You gotta get in to get out

Blogging | January 20, 2011

Every once in a while, a snippet from a Reader’s Digest (of all things) comes back to me. A father and son are looking at a particularly striking sunset when the son mentions that if you took all the really good moments in life, they don’t add up to a whole lot of time.

The father’s reply — “Precious, aren’t they?”

It’s December 2010 and I’m at a Chinese restaurant in Lancaster, PA, to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday. We’re joined by our three children, our grandson, and our daughter-in-law.

And I’m having a really good moment.

I didn’t expect to have one this evening. The big to-do my son and I tried to orchestrate turned into a big to-don’t. As frequently happens when my desire to do what I think is a good thing is thwarted, I experienced a number of emotions that resulted in my suppressing a desire to recommend that my sister-in-law engage in aerial fornication in a lunarly direction. There were also vague, unformed thoughts of a more primal level directed at my mate of more than 30 years for signing off on her sister’s bullshit.

Which is why this really good moment surprises me. Because like many of my ilk, when I decide to be a real #@!$ing jerk about something, I usually do a pretty good job at it.

Here’s how it rolled out. My son called me in September to ask what we were going to do for my wife’s 50th birthday in December. We batted some ideas around, and came up with a surprise party at the same Elks Lodge that hosted his wedding reception.

I did the math and figured between relatives and friends; we could get 50 people there, rent a karaoke machine and have ourselves a real hootenanny for just under $1,000.

Those familiar with my wife will know that the thing that is going to piss her off the most is the price tag. We could throw a quiet party for her and just invite family for under $100, but I figure, you only hit the 5-0 once, so let’s have a party where nobody has to worry about cleaning up.

The die is cast. I call Wendy, my wife’s sister, and ask her to help with the ruse. My son is going to invite my wife and me out to dinner at the Elks that Saturday evening, Wendy has to pretend to host a party at her house the next day.

Beautiful, when you think about it. What better way to surprise somebody than to tell them you’re throwing them a party, and then surprising them the night before?

Wendy is all smiles and agreement. She’s even willing to actually host a party for real if we want to do that. But I’m adamant that I want people to come, have fun and leave with no one lifting a finger to prepare food or clean up afterwards.

Imagine my surprise when my wife announced the following week that Wendy sent her an e-mail asking if she wanted to go to Atlantic City for her birthday.

Okay… maybe I should say, imagine my shock and indignation when that back-stabbing bee-yatch sold me and my surprise party down the river. Because my wife loves AC, and there’s no way my surprise party can compete with that offer.

I tried to dial it down.

It didn’t work.

So I calmly, but deliberately, jumped all over my wife when she announced that bit of news. “Really? When did she send you the e-mail?”

“Just this week…”

Wow… so she did this AFTER I asked her to help out. Oh, the pissed-ometer was off the charts at that news.

“Can I see it?”

“Why?”

“I just want to see what she said…”

My wife obviously knew something was up. I eventually put two and two together and realized that my wife knew everything that was up, but at the time, I was still knee-jerking pretty bad.

Bottom line, I saw it going like this. I ask Wendy to participate in a party she knows her sister would want nothing to do with… she tells my wife… they agree that Wendy will be the bee-yatch (and hey, I’ll never argue that case…) and they’ll head off to AC for a couple days instead of me dropping a G on a room and food.

I eventually got there, but not without being more than a little frustrated at the machinations they resorted to in getting their way. Wendy could have just said, “George… that sounds like a nice idea, but you know Karen… she’s not going to want you to spend $1,000 on a party for her… you should shelve that idea and just give her $500 to gamble with…”

Which is basically what ended up happening.

So, instead of a party with relatives and friends, we’re at a Chinese restaurant, just us Maffetts and Maffetts-by-proxie, and I’m determined to have a good time.

I’m sitting at the head of a table for eight. My wife, grandson and oldest daughter line the left side of the table, my youngest daughter is at the foot, circling around to my son and then his wife.

The good moment? At some point, in all of the hubbub, my wife is busy talking to our grandson on my left, my daughter-in-law is perusing the dessert menu on my right, and I look up to see our three adult children at the end of the table yammering away about something, completely oblivious to the rest of us.

And for five seconds, they’re my kids again. Sitting and talking to each other like they did at the dinner table when they were little, dishing about school, friends, whatever. My son flashing his grin, my oldest daughter rolling her eyes, my youngest tucking an errant bit of rice back in her mouth.

For three of those seconds, I half expected a spoonful of rice to be loaded, launched and catapulted across the table, a geyser of Coke erupting from a suddenly burning nasal passage, a table being pounded by kids laughing too hard to breathe…

But for one moment…

Don’t look, okay?

I’m gonna need a minute here…


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