I’m no fun. I drove three hundred miles to Cleveland for Tracy’s birthday party, then was one of the first to leave. Don’t get me wrong, when her boyfriend told me he was planning a surprise party for her fortieth, I said I’d be there, without hesitation. And I was happy to see her happy to see friends from different parts of her life all gathered together to celebrate. But after a couple hours, I was done.
Dinner was downtown at a pizza place. I got there an hour early, just in time to see Justin walk through the doors with Tracy’s Devo-themed cake. We sat around for about half an hour before people started trickling in. I recognized a couple women from Chicago. They’d been to the Skylark a month or two back, but it was their last stop after a long night of drinking, so they had no memory of meeting me. We all compared notes about when we met Tracy. Turns out I was her oldest Chicago friend there. But she doesn’t live in Chicago anymore.
Tracy’s sister and mom led her to our table around 7:15 and she looked genuinely shocked to see this group of people assembled all in one place. I wondered how I’d respond in her place. It will never happen, but I doubt I’d have enjoyed it. Who thought up surprise parties? And does anybody actually like being surprised? Seems like unnecessary, low-level emotional trauma to me. But what do I know?
After too much pizza and cake, somebody decided we should go to a bar. Downtown Cleveland right after a Cavs game is not a great place for ten aging people covered in tattoos to find a friendly drinking spot. We ended up at a sprawling generic Irish bar. I’d had a couple drinks at the pizza place so I didn’t want anymore. I watched the World Series on one of the place’s seven hundred-fifty flatscreens for a bit, then looked out the window where Cavs fans were battling sleet and wind in search of shelter. Behind me, a band was setting up to play.
Nobody in our group wanted to be trapped next to three middle-aged men belting out country and pop hits to a roomful of people paying them no mind. A few of the others did shots. I scanned the room and wondered why anyone would come to a place like this voluntarily. Tracy came over and asked if I wanted to go home. She knows me well and could tell I was done. Justin was done as well. He doesn’t drink, so hanging out at a bar is not his idea of a good time. I drove him to his truck, then followed him to their house, where I’d be crashing.
The next morning, a few of us met for brunch before hitting the road. Tracy and a few of the others had closed the Irish bar the night before, so they were a little wobbly. It was a smaller group and there was no din over which to battle to hear conversation, so it was a much better time, even if a few of us were a little worse for the wear.
I stopped after about an hour of driving west to use the bathroom at a rest stop and the Chicago women from the party were there. It was funny to see them out of context. We talked about the Irish bar and it turned out they hated it too. But they stayed and I left. Maybe they’re just more generous than me or thought that since they’d come all that way, they might as well get their money’s worth. But I was in bed by 11:30pm with a book and no regrets. I asked them what old people are supposed to do for fun and they had no good answer. Maybe they didn’t think of themselves as old. We said our goodbyes again and headed our separate ways.
I’m glad I was there for my friend but don’t know that I’ll ever learn how to enjoy a party. I never know who I’m supposed to pay attention to. The thing I know how to do best is leave. But the French Exit isn’t an option when you’re crashing in the host’s spare bedroom. It’s a conundrum. I’m rarely invited, so it’s not a big problem.
Still, it would be nice to have a good time for once.