There are many moments of my life that I would like to forget. Sixth grade: I singed off my eyebrows with at-home wax. My first school dance: I wore white pants and glow in the dark star-patterned underwear from Limited Too and got kicked out for being dressed inappropriately when the black lights ignited my undergarments. The camping trip to Joshua Tree when I was eight: I peed my pants and was too proud to admit it and spent the day in wet clothes, saying I fell into a creek.
My Bat Mitzvah should be one of those days. The theme of my big party was “Got Sarah?” in the spirit of those popular “Got Milk?” Ads. Horrible, I know, but I’m not from Northern New Jersey; my Bat Mitzvah was one of three that everyone in the Orange County area was aware of, including myself. When we were planning, I didn’t have anything to compare to besides what I’d seen in “The Wedding Singer.”
The invitations and decorations were black and white and the centerpieces were laminated “Got Milk?” ads featuring my favorite celebrities. As some sort of visitor attraction we had gathered various life-size cardboard cutouts of celebrities (Among them Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Mini-Me) in one corner of the banquet hall. I had painted milk mustaches on each of the cutouts, and guests could get their picture taken with the white-lipped stars.
Upon entering the reception, guests could sign a giant poster-size photo depicting me with my own milk mustache wearing my mother’s cow-print jacket, sitting on a stool holding a tall glass of milk. “Got Sarah?” was printed below. That has to be the most embarrassing picture that anyone has ever captured of me, and if I ever see it again I might die, or at least never consume dairy again.
I don’t remember the party being very fun, and I remember having some strange hate geared toward everyone who was having a good time. The stress of performing for an audience as a one-woman show broke me down and I cried in the middle of my Haftorah. I remember the ceremony as being an important part of my life and something that I worked for, but the party is still something I try to wrap my head around.
One thing is for sure; nothing about that party was lavish or over the top. I don’t even remember there being any food or drink. The DJ was 45 years old and I’m pretty sure my dad was just doing him a favor. I barely remember the day, so I’m glad my parents didn’t get me a giant cake with a waterslide attached to it, which I do remember sketching out for possible blueprints.
Since that day, I would much rather attend celebrations like that than throw them. And I’ve attended a lot. Some I haven’t even been invited to.
On Saturday, my Carnival-themed bar was the site for Sydney Lebowitz’s Bat Mitzvah. For the first time, I was on the other side of the coveted “open bar” that no party is fun without. I was treated like shit by a bunch of elite Westchester Jews who threatened to get my manager when the nine bottles of Grey Goose ran out. I overheard gossip I wasn’t supposed to and caught multiple tweens making out in dark corners. But the worst part was that I experienced true torture: there were three different chocolate fountains and a giant palm tree with marshmallows and fruit stuck to it with those awesome sword toothpicks, none of which I could have.
And by the way, in the five hour long party, only one (1) person tipped us. His name was Lamar and I do not think he was Jewish.
The party began with sushi hors d’oeuvres prepared by two sushi chefs that were killing the fish on the spot. Sydney, dressed in a skintight pink sequined mini dress, immediately kicked off the night with a candle lighting ceremony. I thought it was funny that one candle was devoted to the family she celebrates Christmas with. The sushi was taken away, and another catering company began to set up a gigantic Bacchanal feast for the main course.
Meanwhile, normal Bat Mitzvah activities ensued. The DJ – who had a track of a deep voiced man saying “INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED DJ DEATHBEAT” that he played over the music sometimes – had a habit of singing some of the lyrics of a song into the microphone as the song was playing. “Yeah, yeah, uh, I wanna make love in this club, hey! Hey! In this club, hey!” or “Where my single ladiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiies??”
The favors that were given out on the dance floor got significantly weirder throughout the night. At first I saw light up glasses and feather boas, but later I saw a grandma walking around with a gigantic, bedazzled ten-gallon cowboy hat. It seemed to be weighing her down, like someone put it on her as a ball and chain. As people were leaving they were all wearing these skull caps that were designed so they looked like you ripped open a chicken and put it on your head. Whatever happened to glow sticks?
Perhaps it was the 90s, but alcohol was never on my radar when I was 13. These kids seemed to be determined to get trashed. One babyfaced boy in a blue clip-on tie approached me and asked for “a whiskey.” When he asked me he was looking in a different direction, trying to hide the acne cluster on his chin. I asked for his ID and he gave me a card that said he was born in 1981. The photo was of a fat bald guy with a huge neck. I literally laughed in his face.
This boy lurked around the bar for a good hour and a half trying to get “a whiskey.” There were three other bartenders and each of them was equally amused when he used the ID on them. Finally he convinced the grandma with the heavy cowboy hat to get him a shot of Jeagermeister. Perhaps he set her free after that.
A group of girls in dresses that, if sewn together, would fit my left leg approached the bar. One of them asked, “Can we have some non-virgin pina coladas?” I smiled at her and said, “Sorry, sweetie (apparently as a reaction to being treated like shit I’ve started calling people “sweetie” now).” This little girl looks at me with her BonneBell smeared lips and blue eyeliner lined eyes and says, “Why not? We’re not virgins.”
I have no generalizations to make on America’s tweens, I have no judgments to make on Westchester Jews. I just hope to God these girls were lying. The worst part was that one of their moms came up to me soon after and asked if they could have “just a little bit of vodka.” Gross.
At the end of the night, I saw Sydney break down and throw a tantrum to her mom (A blonde in a red dress with enormous ruffled sleeves. She missed the Carnival theme memo and went with Carmen Miranda to be safe, I guess). Sydney complained that people were being mean to her and she didn’t like any of the food. I felt her pain. Here she was, celebrating her new womanhood, and everyone else was using it as an excuse to get wasted and stuff their faces. Why weren’t they paying more attention to HER?
It freaked me out that Sydney was born in 1996, but when she approached the bar for a club soda with lime I found it necessary to say something to her that might make her feel better. “Shalom.” I said. “Congratulations on never having to go to Hebrew school again.” Sydney looked back at me with cold eyes that led me to believe that she didn’t realize I was just a fellow Jew saying hey. She said, “I think you meant to say ‘Mazel Tov,’ but whatever.”
Maybe I had a really stupid, deflated theme for my Bat Mitzvah and maybe I was hideous as the day is long, but perhaps I need to do a little more embracing of my awkward years. I envied Sydney for the growth process that lay ahead of her; the hatred of the pictures, the awkward morning-after brunch with family, the feeling of loss after she ceases to go to Hebrew school. But mostly, I envy that she’s 13 and has ten years before she finds herself working at a kitschy bar while she looks for something more full time. She’ll probably have awful memories of Saturday, but I’m old enough to know to learn from my mistakes, and I am never working another party that doesn’t let the hired help feed on the chocolate fountain.