We were still living in Manhattan and it was Bobby’s birthday. I decided to throw him a surprise party in our apartment. His sister, Meredith was flying in and I invited a small group of people to come over. Bobby had a standing meeting every Friday night so it was perfect, I’d ask everybody over, we’d get the place set up, after his meeting, he’d come home and we’d all scream and eat cake, red velvet, ordered from Penelope, a cute restaurant in our neighborhood, with delicious baked goods.
Friday arrived. Bobby left at around 6:30 saying he’d be back later. “Bye,” I said, super casually. As if I had barely even noticed he was leaving. His meeting got out at 8:30 so he’d be home at 8:45.
Once I heard the downstairs door click shut, I sprang into action. Our apartment was small—440 square feet. So getting the place ready wasn’t such a big deal. But I had to run out to pick up the cake, flowers, candles. I ran back to the apartment, jumped in the shower just as the buzzer started.
“Come on up!” I yelled down the stairwell once I’d buzzed the person in. Up came Jonathan and Jack with more baked goods, then Leah with non-alcoholic beverages, Meredith arrived with a big gift wrapped in beautiful paper. And a bottle of white wine.
I opened it, poured her a glass and handed it to her.
“What if Bobby comes back early,” Meredith asked me, sipping.
“Oh, he never comes back early.”
“Well, but, he might.”
“No, trust me, he’ll be back at 8:45, and if not on the dot, then adjacent to it.”
Bobby is a very regulated individual: he does the same things at the same time almost every day. Leaving and coming, eating and showers, when he takes his walk. All of these activities adhere to a regimented schedule.
Meredith smiled slyly, one eyebrow raised, “Hm, you might not know him as well as you think you do.”
I laughed off Meredith’s cautionary air and went to fill the nut dishes. The place was filling up—I mean, with 440 square feet, 8 people made it feel packed—but the lights were still on and the confetti bags weren’t finished being prepped. I had asked several guests to blow up balloons while I was putting candles on the cake for later. I hadn’t lit the candles in the apartment yet and still had to change into my party shirt, which I didn’t want to wear for prep because I sweat a lot and wanted to be fresh for the actual party. Also, the music hadn’t been turned on yet so when the downstairs door opened and closed I heard it. Probably a neighbor, I thought. It was Friday night and folks were heading out, only I hadn’t heard anyone on the stairs, tromping down the old wooden steps in our walk-up, where people going up and downstairs walked right past your door and you heard them, coming and going. It was a small apartment building, an old brownstones, with 6 units, only 5 of them occupied.
I heard steps from the bottom of the stairs, so it wasn’t someone going out, it was someone coming in, strange for New York City on a Friday for someone to be coming back home at, what—I checked my phone, 8:20, and while looking at my phone I also saw that Bobby had texted me 15 minutes before to say he was on his way home. Early.
“He’s coming,” I hissed.
“He’s coming, now.”
I lunged for the light switch, a couple of people tried to finish blowing up their balloons, I shoved messy little portions of confetti at people and threw noise makers across the room, hitting a couple of friends. I tried to get the music on but couldn’t find the remote—the candles would have to wait. I was wearing my sweaty prep shirt and was not at my best when the door opened
The revelers lamely shouted, “SURPRISE!” I just screamed. Enraged. How could he be there, 25 minutes early. off-schedule?
The cheering had been half hearted and one person got a noise-maker to her mouth just in time but her lip placement hadn’t been great so she had made a sad squeak. Our rushed attempt at getting confetti in the air, was the worst-- people didn’t even have enough time to put down whatever they were doing, and cock their arms and throw—confetti must be thrown, that’s what its for, throwing is confetti’s birthright—but, no, this confetti was sort of gently tossed, underhanded, like a proper Victorian lady in a park on a mild summer day, gently scattering seed to a pair of swans floating a ways off.
Our confetti never had a chance, really, of fulfilling confetti’s greatest aim, to fall from a height, signifying celebration. All of our attempts, by which I mean, my attempts, were clumsy.
I’ve been making theater for well over half my life and one of my most favorite elements of theater is that of surprise. But, timing is crucial. A lot of planning goes into well-executed surprise, with details organized and coordinated. I felt ashamed.
“Happy birthday.” I said to Bobby, trying to keep my voice light, “What are you doing here?” I lay my sweaty arm around his shoulder and squeezed, trying to temper my quivering rage.
“Oh,” he said, glaring at the pitiful gathering. “I got bored and decided to leave early.”
He seemed so blasé about the whole thing but then I realized, wait, no--the forced smile, the methodical blinking--he’s actually irritated. Was he irritated that my attempt to surprise him was lame? No, and it hit me--Bobby doesn’t like surprises—surprise!. What was I even doing throwing him a surprise party? And, a lame one, at that, to not allow for his possible early return? To not have a plan to ensure that he’d be out until the time when I expected him?
The other night sitting in the kitchen having dinner, I said, “thank god we’re not still in our teeny Manhattan apartment during all this.”
“I know,” he said.
“With your studio in Bushwick and not being able to take the subway, you wouldn’t be able to work.”
We then imagined all the people dealing with similar conditions in New York City.
I never ever imagined I would live somewhere like Woodstock. A town of 5,000 people in the woods outside of New York City. It’s a special town, with incredible community, tons of live music, and a history steeped in culture and art. Still, I was so determined to get out of the town where I grew up that just living in big cities was a symbol of success. I made it! Even if I hadn’t made it. And now I live here.
And these days being at home, week after week, not getting on a bus to the city, not planning trips to LA, just being here, with a simpler daily life.
How come I like it so much?
Who is this person enjoying being home, not having a bigger life, not being distracted by the next place I have to be. The next place I have to be right now is either the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom or the home office.
I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that adaptation is what leads a species to survive. Who would have thought I could adapt to this? Who ever thought I could enjoy confining my activities to this cottage, this yard, with occasional drives to get groceries or to talk Sally for a walk?
I was going to say, “No one! No one could have predicted it!” But that’s not true. I knew I’d like it, maybe even love it, but I didn’t know how to have it, or I didn’t think I could. I have tossed myself around for so long—here, there, now there, no go here—when what I always wanted to try was being still. To simplify.
This crisis has brought us such news of the world, a daily deluge of information and facts and terror—it has also brought us news of our selves and own lives, this just in: you might be enjoying your new and different life.