I’m usually fairly observant. I’m the guy who’ll notice critters along the road, deer emerging from woods, new businesses opening and others shutting their doors.
So it’s pretty hard to try to pull off something without me having at least an inkling that something’s going on. Usually when someone tries to surprise me I have to use my best acting ability so I don’t let on that I knew it all along.
My 30th birthday was an exception.
My wife Betsy and a few friends conspired to throw me a surprise party, and Betsy, aware that I often noticed the smallest things, arranged to get me out of the way while preparations took place.
My good friend Bill Mishler begged me to take him fishing, which I was always willing to do. First I checked with Betsy, just to be sure it wouldn’t upset any plans she’d made.
“Is it OK if I go?” I asked.
“Why not? It’s your birthday. Do what you want. Have a great time”
And so the first part of Betsy’s plan unfolded perfectly.
First thing that morning, Bill and I headed to Holiday Lakes near Willard, where I owned some property so I could enjoy the lake’s spectacular bass fishing. Everything seemed completely normal and I had no clue anything was in store for me other than a great day of fishing.
The bass were cooperating and it wasn’t hard for Bill to get me to stay out until twilight. I would have fished longer but Bill yawned and said he was ready to call it quits.
A few casts later we packed it in and headed for home with a cooler full of fish to clean for a future feast.
As we pulled up to my house in Norwalk, I was hungry, tired from a day on the water and anxious to get the boat put away. So I wasn’t happy when I found the drive blocked by a couple of cars. We shared a driveway with our neighbors and my first assumption was that they hadn’t advised their visitors not to block the drive. I tried to find a place to park the car and boat on the street and was annoyed to discover none available. There were far more cars than usual parked along our street. I drove around the block and found a spot a few hundred feet from my house.
Mr. Observant walked right past several cars that I should have recognized as my friends, especially my friend Tom’s bright red van. But I was too focused on getting whoever’s cars were in the drive moved out of the way.
I stormed into my house and about fell over from shock. More than a dozen people shouted at once, “Surprise!” All my best friends were there, as well as then-mayor Tom Cochran, state rep. Dick Rench, Mike Ruggles from the Norwalk police department and co-workers from the newspaper.
“How about that Buzzy?” Bill exclaimed, using one of several nicknames by which he calls me. “Kept ya out fishing all day Bobo and you never had a clue!” And he was right.
I was stunned speechless for once (although as any of my friends can attest, not for long) and kept looking around me, as if I was afraid I was dreaming and any moment I’d awake to find the house empty.
It was just a great party, pure and simple, and I provided the evening’s entertainment while a bunch of us were yakking in my kitchen.
I leaned against the door leading to the basement, a beer in my hand, talking with the mayor, Rench and a few friends. In the middle of a sentence the latch on the door suddenly let go, the door flew open and I tumbled backwards down the steps, landing square on my posterior.
Everyone dashed to the doorway, alarmed and concerned. “Are you all right???” they asked in unison.
“Yep” I said. “Nothing hurt but my pride”
As soon as they learned I was OK, the entire group burst into laughter which may still be going on today. Whenever anyone ever mentions the party, the first thing brought up is my plunge into the basement.
After the party, Betsy asked me if I really had been surprised.
“Absolutely” I said. “I had no idea you had anything planned.
“How could you not have noticed all your friends’ cars out front?” she asked. “Especially Tom’s van! I thought you’re a journalist. You’re supposed to be observant”
“I am” I assured her.
“But” I added, “I was off-duty!”