April 17, 2009  
Surprise, It's Your Birthday!

It was in early July and the weather man announced “88 degrees with a chance of rain.”   I turned off the radio. We were preparing ourselves to meet Tony and Aida, two dear friends, for a luncheon date.  “Arlene, let’s not forget the umbrellas.  The weather man says there’s a chance for rain.”  The phone rang; I was the first to reach for it.  A male voice asked to speak to Arlene.  I asked if I may be of help, and he said he was confirming our luncheon reservations for forty people.  “Whoa, wait a minute” I replied. “Someone in your restaurant made a terrible error. There are only four of us; someone must have added a zero to the four.”  My wife Arlene quickly grabbed the phone and said she’d resolve the problem as she walked towards the bathroom to put on her makeup.

A few months earlier I had asked Arlene if she would have a surprise party for me, after all I was about to turn 65.  “Oh, it’s surprise birthday party time, is it?” asked Arlene.  I knew the lecture would soon begin.  “How can it be a surprise, if you ask?" Arlene’s not one for parties; even in her youth she’d avoid them.  To have to plan one was taxing for her.  I, on the other hand, enjoy parties.  I particularly enjoy meeting old friends, and making new ones.

In the past I asked for a 45th birthday surprise party, and questioned Arlene, and the kids if they were planning one.  All they’d do is was laugh.  “Dad, check under the bed, everyone is hiding there” or “Check out the closet in the hall way, there are twenty-five people waiting to yell surprise.”  I never gave up, well almost never, so every five years I’d say “I know this is the year for my surprise party” to which everyone would laugh.  I thought for sure that 60 would be the magic number; but no party.  I guess somewhere in my mind the shtick was becoming more fun than a possible party, so asking for one for my 65th was only natural for me.

Earlier that morning I had cut out two discount coupons for Applebee’s, and suggested we eat there.  Arlene’s response was “Sweetheart, Tony, and Aida, have never eaten at O' Charley's, and are looking forward to eating there.  We’ll use the coupons next time.”

When we arrived, Tony, and Aida, were waiting for us.  We followed the hostess to the rear of the restaurant.  As we entered the area, I saw Lenny (the king of forwarding Yiddish jokes) and Edna Kaufman. “Wow, the Kaufman’s are eating here as well, let me say hello.”  I looked up and realized the area was filled with people I know, and love. Some were yelling “Surprise,” and others were singing “Happy Birthday to you.” The children were singing "This old man,” and my brother was asking “When do we eat?” There were balloons hanging from chairs, laughter in the room, and people congratulating me and calling me an “alter kaka,” but the thing I found amusing was that everyone asked if I was really surprised.  I’m a terrible actor, and surprise is not one of my best acting attributes. I was joyful! This was my surprise party! Arlene, and our sons, Adam, and Lew, and their wives, Nikole, and Christie, had planned the whole affair.

My brother Herb

I really enjoyed greeting and thanking each person for attending. When I reached my brother Herb’s table (our mother’s favorite son) he said, “Mel, come closer, look around, this place is packed.  Do you know how many people this restaurant seats?”  I replied “no”.  He said “It’s a gold mine.”  Herb, my older brother, is very observant. One time, while we sat eating in a restaurant, he  said, “See these chairs?”  “Yes”, I replied. He said, “they’re all wood, no cushioning; it’s a thirty minute chair.”  “What do you mean?”  His response was “it’s uncomfortable to sit here for more than thirty minutes; it’s a thirty minute restaurant, and look at how many chairs.  It’s a gold mine.”  Now, every time we go out, Herb is counting chairs, and rating the restaurant.  If there were a need for an expert in this area, he’d be the one.

The Party

It seemed as if everyone was having fun.  I opened the gag gifts, and spent much of the time laughing.  Adam handed me four birthday cards from his wife, Nikole, who was unable to attend. Their English Mastiff had birthed fourteen puppies two weeks before, and they needed round the clock feeding.  When I opened the cards, there was a personal voice message, and a rendition of the “Chicken Dance.”   

At the end of the meal, the waiter brought out a silver tray with the word "yummy" on the cover. I naturally assumed it would be the cake, but when he lifted the cover there was a book titled “The Gefilte Fish Tales, Volume 1” by Mel Yahre.  I expected to open the book, and see blank pages. To my surprise, it was filled with stories I had written.  I put my hand to my chest and yelled, “Thank You, I’m faklempt,” (one has to seize the moment in situations like these.) I said it again, and louder for those who didn’t hear-- “I’m faklempt.”  “Adam, come closer,” I said.  “You’re not planning on selling these are you? No one will buy.” “No Pops, Lew, and I, decided you should do a book signing”  “I love it, great idea, I can’t tell you how happy I am.”  “Dad, Lew, and I, are treating you to the party, and this first edition printing of the books—150 of them!  I’m touched, and for once don’t know what to say. I think to myself how good G-d is, that he blessed me with a wonderful loving wife, two wonderful sons, and their caring wives.

The cake

When the actual birthday cake was brought to the table I found myself singing Happy Birthday to me, and replaced the name Mel, with “fat guy.”  Wow, what a surprise party!!!!  The cake was so large that I thought that everyone in the whole restaurant would get a slice.

Arlene has admitted to me that this was not her idea, but rather our sons’ and their wives’.  I’m really thankful for my family, and friends.  I have told my sons that I’d pick up the tab for their 65th birthday party, and print books of their musings.

Let’s see, I turn 70 in five years, and I would really enjoy a surprise party. We’ll be married fifty years in seven more years, so I think I’ll start hinting now.   

I hope you all had a wonderful Pesach, enjoy the spring weather, and Eat Kosher!

Mel (the fat guy).

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