I didn’t see it coming.
I spent a lot of time running around this past weekend, and I learned a thing or two along the way.
I started my Halloween job last week. (It’s my second year on the job.) I guess you could argue the two hours I was paid to sit through a tedious orientation the previous week was the start of the job, but the actual Halloween attraction opened to the public on Friday evening, and I spent the first of 10 nights as a “mad doctor.” I’ll spare the details of the experience, particularly since I blog about them elsewhere.
So I get home Friday night and manage to keep busy for a few hours, doing what, I don’t recall. I intended to get up bright and early on Saturday, take care of business and head to the Minnesota State Fair grounds for the big annual comic book convention. I like to pay homage to my past by reminiscing in a room full of comic book geeks. I also can count on running into a couple of friends when I’m there, friends I don’t see that often through the year for one reason or another.
One of those friends, Pat, has been selling off a lot of his unwanted collection the past couple of years through a small dealer’s table at the show. So I try to help him for a few hours by watching over his table while he takes a break or peruses the merchandise.
But I had to be at the Halloween gig at 2 p.m. Saturday, so that meant I wouldn’t have a lot of time to offer Pat on Saturday. Since his wife is home with the children during the weekend, he has nobody else to help him out, therefore I have taken it upon myself to be his unofficial employee.
I intended to get up bright and early on Saturday, but I overslept. I needed the sleep, evidently, and that put me way behind my personal schedule, which included purchasing Diet Pepsi at Target and buying birthday cards for two people, including one whose birthday is the same day as mine. When I finally arrived at the convention I had at most an hour to offer Pat, which he was more than grateful for, primarily so he could visit the restroom.
I was late to work on Saturday, but I really didn’t need to be there two hours before my attraction opened, so it was no big deal.
I arrived home at midnight Saturday and sat down to write for a while. I spent far too long writing e-mail and updating my Halloween blog. Sometime after 2 a.m. I started sifting through boxes of my old comic collection, looking for a few things I could add to Pat’s tables on Sunday. He always offers me the chance to do so, and I figure I might as well make $20 for the trouble of being there.
The problem was I spent far too long reminiscing as I sifted through boxes of unorganized comic books. I couldn’t remember why I ever decided to buy some of the stuff I did, forgot I even had some of it and wondered what I should try to unload. I wasn’t bringing a ton of stuff, but I wanted to pick out some odds and ends that had a snowball’s chance of selling.
The next thing you know it’s 5 a.m.
So I go to bed, knowing I want to be at the convention before it opens to the public at 10 a.m.
And miraculously when the alarm sounds at 8:30 a.m. I get up and get moving. I was sure I would instinctively go back to bed and oversleep, but I didn’t.
I had to bypass breakfast at Burger King in order to make it before 10 a.m., so I settled for an aging banana as my lone source of nourishment for the day, unless Diet Pepsi qualifies as nourishment.
Pat and I both spent some time walking around the convention during the day, but we spent a lot of the time at his tables, catching up on all sorts of topics. I’ve known Pat for about 20 years, and whenever we sit down we talk for hours. Despite living about 20 minutes apart, we only sit down once or twice a year.
The convention ended at 5 p.m. Sunday and I was intending to be there until the end, more or less. My friend Monica had offered to get together for dinner on Sunday evening to celebrate the one occasion I ignore for the most part, my birthday. She suggested a St. Paul area restaurant, as that’s a relative midway point between us.
I wasn’t clear what time we had settled upon, so I called her on Sunday afternoon to confirm that we were still on for dinner and at what time. I said I’d like to stay and help Pat load up his stuff, even though he wasn’t expecting it. I asked if we could meet at 6 p.m. instead, and she hesitantly said OK.
Not long after I got a call saying that she couldn’t change our reservation from 5 p.m.
I found it odd that we even needed a reservation for a Sunday evening at this restaurant, let alone we couldn’t change it that late in the afternoon, but I never suspected anything was up.
While I intended to get to the restaurant about 5 p.m., I was a little slow getting my stuff pulled together and out to my car. During my last trip into the convention I stopped at the restroom. As I was leaving the restroom Pat was coming toward me, motioning me toward the door prize table. For about one second I thought he had big news for me.
As we reached the table, he said something like “meet the new owner of this computer.” I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but it was clear he was implying that he was the new owner, not me.
A fancy computer system was donated to the show, and entries into the drawing for it were $1, with the proceeds benefitting a charity. We each bought one chance, and he was the winner. If it wasn’t going to be me, I’m glad it was my friend. But for one second I thought I had a kick ass birthday present.
So I finally depart the convention and head south through St. Paul. I call my friend because I’m running late and I want to make sure she’s there. She is and suggests she’s sitting in the bar getting drunk. I’ll spare the details of the five-minute comedy of errors that resulted in me crossing a bridge twice to get to the restaurant, a bridge I didn’t want to cross once because I was on the right side of the river to begin with!
Once I get to the restaurant at about 5:20 p.m. there’s no sign of my friend at the bar, so I start to wander through the restaurant, looking for a small table with one woman sitting at it. I’m not finding any single diners anywhere, and as I walk past a couple of groups I hear my name called out, much to my surprise.
Monica, it turns out, had contacted a few of my college friends and arranged a dinner get together, which is why we couldn’t wait until 6 p.m. to begin. It was JayHawk, German Bear, Doug (the famous trio from my annual camping trip to Wausau) and their wives. Doug’s two children joined us, but JayHawk’s son stayed behind in western Wisconsin as did German Bear’s four children in suburban St. Cloud.
To say I was shocked was an understatement. I had no clue anything like this was being planned.
The dinner was a rather routine birthday gathering of friends. In this case the friends have all known each other for years, and while we all see each other in some capacity or another, it’s rare when the four of us from college and their three wives are in the same place at the same time.
Monica didn’t go to school with us, but I’ve known her since college, when Doug and I met her. So everyone in attendance knows her, too, although I’m the only one she sees with any sort of regularity. While Doug and I stopped to visit her on the way to Wausau in May, I’m not sure how many years it had been since he had last seen her prior to then.
I was running on fumes by dinner, but that was easily forgotten once I got there. I was overwhelmed by the fact that my friends had gathered on my birthday. I’ve never had any sort of surprise birthday gathering in my life, and I certainly didn’t expect it this year.
I wouldn’t say my life was forever changed as a result of that dinner, but at a co-worker’s wedding on my birthday two years earlier, I made a life-changing decision. Sometimes I wonder why I made that decision. Dinner on Sunday night reminded me why I did.
So how does a guy wrap up a birthday spent with comic book geeks and some of his best friends? He goes home, watches his anemic Chicago Bears pull off an improbable comeback in the second half of their Sunday night football game in Green Bay and then watches “Kissing Jessica Stein,” because nothing says “happy birthday” like a movie about characters dabbling in lesbian love.