Daniel Turns Twelve

It’s not that we didn’t know it was coming. In fact we knew about it twelve years in advance, yet somehow there was some apprehension in the air. Some weird stressful feeling that does not usually accompany birthdays. Perhaps it was just me being more attentive and more involved than usual, and as a result sensing more of the subtleties that underlie the orchestrating of a birthday party.

Given that Daniel was born on February 3rd 1991 it was time for him to turn twelve on February 3rd 2003. With that a given all arrangement for the commemoration of the event would obviously have to take place prior to the day of the celebration. There was relatively little going on during the weeks prior to the birthday. I was aware of a low-key search for a site to celebrate at, which resulted in the selection of Durshire 739. The ice rink at Valco Moll came in a close second but the timing was bad: the place can only be rented for parties from 22:00. Knowing what I know now this would not have been a problem, however at the time it seemed a ludicrous idea to expose the children to the nightlife of Sunnyvale, which as we know belongs to the bugs after 21:00.

‘Osmo, why don’t we have the party at home?’. Asked Ima. ‘We’ll have cake and music…’. ‘And…’ I thought to myself, but then settled down assuming the twelve year olds can handle a dance party for a couple of hours. ‘OK’ Osmo agreed and with that completed his contribution to the event. Being the birthday boy that was perfectly normal behavior. We were therefore delighted when Osmo volunteered to print ‘a few’ invitations so that he could hand them to ‘his friends’. He prepared a template stating the date and time and address but without driving directions and printed a few copies… ‘How many copies can you possibly print on our printer?’ It’s going to be a nice cozy evening at home with a few of his friends.

I don’t know exactly how the invitations got handed out and to whom. Based on what followed I can only speculate. One theory is that some of them were posted on bulletin boards at various schools and community centers. Another theory is that they were anonymous and therefore were handed out as free passes from one person to another. All you needed was to make a copy of the invitation and you were eligible to share our residence for an evening.

At first there were no warning signs of the gathering storm. Then there were the one or two phone calls asking for directions which came from Wilma and Steve’s mother who both knew exactly where we live but wanted to make sure that it was indeed at our house. ‘Why would they want to verify such an obvious thing?’. I know responsible American parents who need to fill in a log of their children’s whereabouts days in advance, however this should have been a routine matter which does not require confirmations to these families. Somehow I put this behind me until we met Wilma at the basket ball game a week prior to the party. ‘When Benny told me that Brandon and Tom and Mike and Gonzo (which turned out to be a girl) and Duane and Bill and Matt and Duncan and Phillip and Alon and Jeff and Jennifer and Allison (not the one that eats at Mary’s every Thanksgiving) and Yoav and Hulk and Bulk and Lump and …’ I was no longer following the names right but I did get the message. Benny had most-likely shared some of the realities as to who else had mentioned that they would be coming to the party with his mother. When she heard the list she became concerned that something was terribly wrong with the invitations. ‘Perhaps his invitation got confused with the Homestead-Fremont football game?’.

Sensing some logistical short circuit that might cause the party to lack adequate quantities of essentials such as food, drink and accommodation we decided to ask Osmo how many people he thought were coming to the party. ‘About forty, why?’. ‘Oh, that’s what we thought you invited, just wanted to make sure’.

So a week before the party we received this rude awakening that the perceived number of guests had mushroomed while transitioning from perception to reality. Knowing the facts a week in advance was enough of an early warning. ‘We’ll order double the Pizzas – they’re only five dollars each on Mondays’ Ima said. If the pizzas were not a problem what else would you possibly need for a party?

The phone calls continued throughout the week, at a rate which matched expectations. If we were expecting forty people then five calls a day asking for directions is not out of the ordinary given that driving directions were not included with the invitations. I was quite at peace with everything until the call that came to apologize for having to pickup whoever-his-her-name was early. ‘Why that’s not a problem’, ‘OK so I’ll be there at eight’… ‘Eight was EARLY?’. I could feel my knees sagging and the knots in my stomach as I lay back the ear piece. ‘When is the party supposed to start?’ I asked trying to make it sound as innocent as could be. ‘At five thirty, why?’ ‘Because this lady just called to say that she would have to pick up her child a little early…’. ‘Did she say when she was coming?’ ‘Eight’. ‘That’s fine, the party ends at eight thirty.’.

So there it was. This thing had a time dimension attached to it as well. We would have forty kids for three hours. That’s twelve hundred twelve-year-olds minutes. The irony of it all was that such a large number is simply impossible to comprehend. It’s the ‘penny wise dollar stupid’ problem applied to time and children. We can all grasp what it means to have to entertain three kids for half and our (90 child minutes). However we simply cannot extrapolate the figures to comprehend what it would be like when the number grows to forty kids for three hours. ‘They’ll be fine, all we need is something for them to eat before the pizza’ Ima said.

On Saturday morning things began to sink in. A few critical hours were lost to Tin-tin’s basket ball game and driving him to camp with FOUR of his friends. Perhaps the lord was trying to give us one more chance to come to our senses. Nothing of the sort happened. We dropped the youngsters off without giving their complaints about the ONE HOUR ride a second thought. The lord however would not let us wander that easily. He summoned us to where Osmo and THREE of HIS friends were sitting on the fence watching someone else working. ‘Osmo, how are you?’ we asked cheerfully. ‘Bored, can I come home with you?’. Still it didn’t register. Lunch time came and all was forgotten. We would not be given any more signs as to what was coming. From here on history would take its course and lessons would be learned in retrospect.

‘I have to spend the next two days shopping’ Ima said as we drove back from the camp to civilization. ‘I have some presents to buy for the family in Israel and a few more things for Osmo’s party’. Was I getting soft or was I caught between a rock and a hard place? I think it was the first of the two options – needless to say that I was happy to join Ima through all of this. At the end of the first day the family in Israel was all taken care of and I learned how to say ‘A-ber-c-ro-m-bie and Fitch’, ‘Yeah, that’s it – Abercrombie and Fitch’. There was absolutely zero progress as far as the looming party was concerned.

Looking back we were playing the script of the perfect storm. Running into a twelve hundred twelve year old minute party with nothing but pizza. To complete the irony we went to see the movie ‘adaptation’ that evening. It’s a movie about a screen play writer who wants to tell a story about an orchid and struggles for months for a way to make it movie worthy. In the end a set of ridiculously incredible events provide for a true Hollywood like ending to his efforts, making his story ridiculous but movie worthy. ‘I really liked the way everything adapts to the absurd that movie making enforces’ I said as we were driving home. ‘It was an excellent movie’ Ima agreed. The devil must have died laughing… ‘Pizza for twelve year old for three hours?’ ‘How are you going to make that movie worthy?’.

‘Tomorrow we can start out by climbing our hill and then we can shop for the party.’ ‘There are a few more things that we need to decorate the room’. Hades must have spewed some lava somewhere on the planet when he heard that one. ‘So now balloons were supplementing the pizza?’. We slept well that night…

In the morning we climbed the hill. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. One of those clear chilly mornings without a cloud in the sky and the air is completely clear. Aside from the soothing beauty of the moment it also tends to lower the probability that one would consider the negative aspects of being stuck at home with nothing to do ‘when its such a beautiful DAY outside’… The party would be at night and there would be no place to go. By this time we were far beyond the point of no return.

Ima had things planned out down to the last balloon. A quick stop at Target to pick up makeup for Yeela and a CD (as in ONE) for Osmo ‘so there will be music at his party’. That seemed reasonable. ‘In the age of the boom-box and proliferation of CD’s he probably has all the music he needs’. From Target to ‘Deedums’ (Because Target opens before Deedums) to pick up a few things, a quickie to the Price Club for cake and a ‘few more things for Israel’ and back home to decorate the room for the party…

By 15:00 we were done. Balloons were hanging down from the ceiling and the walls all around the family room. A plastic sheet of moons and stars stretched across the ceiling, and colored stripes of paper were strung across the dining room. The traditional ‘Happy Birthday’ banner was strung along the walls and the cake was in the refrigerator. ‘What will they drink?’ I asked quite content with myself that this was our only remaining problem. ‘I’ll pick up some bottles at Safeway, nothing to worry about’ said captain Ahab.

Somewhere in all of this I think I was counting on two would be fantasies that put my worries to rest. I somehow recalled that when we were twelve we took care of our own parties and everything was fine provided that there was a house, a record player and records. Given that they had all this in the modern day and age versions I felt that we had taken care of the essentials. ‘Worst case, we always have Suma’s ingenuity to come up with something to entertain the gang’. ‘Not only a plan, but a backup plan as well’. Boy, was I proud of us.

Suma, Osmo and Tin-tin came back from camp that evening. I was glad to hear that the boys has a good time, at least for the most part. When I tried to talk to Suma I found it difficult to hear her speak. The house was relatively quite and my good ear was close to her so something else was wrong. SUMA HAD NO VOICE!!! If anyone had any doubts about what would happen to the fishing boat when their fax failed to receive the warning about the storm of the century, here it was in our version: the voice that could save the party was gone. But why would we need to save the party?

On Monday afternoon I could tell that Mother was getting a little nervous when she asked me to come home an hour before the party. Getting to be old and soft I was happy to leave work early and head back to make sure that everything was ready for our eldest son’s twelfth birthday party.

The first three people arrived almost on time. The look on Tin-tin’s face indicated that something was wrong. The size of the people was larger than Osmo’s. The amount of facial hair indicated that these people-boys were larger because they were significantly older than Osmo as well. How much older was quite irrelevant – the fact was that this size and age was beyond the operational envelope that we had set up to handle. In layman’s terms the first thirty foot wave had hit our fishing boat. There was no turning back now – we had to deal with events as they unraveled. ‘This isn’t the first humongous gathering of people at our house, we can handle this’.

Looking out the window I could see Tom Brittle on the other side of the street with someone larger than he was. They were standing opposite the house apparently waiting for more people to arrive. As Tin-tin stared in horror at the gathering of bigger and bigger people, I noticed that most of the parents were dropping the kids of and scurrying off without coming in to say hello. ‘Funny, normally they come and introduce themselves’ I thought to myself. I was still drained from bonding with the Hebrew Day School staff, so I didn’t mind not having to go thorough the ‘glad to meet you’ routine over and over again. My joy turned to apprehension when one of the parents did walk up to the door. It was an older lady who used walking sticks to help her along. ‘You are very brave’ was the only thing she said to me when she turned around and walked back to her car, the gathering kids letting her through. Seeing how she looked I dared not think whether she had anything concrete to convey other than the deep sadness in her eyes as she scanned the living room as though for the first and last time…

The lady seemed to fade into the drive way as a group of what would biologically qualify as girls stormed in the door. Tin-tin turned from worried to desperate. You didn’t need to be a four-child parent to understand what had just walked in the door. These were not the girls that you see in the Tsofim, not even the worst of them. These were hardcore street material and they were after our son and anything that resembled him.

The flow of hoodlums continued for thirty minutes. Every now and then a short clean young kid whom we know would walk in with a sheepish smile, but there were so few of them. Even Brandon looked like a darling young man as he galumphed through the door waiving his body as he went. By six o’clock the magnitude of what we had gotten into was well upon us. Ima did the only sensible thing to do and that was spend the next fifteen minutes trying to call Yeela and have her talk to Osmo who was nothing more than an innocent bystander in his own party.

From my perch next to Ilana’s statue-of-liberty wannabe I could see droves of people wandering from Osmo’s room and back to living room and the yard as though waiting for something to happen. I could tell that there was some up-beat music playing in the background but it seemed to have no affect on the behavior of the people. Every now and then I could see one of them stop, listen, move a limb in a manner that attempted to match the rhythm of the music and then move on. It turns out that music in-and-of itself does nothing for youngsters these days. It has to either have to come out of the mouth of a live singers with some leather upholstery providing minimal cover to their bodies, or be generated by large electronic equipment controlled by an individual known as a DJ. The music itself is totally irrelevant if the setting for a what appears like a religious sacrifice is not right.

Thinking back I believe I was partially surprised but not really disturbed by the fact that they were not really doing anything other than wondering through the house forming clans and dispersing them as their hormones directed them to seek other relationships. Suma was amused, Tin-tin was horrified, Ima was on the phone, Tweety was on the floor in the living room not minding a thing and I was on my perch watching time go by.

Apparently Ima was not completely disconnected when talking to Yeela. ‘We need the pizza and movies from Block Buster’ Ima said hanging up the phone. To my amazement I felt surprise but none of my uncooperative resistance to please nonconstructive young people. It was only six fifteen and with so much time left what could we possible gain by bringing the pizza so early? The movies somehow didn’t seem as if they would do anything to calm the moving herds. Perhaps they would help the kids we knew more closely, but all the new comers would have probably fallen asleep in an ‘R’ rated movie let alone the ‘PG-13s’ which we would have to bring. However experience taught me that at times like these it was best to focus on the task at hand. Perhaps with movies we could contain twenty of them and hope that the others would find something to do with themselves.

‘Get nine pizzas and three movies’. I did not feel the slightest inclination to rebel against these seemingly ludicrous numbers. ‘What the hell’ I thought to myself, ‘bigger problems need bigger hammers’. Being the experienced shopper that I am I double checked the price of the pizzas and wrote out a thirty two dollar check for nine five dollar pizzas… The poor fool at Little Caesar’s has no one to help him with the math, all of his friends were at our place. Block Buster was even easier – I picked a movie with Martin and De-Vito, another with Eddy Murphy and De-Nero and one with De-girl who want to play basket ball in the NBA. I paid our usual late charge for some movie which we never saw and drove home. On the way I stopped at Gadi’s to pick up a digital camera so that someone would believe us that all this ever happened.

Ima was waiting for me at the door as I walked up the driveway balancing nine pizza boxes. I could tell she has been counting the minutes waiting for my return and not out of pure love. When I set the pizzas down on the living room table some red headed org detached himself from one of the passing packs and walked towards the pizzas. ‘THAT’S A LOT OF PIZZAS’ he said in his gentle voice. For a minute I contemplated whether it was worth while trying to see if he could count to nine, but decided against it. I would later find out that his name was ‘B’ which most likely was a simplification of a birth-given name and as such did not say much for counting abilities.

B’s bellow caused the herds to stop and sniff. The scent of the pizzas had caught their attention at a time when they normally begin the hunt… Before my unbelieving eyes Ima grabbed two pizzas and a pair of scissors to defend herself and took the pizzas to the dining room table past the sniffing flocks. ‘The things that a mother would do to defend her young’ I thought to myself. Ima was risking herself to move B away from Tintin.

‘The camera’ I told myself, ‘turn on the camera’. ‘If these kids are what I think they are they know the implications of being caught on film’. Torn between the danger of being rushed by the mob before I could turn the camera on and not willing to let Ima walk with fish bait into the sharks’ pool I quickly turned the camera on and started taking pictures with the flask blinking wildly. It worked! They slowly turned away from the camera to the dining room table and started tearing at the pizza. Ima would grab two pizzas at a time and I would blind them with the camera as Ima would sneak between them  and place the pizzas amongst them. I was somewhat relieved to see little guys like Benny and Yoav sitting in dark corners munching happily at scraps they had managed to grab for themselves. TinTin was also mingling and munching somehow sensing that well fed apes did not pose any significant danger to the likes of him. Still one could tell that he would not let his guard down.

Seeing that the feeding frenzy would buy us too little time, and knowing that her voice was gone Suma called for reinforcements. Within fifteen minutes Nir and Omer showed up. I was relieved to see guys their size whom I knew could read and write and were not there to relieve themselves of any primordial physical desires. Suma, Nir and Omer calmly stared at what seemed to be a Martian landscape dotted with beings wondering in the eerie lights of the disco lamp and stated that a game of RAPE was all that was needed to adapt the evening to the needs to the participants and turn it into a memorable smashing success.

For those of us who grew up in a completely different era the very notion of using the term ‘rape’ in the context of a game was quite revolting. The name being as bad as it was, seeing the enthused reaction of the mob was all the more troubling. However the feeling that we had somehow wore the brunt of the storm was beginning to settle in. After all we had controlled them through their bonding, boredom, wandering and feeding. We were almost two hours into the frenzy without anything major happening, not even a pregnancy. Seeing this renewed our confidence and we were willing to take on new challenges.

The game of rape is a simple form of forcing a boy upon a girl or visa versa with the intent of having them kiss each other or avoid kissing each other. This all happens in the center of a circle. One representative of a sex in the middle of the circle and two representatives, one from each sex have to either kiss or prevent from kissing the one in the center of the circle. In order to determine who the two that go after the one in the center are the organizer calls their names. It was then that I learned that the boys were called after the letters of the alphabet (we already met B) and the girls had numbers. ‘That’s a good way to avoid witnesses being able to recite names’ I thought to myself. All of a sudden there was a whole new meaning to the term ‘K8’. From now on it means that the boy called ‘K’ and the girl called ‘8’ have to pounce on each other and the person in the middle of the circle to kiss someone or not.

Osmo handled himself quite well during the game. Being as big as he is he actually managed to compete successfully with the girls… Tintin hung around the coliseum for one or two rounds just to get the feel of the hyena pack and then crawled back to the living room. Brandon was ecstatic. Yoav had a blast. Benny was somewhat timid and Alon was flat out horrified. Ima sat on a chair next to the dining room table and couldn’t stop laughing. I was there with the camera and flash in case someone’s testosterone got the best of them. Nir and Omer took turns at five minute shifts reading from a random list of ciphers activating pairs of gladiators as they did. Suma was there to maintain a less macho setting which was important to keep things from boiling over.

The game lasted for over an hour! I think ‘J’ didn’t get to go and neither did ‘3’ but I really didn’t care. I was nearing eight thirty and the last thing I needed was for some parent to wonder in and see what was going on.  The movies were not an option but we still had the cake. Ima set it on the table and called the mobs to light the candles. Surprisingly there are traditions which even they respect. They gathered quietly around the table. Someone lit the candles with their lighters… Osmo blew them out and every one sang happy birthday as the first parents started walking in. I could tell from their looks that they could not believe their eyes. Somehow they were expecting what they had just missed and seeing what they had not expected.

By NINE THIRTY the last of the Mohicans has departed, even Vashti went home and by ten thirty the house was back in order. Ima still took a few hours to explain to Osmo that these girls were not right for him. Through the stupor of sleep I think it was all over by midnight.

What a lovely party it was. Happy birthday Osmo and many happy returns.

Someone up there had their last laugh and we were humbled by the experience.