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CHAMPAGNE
BY JAY WEXLER

From the time I was seven until I turned thirteen, my parents made me go to Hebrew School. There was nothing I hated more than going to Hebrew School. At the time, I would say to my parents: "I hate Hebrew School. Hebrew School sucks." Then they would say: "You may not like it now, but when you are older, you will appreciate what you learned, and you will be glad you went to Hebrew School. And also watch your language." Now, of course, I am "older," but I donít appreciate what I learned, and I am still not glad I went to fucking Hebrew School. 

There were two temples in town: the "reform" temple and our "conservative" temple. What this meant theologically I had no idea and still donít. But I did know that the reform kids only had to go to Hebrew School once a week while we had to go three times a week. For this reason, I hated reform Jewish children but also wanted to be one.

Every boy had to wear a yarmulke on his head during Hebrew School. Except for a few "religious" kids who brought their own personal yarmulkes from home, everyone got his yarmulke de jour from the communal "yarmulke box" at the entrance of the temple. Occasionally there would be an embroidered yarmulke or some other special yarmulke of some kind in there, left over from a bar mitzvah or something, but most of the yarmulkes were just flimsy black scraps of some sort of artificial fiber. Also, maybe five hundred different boys wore each yarmulke every year. Because the boys who wore the yarmulkes did not necessarily wash themselves everyday, over time the yarmulkes became quite greasy. Thinking back now on the experience of reaching into that putrid smelling yarmulke box three times a week to get a greasy scrap of flimsy artificial fiber to put on my head, I wish that I had asphyxiated on a marble and died as a toddler.

I got in a lot of trouble at Hebrew School because I said the wrong things. Once we were studying the holiday of Sukkot, and I made fun of both the etrog and the lulav. The principal called my mother. Another time I asked why my Christian friends got to celebrate fun holidays featuring jolly fat men and cheery egg-toting bunnies while our repeated "celebrations" of various narrow escapes from complete extermination were marked by gloomy chanting, painful fasting, and other excruciating forms of psychic self-flagellation. This got me another phone call home. And then there was the whole "Maybe the PLO Isnít So Bad After All" incident, which was really the last straw, from the templeís perspective.

After that, the Hebrew School teachers would just throw me out of class and make me sit in the library whenever I said something inappropriate. This wasnít so bad though, because it put me right in the path of the lovely Galia Greenberg when she was excused, as she always was, at least once a class, to hit the toilets.

Galia Greenberg was the prettiest girl in my entire town. Therefore, I had no chance with her. Of course, I did not know this at first. Oh, I suppose I could have figured it out. I had a mirror, after all, and so I knew I what I looked like. I had skinny legs, a pimply face, a ludicrous butthead mullet style hairdo, and chubby breasts that my quasi-pedophiliac pediatrician said would go away after puberty but never really did. Oh, what a treat I was! What a delight for the eyes!

Luckily, however, my hideousness did not stand in the way of me and Galia becoming friends. Whenever she would walk by, we would chat about what was going on in class, what new anti-Arab polemic the teacher had embarked upon, who was passing notes to whom, whether the dyslexic Samuel Finkelbaum had confused the gimel with the dalet again, and other things of the sort. It was a pleasant sort of relationship, one I came to cherish as the year passed by and fall turned mournfully into winter. But I was twelve years old, and so I had more things on my mind than a mere comfortable friendship with agreeable conversation. I wanted to take things to another level. My goal? French kiss Galia Greenberg by Tu Bishvat. 

I had a plan, and it centered around Mark Friedmanís bar mitzvah party that was being held in mid-February in the basement of the local Ground Round restaurant. Friedman was a short piano whiz kid with a crooked nose who had been my friend since we were three. Earlier in the year we had gotten into a little playground fracas precipitated by my insistence on being referred to as "J.R. Ewing," my childhood hero. Friedman thought this was obnoxious and arrogant. After all, he figured, who was I, a twelve year old Jewish weakling from Bostonís North Shore, to adopt the identity of a ruthless middle-aged Texan oil tycoon? A fair enough point, I suppose. In any event, even though I ultimately won the brouhaha by throwing an open carton of strawberry yogurt in his face, Friedman was a sport about the whole thing and didnít scratch me from his invite list. And so the plan lived on.

Friedmanís actual bar mitzvah ceremony went smoothly and without incident. It differed from my own bar mitzvah a month later in several respects. For example, nobody forgot any Hebrew words or neglected to tie his shoes. The Rabbi didnít mutter any Yiddish curse words under his breath or shove the bar mitzvah boy following completion of his highly inadequately performed haftorah. No relatives showed up drunk to the Saturday morning service. 

Services at our conservative temple were always dull, but at least with the bar mitzvah events, one could take pleasure in how stupid the Christian boys looked wearing their unfamiliar yarmulkes.

Soon, the services were over, day turned to night, and my friends and I found ourselves in the decorated basement of the local Ground Round. This was my big chance. In my little town on the North Shore of Boston in the early eighties, the name of the game was "Champagne." Sometime near the end of the party, the D.J. would play a few slow songs during which he would periodically turn down the lights and say the word "Champagne." This signaled to the dancers that they were to stop the leisurely twirling that passed for "dancing" during those days and engage instead in the extended bout of energetic tongue fencing that we all liked to call "kissing" back then. My plan, of course, was simple. All I had to do was make sure I was dancing with Galia Greenberg during the Champagne dance, and my goal of pre-Tu Bishvat French kissing the prettiest girl in town would be fulfilled.

Of course, things did not go quite as planned. I danced with Galia several times during the party, including several slow, close, body-crunching, sweet-perfume-deep-in-the-nose dances, but when the D.J. put on Foreignerís "Iíve Been Waiting For a Girl Like You" and called the long awaited "Champagne," my pleading look into Galiaís chocolaty brown, long lash framed eyes was met with a cool stare and an unambiguous "no." I was devastated and humiliated. My friends egged me on, but all I could do was shrug my shoulders and finish out the dance, sans any semblance of French kissing.

If that wasnít bad enough, the very next dance Galia "Champagne"d like there was no tomorrow with my best friend Matt Stephenson, who was stronger, more athletic, richer, smarter, and generally better at everything in the world than I was. It was like a kick in the stomach, particularly because I knew he didnít even like Galia and was only doing it so he could say that he had French kissed a Jew. 

About ten years later, I ran into Matt at a bar in downtown Boston. I brought up the "Champagne" incident, and although he said he didnít remember kissing Galia that night, he did mention that once in college he had "boned" her at a frat party. 

[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/champagne.html

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