This week’s inductees into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” are … surprise birthday parties.
My niece might be the most impressive person I know. She can sing, dance and write. She excelled from elementary school through grad school. She was national youth chair of a venerable national charity, affording her the opportunity to travel the country – by herself – while in high school and college. A handshake with the president was an added perk.
She remains active with the charity despite a newborn and a high-level job at a Fortune 500 company. This would be her second Fortune 500 company, as she was recruited away from Company One by Company Two. She’s witty. She’s pretty. I’m still waiting for the first sign of ego, yet all that shines through is humility, warmth, talent and love. I mean, the young lady is close to perfect.
I got an email from her last month. When I saw her name in my inbox, I had the same reaction I always do when I hear from her: This day will be a little bit better because of this email.
Then I opened and read the email, informing me that she was hosting a big surprise party for her dad’s (my brother’s) 60th birthday. When I saw this, I had the same reaction I always do when I hear that I am invited to a surprise party: Oh Christ, please … not a-fucking-gain!
So, I think I’ll hold off on placing that niece on the Pedestal of Perfection.
Surprise parties are nice in theory, but they invariably turn into burdensome chores. An idea born out of love becomes a bank account-draining stressfest for all involved.
The person who plans it has to figure out a site for the party, a way to get food, drink, cake and possibly entertainment to the party, and a scheme to lure the victim – I mean the guest of honor – to the shock-a-rama, I mean the surprise party.
The guests have to go through weeks or months of not spilling the beans to the honored one, they have to show up at least a half an hour beforehand to avoid tipping the whole thing off and they are usually enlisted to provide a dish or some beverages along with a present they would never have purchased for the person had it not been for this party.
Even the focus of the party does not get to fully enjoy the festivities. If she is truly surprised, she has to deal with an unsettling moment of shock and – in some cases – horror in front of most of her friends and loved ones. At least a few shutterbug shitheads will capture this look of pained embarrassment with pictures that will bring nothing but nausea to the lucky honoree.
If she has suspected or known that a surprise party awaited her, she has to go all Meryl Streep on our asses and feign surprise with a mouth agape, eyes wide and body rigid. Now, that look is fine on a woman if she’s coming hard from a proper round between the sheets, and it would make for a fine photo that would make any woman proud, but the shutterbug shitheads will capture this surprise party mock shock for posterity, and it will cause the bad actress nothing but pain every time she sees it. Who wants a lie captured forever on film … or digitalized … or wherever we are at technologically this week.
This person then has to mingle with the assembled guests, and the first part of every … single … conversation … has to be a recap of the feelings she experienced when she walked through the door. “Yes, I was surprised. I thought I was coming here for [fill in ruse devised by devious planner]. I had no idea. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 37 other people to relay this same scintillating information to, so I must go. Oh, a present for me? Please God let it be a brick of heroin and a fifth of bourbon to help me endure the next three hours of being the focus of attention that I did not in any way solicit.”
But no one really cares or notices whether the honored guest is having a great time or a shitty time, because the surprise party is really, let’s face it, more about the person throwing the party. Most of these people (my near-perfect niece excluded, of course) spend the weeks before and after the Big Moment telling anyone not named Marlee Maitlin all about how the idea was spawned, the travails endured in the planning, the chicanery concocted to keep the party a surprise, and – in always breathless fashion – the very detailed description of what it was like when the assembled guests (a.k.a. the put-upon attendees guilted into showing up) shouted: “Surprise!” There will be more “I’s” in this recap than you’ll hear in a “Best of the Frito Bandito” CD. (Yeah, that’s right, it’s another dated reference from octogenarian Ned Bitters. Keep up your bitching and I’ll go all “I Dream of Jeannie” on your complaining ass.)
Perhaps I’m just bitter. Despised by coworkers, disliked by my family and barely tolerated by the two to three friends I have, no one has ever been moved to throw a surprise party in my honor. Which, of course, is no surprise.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.