It was a beautiful birthday cake and bound to be tasty. My lovely wife had it all ready to go, with the words “When I’m 64” written in scrumptious-looking frosting.
A couple of volunteers packed the cake out of the house and back to the party in our backyard. And then, in full view of almost 100 guests, there was a misstep and a stumble — and the cake ended up in the grass, upside down.
This is where mere mortals allow parties to go bad. Fortunately, most of my best friends aren’t normal.
The person who dropped the cake (and even landed in part of it) immediately jumped into recovery mode. She scooped the cake up and got most of it back onto the platter (clean parts on the top, of course) and hoisted it onto the bar, a fair amount of frosting in her hair as a souvenir.
And what did we do next?
We started eating the cake, of course. It was delicious!
I saw that moment as yet another legendary chapter in the long-running series of “Wallystock,” the almost-annual birthday bash I started throwing for myself when I turned 50 back in 2009.
It’s a lot of work. It’s also something I recommend everybody try at least once. Otherwise, what are you going to do with this life? See your ever-dwindling-number of surviving friends only at funerals a couple times a year?
Life, of course, flies by, and the older you get, the faster it goes. I’ve yet to hear of a single person on their deathbed who said, “If only I had spent more time working and less time sharing good experiences with people I love.”
That was one catalyst for the party. The other was this: I’m blessed — I repeat, blessed — to have a wide range of friends with a huge mix of beliefs. I believed that under the proper circumstances — say, a party with an open bar and live music — people of mixed beliefs could still peacefully co-exist and maybe even learn they have some things in common, especially if they were told in advance to check their politics at the door.
It worked. Old friendships were reignited (at that first party, I saw people I hadn’t seen in 30 or more years) and new ones forged. It worked so well, we’ve done it 10 times in the past 14 years. (Thus began my belief that people should, on occasion, set aside their differences and find some common ground, even if that ground was recently covered by a cake somebody dropped.)
Like any bold endeavor, this little backyard soiree got out of hand a few times. At one point it crossed the threshold from “party” to “event,” where almost any friend-of-a-friend could buy a wristband ($20 gets you dinner and an open bar!) and show up. We even had a “flyover” a few years, with a friend of mine buzzing the party in his four-seat plane right after somebody had performed the National Anthem. (No, really, and if that doesn’t get you on a first-name basis with your neighbors, I’m not sure whatever could.)
Fortunately, somewhere between “it takes four days to clean up this mess” and “there’s a drunk guy we don’t know throwing your cousin’s stuff into the swimming pool,” we decided to scale back to the smaller, more-manageable, by-invitation-only party it is today.
And it continues. This year we had friends attend from as far away as New Hampshire and Florida. There were also people I knew from my days in Humboldt County and the Bay Area who have long since become friends with the rest of my crowd.
So, when bad things happen, we tend to laugh them off like the seasoned veterans we’ve become. And Lord, we had our share of bad things this time. Long before the cake hit the ground, it rained — not only the night before, but during the party itself. That’s a bummer for any outside event. When your outside event includes your band with electric guitars and amplifiers and microphones and a professional sound system, well, it can be shockingly bad.
So what did we do? After pushing the risk of electrocution about as far as we dared (we’ll remember it as “The Greatest 9-Song Set We Ever Played”), we grabbed our acoustic guitars and kept the party going for hours, with dozens of people crowded together in our tiny tiki bar.
The roof of the bar leaked. Nobody cared. We danced and sang in the rain, kept the fire pits blazing into the early morning hours and ate the remnants of that dropped cake. We hugged, we swapped old stories and created plenty of new ones. Nobody really cared about the fact we’d picked the worst possible day in five months to have a party; we just lived and celebrated the fact we were in each other’s company.
And how special of a lesson is that?
Bad things happen. How we react can either spoil the day, or sometimes turn that day into the greatest gift of them all.
Best party yet. At this stage of life, when you’re surrounded by your friends at anything other than a funeral, they’re all the best.
Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.