One of the few things I pride myself on is my stoicism in the face of adversity, or as The Girlfriend calls it, “My inability to understand her.” Watching movies like Air Force One or Not Without My Daughter or Good Burger, I always like to think that if I were in any of those harrowing situations that I would know exactly what to do. That I would be smart, strategic, unflappable and, most importantly, impervious to the element of surprise.
I mean, I’ve watched a lot of TV and seen a lot of movies. I’ve been around the block. I know when someone’s going to jump out from the shadows and attack Bruce Willis, I know when the guy Julie Roberts trusts as her friend is really her enemy, and I ALWAYS know when someone is about to walk in on a surprise birthday party. I can call it from a mile away. Leaning over to anyone in the movie theater who will listen, I whisper, “It’s a surprise party. Just watch,” and nod knowingly at the screen.
Which makes it so hard for me to explain how I’ve been tricked into not one, not two, but THREE surprise parties all within the last ten years, what I would presume were my senses’ most capable years. The only explanation I can offer is that I was drugged prior to said surprise or that my family and friends have no limits in their ability to take advantage of my infinite love and trust in them.
Before we get to that though, let’s go back a ways – to the earlier birthday memories.
One of the downsides of having a birthday so close to Christmas is that memories of the two invariably blend over time. Was that Nintendo game a birthday present, or a Christmas present? I remember the bike with the bow, but what day was that? Why did I blow out candles on a cake for Christmas that year? Oh wait . . .
So what few memories I do have are random and imprecise. For example, I don’t remember which year it was, but I DO remember my aunt buying me a package of Kahn’s corndogs for my birthday as punishment for tormenting her for months and months incessantly singing the jingle from the commercial. It was an age where I was old enough to say, “That’s clever,” but also young enough to think, “Wait, you really didn’t buy me anything else?” I never sang another note again after that birthday . . .
Then there was the birthday (I believe it was somewhere around 6th grade) where my mother let me have a Halloween/birthday party with all my friends from school. It was a great party even though my mother wouldn’t let us bob for apples, calling it a “disgusting” and “unsanitary” game. But then Dawn DiOrio sat on Danny Sacrestano’s lap, essentially ruining my birthday.
It’s all fuzzy in between up until my Sweet 16th birthday. (Dad, mom told me you’re reading these now. Please understand that I’m being sarcastic when I refer to it as my “Sweet 16th” Birthday. Please.) I was told we would celebrate with the family the weekend of my birthday and that the following weekend I could have a party with my friends.
So the weekend of my birthday, My older sister and one of her friends (who had just gotten her driver’s license) took me and a friend to a movie. When we got home, I walked into what might be the biggest party ever thrown this side of a Hilton. It was like My Big Fat Greek Wedding only . . . better. All of my friends were there, family too. And here’s the kicker: There was a huge, inflatable jousting ring set up in the back yard. We’re talking Gladiator (TV show, not movie) style jousting, where you stood on a podium and swung a padded stick at someone else until they fell from their podium. I don’t think I can explain how fun this was. All I can say is, if you have kids and you are ever afraid that they don’t love you enough, rent one of these for their birthday.
The party was an absolute success, everyone loved it and had a great time, myself included. That is, until Dawn “This Girl Can’t Stop Fucking Me Over” DiOrio decided that she was sweet on me again after I started dating her nemesis, Tanya Vasquez, who liked Elvis and knew the names of movie directors. (In hindsight, she was way out of my league.) Dawn put the moves on me at the end of the night and I caved. We kissed, and the next day she told Tanya all about it. It was my first brush with anything remotely like “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and it blew.
The next few birthdays were the ones where I was too young to legally drink but drank at them anyway, thereby rendering my memory of them quite vague. (Although I think in 2001 my friend BJ kissed me at a bar. Not romantically, more like friendly. Like without tongue.) . . . (My father picked a bad time to start reading.)
Then in 2002, my first birthday with The Girlfriend, I was the victim of a web of lies and deception once again. The Girlfriend and I were living together at the time and she took me out to the movies. (JUST as I typed that I saw the similarities. Going forward, anytime someone offers to take me to the movies on my birthday I will assume they are throwing me a surprise party.) The movie ended up being sold out, but she killed just enough time for all my friends to pack into our apartment and wait for me to get home.
So we arrive at our building, and as we approach the apartment door I hear a noise from inside. I immediately go into “I know what to do here” mode and assume that someone has broken into the apartment. I quietly put the key in the lock and once it is unlocked, I plan on opening the door swiftly in order to surprise whoever is inside (the irony is suffocating). I bust in, look down the hallway and see my friend Brendan hiding under a lampshade. Before my mind can process, “Why would Brendan break into my apartment?” everyone jumps out and yells, “Surprise!” to which I scream back, “Jesus, ball sack!” A wonderful party ensues.
Flash forward to last year. My birthday falls on a Sunday, and my good friend Matt’s birthday is a week after mine. So we decide that I will celebrate with my family the weekend of my birthday and celebrate with my friends the weekend after (again, the similarities, I know). The Girlfriend and I take the train out to Long Island, my mom picks us up at the train station and we drive home. I walk through the door and immediately see my whole family standing at one end of the dining room table looking at me. I’m confused. Then OUT OF THE LAUNDRY ROOM jump my friends, completing the heart attack inducing experience. What ensues is one of the greatest parties ever, including the following highlights culled from emails following the event:
– Hiding in the laundry closet waiting to surprise: Goes to show that the smaller the room you put us in, the funnier we get. Including the classic line "You can force anything on a woman," by Scott. (Don’t even know the context of that one.)
– Standard but brilliant jokes by Grampa Murphy. "I'd take a shower with you . . ." Hilarious. (Wish I could remember the context of that one.)
– "Baby, It's a Hot One" sing-a-long. (Note: I believe the words to this song were, “Baby it’s a hot one / when your loves runs dry / I’ll punch you in the neck and I’ll kick you in the eye.”)
And there you have it – proof that even the savviest, most prepared of men can be surprised, usually when their friends and family are masters of deception who have no problem lying to my face for weeks at a time. But in the future, I will be prepared. I’m carrying a pocket knife from now on and God help me the next person to jump out on my at my birthday is getting cut. (Not really, throw me parties. I love them.)
Five more days, and counting.