kidding?
All of a sudden, a spotlight glared in my face. I stood up, amazed that my knees didn’t give out from under me. The audience began a rhythmic clapping. I prayed for Hava Nagila and a group dancefest, but it wasn’t to be.
The stupid spotlight followed me all the way across the dais, down the stairs and over to Rob. The waltz music started up again. Rob took me in his arms in that awkward way that only thirteen-year-old boys who’ve had maybe two or three waltz lessons can. On the other hand, I’d had exactly zero waltz lessons.
The music played, and we sort of spun around the room, and managed not to trip and/or fall. I assume that Mr. and Mrs. Schoenfeld looked just fine – I was too scared to look anywhere other than at Rob. We made some small talk. Something about his dancing lessons, I think.
Finally, the music stopped, and I believed my torture to be over.
But oh no. Not a chance.
“And now, Ladies and Gentleman, should Rob seal his transition to manhood by giving a kiss to his ‘special friend’?” The audience went wild. People started stomping and clapping and generally carrying on with great alacrity.
Um, so my first kiss was going to be up for a vote? I was stuck in position. My feet wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I’d tried.
The damned spotlight hit us in the face again. The waltz music was cued one more time, but basically drowned out by the crowd, which was still egging us on. Rob grabbed my upper arms and drew me to him, a bit roughly and very definitely awkwardly.
Not knowing what else to do, I closed my eyes.
And then… and then… I felt a brush of soft and wet across my lower lip, the cheering and screaming went up exponentially, and then it was all over. And I felt my arms being released. And I opened my eyes. And Rob was looking at me with wonder. And I felt sick.
And Rob was clearly happy. He was now a man. He was now THE man. And the crowd was happy. They’d gotten two scared kids to kiss in front of them. And Rob’s friends were happy – they’d have good gossip fodder for at least a week. And all of those three hundred or so chanting, clapping Jews were sure we were a couple of basherts - soulmates.
And my lip still felt, well, gross.
And you know what? Three hundred chanting, clapping Jews can be wrong.
To daven means, roughly, to pray so our "Davening DJ" was making an alliterative joke of sorts.
bashert means soulmate. The one that you are predestined for.
bubbie means grandma.
You can find a clip of Hava Nagila here. Just scroll down until you see it on the list.
You can find a clip of Sunrise, Sunset here. Just press the "preview" button.