Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

There is nothing more uncreative than a person "under 50" trying to plan a birthday celebration for someone who is turning 50 years old.  I'm not saying they're untalented or uncaring people.  Many are very, very bright, exceedingly caring, and have a high energy level, in fact.  The issue is they’re trying to be involved in something they don’t understand.  Thus, they’re uncreative.

You know the drill.  The "under" crowd finds out one of their office workers is turning the big “FIVE O,” and you can just see the plans hatching in their active little minds.  Before the appointed day, they will either stay at the office after hours or get in before daybreak to set the stage and decorate the office of someone "Turning 50."  They're excited, and they really want this to be special in a positive way. 

Again, I use the "U" word.  Uncreative.  Chuck is my example.  His co-workers met frequently in whispers when they realized he was approaching his 50th birthday.  The first evidence of the little elves working into the night was spotted when the birthday child got off the elevator on his floor at work.  Photo copied signs lined the wall across from the elevator.  "Oh how nifty.  Look who's 50."  (That’s never been used before!)

The only thing that kept Chuck from staying on the elevator, going down, driving home and calling in sick were the 18 other people in the elevator behind him wanting to get off.  He followed the signs to his office area, which (you guessed it) had an occasional sign showing him as an infant in various stages of undress.  We saw Chuck on a sheep skin rug with his rosy little backside cheeks for all the world to see.  We saw him in his diaper waddling down steps.  We saw him bathing in a big wash tub outside next to a cistern.  These were not necessarily bad pictures.  But, they provided more information than I needed.  And certainly more than Chuck wanted anyone to have.

Everyone has to pay his dues, right?  Right.  So, Chuck continued to his office, knowing what he would find. 

Black balloons proclaiming "over the hill" lined the outside frame of his office door.  Millions of like balloons were loose in his office waiting to caress him like an errant air bag seeking a warm body. 

Wilted black roses slumped in a vase trying unsuccessfully to look anything but dead.  And black candies were in the glass dish where Chuck usually kept multi-colored jelly beans.

That is how I think of Chuck.  Multi-colored.

The elves were so excited.  You had to admire their enthusiasm.  The conference room was filled with goodies of all kinds.  Reminded me of Christmas parties.  It was all so very nice.  Almost appreciated.

Because Chuck watches his weight and works to stay in shape, the youngsters searched hours to find the recipe for a low-fat chocolate cake.  Made with prunes!  I think it's perfectly OK to cook with prunes.  I do not think it's OK to tell someone turning 50 that you made his birthday cake with prunes.  It sounds so.... well, dried up.

Thank goodness his coworkers called me the night before and told me what they were planning to do.  Being an alumnus of the "Black Balloon Birthday Bunch," I made a couple of calls to see if this little birthday recognition could be salvaged.

In the meantime, one from the Younger Crowd asked me if I would help decorate.  I politely said, "No thanks."  She looked at me as if I were cold hearted. 

This is a ticklish situation.   I've developed a hard, fast rule.  Wish a person Happy Birthday.  Perhaps buy a card.  Show appreciation for them.  But, DO NOT help plan an office birthday party.  I didn't always have this rule, and I got in trouble without it.

It's very difficult for me to show any enthusiasm when planning an office party for someone who is, say, turning thirty. 

What have I got to say to this person?  "I've got a college sweatshirt older than you."  Or how about, "My son's first wife was the age you are now when they got divorced." 

Nothing fits.  It's not that I don't care about these younger people.  I do care.  I just don't know what to say that's not trite.  Perhaps I should be trite.  But, I think I'd rather be rude.  I'll have to think about that.

Back to Chuck.  About 11:15 in the morning, right before his lunch break, Chuck got a call from outside the building.

"Chuck?" the woman's voice said.

"Yes?" he replied.

"Someone gave me your phone number and I’d like to come by tonight and wish you happy birthday with a special dance.  What time would be best?"

"Oh?" he replied.  His mouth went dry.  “Well my wife and children will be eating dinner about 6:30.  How about then?”       

The lady hung up.  Chuck hung up, too, laughing.  BUT, he was beginning to have an interesting day, he thought.

Later that same afternoon I looked up from my desk to see Chuck standing in the doorway, grinning from ear to ear.

"Well, how's the birthday boy?"

Saying nothing, he tossed a card on my desk. 

I opened it.  The front of the card showed a muscular, handsome man wearing gym shorts and nothing else.  Inside was a handwritten note, "A few of us ladies at the office think you're sexier than the guy on the card.  Fifty's not over the hill.  It's just picking up speed."  It was unsigned.

I grinned with my friend.  "You dog.  Who sent this?"

"As if you don't know.  You arranged it."

"I had nothing to do with it."

"The handwriting's a lot like yours.  And who did you get to call about the birthday dance?"  He took the card, winked and left.   

I could hear him down the hall, "Hey, Bill, read this card and tell me who's over the hill."

There's no sin helping someone celebrate a birthday.  But, there's just no reason not to be creative.

Date of Blog Story: 
September 25, 2007

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