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July 16, 2008


From: Steve Jeffords
To: Jonah Aranoff
Re: Your Bar Mitzvah

Dear Jonah,

My wife is your distant cousin Sally Hollo, and we recently were in attendance at your bar mitzvah at the Long Beach Long Island Yacht Club, and I just wanted to say mazel tov. You are a man now, and it was very inspiring to see you receive the Torah scroll, passed from so many parents, grandparents and step grandparents and whatnot and I was impressed to see how well you read from it and how you came up with the creative bar mitzvah theme, "The History of Asian Cinema." I'm writing, however, because, you probably don't know who I am. That would be understandable, since my wife and I, after driving two hours across New Jersey and Pennsylvania, did not even get to meet you on your special day because you were very very very very busy. Now, I do not want to take away from the pride of your special day, or impugn your good character, but let me get straight to the point: I wrote a check to you for $100 that you have deposited, and you would probably realize, as any reasonable boy now turned into a man would, that this was an exorbitant amount to pay for a person I did not even make eye contact with. Oh yes, I got to watch you dancing with your grandparents and all your young friends and giving your mom and step moms kisses and extolling the bushido code of the samurai. But let me tell you what I was doing at your bar mitzvah. I spent it chatting to a 90-year-old woman who had to ask me my name three times and claimed to have slept with Montgomery Clift. Since you're a man now, Jonah, I think I can be presumptuous enough to tell you that Montgomery Clift was a homosexual, and if there's one thing I hate more than boasting, it's stupid boasting. If that were not enough, I also spent your bar mitzvah getting to know a man who wanted to sell me a variable annuity. Do you know what that is, Jonah? It's like taking all that bar mitzvah money and bashing it to pieces with your samurai sword, that's what it is.

As you know from school, the age of 13 is when you learn to start observing the commandments. I'm pretty sure there's one in there about not accepting a really big present from a total stranger.  If not, then maybe you ought to consider it just common politeness.

Simply put, I'm asking you, man to man, for my $100 back. I know this might seem a bit extreme, but I figured now that you've ripened to an age of manhood, this much would make some sense to you. As your rabbi said at your bar mitzvah, after today you will always be learning how to become a better man and a better Jew. Whoever this better man and better Jew might be, I believe both of them might throw an old soldier a sop and give him the money back that maybe he could spend on his own children, or at least on somebody he shook hands with, or at least to a homeless person who asked for it. I was invited to your celebration third-hand by people who I now believe made a mistake in the invitations, now that I think about it. You should not take this personally or let it detract from the blessings of your glorious day. But becoming a man doesn't mean just reading the haftarah, Jonah. It means using your fucking brain and seeing when somebody has made a grievous mistake in giving you a hundred fucking dollars that you will likely spend on a Nintendo Wii or some other frivolous item.

If you feel confused, I understand. But I also understand that you are a boy of good character, and while the world of adults may sometimes seem strange and bewildering to you, here's a good adult lesson that will teach you all about being a better man and a better Jew: Don't fuck people over, Jonah. Especially don't rip off a guy who was trying to do you a good turn, who was hoping to extend the bonds of family and who instead showed up feeling less popular than your first stepmother and a little more popular than the drunk taxi driver who crashed the party.

I can tell you're a smart boy ... I mean, smart young man ... and by that I mean you know how to write a check and you know how to spell "one hundred" in square cursive. If you don't have an account on your own, then certainly you can find the checkbook of your parents and write out a draft made to my name for redress of my bar mitzvah money. If you like, because it was a special day for you, you can keep $5 or so. Take it as a token of my warm feelings as someone who, though not acquainted with you, has married somewhere into the vicinity of your gene pool, and feel free to spend it on something more commensurate with my actual feelings: a Frosty at Wendy's or a bottle of motor oil. And then you can consider the rest accounted for by the $95 in gas money I spent driving on I-95 and the Long Island Expressway. (I don't think I have to remind you how many people die on that expressway each year. Usually it's because a tie rod flies through the windshield, and if you're lucky, gives you a quick, painless trans-orbital brain puncture. That's if you're lucky. Luck is something you're going to be much more appreciative of in your journey into this horrible thing called manhood.)

I've been doing a little reading, Jonah, about something called Pirkei Avot, which is the ethical maxims of the Mishnaic rabbis. It says that when you're 13 it's the right time to fulfill the commandments of the Torah, 18 is the proper time for marriage and 20 is the right time to earn a living. But I've got a maxim of my own: the time to do the right thing is now, Jonah. Please remit the $100 in question to me at the enclosed address.

And once again, Mazel Tov,
Steven Jeffords, esq.

from Eric Rasmussen's blog: