July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I always thought I wanted a surprise party, as I’d never been on the receiving end of one. I always wondered how it felt to be surprised like that, and if I would know it was coming. I’d mentioned this thought to my wife more than a year ago, when someone on the block made a surprise party for their spouse. And what I found, once she made me one, was that it’s a moment of shock followed by an intense amount of guilt as to what you put your wife through beforehand to almost mess things up when all she wanted was to do something nice for you behind your back. And every decision you made in the days leading up to it actually made her job more and more stressful.

Unless you did figure it out, in which case her work was for nothing.

And why do the party as a surprise? The sneaking around makes it so much harder, and all for the two seconds it takes to surprise him? After that, it’s basically a regular party. It’s not like he’s going to keep forgetting.

“He’s in the bathroom! I’m going to turn off the lights again. Everyone hide!”

No, after that first second that everyone yells, “Surprise!” it’s just a regular party. Except that you get to have a whole conversation, over and over, about whether you knew all along, whether you figured it out, how hard it was for everyone to keep the surprise from you because you’re such an idiot who kept almost blundering into it.

But at least this gives you something to talk about at the party. It’s not like you prepared something.

I guess the sneaking around does make it a game. Planning a regular party is a lot of work. But planning a surprise party is actually fun, though also slightly more work. But it’s still less work than planning, say, a wedding or a bar mitzvah. You’re not making anyone a surprise wedding.

My wife did it right. First of all, she invited friends, not family. For one thing, no one else in your family is your age. I’m the oldest of 10 kids, and the party would have devolved into everyone making fun of me for being the first to get old. Like this isn’t something they plan on doing. Also, there was no danger of my friends spoiling the surprise beforehand, because I almost never talk to them. We’re all busy. These are my best friends she invited, and we sometimes go for years at a time without talking. My wife was the only person in my entire regular social circle who knew anything about the party.

The other idea she had—which I think I read somewhere, too—was to make it nowhere near the person’s birthday. For example, if your spouse’s 40th birthday is in November, you want to make the party the April after he turns 42. Because anywhere near the birthday, everything becomes suspicious.

“Wait. Why are none of my friends talking to me all of a sudden?”

It wasn’t all of a sudden.

“So how did it happen?” you ask.

Well, I was on the floor of the living room doing my back stretches, because I’m old, which is not the most flattering of positions to be in when your party guests show up. And then there was a knock at the door, so my wife opened the door and stepped outside, and then I didn’t hear anything for a minute, but she was whispering something like, “OK, everyone come in really quietly, and once you’re all in, you can yell, ‘Surprise!’ or whatever.” She also told them beforehand, “Don’t talk outside our house, because I don’t want him to wonder why he hears, say, Menachem’s voice outside.” Because I’m going to think, “Hey, that sounds like my friend who lives in Manhattan and doesn’t own a car. I bet it’s him!”

It took a second once I even saw them to realize why my friends who live like an hour away might be showing up in my house on a Motzei Shabbos really, really quietly. Were they in town for some other reason? One was from Far Rockaway and another lives in Manhattan. There’s way more stuff where they’re from. There was also no yelling of surprise, I don’t think. I mean, they weren’t going to yell, “Surprise” from outside. One of my friends wasn’t even there yet. He was picking up the pizza.

So there was no good time to yell, “Surprise!” which is usually when the guest of honor figures out it’s a surprise. For a second there, I wondered if my wife had even been in on this, or if my friends suddenly showed up on their own.

Actually, my wife took a video of my reaction, and it turns out that someone did say, “Surprise,” but it was a little bit delayed. And it was more of an awkward statement than an announcement. And I remember thinking, “What’s the surprise? Because it’s nowhere near my birthday. How come I didn’t know we were surprising someone?” Technically, it was like two days before my anniversary, so that was weird. Why do they care so much about our anniversary?

Anyway, one thing I realized about surprise parties is that it’s awkward being the guest of honor, because you feel like everyone contributed to this party but you. And it’s for you. So that’s worse. You don’t know who bought what and whether you owe people money, or if your wife covered that, or what. And it’s definitely not a good time to ask.

“Did you know about the surprise?”

“No! So do I owe Sholom for the pizza, or what?”

The other thing I learned was that if you don’t know a party is coming, it almost seems like you’re going out of your way to mess it up. Next week, we’ll talk about how I blundered around, almost destroying my party before it happened.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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