I don’t usually go to Halloween parties. I don’t like to dress up in a costume, and this is the part where you get to snark, “Is that because you’re usually wearing some kind of crazy outfit anyway?” to which I will say, “Yes.”
But I’m not a hater, and I don’t think it’s stupid or childish, and I like other grown-ass people having fun on Halloween. All the sexy turtles and literal interpretations of catchphrases. It’s like watching Facebook memes come to life. It’s delightful.
But that’s once a year, and that’s how it should be. (I am not a crack pot.) This is why I’m not excited when you Evite me to your Themed Birthday Party.
I don’t want to dress like we’re flappers or ninjas. I don’t want to “Come as [my] favorite book.” Your black-and-white parties make me feel like we’re having a fake wedding. When your party requires me to make a costume change to prepare for the “game portion,” again I must ask, “What time does the balloon animal guy show up? Oh, he’s right there? Okay. Nevermind. PS: you’re a grown-up. Just reminding you. And tell him to make me a bunny rabbit.”
I come to your party to celebrate you. I don’t need you to hide behind all the bells and whistles.
All of this is to say: sometime last year I had to go to a themed birthday party that was filled with musical theatre people. The theme doesn’t really matter for this story. The point is: this is where I learned nobody gets into a themed birthday party like musical theatre people.
There was joy and song and puns and jazz hands. And they were all young and happily stacked in an apartment as only the young theatre set can. I sat in the corner with my fellow old-grumps who were all on the other side of ten-plus years of Hollywood rejection, watching these young, hopeful faces sip from their red plastic cups and chat about getting new headshots. We remembered those times when we’d head from our improv show to someone’s theatre party, loudly rehashing our favorite moments from that night’s game of “Party Quirks.” [“Your human dildo was the funniest human dildo I’ve seen in a long time, Cody.”]
Let me tell you that for years, years, I was happily planted in the center of that part of the party. I loved standing in the loud group, drinking my yelling-juice, arguing about actors on Saturday Night Live. I was the person who you probably had to shove aside to get to the Doritos. I was definitely the girl breaking out into a Bonnie Tyler song for no real reason other than people laughed when I fell to my knees in passion.
It turns out after being that girl for more than a decade… you get tired. Instead of entering a party searching for the group with the kind of action you normally find at a craps table, you look for an empty chair, preferably a comfy one. You walk into the room and think, “I only have to do this for one hour and five minutes.”
The small group of similar elders I sat with chatted about the things old actors chat about, like how our knees hurt, and if they want to go through the bullshit of this year’s pilot season [“I mean, have you read what’s out there?”], and why is this wine I’m drinking from a box. We sat on folded chairs and watched the happy musical theatre people pack themselves around the table of (themed) party foods.
It got quiet for a little while in my small group, which is when I noticed there was an odd smell. Like one of our old people had eaten something that disagreed with him or her. Perhaps that’s why we all fell silent, each one wondering which one of us had sprung a leak.
Then someone started a new line of conversation. “Oh, I smelled the worst thing the other day…”
Everyone joined in and commiserated with recent bad smells. This got us to the segue we needed. The next time someone passed us by, we were all like, “Yo, that person keeps coming by and farting on us, right?”
Happy to have a scapegoat, we engaged in stranger-judging, an important part of being in the corner of the party. We were entering a third round of teasing when I realized it wasn’t any of us being stinky, it wasn’t that poor girl we’d named Fartin’ Fanny.
It was the deviled eggs.
They were in the middle of the food table, about thirty of them, right where any passersby could whip up their scent and send it soaring through the tightly packed room. As soon as I identified it, we all knew it was true. The heavy sulfur tang in the room wasn’t from someone’s butt. It was from the eggs. All the musical theatre people had their very best acting faces on, eyes widened and teary, trying to pretend they weren’t ignoring whichever one of their friends had a case of the toots.
“I’m going to put them in the kitchen,” I said, happy to play the hero.
“But we aren’t supposed to go in the kitchen,” one of my friends reminded me.
“This is an emergency.”
We weren’t supposed to go in the kitchen because this themed birthday party had a lot of themed birthday party foods and drinks and frivolity going on, and all of it came out of the kitchen, where one busy woman in a retro fifties dress was doing her very best to serve a very large party. I’m going to have to go ahead and call her the Egg Lady, because that’s what I call her in my head, even though I know her real name. This night was that traumatic.
I entered the kitchen holding the serving tray of eggs.
“Is something wrong with the eggs?” she asked, eyes wide, terrified.
I immediately knew I had done the wrong thing. “No, not. Not no, not really,” I stammered. “There’s… you know, it’s smelling like eggs out there in the room because it’s kind of packed and hot with the heater on over the eggs and all so I just thought I’d rescue them and put them right here so the room can air out.”
I believe I said all of that while putting the eggs on the counter and backing out of the kitchen.
The Egg Lady took the tray and stared at it. “I guess I’ll put them in the refrigerator,” she said, sounding absolutely heartbroken. “If these eggs do offend.”
I turned around and walked the seven steps back to my group of cranky actor friends. “I think I have to leave now,” I admitted. “I’m pretty sure I fucked up.”
“Why? It already smells so much better now.”
“I think I offended her.”
“She’s not made of eggs.”
“She’s… not happy.”
This is when I saw the birthday girl emerge from the kitchen holding the tray of eggs. She marched over to the table and set them right back in their place of honor. Not the Egg Lady, you guys. The Birthday Girl.
“Oh, no,” I said. “I really should go.”
“Because of what you did with the eggs?” asked a friend who was nowhere near me during any of the previous story.
“Yes! How did you know that?”
“It’s kind of a thing now.”
I found the birthday girl to apologize for anything that I might have done. “Is she like, mad?”
“She’s… she’s upset. I put them back out there so she would calm down. I don’t know why you had to touch anything. You don’t live here. It’s not your job. She’s made a lot of eggs and you can’t just go putting them in refrigerators or on counters like you know best.”
“Should I go… apologize?”
“It’s probably best if you stay away from her.”
For the next hour I sat in my shame seat as all my old-actor friends stretched and yawned and headed off to their early bedtimes. All I could do was worry. During the “Happy Birthday” song, the Egg Lady sang her words staring right at me with such frozen sorrow, the word “happy” sounding ironic and bitter every time it came out of her mouth.
“This is ridiculous,” I said to nobody, because I was alone with the rest of the box wine. “I was helping. I was helping the party be less farty!”
When I did find a friend, she wasn’t very helpful. “Do deviled eggs smell?” she asked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Yes! That’s why we go through this every Easter.”
“Maybe that’s it,” she said. “She’s Jewish. She probably doesn’t know eggs smell like sulfur.”
“I really don’t think I should tell her that this might all be happening because she’s Jewish.”
The party had crested and was well past one in the morning when I decided to brave the kitchen once again. I found the Egg Lady pulling another set of pigs in blankets out of the oven. I handed her an oven mitt and a serving plate.
“Thank you,” she said. Curtly.
“Hey, uh,” I started. “I just wanted to say sorry about the eggs earlier. I didn’t mean to offend you. I know you worked really hard on this party and all the food and everybody was talking about how great everything is. It wasn’t against you or the food. I mean, if anything it’s the egg’s fault for having that smell, you know?” I knew I was very close to mentioning her religion as a possible culprit, so I made myself shut up.
She tilted her head. Closed her eyes. Exhaled.
Here was the part where she’d melt, relax, and give a small chuckle. Where she’d shake her head and apologize right back for being so stressed out and for taking it out on me. Where we’d talk about how hard parties are to throw and how ungrateful everybody always is and aren’t deviled eggs just stupid, anyway? They are horrible for you and you always end up eating five or six, which you’d never do at breakfast.
But she didn’t do any of those things. Instead, she turned to me, gave this wide, weird smile and said, “I accept your apology.”
Then she added, “I was really offended at what you did, so I think it’s good that you apologized.”
I zombie-stammered out of that kitchen with my mind blown. You guys, you can apologize to someone and they can just take it, like your dead-beat ass just paid off an old loan with interest. Like I’d been pardoned. Excused!
This bothered me for a long time. Not just days. Weeks. I’d think about it and get all tied up again in knots of frustration. I didn’t mean to offend! I was trying to help! I was trying to help and ended up apologizing, and then got chastised! I’d tripped into offending the hostess when at no point was I doing something offensive. The eggs were offensive!
My outrage, however, made me a raging dick about this. I was offended that I had to apologize for accidentally offending someone who — if she had been stuck in the room filled with poot clouds — would have been thankful that someone literally cleared the air.
It was an important lesson in my life. More important than “Don’t serve deviled eggs in a crowded room of animated people.” One I will take with me forever.
Never apologize just because you’re looking for one back.
I don’t blame the Egg Lady for this uncomfortable moment in my life that will haunt me forever. Not anymore. I now blame the themed birthday party. Because it’s a bunch of stressed-out bullshit. If you are over the age of… I’m just going to go ahead and say twelve, because these themed Sweet Sixteens appear to be the cause of everything wrong with girls, then you can have a party where people bring presents and we eat cake, but you don’t get to dictate what people wear. You are not a princess. You are the birthday girl. There’s an enormous difference. If I’m buying you a present, please don’t make me also have to buy a costume. Why am I your servant of fun?
And that’s what was happening to the Egg Lady. She was trapped in the kitchen, a servant of fun, handing out tray after plate of “Quiche-a Knight-Pulliams” and “Chocolate Chip Punky BrewSTARS.” I’d have gone bonkers after twelve straight hours of that, too. I might have cut a bitch for giving me shit about some motherfucking eggs. So I don’t blame her, nor her theme-appropriate Donna Reed outfit, nor the way she went all Stepford Wife on me. Even though I’m still involuntarily holding my breath, waiting for the reciprocal apology. This is how people make up! With two people apologizing, one after the other! When will it happen? WHY WON’T IT EVER HAPPEN?! I CAN’T BREATHE!!
Before you have a themed birthday party, please think about the collateral damage you’re going to cause. You will destroy first dates. You will stress already tense friendships. You will make that one person who’s barely hanging onto a social life decide to just stay home forever. It’s enough that we’re willing to celebrate you at all. Please, please. Think of the Egg Lady, and how she totally shot me down like I was some kind of asshole and how I will never really be okay with that.