Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Matzah Matter With You?

I'm organizing a very exciting Passover event at Mo Pitkins on April 13 (details to follow, of course), where myself, along with some of New York's best comics, will lead an audience through the second night of Seder using funny and sing-songy tactics. And that's all I'll say about that at the moment.

But in the process of writing and organizing this show, I was reminded of a Passover story too good not to share.

Me at six at my bro's Bar Mitzvah. Scary, aroused cartoon clown courtesy of my worst fucking nightmare.

I was about six years old, living and learning in Miami Beach, Fl. Six was a very good age for me: I was still relatively tiny (about the size of an average 9 year old), but the awkwardness of puberty and the early 90's, aka Areola-town, U.S.A. and side-sprayed bangs, had yet to set in. So I was a tall, half-Chinese looking little flat-chested lass with shiny, shiny unsprayed bangs. (It's important for me that you understand how scarring my awkward years were, even though my appearance has nothing to do with this story.)

That year, instead of having Seder in the house, we decided to head over to the formerly posh Doral Hotel on Miami Beach for Seder. These days, I'm not even sure if the Doral exists. Most of the old hotels on the strip have been bulldozed to make room for hundreds of thousands of extremely wealthy South Americans. But in the late 80's, the Doral was fairly fance, so my fam threw on some respectful duds and headed South.

It was quite the affair. About 30 big round tables, a big stage where the Rabbi did his thing, a 3-story high ceiling with wall to wall windows facing the bay. Before the Seder began, people were milling about, chatting with one another, while my parents, brother and I sat patiently at the table waiting.

While the audience was still in a commotion getting their seats, my eagle-eyed mother spotted a very sacred, spiritual and secretive act taking place: The hiding of the Afikomen. The afikomen is a piece of matzah which is hidden somewhere in the immediate surroundings, which at the end of the meal, children must hunt for. Once found, it's the last thing to be eaten at the Seder. Kind of like easter eggs, except we Jews hunt for a broken piece of dry cracker. The child that finds said dry cracker then wins a prize, usually money. (Please do not remind me about the Amy Grant tape my parents still owe me.)

What the holiday is all about.

So there's the Rabbi, looking around suspiciously, as he takes the afikomen wrapped in a cloth napkin and HIDES it in a plant near the stage. This is like reading the end of the Da Vinci Code before you even start the book. WE KNEW WHERE THE AFIKOMEN WAS!

A fairly uncreative hiding place: In front of the cat.

Now, any normal person witnessing this would think "Great! We won!! We're definitely winning the prize!" But because my parents are certifiably fucking out of their minds, they had another idea.

"Michelle", my mother whispered, the hot Manischevitz breath burning my ears, "come closer. When the Rabbi tells the kids to find the Afikomen, I want you to go to the plant, get it, but don't say anything!! Come back to the table with it, and just keep it to yourself, ok?"

Did I have a choice? I was 6, so the answer was no. At this point in my life I was simply a pawn, used for various pranks my parents wished to pull.

You decide: A special novelty cloth to wrap the Afikomen in? Or a desperate note left behind by an unfortunate piece of matzah that has been taken prisoner in the Middle East? Or a special novelty cloth given to a child by a cartoon matzah that strongly resembles an unleavened child molester?

Afikomen time! I was always very sly, even though I was overgrown, and managed to pluck the wrapped matzah out of the plant and non-chalantly return to my seat without anyone noticing. For the next 20 or so minutes, my family PEED LAUGHING as we watched about 50 little kids looking for an afikomen that didn't exist. These kids were CRAY CRAY. They wouldn't give up! Under the tables, shaking the curtains, combing through the Rabbi's beard... all the while, the Afikomen was just chillaxing in my lap.

After a while, the Rabbi grew concerned. He peered over at the plant, and saw that the Afikomen was indeed missing. Missing!! He stroked his beard and glanced around nervously. Slyly he side-stepped his way over to some more matzah, and thinking no one was watching, wrapped another broken piece in a napkin and walked over to the plant. Once again, he nestled it in its branches, and once again, within about a minute, I strode over and yanked it out.

But we had had our fun. The game was over. So, holding one blessed piece of matzah, and one dummy Afikomen, I ran to the stage. "I foooound theeem!" I sang loudly.

The relief on this Rabbi's face was indescribable. "We have a winner!" All the kids "awwwed". I ran up the steps to the stage where I was presented with my gift: A hardcover copy of some book called "The Gang of Four", which I never ended up reading.

Although, surely, if my copy had had this hilarious cover, I would have polished it off in one long, unsuccessful Pesach bathroom break. (No fiber, people.) Who knew it was about birds attacking small children!?

This story, to me, is the definition of Passover in the Collins family: Acting like complete dumbasses. We used to call it "Passover with the Bundies", referring to the sit-com "Married with Children", and not serial killer "Ted Bundy". Although, really, either one is apt.

Worst Afikomen Prize Ever? A jumbo can of "Mrs. Adler's Gefilte Fish." Seriously, it sounds like a euphemism for "Grandparent Sex."

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