Occasionally I will write about a story from my past “club dating” days that left an indelible mark on my brain. For those not sure of the definition, club dating consists of playing at parties, weddings, bar & bat mitzvahs and any other special occasion that strolling strings are needed. In my true glory days in New York, I would play 300 or more of these a year. I came into contact with incredible situations and people on a regular basis. Some were glitzy and glamorous, others more simple but the common thread was that I was there to bring music into the lives of the attendees. I hope you enjoy reading about them!
THE BAR MITZVAH AND THE BURNING BUSH(ES)
As a violinist that specialized in fancy affairs, I often found myself playing at beautiful and very expensive parties. One such party was a particularly over-the-top Bar Mitzvah. This grand party took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The grand ballroom was taken over by 13 year old kids and their decked out parents. After a solemn ceremony at a local temple, the bar mitzvah boy was whisked off to the Plaza for a kick ass party with his family and around 300 guests. It was a no holds barred type of affair. There were photo booths, party games, giant ice sculptures, food in massive abundance, a large band and a few strolling violins to flit from table to table taking requests from the past-puberty guests. I was one of those violinists. If you have played as many of these affairs as I have, you tend to become jaded by all of the opulence that surrounds you. Each week there were other tremendous parties and celebrations, each trying to top the other. So this was a run of the mill event in my mind. I had made it to the birthday cake candle lighting ceremony where the Bar Mitzvah boy lights 13 candles and dedicates each one to a significant person in his life. The cake in this instance was stunning and HUGE. It had clearly been an artistic endeavor by a gifted baker. It was fashioned into a mountain scene complete with gentle slopes, billowing white snowy frosting gliding down and it was topped with many plastic trees and skiers whipping down through those trees and bushes. It was colorful and very well done. Well, with one small oversight. You see, there were 13 large candles placed conspicuously onto the top of the cake so the bar mitzvah boy can light each one after his dedication. This particular mountainous cake was so high that our resident birthday boy was having a bit of trouble reaching the candles. Remember, at 13 you may be a man but puberty has not reached you yet so you are still pretty short!
He was moving right along and may have been at the 6th or 7th candle when he reached up with his “lighter candle” and stuck it straight into the ski mountain’s forest of plastic trees. WHOOSH! Boy did those trees go up fast. They were burning like someone poured gasoline on them. Then the bushes caught and a few unlucky downhill skiers went up as well. It was spectacular. I wish I had been able to capture the faces of the guests when this happened. It was like a Mel Brooks movie where everyone’s mouth is left wide open in shock, unable to move.
In any case, there were a few of the wait staff there and one, with a pitcher of water used to refill the water glasses on the tables. He came rushing up and tried to extinguish the cake fire, which by then was reaching new heights, shooting a couple of feet up in the air. He threw the remains of his pitcher onto the cake to no avail. This was an all out, unstoppable fire! It seemed like minutes but I am sure it was a matter of seconds when the maître de came rushing over with a fire extinguisher and sprayed the entire cake until the flames dissipated. People were gasping, laughing, crying, the whole gamut of emotions. I suppose the criers were the ones who had paid for the cake. Our bar mitzvah boy was standing there, still holding the lighter candle, staring in complete shock. When the smoke cleared, all that was left of this poor cake were globs of dripping frosting mixed in with toxic melted plastic trees and people. Sort of like a sickly melted painting by Edvard Munch (The Scream).
The cake was deftly whisked away into the kitchen and the party continued on. I believe the band played that Billy Joel song “We didn’t start the fire” to lighten up the mood. The raging fire was probably the highlight of the evening! I am sure that boy has a better bar mitzvah story to tell his kids than any of his friends. We talked about it for a month afterwards and I am positive that the guests did also.
I suppose I should thank that family now, about 20 years later for entertaining me while I was there to entertain them. The night ended with no other mishaps and I went home to prepare for the next event. I guess the lesson is that life goes on even if your birthday cake burns to the ground!