It was late on the Christmas night of Hubby’s 48th year. We were all sitting around the dining room table, digesting our dessert. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he turned to me and stated, “I know what I want for my 50th birthday.”
I didn’t like the way he said it. Maybe it was the way he brought it up, apropos to nothing. It could have been the fact that he was giving me two years’ notice. Whatever the case, I was instantly suspicious.
“What is it?” I ventured, my eyes narrowing.
“I want a birthday party with everyone I’ve ever met.” The room fell silent. We all stared at him, waiting for the punch line.
When he offered no further details, I asked, “Everyone, as in the whole family and your closest friends, everyone? Or everyone, as in your family, friends and your pre-school crossing guard, everyone?”
“Yes,” he said.
Hubby enjoys ruffling my feathers from time to time, especially when he has an audience. That night’s spectators included my mother, whose buttons he likes to push even more than mine. Right on cue, she harrumphed, “Oh, that’s ridiculous!”
“But it’s what I want,” he shrugged, as if he couldn’t help it. For good measure, he played the sympathy card, “How many 50th birthdays does a guy get?”
I wasn’t taking the bait, “Since I can’t afford to rent Madison Square Garden, what’s your Plan B?”
“There is no Plan B. This is what I want,” he persisted.
Mom had my back. “Are you crazy? I never heard of anything so silly.”
I patted her hand, “He’s just playing with us, Mom.”
“No, I’m not. And I want it here. In the house.”
Hubby say what? In the house? He bypassed all my lessor warning levels:
DEFCON Green: commenting on dirty dishes in the sink.
DEFCON Yellow: suggesting I ask my friends for fashion tips.
DEFCON Red: critiquing my cooking.
With an extremist’s indifference to world peace or the preservation of human life, he nonchalantly pushed me to place my nuclear missiles on stand-by. DEFCON White: Let’s throw a huge party in the house.
Let me explain. I have a thing about over-stuffing our home with people, especially when booze is involved. At the risk of sounding obnoxious (I’m just going to put it out there), I have some nice things – antique furnishings, hand-tufted rugs, pricey doodads. These are things for which I overpaid, but had to have (you can’t put a dollar amount on love, my friends). These treasures cannot be replaced and there’s nowhere to store them for safekeeping when we have company.
Hubby knows that I experience anxiety when we’re planning big gatherings. In my defense, allow me to put things in perspective…
At one of our parties, I watched helplessly as a guest balanced a glass, of the reddest red wine, on the arm of my bright yellow, custom upholstered chair. I nearly fainted. I only remained upright because I knew the tremor I’d produce, by hitting the floor, would tip the glass. On another occasion, while cleaning up (and I’ll stay up all night to clean after a party) I discovered that someone had dropped a huge glob of Ooey Gooey Pizza Dip on the dining room floor and tracked it all through the house. I had to take a Valium. Another time, somebody placed an opened gallon jug of milk in the refrigerator…on its side! Who could have possibly thought that was a good idea?
After every bash, I’d begin my litany of rhetorical questions: Was everybody raised in a barn?! Don’t people have any respect anymore?! Can’t I have anything nice around here?! Who’s pants are those hanging from the chandelier?!…
Without the slightest trace of judgment, Hubby always offered the same matter-of-fact conclusion: “When people drink at parties, they don’t always realize what they’re doing.” Swell.
So the prospect, of cramming everyone he’d ever met into our house, was more than I could bear. I was certain an army of plastered revelers would trash the place beyond repair (even though I’d never met his pre-school crossing guard or the guy who sold him his last suit, and didn’t know if they drank).
Seeing the look on my face – something akin to I’m trying to be good-natured about this because it’s Christmas, and I don’t want to kill you in front of the children – he backpedalled a tiny bit, “We can put up a tent in the backyard.”
“Your birthday is in the winter,” I hissed.
“We’ll get those portable heaters,” there was hope in his voice. “And they have those fancy outhouses that come on a truck and look like real bathrooms.”
He had done research, which meant he was 100% serious. My systems were “go.” BLAST-OFF! “Well you can have your stupid party with everyone you ever met, except for one person! I! WILL NOT! BE THERE!”
Mom dove in, “Why do you have to do this to her? Do you know what they’ll do to this house? Do you think this is funny? Who put you up to this?”
He shrugged again, unable to fathom what all the fuss was about, “It’s just what I want. I am who I am today because of all the people I’ve encountered in my life. We all touch each other’s lives…everyday…if only in a small way. It shapes us.”
Now, it was my turn to take a step back. This was a true statement. He delivered it with such genuine heartfelt emotion. So sweet. So profound. So ineffective in halting the hives blooming across my torso.
At this point, my sister threw in her two cents, my brothers were laughing and shaking their heads and probably making bets, my father (the smartest person in the room) left the table, my aunt was rolling her eyes and my nephew said he thought it would be awesome. It was getting loud and heated. Yet, no one from Hubby’s side of the family said a word. Why? Because he’d waited for them to go home before he mentioned this gem of an idea. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
The argument spilled over to breakfast the next morning, the following week, and well into the New Year. The subject of “the party” would come up regularly. To our friends and family, it was a running joke. To me, it was a source of nasty fights and excess stomach acid.
After about 15 months, he finally wore me down. I just couldn’t take it anymore. He could have his precious party, but with one caveat: it would not take place at the house, or anywhere near it. He agreed.
So I began the fool’s errand of planning an impossible-to-plan event. I went through Hubby’s old yearbooks, date books and calendars. I asked his friends for leads. I went to his favorite places and flashed his photograph, asking if anybody knew him. I always used his bar mitzvah picture (secretly hoping no one would recognize the 13-year-old boy with the slicked down bangs and aviator eyeglasses). “Do you know this guy?” My question was consistently greeted with, “Why? What did he do?”
One day, something shifted in my thinking. I had become so twisted by the whole idea that I’d overlooked a key detail…I was in the driver’s seat! I was planning this party. I would set the parameters. This was going to make it a whole lot easier…
Rule #1: No ex-girlfriends.
Rule #2: If Hubby hadn’t mentioned a person in the past year, they were off the list.
Rule #3: I would limit the number of guests to 200.
Rule #4: Every guest had to live within a 25-mile radius (I did not reveal Rules 1-4 to Hubby).
Rule #5: I refused to invite our former landscaper, whom I fired for digging up my heirloom dahlias and hollyhocks, because he thought they were weeds. A landscaper can’t tell the difference? Do not even get me started!
“The party” was still a crazy idea, but it was becoming a lot more manageable.
With less than a week to go, I was running around town, finishing up last-minute errands. My first stop was at the dry cleaner. When I walked in, Mr. Kang avoided my gaze. “What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party. My wife says I can’t go to any parties without her.”
My plan was working. The directive was to invite everyone Hubby had ever met. Since he’d never met our dry cleaner’s wife, I could not invite her. Bwahaha! Evil, I know.
My next stop, the drugstore for wrapping paper. As I approached the counter to pay, Stephanie P. (the checkout girl) apologized for having to cancel. “I’m really sorry, but I can’t make the party. I decided to start the Master Cleanse this weekend.”
In the land of lame excuses, I’ve noticed this one picking up steam recently, outranking “that’s my poker night” by a wide margin. But I didn’t care. The herd was thinning.
The service station was next on my list. As I stepped from my car to gas ‘er up, the attendant, Mr. Aliakbalahar approached me. He hung his head low and whispered, “I cannot come to the party. And by the way, you misspelled my name on the invitation.”
And another one gone. And another one gone. Another one bites the dust!
At this point, you might think I’m sounding pretty horrible. But the truth is, I’m no Warren Buffet and cannot afford to throw lavish parties for large sums of virtual strangers. Also, how could Hubby possibly enjoy anyone’s company when surrounded by that many people? Wouldn’t quantity cancel out quality? Would his memories of his 50th be anything beyond a blur of unfamiliar faces?
So as my “fringe” guests started dropping like flies, I held hope that I could still throw a great shindig without breaking the bank or completely overwhelming the birthday boy. And that’s exactly how it played out.
Instead of a room packed with people who touched his life by schmearing his bagel or rotating his tires, Hubby actually knew every one of the 60 attendees. More importantly, everyone knew him. Nobody felt obliged to be there, or showed up only for free pigs-in-a-blanket (classy, no?). What did Hubby come to realize that night? We were all there because we love him. When all is said and done, isn’t that really the best present a guy could get on his 50th birthday? Hubby thought so, too.