Trying Time

A trip to the Oscars got me thinking: What else might I want to experience before it’s too late?

Reading other people’s bucket lists is fun, but I’ve never had the desire to compile one myself. Risk-takers yearn to climb Mount Everest and sail the blue Pacific, but boring people such as I are satisfied spending their days bundled up in an afghan while watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and eating Double Stuf Oreos.

And then someone invites you to the Academy Awards, and you think, “You know, I’ve always dreamed of walking that red carpet and seeing movie stars up close,” and so you go. And you have such an earth-shatteringly great time sharing the air with Sandra Bullock and Jean Dujardin and Meryl Streep, for crying out loud, that you realize what else you might be missing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t need to open a bait shop, hike the Great Wall, or run after lions on the Serengeti. And I have no desire to skydive, bungee jump, parasail, or anything else that involves the sensation of falling. But the Oscars? If I did have a bucket list, I’d add the experience, and then gleefully check it off.

I milked the night for all it was worth, pushing my way through the crowd to ogle Octavia Spencer, Glenn Close, Christopher Plummer, and Michelle Williams, who is perfect enough to have been carved from ivory. When a security guard ordered me to raise my arms for a pat-down, I punched P. Diddy in the ear, and the sight of George Clooney signing autographs got me so riled up that I hit “reverse” on my phone’s camera, which resulted in a two-minute video of me jumping up and down and braying, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”

I witnessed Brad and Angelina slip into the front row just as the house lights dimmed and watched Oprah exit her box seat moments after her honor was announced. I spotted Owen Wilson by the men’s room and personally congratulated James Earl Jones on his Governors Award.

>> BONUS: Read Debbie’s live-blog from the 2012 Oscars here.

My host, Mary, is the type who would have a bucket list. She is fearless, an adventurer who takes coast-to-coast family train trips along America’s most scenic routes. While others went to Florida for spring break, she flew off with her husband and son to Paris. We dined before the awards at Bouchon, a tony L.A. restaurant, where, without the slightest shame or shyness, Mary requested a back-shop tour. “All they can say is no,” she said with a shrug.

In the blink of an eye, I was inside a vast kitchen run by Chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame, who was himself ambling around the dining room. Cooks slaved over pristine plating on room-length steel counters, and a wall-size video displayed the owner’s other kitchens. Colorful fresh produce nearly tumbled from endless bins, vats of irresistible soups and sauces simmered on multiple cooktops, and fragrant pillows of dough rested on ceiling-high shelves in the bakery.

These experiences got me thinking: What else might I want to do or see, and had the time come to assemble my own list before it was too late—when I’m so old I’ll be lucky to climb a flight of stairs?

“I’d like to see three Broadway shows a year and learn to line dance, tweet, and operate my Apple TV.”

For one, I want to bake an apple pie. Actually, a lot of apple pies—perfect ones, like my mother used to make, with mounds of sugary apples and top crusts that puff so high they crackle when they’re cut. As a matter of fact, I’d like to prepare all of her old-time recipes, presently crammed into four speckled composition books and a couple of tin boxes. I should relearn French, given my struggles in an experimental high-school class where Madame Newsome taught conversation but no conjugation. It would be a hoot to perform in a flash mob, and I need to see the Grand Canyon from somewhere nearer than an airplane.

I wouldn’t mind interviewing Bob Knight again—and not get thrown out this time. I’d like to work on a farm, and by that I mean watch, and try out for Food Network Star, where my specialty would be traditional Jewish recipes done with a twist, like gefilte tilapia cheeks. Who could resist?

Anticipating a trip to Italy a few summers ago, I told the owner of a favorite ethnic restaurant I’d meet her in Milan, her hometown, where she promised a culinary lay of the land. This sounds like a bucket-list item, and guess what? I did it. When she heard my voice on the phone, she, unbelieving, kept saying, “Pronto! Pronto!” Since I was able to make that trip, I should go to Denmark to embrace the au pair girl, now a grandma herself, who lovingly took care of my boys when they were young.

I’d like to see at least three Broadway shows a year and learn to line dance, tweet, and operate my Apple TV. I want another chance to try out for Wheel of Fortune, since last time I was dismissed after my dismal showing in the category “Before & After.” And I want to take a cruise of the Greek islands and not behave like I did on a previous Caribbean voyage, when I swayed up and down the ship’s hallways, hanging onto the brass rails and wailing, “I think I’m going to throw up!”

If this list is honest, I’ll have to include a few things I want (although at this stage of life, I’m actually more interested in shedding the clutter that overflows my drawers, cabinets, and basement storeroom). Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind a Cartier watch. That’s all. And a Viking stove.

Candidly, I realize I’ll probably never achieve any of the aforementioned goals. Only the brave tackle what they’ve never attempted just for the thrill of it. And brave has never really been my thing. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” as the saying goes. Someday, hopefully a long time from now, if you hear singing, it might yet be me.

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.