In the David Mamet movie Oleanna, William H. Macy -- upon being surprised by a party for his birthday -- delivers a line to the effect that a surprise is an act of aggression. Shaken Mama was gratified to hear that when I told her, given the trauma I served up for her 24th birthday in the form of a surprise party that left her cowering in a squat in the corner, speechless and nearly wetting her skirt.
It was a very hot August night in Boston, and all of our friends in the Emerson College graduate writing program had been waiting in my tiny, un-airconditioned studio apartment for several hours for us to return from our yummy Ethiopian dinner. Apparently, there had been several false alarms, upon which dozens of party-goers had rushed to hide in the bathroom, a la clowns in a Volkswagen. Did I mention it was hot? Well, there's a reason that aggressive crimes increase in the heat.
By the time we arrived at my place and I lured her inside saying that my cats had a present for her, the guests were ready with some hot, pent-up aggression.
SM walked in to hordes of people screaming "Surprise!" over and over in the same tone one would yell "Hang 'em high!" Flash bulbs erupted, and one of our dearest friends, whom we affectionately had nicknamed "Stinky Boy" or "Stinky" for short, given that he smelled like antiques, accosted SM waving a wooden spoon in her face.
(Don't worry, she got me back on what I believe was my 35th birthday, when she arrived at the restaurant with a specialty cake in the shape of a clock. A biological clock.)
In any case, I digress. This post is about my most recent foray into surprising the crap out of people, in particular my wonderful sister, D., whose birthday was June 6. I had decided to fly back to Delaware to surprise her, knowing she would be home that weekend because she was having work done on her house. But I wasn't sure of two things: 1) How would I get her to open her front door around midnight? and 2) Would she consider having me around for four days a desirable surprise?
My brother, always up for a clandestine adventure, fetched me from PHL, and we hurtled toward our target in his delightfully airconditioned Tahoe, accompanied by the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.
When we arrived at D.'s neighborhood, I called her on my cell phone, ostensibly to share a silly cat tale, for which she didn't have a lot of patience, as it was late, she was tired, in bed and would have to get up early to greet the contractors. I got out of the car and began walking toward her house.
Sensing my window was short, I asked her if she had received my birthday delivery from UPS. No, she said. It's really small, I persisted -- maybe it was put inside her screen door or in the mailbox? I just checked the Web site, I said, and it listed it as delivered. And I don't want it to be out all night -- it's something of Mom's.
OK, OK, she said. Let me put some pants on and go look.
My victory was shortlived, however, as she peered out her dining room window, caught a shadow of me and said, I think my neighbor's out there having a smoke or something. I don't want to open the door.
Just then, my brother walked up. Should I knock on the door? he mouthed. Yes! I nodded.
Now someone's knocking at my door! my sister said. Crap.
Why don't you answer it? I asked.
That's easy for you to say! she said, clearly peeved. You're in San Francisco. I'm all alone.
I'll wait on the phone and call the police, I said.
Crap, crap, crap, she said. All right. Stay on the phone.
Of course, I said, switching positions with my brother.
The outside light turned on, and I trained my video camera on her door, which opened slightly.
Surprise! I yelled, and began laughing maniacally. At which point, my intentions of preserving her reaction for posterity crumbled, as I forgot about the camera in my hand and started flailing my arms and stamping my feet, thus capturing the reaction of her mailbox (upside-down), the bottom left corner of the threshold and everything except my sister's face, in an uncanny resemblance of the Blair Witch footage.