Inventing traditions

The Gavel

Does your family have a story like this?

Here on the eve of my 54th birthday i’m going to tell you a story. It begins with my grandfather, the first elected mayor of Torrance, California. At some point in his long mayoral career, around 1958, he was honored with a five foot gavel. I guess it’s the kind of thing you give to mayors.

It was news when the Mayor and his wife were visited by their daughter, her husband, and their grandkids. My family before me. (From the Torrance Herald, 1962)

When he died in 1987, my grandmother was throwing out various items from their garage and came across the gavel. “Here,” she said, handing it to my brother and me. “You guys should keep this.” Let it be said that there is little home decor that works with a five foot gavel. My brother said “no problem,” took it home. And proceeded to leave it in my garage the next day. “Screw that,” I thought to myself. So when he was out a few weeks later, I put it in his closet for him to find. He did. And a month or so later, it was under my bed.

This continued. And escalated. At the birth of his daughter. At my local sushi bar. At Christmas in North Dakota.

I won’t go through all the gavelings since 1987, although there have been many. But I’ll share a couple. In that era I lived in the Hollywood hills, in Beachwood Canyon. I had lived on one side of the canyon but eventually got a house on the other. One day I’m visiting my friend Grant on my old street. We’re sitting on his deck looking out over the vista. We’re directly across the canyon from my house. And from this distance I see something. I get binoculars. Hanging underneath my balcony is the gavel, suspended in such a way that its not visible from any part of my house, but obvious to every other person in the canyon.

When Groundhog Day was being filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, Danny flew out (with Bill Murray!) to the shoot. They arrived late in the evening. Danny went into his hotel room, went to sleep… and in the morning went to take a shower. Pulling back the curtain he found the gavel hanging from the shower head.

There was the time I bought a used car on Craigslist. My friend Ian drove me from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to pick it up. I filled out the registration paperwork, gave the owner a check, and as I went to inspect the car before driving off I popped the trunk. The gavel was in the trunk.

This has gone back and forth for 30 years.

At my wedding in 1994 my brother wrapped the gavel in plastic and set it in my hottub, thinking my bride and I would take a tub after the service. But we didn’t. In fact we didn’t open the hot tub for many weeks. When we did… I didn’t recognize the object. It looked like a crocodile: the water had mostly dissolved the glues that held the gavel together and it was utterly destroyed. There was sadness. But eventually we all forgot about the gavel.

Until my cousin’s wedding in New Hampshire, when a new gavel showed up in my life: smaller and more manageable than the original, this was “Gavel II” and because of its slightly more convenient size, our gaveling intensified. Sometimes years go by between gavelings. I had just gaveled Danny at the Westend London premiere of the Groundhog Day Musical. I wasn’t sure I was going to see it for awhile. But last night at my gallery opening, I noticed something under the sofa.

Ball’s in my court.

*originally published on Facebook: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2017

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