Despite having dreaded going to a family bar mitzvah in St. Louis, I had a wonderful time and learned an important lesson. After the synagogue, the reception was to be held in Dave and Buster’s, a place with acres of electronic games, games of chance disguised as skill, flashing lights, loud noises, chintzy prizes and mediocre food.
We had been to the older son’s bar mitzvah there and I simply did not enjoy it. Naturally, to keep peace in the family, I said what everyone else said: “It was great.” But when this invitation arrived, I was not happy.
At the reception, after we got cards entitling us to games, I entered the game room acting enthusiastic. Another cousin my age, Kenny, was on the motorcycle where you zoom through virtual city streets, banking the bike during turns and dodging the various accidents. And he was enjoying it! He then challenged me to compete. Even though I didn’t want to, I accepted. Damned if I didn’t get into it in no time flat. We both laughed as we continued to race. I even stayed after he went on to other games. Later, he found me and challenged me to a tank-gunner game. You know, enemies come from all angles and we have to kill them before they obliterate us. Since I was a pretty good tank gunner on an M-48 in the army, I couldn’t resist. He and the enemy toasted me, but I had a lot of laughs.
Afterward, it was apparent why I enjoyed D&B this time and not before—it was my attitude. The games were the same, the noise and the prizes were the same, but I was receptive to having fun this time. Having my nose in the air the first time had prevented me from the fun. Enjoyment is dependent upon attitude—what liberty it is to have a major role in determining our own fun!
We all know (or are) snobs—people who think they are above certain activities—like I was at D&B. I don’t like hip-hop music. That is my loss, because the more things I enjoy, the better my quality of life. If I could enjoy hip-hop it would extend my list of pleasures. I know people who claim with pride that they don’t like musicals. That is their loss. I just loved Porgy and Bess, Anything Goes, etc. The people who can’t enjoy musicals lose that source of pleasure.
I loved watching the kids excitedly running from game to game. They collected yards of tickets from winning and exchanged them for cheap prizes. The cynical part of me noticed the brilliant marketing: The yards of tickets made each kid feel like a winner, and the tickets were in units of two, making it seem like an even bigger win, but the prizes weren’t much better than pencils. However, if I allowed the cynical part of me to prevail, I wouldn’t enjoy myself. Kids did not create an attitudinal barrier between themselves and fun. They just jumped in and enjoyed.
We adults have to find that kid inside us. Many of our elite pleasures, though good, may have higher ratings simply because they are expensive. I loved eating at Per Se, yet I couldn’t help but compare that exalted food (and more exalted bill) with the pleasures of a peanut better and jelly sandwich (especially with crunchy peanut butter).
For many, the great barrier between us and enjoyment is…us. When I put my nose back in joint, I learned that I could laugh and have fun because I changed my attitude and became receptive to the available pleasures—right in front of my nose.