Turning the big 4-0 (Part III)

(Get caught up on the first day and the proceedings til now for the second day. Back to the story…)

We headed off to Carmine’s for a nice birthday dinner together. And her phone is still going off with the text messages, to the point where she finally tells me that she’s telling her sister that the phone is being turned off for the evening. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from the hotel, so we were there in very short order. And the place is packed to the rafters, with a line going out the door. They tell us that only one person from each party should stand in line, and everyone else should wait inside at the bar. I get ready to take on my normal line-standing role, but my sweetie says that she’ll stand in line instead and that I should just make my way to the bar. (This is very unusual for her. Should have set off some sort of bells, but my Spidey senses were apparently taking the night off.)

I waited at the bar for, oh, not that long a period of time, actually—we had arrived pretty close to our reservation time—before she made her way to the front of the line. I saw her chatting with the maitre’d, at which point he ushered her out of the line and told us, “Your table’s all set; the rest of your party is waiting for you.” When I mentioned this to her (“Rest of our party? Do they have the right reservation?”), she looked understandably miffed, and we both figured they’d borked our reservation and that we were going to be marching right back to the hostess stand in very short order. And she takes off up the stairs ahead of me. I mean, she takes off. Not a happy camper. (Again, though, unusual, in that this is typically my role. More bells missed.)

Up the stairs. Around the corner. Past the waiter (“They’re already waiting for you.” Moron.) and to a curtained-off booth. And as I pull back the curtains, I’m already coming up with my apologies to the complete strangers whose dinner I’m about to interrupt. So back go the curtains…

(And I’m sure you’ve already figured out what happens next, more or less.)

…and in front of me sat not a table of complete strangers, but a table of some of my best friends and family. And given that I realized what was happening about a millisecond after I pulled back the curtains, the look of surprise on my face was quite genuine. (That despite the efforts of the Carmine’s staff to inadvertently blow the surprise. “The rest of your party is waiting”, indeed. Not sure what part of “surprise party” was hard to figure out.) And then the now-obvious truth came out: All of those text messages to my wife weren’t from her sister—they were from various people in the party who had been IM’ing her their location and plans so as to make sure that we didn’t accidentally run into them. For example, one of the first messages that she received right after we got to the hotel on Thursday was from one couple who had walked into the hotel literally minutes after we left the front desk for the elevators—in fact, almost every single person in the group was actually staying at the same hotel we were, and we managed to avoid running into them for the better part of two days! (no small feat, as you can imagine) And the others: “We’re in the hotel lobby.”… “We’re leaving for the restaurant now.”… “Everyone’s here.”… (etc.) My friend Keith was apparently the most prolific of the texters, as she got updates on every move of his short of knowing when he was stepping out of the shower in the morning.

[Aside: In fact, when I had previously IM’ed my friend Pedro saying that I just saw Julia Stiles, he told me that he’d about had a heart attack when he first started reading the message—”I just saw…”—as he thought the next words were going to be along the lines of “…you walking down 7th Ave”. He was quite relieved that I had merely sighted a celebrity. Oh, and I also discovered that he was quite the accomplished liar, as he and I had been chatting about my lack of knowledge of my birthday plans for weeks, plans that he’d known about for months.]

The party had been waiting for us long enough for everyone to introduce themselves to everyone else, so that spared me from having to actually function as a host (which I probably wouldn’t have been capable of at that moment anyway). And so friends and family from all stages of my life had time to figure out what they had in common besides being stuck knowing me: my brother and sister-in-law, one of my best friends from back since the 6th grade and her husband, two of my roommates from college (and their respective spouses), one of my classmates from college and his wife, and one of my best friends since college (and his very significant other). The rest of the night was a gleeful blur of food and wine and endless laughter—oh, was there laughter (and not always at my expense, thankfully, though among the gifts—or is that “gifts”?—from the evening were the “Oh crap! I’m 40!” T-shirt and the tube of Fixodent ever so thoughtfully sent by one of my grad school officemates who couldn’t attend the festivities in person). The capper was the picture frame that I was presented, signed by everyone but also signed by quite a number of people who couldn’t attend in person. (Like I said, she thought of everything—and everyone. There wasn’t a single person there or that I talked to later who didn’t rave about the level of planning and detail she had put into this weekend. And it was still only Friday.)

Eventually, we all wandered back to the hotel and collectively called it a night (though a couple of us met in the pub next to the hotel for a late-night pint before turning in). After all, there was still Saturday to come…

Continue to the finale