Two Old Jews at the Christian Gala

Sometimes age is socially useful.

We were replacement attendees at a Christian Gala recently. Our host had a couple drop out at the last minute and asked us to come. Heck, I thought. I’ve never been to a gala of this scale. We love our hosts, Mr. X and Miss Y, and don’t get to see them enough. What an interesting evening it was going to be!

There were 400 people, 50 tables of 8. Our table came at a cost of $12,000. It was next to the guest of honor’s table, up front by the stage set up for the speeches and videos. The cause of the evening was the building out of a Christian high school that might complement the Christian elementary/middle school where children or grandchildren of the attendees study. This being the South, there were many gorgeous women in beautiful, classy ball gowns. A smattering of us wore cocktail dresses instead of gowns.

Now, I can’t wear high heels anymore or I tend to tip over. I thought about trying and took a few pair of elegantly heeled shoes out of the closet, but I expected a lot of standing around (guests of the VIP tables got a photo with the keynote speaker, ex-quarterback and outspoken Christian, Tim Tebow. There’d be a wait in line). I settled on some sparkly low heels. My dress was navy blue and when I put on a pair of hose I had hanging around, they looked pretty good but it’s been years since I’d worn stockings and I found them scratchy. So I took ’em off and wore black cotton tights instead. Cardinal rule for old folks: comfort first.

I looked like a navy-blue popsicle sticking out of a black stick. I had intended to go hatless. This has significance because I haven’t gone out hatless since my last squamous cell scalp surgery which left me with a discernible scar and small dent. All my friends tell me it’s not so bad, it doesn’t really show, and that night, I thought I might have the confidence to go bareheaded. But in the end, I decided I’d look less like a popsicle if I added this black velvet hat I have. When I get the tilt right, it resembles Cesare Borgia’s hat in that famous portrait by Altobello Meloni where his hands look tiny. (No wonder he needed a strangler in his employ – hands like that would never get the job done.) I put it on. Added an assortment of silver and diamond jewelry because that’s what old ladies do. Supplement.

Stephen took a photo of me before we left. I was going to post it but no. It’s horrendous. I looked like a short, dumpy troll. In a hat.

Now, aging is also about embracing the you you’ve got rather than the you you used to be. I decided here I am, this is the Mary Glickman they’re getting, and if I look odd, I can always play the eccentric author. It makes a pretty good cover.

The Gala was black tie optional and rather than his tux, Stephen wore a hand stitched black three piece suit, a crisp white dress shirt, and a speckled white against black silk tie. He looked fabulous.

Our host, Mr. X, is a fashionista. A very conscious dresser. He looked even more fabulous than Stephen in a London suit (not Saville Row but delicious) a patterned grey and white shirt, and the most sleek bowtie I’ve ever seen with bands of faded colors. Even his shoes tied in. They had a narrow strip around the heels in a pattern harmonious to the bow tie. Just what you’d expect of a fine chef, restauranteur, real estate developer, bee keeper. Monsieur Elegante.

His always beautiful wife, Miss Y, was in navy blue too, only her dress was bare shouldered, ball length, and featured an understated flamenco skirt with a single flounce along a thigh high slit. Her legs looked great. Another of the school mothers wore the same dress in a strikingly different color and a slightly different neckline. Miss Y wore it better. Her earrings were impeccable.

We met a couple of other people while milling about in line for our photo with Tim Tebow, including our state Representative, Nancy Mace. We all had wine and everybody stood around being charming and witty, and Nancy was most convivial even though I confused her with her defeated opponent, Katie Harrington. What happened was when I turned around and there she was, I said to Stephen: “Look, honey, it’s Katie Harrington,” and shook her hand. “No, that’s the other one,” she said. “I’m Nancy Mace. I beat her.” She forgave us right away when we apologized.

We used the old age excuse for that too. Old age and Covid brain.

Tim Tebow cost the gala a motza and had to be booked 18 months in advance. You’ll remember, he became a thing when he played for the Broncos in 2011 and took a knee in prayer after winning the game.  The media made so much of it, imitators followed and a neoglogism was created, “Tebowing”, which means to reproduce Tebow’s posture while kneeling in a football field. He self-describes as a passionate Christian and was born in the Philippines to Christian missionaries. He is married to a South African model, a former Ms Universe.

Thirty-five, dark haired (an unassuming mohawk out of a dystopia movie), good-looking and exceptionally fit, he wore tight black pants, white sneakers, a black shirt with buttons that sparkled on stage and over it, a snug black suit jacket, its shawl collar edged in a band of white like a carnival barker’s. 

Stephen had me read aloud from Tebow’s wiki entry on the way to the Gaillard. We discovered he was a highly vocal abortion opponent. (Me to Stephen: “This is where we’ll probably get bombed or shot, not next week at the rabbi’s oneg shabbat.”). Tebow’s spoken to groups as large as 20,000, has a wildly successful podcast and is quite adept at raising money for spreading the good word. But he walks the walk. He built and supports a children’s hospital in Mindanao, 30 beds that specializes in orthopedics. In addition to club foot, they treat hydrocephalus, burns. He funds organizations that work to stop human trafficking. Wiki sets his net worth at $5 million which leads me to believe his speaking fees go to his charities not his pocket.

By the time we got to our photo-op, my feet already hurt. I looked down at his and remarked, “If I’d known I could have worn sneakers. . .” and he said, “I know, right?” and eye-rolled me. Very personable guy.

The first part of his speech came while we were seated before being served dinner. A video of children from the elementary and middle Christian school were featured coming up to a camera to ask Tim Tebow a question. After each question, the video would stop and he’d answer it live. The kids queries ranged from: “Do you like to be famous?” to “What is your favorite thing that Jesus said?” It was a very sweet, very charming presentation and just long enough.

We ate. Nice meal, salad, beautifully conceived salmon, short ribs, eggplant option, tartlets for dessert. I had the ribs. Fall apart on the fork tender. Excellent. The smoked cheddar grits were cold. I ate mine anyway. Mr. X didn’t eat his. Everything was flawlessly served by a fleet of wait staff that floated noiselessly through the room, guided by uniformed men stationed in the aisles who whispered into headset microphones.

Stephen sat to my left and to my right, Chef Robert Dickson of Robert’s of Charleston, for 30 plus years one of the highlights of Charleston dining. Retired now. Robert was famous for producing a set menu of many courses amid luxe old Charleston surroundings. He sang arias for his customers while they dined. Apparently he did more show tunes towards the end, but he was known in town as The Singing Chef for a very long time.

The oddest part was that I, an opera buff for much of my youth, always wanted to go to Robert’s of Charleston but the courses he presented were full of things we don’t eat, like pork, and shrimp, and crab. So we never went. I told him it was a sadness to me.

“I offered kosher when asked,” he said. “I accommodated lots of diets, even. . .” he raised his eyes to heaven and side-nodded his head a little,  “. . .gluten-free.”

Now I find out.

His wife Pam was from Oklahoma. Stephen told her she had to read my Cherokee removal novel and mentioned our research trip to Oklahoma City. It was obvious I’d forgotten key elements of a novel I’d written eight or nine years ago, but they are our age and understood. Then, suddenly, Robert belts out the first few notes of “Oklahoma!” and I, of course, join him. Soon both of us are in full voice with gestures. We clashed a little a couple of times but most of it was great! We either entertained or horrified at least three tables around us.

Robert had heard “the author is coming” and was anxious to tell to me about the book he’s writing. It’s a memoir based on his decades long correspondence with Julia Child. I told him my publisher’s founder, Jane Friedman, who discovered me, was in the recent HBO documentary about the great chef. They’d been good friends. I’m not sure, but it’s possible when Jane was CEO at Harper Collins Worldwide, she was steward of Julia’s books.

Just before desert, the minister of the elementary/middle school and its headmistress spoke briefly. The minister seemed a happy, well adjusted man who wished everyone joy in life. During her pitch, the headmistress listed the extracurricular programs the school offered. “Archery . . .shooting. . .” Short pause. “And yes, we do give our students guns. . .” That line got a reasonably audible round of applause.

Tim got on stage for his main address. He was lithe, energetic, every inch a professional speaker. He had enthusiasm, grace as he shifted left to right across the stage or leaned forward from the waist into the crowd. His voice was emotive, his humor wry. His main messages were about educating children. He spoke about teaching them to value themselves (you are not here by accident, there is a purpose to you, a plan for you), teaching Christian values of generosity and kindness. He advocated for parents’ rights in the content of their children’s education to enthusiastic applause. He mentioned the sanctity of life, but the word abortion was not spoken. He exhorted us to live a life where God came first, where one kept one’s sacred purpose in mind and did not abandon it for the transient things of the world. There was nothing objectionable to me about anything he said. If you took the personal anecdotes and the Jesus out of it, it sounded faith-based generic in a way. His root philosophies were nothing a rabbi, or Buddhist monk wouldn’t agree with or encourage in their own.

After Tebow ended his speech and left the building, Chef Robert turned to me and said: “Do you believe in Jesus?” Me: “I believe Jesus was a good man and a brilliant leader.” “Huh,” he said and turned away. He seemed a little disappointed. Later on, I made sure to tell him I liked religious people and respected religious education greatly because children need a moral center wherever they can find it. They certainly weren’t going to find it on TikTok. He appreciated that. We said goodbye exchanging contacts and sang a few lines of ‘I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No’ together. 

In all, an innocuous and really rather sweet, entertaining evening. Since it was only about nine when it ended, Stephen suggested we drop over Tommy Condon’s to hear Christian shred the violin and sing an Irish rebel song with Dave. I protested at first. My feet were killing me. “Just for one drink,” he said, “since we’re downtown already and everything.” He had a point. Since Covid, it’s hard for a lot of older people to get downtown. It’s changed. Gotten younger.

Of course, afterwards I was very glad we went to the pub because a night with The Bograts is always transformative. But I was also very glad to get home that night and take off my damn shoes.

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