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Being Party to a Surprise

By Jeffery Cohen

Now I’m starting to wonder if there really is a party. Maybe there is, and he’s forgotten.

As I approached my 40th birthday, my wife asked if I wanted a party to celebrate such a milestone. I explained that this birthday was no different than any other, so there was no reason to make a big deal of it. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Okay.”

Three weeks before my birthday, I’m reading the paper and my wife says, “If someone is having, say, 18 people over, how much wine do you think you’d need?”

Though the question was coming from left field, it was more than obvious to me where she was going with it. Instead of questioning her motives, without even looking up from my paper, I simply said, “Six bottles of red, six bottles of white,” and that’s where we left it.

Two weeks before my birthday we go grocery shopping, and my wife fills a shopping cart with bags of chips, pretzels and crackers. “What’s all this?” I say, trying to hide a knowing smile.

“You can never have too many snacks around,” she says casually… and I let it go.

A couple of days before my birthday, my wife says the next door neighbor, who is half my age, and who I’ve never said more than hello to when we’ve crossed paths, wants to take me out for a drink for my birthday on Saturday night – not exactly hard to put two and two together. The neighbor will take me out for a drink, my wife ushers in the 18 wine-drinking snack-eaters, and I come home and…Surprise! So I agree to go out for the drink.

Saturday evening and there’s a knock at the door. I figure it’s the neighbor coming to get me a little bit early, but it turns out to be my father, dressed to the nines. “Hey Dad, what are you doing here?” I ask.

“Oh, I just thought I’d drop over and see how you’re doing.” My father never drops over. He expects me to drop over to see him regularly, but not the other way around.

“I’m just about to go out for a drink with a neighbor,” I explain.

He sits down on the couch. “No problem,” he says. “I’ll just…hang around.”

My wife nervously jumps in. “Maybe your dad can drive me over to the mall. I have some shopping to do.” I don’t ask any questions.

So the neighbor shows up, takes me to a local bar and orders us a couple of beers. We sit there talking sports, politics, life. He orders more beers, and the conversation continues. I glance at my watch now and then, wondering when he’s going to deliver me to the party, but he seems in no hurry. Now I’m starting to wonder if there really is a party. Maybe there is, and he’s forgotten? We’ve been sitting at the bar for over two hours, and he orders more beers. So I look at my watch and say, “Geez, it’s after nine already.”

His eyes bug out, his jaw drops, and he says, “Nine? It’s after nine? We gotta go!”“But what about the beers you just ordered?” I ask.

“Drink up! Drink up! We gotta go. Now!” he says, as he guzzles down his beer. I don’t ask any questions. The ride back was like sitting next to a driver at the Indy 500. He drove fast enough to break the sound barrier.

At home, the lights are all out. I picture people waiting in the dark for who knows how long, just ready to spring. I go over my best surprised reaction in my head: Wow! What a surprise. I would never have guessed. You guys really got me this time! I reach for the door handle. The storm door is locked. Now I’m confused and unsure of just what to do. I’m imagining a house full of people hiding inside, somebody mistakenly locked the door, and now no one can unlock it without giving away the surprise. I knock anyway. Nothing. I’m a bit shaken. I nervously pound on the door. Nothing. So I do the only thing I can think of doing. I put my hand through the screen, reach in, unlock the screen door, and then open the front door. I slowly step in. I’m standing in the dark waiting for the crowd to jump out and…nothing. I switch on the light and look around the empty living room. No people, no streamers, no balloons. No “Happy Birthday” banner. No wine. No snacks. No party – just me and my disappointment. I shake my head and wonder where I went wrong as I shuffle into the kitchen, going over in my mind all of what I thought were clues. The wine, the snacks, my Dad in his Sunday best, the neighbor, the locked door: I must be crazy to think there would be a party just waiting for me, I think to myself. Then I turn on the kitchen light and …SURPRISE! I’m surrounded by familiar faces that pour out from behind furniture, around corners, out of closets, out from the pantry.

My wife greets me with a big grin. “So, were you surprised?”

I shake my head. Barely able to speak, I utter, “Wow! What a surprise. I would never have guessed. You guys really got me this time!” and I meant every word.

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