The surprise of a lifetime
By Jim Moriarty
When one grows so old that wedding anniversaries might as well be counted with Roman numerals like Super Bowls, there are a few curious rubberneckers who wonder exactly how the disgraceful business got going in the first place. In my case it’s simple: It began on her 21st birthday.
It should be noted that it was the ’70s, which excuses nothing but explains more than one would care to admit, and the occasion was a surprise party. Invitations to the gala were issued in the customary fashion of the day: “Hey, I hear Robin’s having a party Friday night.” Robin was the rarest of all birds, someone who had his own apartment. This meant that his forehead was stamped with the words Event Venue.
She for whom the surprise gala was arranged was scheduled to arrive at, oh, let’s say 8 o’clock. The hour came and went with no sign of the featured dish. As the years have trickled past, I’ve come to realize that time is not a subject she deals with on an even playing field. But I digress. The issue at hand was the ’70s, and barely half an hour after the clock chimed 8, it rang out Bong:30.
Those who know me well know that my own proclivities in recreational consumables are confined almost entirely to barley and hops. Yet here I was surrounded by people staring at a red lava lamp. I resorted to the only thing I felt truly comfortable doing. I began twanging my Ozark harp. Now, my teeth — then as now — are to modern orthodontics what a 1952 set of World Book encyclopedias is to the internet. The uppers are arranged in such a way that, while not totally random, bring to mind the punting formation of a peewee football team. Like Houdini being double jointed, however, it was precisely these irregularities that allowed me — someone with the musical ability of a sugar beet — to so bewitch the assembled partygoers with my virtuosic twanging they were as enthralled as if they were listening to Muddy Waters.
At precisely this point, when I had the navel gazers eating out of the palm of my hand — musically speaking, of course — she for whom the surprise gala was arranged came through the front door. Two things happened. Well, one thing. The thing that didn’t happen was for anyone to summon the wherewithal to yell, as one does at a surprise party, “Surprise!” That nugget was apparently lost in the fog of the ’70s. The thing that did happen was for the celebrant to lock her gaze firmly upon my own (I’d paused the musical interlude, though I was quite prepared to accompany any birthday serenading) and say, “What is he doing here?”
Granted, it didn’t seem as though we’d gotten off on the surest footing but, since she for whom the surprise gala was arranged and I were the only two people at the party who actually seemed to remember it was her birthday, one thing led to another and I eventually suggested we go, pas de deux, for a cup of coffee at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. This she agreed to do even though I now know she detests coffee. Had I known that at the time I would have felt a bit spiffier than I actually did.
It was a rainy, unseasonably chilly night, and we spent some time hobnobbing over warm liquids. Then, in an act of selfless generosity that would have made Mother Teresa blush like a schoolgirl, she suggested we take an extra large bag of doughnuts back to the party, stuffing it full of powdered, glazed and chocolate-covered with sprinkles as if she was packing the muzzle of a howitzer.
When we parked at the curb outside Robin’s apartment, she for whom the surprise gala was arranged exited the car with the bag o’ doughnuts in hand. Unfortunately, she’d seized the bag at the bottom, not the top, and the doughnuts tumbled into the rainy gutter. I can say without fear of contradiction that not even Brooks Robinson at the height of his Gold Glove prowess could have barehanded the slow-rolling grounders with the speed and agility she displayed that night. Having crammed the slightly baptized doughnuts back into the bag from which they’d fallen, she for whom the surprise gala was arranged burst through the door, held the bag high over her head and yelled, “Doughnuts!”
A three-legged antelope on the Serengeti Plain would have had a greater chance of survival than those doughnuts did that night. I said to myself, then and there, this is the lass for me. After all, in every gutter a few sprinkles must fall. PS