Torches and waterslides

Well, Monkey, it’d been over a month since the last time you swam in a pool, and I thought it high time we went for a swim. In fact, it was so overdue that I felt it was also a good time to go for a Surprise Weekend. And that’s a big deal, because it’s been almost a year and a half since our last one.
Why so long? It’s been a number of things. First, I worked a lot, and too hard. It wore me down and I was almost always too tired to do things that we should have done. It’s a poor excuse, Monkey, and I’m sorry that it’s all I have to offer. Second, doing things in Costa Rica was always just that much harder than it really needed to be, at least when planning for us. You can only go to Arenal so many times, and getting to the coast never seemed to be as easy for us as it was for others. After a while, we planned all of our weekends, rather than letting one of us surprise the rest.
Needless to say, I wanted to change things up a bit.
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Weekend at Tabacon

When Alex and I first came to Costa Rica 3.5 years ago, we went on a little packaged tour. The tour included a two-night (possible three-night — Alex and I are struggling to remember which it was) stay in the Arenal area. Our first afternoon/night included a hike around the south side of the active Arenal volcano, and dinner and a splash at the Tabacon Hot Springs.
At the time we’d been there, it was highly magical. We’d seen lava (in the form of red-hot tumbling rocks) rolling down the side of the mountain, the clouds of steam rolling through the trees illuminated by the carefully-placed lights. It was something to behold.
Ever since then, Alex had wanted to go back. Rack up Surprise Weekend in Costa Rica #3.
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This morning, the Blue Business Unit (aka the Mercedes-Benz USA team) decided to prank the Gold Business Unit (aka the Rolex team). Toilet paper — hundreds of rolls — over everything. Silly string. Blue streamers. And randomly-attacked items with Saran Wrap.
Call it petty jealousy, call it bravado, call it a need for decorating our space without input. We still got pwned.
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Surprise birthday weekend in Revelstoke

This weekend, it was my turn to be surprised. And surprises came in droves.
Sunday was my 34th birthday. I find it a little hard to believe that I’m actually that old. I always figured when I was in my 30s, I’d be more … mature. And yet I find myself being more immature with each passing year. I guess I’m holding to my pattern — 18 years old, with a heap of experience. For now, I think that’s a good thing. Experience helps, and one can’t get too mature. You lose all the fun, after all!
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Surprise weekend at Bow Lake

Surprise weekends are a good thing. Especially if you have a good place to go.
We have no standing rule that says we have to go anywhere, though. Although the “rules” (such as they are) suggest that staying at home is an option, we have yet to actually do that. This weekend was no different.
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Surprise weekend in Edmonton

It’s been a while since our last surprise weekend (see [[Surprise Visit to Drumheller]]), but not for a lack of wanting. We’ve been that busy. Either Alex has had to work (the joys of working in the medical community) or we’ve both been traveling. This weekend was the first one we’d had to get away.
It was a bit of a special one, but for no other reason than we’d barely seen each other in almost three weeks. I was away in San Jose for a conference (see [[Search Engine Strategies Conference 2004 San Jose, Calgary to San Jose]]), followed immediately by the Calgary Dragon Boat Festival (see [[2004 Calgary Dragon Boat Festival]]), and then Alex was off in Ontario for a week and a half. So I had to plan this weekend’s getaway so we’d have some time to ourselves.
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Surprise Visit to Drumheller

This weekend was a bit of a surprise. Not that it suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, but that until something happened, I had no idea what was yet to come.
The weekend started with the one thing I did have control over: a barbecue. Specifically, the first Jerks BBQ of the summer. What is a “Jerks BBQ”, you might ask? The group of people that I work with most around the office are The Jerks. Effectively, we’re mostly web developers. Why “Jerks”? Well, we have a rather odd term of endearment around here: “JERK!”. Hence, we’re Jerks.
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How to throw a surprise party (and not get caught)

Surprise parties are one of those great little joys in life. While I’ve never had one thrown for me, I’ve thrown a couple myself. They’re not the easiest things to do, to be certain, but they are definitely some of the most fun.
What makes a surprise party so good? If you’re the host or planner, it’s from the giddiness that forms from knowing what will happen. If you’re the guest of honour (or the victim, depending on your point of view), you get the joy of knowing that people have planned something just for you. It’s a special feeling … or rather, I would hope that it is (not actually knowing myself).
I’m going to speak to the planners, which I assume is why you’ve come to this page. (If you think someone is planning a surprise party for you and are trying to find out if it’s true, I can offer no hints here. If they’re following these suggestions, you won’t know until it’s too late.) You’ve got a hard task ahead of you, but it is a rewarding one if it’s done right.
At all times, you need to remember who is in control: you. Everything that happens is because of you. If you lose control, don’t expect things to go off without a hitch. You can delegate, but you need to know that those you’ve delegated to are trustworthy and reliable. Otherwise, your intended surprise might end up a dud.
There are some basic rules you should follow to ensure that your party goes well and without hitches. Above all, you don’t want to get caught in making the preparations, and spill the beans to the indenting surprisee.

  1. Secrecy are the first and second words
  2. Separate and isolate communications
  3. Better to over-involve than under-involve
  4. Inform clearly and explicitly
  5. Know what’s going on at all times
  6. Be mindful of what you say
  7. Cover your tracks
  8. Make sure you have a backup plan

Secrecy are the first and second words

The first rule of the Surprise Party is: you do not talk about the Surprise Party. The second rule of the Surprise Party is: you do not talk about the Surprise Party.
You never know who’s around and don’t think for a second that the six degrees of separation is a myth. So idle chatter about a surprise party is not a wise idea. Similarly, you should always make sure that any communications you send are to specific people, be it by phone, email, or IM. Never send things by post (unless you’re certain there is no way information could leak), by fax (it’s out in the open), or leave voicemails on residential lines (especially if the intended victim lives there).
Swear everyone to secrecy. This means they cannot discuss it with anyone else except you. And ideally, unless they’re involved with the planning or execution, they shouldn’t need to. The less anyone talks, the less chance of the wrong people finding out. As the WWII saying goes: Loose lips sink ships.

Separate and isolate communications

As alluded to above, you need to make sure your communications lines are clear and isolated. This cuts down on crosstalk chatter and sidebars, which are guaranteed to cause problems.
When you talk to people, talk to them individually. This is best because you get immediate feedback, and there’s no question about whether or not they understand what is being asked of them. If you have to do discussions with a group, make sure each person acknowledges what you have said and/or asked. The last thing you need is ambiguity.
Make sure your communications are direct — never make public statements. If you have to send out invitations, make sure that they’re received in a private manner (e.g. the office, through email, talking on the phone). Never leave messages where others can see or hear them, especially if it’s the person you’re surprising.
Finally, don’t communicate unless you have to. Updates are fine, but don’t randomly send out information until you’re ready to do so. This lessens the change of leaks.

Better to over-involve than under-involve

On the flip-side of secrecy is an inadvertent foul-up due to conflicting plans. The best laid plans can go to pot in mere seconds by the actions of someone who is not privy to the surprise party. So when you’re planning, make sure that everyone within the sphere of influence knows what is going on. They don’t have to be invited, just need to know that they can’t foul things up.
Naturally, you can’t cover for everything. There are always things that you simply can’t plan for. (For that, see “Make sure you have a backup plan”.) Consider it as an 80/20 rule. You can cover 80% of all possible actions with relative ease. The remaining 20% are a lot riskier and difficult, and might not interfere with your plans, anyway.
You need a list of culprits. Some will be invited, some not. The list of invitees is up to you, but they still need to be informed:

  • friends
  • significant others
  • co-workers
  • teammates
  • housemates
  • roommates
  • spouse
  • parents
  • siblings
  • aunts and uncles
  • cousins
  • nieces and nephews
  • uncle’s cousin’s roommate’s older brother’s girlfriend’s dog

Okay, that last one was a bit much, but you get the point.
Really consider who you’ve got on your list. Each of these people will have contact on a regular basis, and could introduce plans that could thoroughly foul up anything you’ve got going.
Family is particularly important, especially if the party does not directly involve family. Family is the single most powerful thing for some people, and is the reason why your intended guest might decline your casual invitation to spend time with their parents. So if you’re throwing a party, make sure the family knows what’s going on.
Plan big. Get as many people as you can. Sure, you can throw a small surprise party, but why bother when you can have a big one? Besides, you can get a much louder yell out of more people.

Inform clearly and explicitly

Once you’ve got your key list of people, make sure you give details. Tell them everything they need to know: time, place, reason, attire (if any specifics are desired), and who the other people are.
Make sure that you get accurate contact information for each person, and ensure that it’s secure (e.g. that no-one else might inadvertently overhear something they shouldn’t). You might have to employ one or more of your intended invitees to help out if you don’t know enough people up-front.
Don’t be vague at any time. Once you have the details, make sure they’re broadcast to everyone else. Make sure everyone else knows the details, so there’s no question. People need to make sure that they arrive at the surprise location before the unsuspecting target(s) arrive. There’s nothing worse than a surprise with only a few people.

Know what’s going on at all times

Know your details, and know them cold. Make sure you can answer any question about the party or the plans if asked, without having to refer to notes (unless it’s something esoteric). It’s a bit of work, but it’s easier when you’re running around trying to organize things.

Be mindful of what you say

In short, you have to learn to lie.
This is particularly important if you’re the one doing the planning, and the person you’re surprising is close to you (spouse, significant other, friend, family). If you want to conduct a surprise, you need to make sure you don’t tell them anything accidentally.
You also have to make sure they don’t suspect anything. This is the hard part. Humans are inquisitive by nature. If you have a look of “something’s up”, the other party will immediately suspect something. You have to be able to look someone square in the face and say: “No, honey, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Be able to avoid the topic. If they want to plan something for the same time that you’re planning the party, allow them to do so. This will keep them occupied and they will not expect anything than their plans. Defuse the plans as necessary by canceling reservations (while informing of the real plans), or deferring purchases as long as possible. If necessary, go to a backup plan and use some of the invitees to construct a “just in case” scenario to distract.

Cover your tracks

Never leave your plans lying around, even if you live alone. Chances are, someone will see what you’re doing, and if it’s the wrong people, it’s game over. Hide them in drawers (under locks, if needed) or in password-protected files. Delete messages once you see/hear them. Jot down only the most crucial notes.
Create distractions. This is the same technique magicians use to make a ball disappear before your eyes. Make fake plans that will keep someone on their toes. You can even create real plans designed to take the person away from what’s going on, only to bring them back to the surprise to unfold.

Make sure you have a backup plan

No plan is ever perfect. So long as you deal with humanity, you must expect something to go wrong. Be it discovery of the plans, suspicion of a surprise, a sudden illness, disappearance of the subject (hey, it’s been known to happen), or transportation failures, make sure you’ve got something in your back pocket to save the day.
Some things you can plan for. If the gig is up, and you’ve got a few hours before the surprise is planned to go off, admit to a surprise. Just not *the* surprise. Grab a couple of friends and set them up at a different location. Do a small surprise there. Have them all need to leave for different reasons (when in reality, they’re all going the same place you will be going), and then head to the actual surprise.
Some things you can’t. If the gig is up less than an hour away, you might pretty much be screwed. At that point, you might have to resort to the worst thing you can do: ask that they act surprised when they enter the room, if nothing else than for the benefit of everyone else.

A few suggestions

The Home Surprise Party.
This is an easy one, if planned well. Ensure that a trusted person has the keys to the house or apartment. Make sure everyone arrives at least an hour ahead of schedule for decorations, etc. Make sure all cars are parked away from the home. Set a window of 10 minutes before you arrive with the subject so that no-one comes in. If you can, call ahead with a pre-defined ring (twice, and then twice again) to set a “five minute warning). Lights should be off (or in whatever expected state they should be in), and all evidence (especially shoes) should be hidden.
The Office Surprise Party.
A little more difficult, but often the most fun. Call the person away from their desk (get a manager to call them into a closed office or another floor or building) for 30 minutes. Decorate their desk, string lights and streamers, set out snacks and cake (if possible). Get the manager to walk them back to their desks such that it would be difficult for them to see what is about to happen until it’s too late. This works best in environments with actual offices or tall-walled cubicles.
The Central Location Surprise Party.
Sometimes, due to size, you’ll need to hold a surprise party at a restaurant or hotel ballroom. These are harder, since you might draw immediate attention. The trick is then to give the person a reason to have to go there. In the case of a restaurant, you can go under even the most simple reason: lunch or dinner. Make sure you have reservations for all the guests, and make sure the restaurant knows that it’s a surprise party. Ballrooms are much harder, since they have special purposes. You can play it by going to a hotel’s restaurant, and go into a different room. If it’s a community hall, say you were asked to pick something up.

Abort! Abort! Abort!

Okay, let’s face facts. This could go wrong. You might not actually succeed. There are a million things that can go wrong, and you might get to the point where you have to pull the plug and abandon the attempt.
First off, don’t panic. Secondly, don’t feel bad. And thirdly — and most importantly — don’t tell the Surprisee. EVER.
There’s a couple of reasons for this. You (or someone else) might try to surprise them again. There’s no sense in tipping off your potential victim by telling them “oh, well, we tried, but it didn’t work” — they might thing you might try again. And if you do, the surprise might not be as effective.
But most notably — I think, anyway — telling someone runs risk of actually hurting their feelings. Not for the failed effort, but because it might be something they really, really wanted. Finding out that you came close to having a wonderful surprise, but it won’t happen is … well, it’s really hard to learn, and it can be very depressing. This is not something you want your surprisee to go through.
So, yes, you may have to just suck it up. You tried, it didn’t work, and aside from those who you’d already talked to (and you should make sure they know why it’s aborted), no-one else needs  to know. In the end, it’s better for all.

Practical Jokes Around the Office: Wrapping a Desk

There is an Old Klingon proverb that says: “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
It is very cold in December. (Well, when we’re not chinooking, anyway.)
Several months ago, I fell victim to an attack. Not a physical or verbal attack — a water balloon attack (see [[Critical Mass Reckless Summer Reunion]]). This was orchestrated by the Delichte brothers, Jason and Darren. (I’m still not sure how I became the focus of their attention. I’m not sure if I should be honoured or horrified.) I certainly owe them a special “thank you” for that particular event, and one day, when I find something appropriate, I shall.
But first things first.
The water balloon attack could not have been pulled off without inside information, namely my boss, Allard. As you know, I tend to carry cameras with me. The Delichtes made sure I was camera-free by having Allard make sure that my cameras were at a safe distance. He did it very well, too — I had no idea that I was being set up. At least not until a line of water bombers appeared on the hill above the volleyball courts.
As the sayings go: One good turn deserves another; no good deed goes unpunished; eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth; wrong me, do I not revenge?
For the last few months, I’ve been plotting and scheming, trying to think of something good to pull off. The trick, of course, is so that the person at the receiving end has no knowledge what is to befall them, yet can do nothing about it once it’s happened. Not as gruesome as Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, but certainly something that when seen, will provoke the appropriate feeling of “he got me”.
Such it was that in a moment of brilliance (or drunken stupidity, they’re pretty much interchangeable), it came to me. I would give Allard a nice, gift-wrapped present.
His desk. And everything on it.
I wish I could take credit for this little idea, but I must confess that Chris had mentioned it around the time we were replacing Teak’s files with several cubic feet of candy (see [[Revenge is Sweet]]). But no-one had acted on it around here, so it was left as a possibility. And with Allard taking a couple of days off for the Christmas holidays, I was presented with a prime opportunity for revenge.
Yesterday, I made a little trip out to Costco, to acquire a few rolls of cheap(er) wrapping paper. I didn’t know exactly how much I’d need, but the desks aren’t that small (Allard has an end unit, which means vertical surfaces), and while his desk isn’t even remotely as cluttered as mine, there are still a number of things that require wrapping.
I arrived at the office around 19:00. I needed to make sure that there was no-one else around on the second floor. My goal was to complete the task without anyone knowing who it was. I wanted the mystery effect to last at least a few days (Allard won’t be back until the 29th), and because Allard arrives so early in the morning (before most of the people on this floor), I wanted the effect to be seen before he “opened his gifts”.
The first thing I did was take reference photographs. I needed to know (roughly) where everything was so I could put it back in a wrapped state. Then came the fun part: wrapping. I started with the aisle-facing side of his desk — it was the easiest thing to do, and a good place to start. It didn’t take long, but admittedly, didn’t really leave me with a sense of accomplishment. I still had a long way to go.
I got bogged down in the details. The table legs are not straight cylinders — they are slightly arched, and taper quite a lot towards the top; the shelving racks are like blocky shovels, which do not wrap easily (or nicely). It was 21:45 when I came to the realization that I needed help, or be up all night.
For the record, I would love to give credit where credit is due. I would love to stay who it was who loaned two hours of their time to my task, as strange (and draining) as it was. However, in the interests of preventing any form of retribution, they will remain nameless. But their help was invaluable, and definitely prevented me from staying too late. They left shortly before midnight.
I continued working until everything had at least some wrapping paper around it: the desk, side table, filing cabinent, phone (wrapping the cord was no fun), the monitor and monitor stand, the laptop dock, the keyboard, mouse and mousepad, more books than should be allowed on a desk, the chair, the light post, and his nameplate.
Everything was put back in the place it had been originally found. Cables were plugged back in. Ideally, everything should be exactly as it was before … just covered with wrapping paper. There are even bows on a few things. (I had toyed with using ribbon, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. That’s a little more detail than I really care to think about.)
Towards the end, admittedly, I was getting a little sloppy. My back was killing me, I was hot, tired, and desperately wanting to go to bed. But I finished, leaving the chair perhaps a little less wrapped than I would have liked. Around 1:45, I finally packed up my things, cleaned up the evidence, and made for home.
I skipped gym this morning — I needed the rest. After the “workout” I’d had moving things around and wrapping, I figured I’d had enough exercise for a while. (Yeah, I’m stretching. I’ll do cardio all week to make up for it.)
A couple of people were already in the office when I arrived. It didn’t take long for word to spread. People were taking notice. Even the less-than perfect wrapping job was being lauded. And if nothing else, the smiles have been worth all the time and money.
After all, if you can’t get a good laugh out of revenge, why do it at all?

Revenge is Sweet

When the temperature falls to -21 degrees with the wind chill, and the sky dumps 15 centimetres of snow on the ground, that’s when a young man’s fancy turns to…
Some months ago, Chris’ and my collective birthday to be exact, our friend Teak decided that he would give us each a small token of … well, sugar. Specifically, a lunchbox full of it. When I opened my little gift, candy spilled all over my desk. How he managed to get the candy in there and the lid shut is beyond me…
Needless to say, when word of Teak’s birthday came roaming around, Chris and I started thinking. Initially, it wasn’t anything mean or nasty, but then Chris joked about getting even with Teak for the months of sugar. (I still have some of mine.) It wasn’t too long before the joke turned serious, and it was time to execute.
Step 1: The plan.
This was perhaps the easiest part. The basic principle was sound: Get one of Teak’s desk-side cabinets (they’re a little over two feet tall, about one and a half feet deep, and a foot and a quarter wide — I don’t have a ruler, so these are estimates). Empty it. Then refill it. With candy. The trick, of course, was to do it when Teak wasn’t around (he’s been in the office late a lot, so working around that was a bit tricky).
Step 2: The supplies.
Sugar. And lots of it. In short, a trip to Costco, about the only place we can get such huge quantities of glucose goodness without completely breaking the bank. There’s a lot to consider when buying for a stunt such as this. You don’t want full-sized chocolate bars — they’re too big. Halloween ones would have been perfect, but those haven’t been in the stores for almost a month. You also have to be careful not to get too much of one thing. For example, too many M&Ms, although perfect for something like this, means you need more of them. Also, you want variety.
This meant we had to carefully choose our ammunition. I wish I’d remembered to bring the list of things we bought, but it’s along the lines of:

  • Four boxes of sour gummies (including cherry and watermelon flavours)
  • Two small tubs of more sour gummies
  • One tub of marshmallow rats (yes, rats)
  • One large tub of sugar lollipops
  • One small tub of Chupa Chups (lollipops)
  • One box of Blue Whales (gummies that taste like those blue freezies)
  • A couple packages of marshmallow peaches
  • Two huge bags of M&Ms (peanut variety)
  • Two bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans
  • One container of candy necklaces
  • One tub of Double Bubble gum (the ones with Bazooka Joe comics)
  • Three boxes of chocolate and caramel Rice Krispie squares (about the healthiest thing we threw in)
  • One large bag of Werther’s (sp?) caramels

There’s probably more, but we were having too much fun shopping for this stuff.
Step 3: The prank.
I was in the office again this weekend, partly because I had some work to do, partly because I’m overhauling my personal website (coming soon to a URL near you), and on Sunday, because I had to know when Teak wasn’t here anymore.
Around 6:30pm, I took a short trip upstairs. First good news: Teak wasn’t there. Second good news: Neither was anyone else. Best good news: The poor fool had left his cabinet unlocked. A little after 7:00, Chris called to say he was ready to have fun. I whipped over to the apartment, picked up my roommate and brother in mischief, and returned to the office.
The security guard was puzzled to say the least when we walked in with two huge boxes overflowing with packages of candy. We went upstairs to the Creative Services floor, and found that the lights were still off. (I’d turned them off when I’d inspected the floor earlier.)
The first thing we had to do was clean out his cabinet — the lower part, anyway. Teak had a lot of files, which would of course get in the way when trying to empty the various tubs, boxes, and bags. Fortunately, there are other cabinets which weren’t in use. A simple transfer, and we were on our way.
Almost … first, we had to line the lower bin with waxed paper. We didn’t want to make a total mess.
Then came the fun part — filling the drawers. Taking several containers, we started pouring. Mind you, this isn’t some random thing — you have to do it carefully. You don’t want to make a parfait of candy — you want a nice, even dispersion. We had to mix a few times to get the right distribution. But the end effect looks … nasty, actually, and the smell’s quite powerful.
Filling the lower drawer, we proceeded to the upper drawer (filling it with mostly small stuff, including M&Ms, and finally the top bin (which sits under the seat), also nice and full. The surprising part was that we’d had leftovers. We’d originally thought we didn’t have enough, and worried that the joke would only be partially realized. But ’tis better to have too much and do the job right than not have enough and do a half-assed job.
[flickr]photo:4336923348[/flickr] [flickr]photo:4336177183[/flickr] [flickr]photo:4336176767[/flickr] [flickr]photo:4336176305[/flickr]
The final touch was on Teak’s computer. Like most of our Designers, he has two monitors (one is usually for seeing the artwork, the second for all the tools). Chris made up two images that were placed on the backgrounds of each of the monitors. One read “Sugar is sweet.”, the other “Revenge is sweeter.”
I couldn’t stop giggling the entire time. I so wanted to put up a camera and videotape Teak’s arrival this morning. I so wish I could have seen the look on his face.
Ah well, all’s well that ends well. At least until Teak tries to up the ante. If he’s smart, he won’t — starting an arms race with us is … foolish.
All I can say is: There’s always room for…

How to Throw a Surprise Party

There’s nothing better than seeing the look of complete terror upon someone’s face. Especially if you know there’s a benevolent force behind it. Such as with a surprise party…
Allison’s birthday was on Sunday past. And I wanted to make it something special.
So at the beginning of November, I started contacting her friends, seeing who I could get to come out and scare the bejeezus out of my fiancée. I knew that I had to start early, because it takes a while to plan out all the little details. And it doesn’t matter how straight-forward something seems — there are *always* little details.
The last time I’d organised a surprise party was when my close friends Stuart and Therese announced they were moving to Calgary. I wanted to give them a farewell present, by showing them how much their friends would miss them. The party was as much for me as it was for them…
Planning it had been a nightmare … the logistics were murder. While Therese and Stuart were wandering about Europe, I had been pulling together their friends (with the help of Therese’s friend Rachel and Stuart’s friend Jay) and planning out all the details. How?
Rule #1 when planning a surprise party: Get the parents involved.
Why? Simple: If you don’t tell the parents, they’ll inevitably screw up your plans. Not intentionally, mind you, but they’ll do something that will make your well-laid plans worth sqwat. (Yes, “sqwat”.) So, if you get the parents involved with the process, you don’t have to worry about things backfiring on you.
That’s how I succeeded with Stuart and Therese’s party … and that’s how I succeeded with Allison’s party. The best part is, most parents are clever — they’ll suggest good ideas without you have to tell them what to do. In the case of Allison’s parents, they invited Allison over to Nanaimo for her birthday. This left our apartment open.
So brought about the second problem: How to get people into our apartment to surprise Allison. This took a lot longer than I thought it would, and the ultimate solution was so simplistic I had to kick myself for not thinking of it earlier. Keys. Cut a spare set of keys, and leave them with a friend.
Then it was setting up a decorator, and making sure that our Key Master would arrive before everyone else. Where we would go for dinner … even a theme for the evening.
But above all else, the hardest thing to do was keep Allison in the dark. She’s a smart cookie, and it’s really hard to keep things from her. Especially when it comes to her birthday. Luckily for me, Allison’s parents were running a good cover for me.
We left on Friday the 3rd, catching the late ferry to Nanaimo. This gave me enough time to clean up the bedrooms. We did this under the guise of not having enough time to clean before Allison’s aunt appeared on Monday for a visit. (I hadn’t asked her aunt to come the day after Allison’s birthday as an added distraction … it just kinda worked that way.)
But we didn’t get everything. Allison’s insistence that we leave negated any argument I could have to clean the kitchen table. I didn’t want to have papers all over it when her friends showed up.
The wonders of today’s modern technology no longer amaze me … I use them with gusto. I made several calls over my cell phone to Michelle (our Key Master) and begged her to clean off the kitchen table before people started to show up.
(There’s always one thing that doesn’t go quite right.)
Allison’s family birthday party was the next day, the 4th. This amounted to a wonderful dinner of salmon, which Allison had asked for. Also on the menu was chocolate cake. This was no ordinary chocolate cake, mind you — this was the King/Queen of Chocolate Cakes. It was called something like Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Chocolate Whipped Chocolate Filling, or something like that.
It was evil.
In a chocolatey good way, that is. I have never, ever has such a devilishly good chocolate cake in my life. (I’m actually beginning to salivate, just thinking about it.) I can’t even begin to describe what was in this thing … all I know is that it was really, REALLY good.
The next day, we were to leave on the 1:00pm ferry. We would arrive in Horseshoe Bay around 3:00pm, and back at our apartment around 3:30. We would talk, chat, whatever for about two hours, and then go to dinner.
That was the plan. But plans have a way of not working exactly as planned.
The ferry was at 12:30, not 1:00pm.
I started to panic a little.
It was a fast ferry. We would arrive nearly an hour before we were supposed to.
I started to panic a lot.
Miracles of modern technology. I called Michelle, and let her know that things were not as well-planned as I had hoped. We tried to figure out what I could do to stall. I had suggested taking Allison to lunch, but she wanted to eat something on the ferry … that ruled out lunch at the other end. I couldn’t take the long way home, as it would make her suspicious. Feigning car trouble wasn’t even a thought — BCAA would put an end to that right quick.
Then Allison proposed the solution herself — she wanted to go to IKEA. That would blow an hour and a half, easily.
So it was with much relief that we bypassed our apartment completely and went directly to IKEA. It was a failed mission, in that respect — the chair covers we had gone looking for were not to be found. IKEA didn’t carry them in the style we thought they would. We headed home, Allison a little apprehensive about what I had planned for her.
When we arrived (at nearly 4:30, about an hour late because of nightmarish traffic going back), I made sure to grab all the bags, thus tying up my hands so I couldn’t open the door. No, it’s hardly chivalrous. but I had to make sure that Allison was the first into the apartment. As we passed the security camera, I looked, waved, and smiled. Because I knew that the 12 people sitting in our living room were watching Channel 59 — the security camera channel. They knew we were there.
The elevator was a bit slow, by my heart was racing. It was part anticipation, and part realising that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But it was too late, so I concentrated on the anticipation. The hard part was not showing it.
The elevator took forever to finally deposit us on the 6th floor. I exited first, but let Allison lead the way. As we got to the door, I saw that our weekend paper was still wedged in the mail slot — our awaiting guests had not removed it. I was excited beyond repair. Allison had no clue what was about to happen.
She got in, remarked that the bathroom door was closed (our friends had tossed their shoes in there). The lights were off and it was dark inside, which was good because if we could see, Allison would have seen some of the snacks left on the counter in our kitchen. But she didn’t see it. (Mind you, Allison saw the extra jackets in the closet, and *still* didn’t clue in.)
Then it came. A giggle. From someone in the living room.
Allison gasped. Someone was in the apartment. Someone had broken in, and they were still there! As the onset of sheer terror was about to take effect, a very loud and resounding cry was heard (probably through the entire building): “SURPRISE!”
Several camera flashes went off. I’m told the pictures are priceless.
I nearly fell over laughing. Yes, I’m cruel. I admit it. It was mostly from pure relief that things worked out, after all. (Although for another 20 minutes or so, I was still a bit edgy, wondering if Allison was all right with everything.)
The group went out to dinner at a restaurant not far from our apartment. Wasn’t the best overall venue, I’ll admit, but it was the best choice given the size of our party. The place would probably be more interesting later in the evening.
After dinner, most people went their separate ways. (It was a Sunday night, after all, and many people had to go to work the next day.) But Michelle (our Key Bearer), Mike (her husband), and Tyler stuck around. It seemed that there were other things in the evening that I had not planned.
The evening became organic, developing its own events as we went along. We started off at Commodore Lanes, with some five pin bowling. I’ve discovered how to beat Allison in five pin: Get drunk. Both of us. Her bowling average goes way down, and mine goes way up. (Otherwise, Allison is virtually unbeatable in five pin.) The five of us had a grand old time being really lousy at many things. Especially table hockey. I’ve always been a lousy player. And foosball. I got creamed at that.
After our bowling excursion, we ended up at Death By Chocolate on Burrard. One of us mentioned that it was Allison’s birthday. When her dessert showed up, it had a candle on it. Our server just stood there, waiting. Finally, she said: “C’mon folks, work with me here.” We sang Happy Birthday, and indulged in really bad things for us to eat…
The day so ended as we headed home. Overall, it was a good day, all stress aside. Now I just have to figure out how to outdo myself next year.