Like most kids in their Bar Mitzvah year, I was more interested in planning My Super Sweet 13 than practicing my Haftorah. How else can a boy from Long Island show he’s a man than by acting like a teenage girl? I imagined sequined dancers and a ten-piece band. I obsessed over the mix of food stations for the cocktail hour. We needed a carving station! Beef-and-broccoli! Pigs-in-a-blanket! (With Kosher pigs.) My theme was TELEVISION, which turned out to be prophetic: Twenty-five years later (gulp) I’d move to Hollywood to write for TV.
I couldn’t envision that future in 1990, seated at the Star Trek: The Next Generation table wearing lace-up shoes from Capezio. I put the girls from sleepaway camp at the Beverly Hills, 90210 table. And everyone left with a gift—a t-shirt that read “Live From New York, It’s Mickey’s Bar Mitzvah.” My dad unknowingly did his part to honor the theme. When the adults lifted him up in the chair, he raised one hand in the air and did Arsenio Hall’s signature whoop whoop whoop. If the whole thing felt like a spectacle, that’s because it was. My parents supplied giant foam fingers like you’d get at a Knicks game. During a spirited game of Limbo, my friend Ryan tore off every foam finger except for the middle one, and gleefully flipped the cameraman the bird. Whoop whoop whoop.
There was something like 50 kids at this luncheon and every one of their names was printed on that t-shirt. I have spoken to exactly two of these people in the last decade (including my brother). When I think about it, there was nothing all that spiritual about my Bar Mitzvah day. Though I remember cutting my finger slicing a bagel that morning, and thinking that was God’s way of telling me how important this transition to adulthood was. I’m not even sure I had fun that day (despite my smile in this photo). When I look at this image I wonder: Why did I ever want such an elaborate celebration of my puberty anyway? I guess because I was 13 and overweight and because I wanted to feel the love. I wanted to finally win at Coke & Pepsi (which is the actual birthright of every Bar Mitzvah boy).
If I could do it all over again, I can’t say I’d skip the pint-sized wedding, where I entered the room to C+C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now.” But I wish I’d have embraced it more. I wish I’d have joined my dad in waving my arm in the air like I just don’t care. I wish I’d have practiced the silly poems he wrote for the candle lighting ceremony instead of reading them cold, wondering what the word mishpucha meant. I would have talked to my mishpucha (it means family!) who came in from Baltimore to celebrate this rite of passage. I would have danced with the old people and learned what all real men know: That this pain? This too shall pass. I would have told myself, You won’t always feel so small.
Mickey Rapkin is a journalist and screenwriter living in Los Angeles.