Saturday, January 29, 2005

Lost in New Jersey

Smartmom and Co. arrived at R.'s Bat Mitzvah over an hour late. It was one of those mornings. They woke up late, left late, and had trouble getting the Volvo out of the parking space due to snow drifts. Stopping for coffee, orange juice and donuts at the Mojo didn't help. The fact that Teen Spirit accidentally squirted jelly donut jelly on his dress shirt also slowed them down.

And then the piece de resistance: they got lost in New Jersey. Truth is, they always seem to get lost in New Jersey. What is it about New Jersey? There are too many signs and too many New Jersey Turnpikes; it's confusing and so damn ugly. At least the part near the Newark Airport, which is industrial ugly, stinky ugly and downright depressing if you're not in the mood.

For a good ten minutes, Hepcat drove in the wrong direction on the Jersey Turnpike. Then they had to turn around and find the Garden State Parkway.

Hepcat did a lot of cursing. Navigational blunders make him a tad apoplectic. Understandably. Who likes getting lost in New Jersey? At one point, Hepcat said the F-word in rapid sucession. "Are we lost? Are we lost?" OSFO cried in a bit of a panic. Smartmom quickly calmed her down: "No we were just going in the wrong direction, nothing to worry about, dear."

And really, there wasn't much to worry about. Except the embarrassment of being late. Smartmom kept her cool knowing that Bat Mitzvah services are always long. Very long. Too long in Smartmom's opinion. She knew that whenever they got there there'd still be plenty of the service to see. And after that, the party would go on for hours.

And that turned out to be true. When they finally got to the synogogue, Smartmom found a side door into the sanctuary so their friends would not notice how late they were. R., the Bat Mitzvah girl, was making her speech; Smartmom was glad she didn't miss that. And she was really glad she didn't miss the speech by the Bat Mitzvah girl's mother: L., a former Park Sloper who Smartmom met when Teen Spirit and R. were two in a "Mommy and Me" movement class.

L. talked about R's will, her determination, and her perfectionism. She even alluded to the difficulties between them. Since babyhood, R. has been a handful. A really smart, intense, creative, and spirited handful. They love each other a lot, of course. But it isn't always easy to be her mother. And visa versa. Rarely has Smartmom heard a mother address these kinds of tensions in public staring lovingly into her daughters eyes. Especially at a Bat Mitzvah.

It was a very honest speech - not a bit of bull. And very loving. Smartmom was impressed.

After the service, it was time to PARTY at the local country club - a rather WASPY place in a rather WASPY town. R.'s dad made a joke about it being the first time many of his friends had ever been inside this "exclusive" country club.

The party had a nice feeling. There's a tradition of lighting 13 candles -- each one for a friend or family member. R. did it with an added twist: for each candle, she announced that she was making a donation to an appropriate charity in that person's name (charities included Cancer Care, Big Brother Big Sister, and the Fresh Air Fund). This display of generosity was a winning contrast to what can sometimes feel like the suburban excess of a Bat Mitzvah.

Smartmom and Hepcat were seated at what Hepcat called the Brooklyn Writers and Doctors table. There were two writers, a psychiatrist, an internist and Smartmom never found out what the other people did. Tabletalk included a comparison of the sex appeal of Keanu Reeves vs. Jack Nicholson, a discussion of the film, "The Hours," and blogging.

Teen Spirit's jelly-stained dress shirt covered by a too-small Brooks Brothers blazer, partied in partied in the separate kid's room. OSFO was dressed to the nines in a flowy floral dress, lavender tights and shiny purple ballet slippers. Because they didn't know anyone there except R. and her brother, they watched from the sidelines as the other kids did the hora, the "Thriller" dance, the "Stayin' Alive" dance and kareoke led by a guy hired to teach dance routines and keep the kids entertained (another recent Bat Mitzvah convention). OSFO did manage to collect an ungodly number of party favors.

As ususal, being at a Bat Mitzvah brought up deep questions for Smartmom. "What is my relationship to Judaism these days?" she asked herself. And then that old quandry: Should Teen Spirit and OSFO go to Hebrew school and have a Bar Mitzvah? It's a little late for TS but there's still time for OSFO.

And wouldn't you know it, The Judge made an appearance for few minutes. He was wearing a yamulke and drinking a Manhattan at the bar. "You made a big mistake not giving your boy a Bar Mitzvah. Even if his dad is a goy, TS is a Jew because of you," The Judge sneered with gobs of self-righteousness. "A Jewish boy should go through this important rite of passage."

Smartmom showed The Judge to the door. "Look Judge, I am very interested in Judaism and I feel very Jewish even if I do say "No" when the Lubavitch girls,in their long, dark skirts, ask me if I'm Jewish," she said in an angry whisper. The Judge was invisible to the other Bat Mitzvah guests. "You know we celebrate Yom Kippur, Hanukah and Passover..." Smartmom didn't know why she was getting so defensive. "...but I find Buddhist meditation to meet my spiritual needs in a way that Judaism never has."

The Judge drove off in the back of a rented limousine. He seemed completely uninterested in Smartmom's spiritual quest.

Unbelievably, the family got lost again on the way home. Hepcat stayed on the Garden State Parkway too long and they found themselves on the way to Asbury Park. It was not exactly where they wanted to spend the night. The F-word spewed continiously from Hepcat's mouth while he figured out how to turn around and get back on the turnpike going in the other direction. Fortunately OSFO was fast asleep and TS was watching "I am Sam" on his laptop.

Finally they got on the Goethals Bridge, which led to the Verrazano and beautiful Brooklyn. After a day twice-lost in New Jersey, they were glad to be home.

* The Judge is a recurring figment of Smartmom's imagination.


At 12:45 AM, Blogger Udge said...

Don't let RFJ hear you say that Asbury Park is not a good place to spend the night in! It is the home town of a certain Bruce S.

Nice piece, on a nice event.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger red eft said...

Lost on the Garden State? Too bad you didn't find a good quarry pit to scream into...

thanks for that, it was funny and deep...

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Savtadotty said...

Isn't home great? Viktor Frankl said, "Home is wherever I am understood." Such a wise man.

Savtadotty was "lost," metaphorically speaking, in New Jersey for 14 years! Your judge let you off easy.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger brooklynfox said...

Yes, what is it about that turnpike. I think it's a New Jersey inside joke. Udge, you are right. No mention of Asbury Park goes unnoticed. SM, you could have stopped at the Stone Pony and asked for directions. Maybe you would have run into Bruce. Dang.

We went to Maplewood to look at houses today. (Just for fun.) We were on the Turnpike too. Or was that the Garden State Parkway?

At 7:27 AM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

Yeah, I know what you mean, the signage in New Jersey leaves a lot to be desired. I had to jump a meridien because I was so confused the other day. My best advice is to stay on this side of the river whenever possible. thanks for the interesting portrait of the Bat Mitzvah. I'm sure seeing the play, BROOKLYN BOY resonated with you last evening.

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