Surprise Party Surprise

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The birthday boy.

For Vince’s 27th birthday, his longtime girlfriend Shannon decided to throw a surprise party. Shannon is a gorgeous blonde and a smart cookie too, but her real superpower is worrying. She can worry ordinary people under the table. As you might imagine, planning a surprise party gave her some material. Whom to invite, and how many, and is this everyone? Can they all keep a secret? Might Vince find out some other way? Let’s say it comes off — does he even want a surprise party? Vince can be a crank. As one of his friends recently pointed out, Shannon is “the only person Vince is actually nice to.” Where to have it, what to serve, how much is all this going to cost?

Shannon worried lavishly about all of these things and many others. But the thing that went wrong was something that never even crossed her mind.

Shannon lives in Baltimore, Vince in Brooklyn and she decided to throw the party up there. She found a cool-looking “loft/event space” with a nice deck on Airbnb. It was $800 for a night but with eleven friends splitting it, affordable. According to the Airbnb page, there were 13 rollaway beds and a little kitchen, so out-of-towners would get a place to stay in the bargain. One carload would come from Baltimore, another from Philly, and Vince’s roommate Adam was coordinating friends in the New York metro area. Twenty-five, all told. Representing the older generation would be me, Vince’s landlady aka my best friend, Sandye, and Sandye’s boyfriend, Mr. Wright. 

Shannon and I threw ourselves into pre-party planning. Since Vince hates dessert, we decided on chocolate martinis for a birthday toast, with pound cake. I guess we’re not professional bakers – after all our careful mixing and measuring we forgot to turn on the oven. When it still wasn’t done by the time we finished a bottle of wine, we figured it out.

I canvassed foodie Brooklynites and various websites to find the best pizza in the neighborhood of the Airbnb. I also researched chocolate martini recipes. There goes Tuesday.

Much brain power was devoted to the plan for getting Vince to the loft. Since our Airbnb host, a bespectacled young woman named Rose, required that Shannon herself pick up the key, we needed two pretexts: one to get her there at 3 pm, then another to get him over there at 4:30. So … Adam would tell him they were all going to a barbecue in Williamsburg. (Only barbecue was a sure bet for getting Vince to leave the house.) But then Shannon and Adam’s girlfriend Justine would decide to get their nails done on the way, leaving early and meeting the guys at the party. 

Brilliant! Booze was bought, and shrimp was steamed, and the coolers were packed with salad greens, and cocktail sauce and paper goods were delivered from Amazon. Since Shannon had left for New York the day before, I drove up with Jake, Sarah, and Ryan, Vince’s friends since childhood. The drive was great except when Waze took us through the Lincoln Tunnel and all the way across gridlocked midtown Manhattan and into the far reaches of Queens as a way of getting to this place in Brooklyn. I was enraged because I knew all along the Holland Tunnel was the way to go. Sometimes I think if the GPS told us to turn left and drive off a cliff we would all just do it.

(Seriously, there is something wrong with Waze. After obeying its directions about how to get out of Baltimore on a weekday afternoon, then sitting in traffic for 15 minutes with a tantalizing view of cars pouring down the street I would have taken if I hadn’t been using Waze — I deleted the damn thing off my phone! Yes, I did!)

Despite the detour, we all arrived right around 3, unloaded our provisions onto the sidewalk, parked the car, and looked around for 56 Greenpoint Avenue. We looked pretty hard. There was a 50, and a 58, and an empty lot between them. We walked all around the block and tried the other side of the street, and the next block down. We viewed the empty lot from many different angles. There was a kind of construction-site plywood corridor on one side of it, but that couldn’t be it, right? What about that brick wall over there?

Meanwhile, more and more people were showing up and Rose was no longer answering emails, texts or calls, though she had been completely responsive and helpful up to that point, fielding questions about linens, kitchen supplies, etc. The last time she messaged Shannon, she said that the guests the night before had made a big mess and the place wouldn’t be ready until 5. That was no good, since our surprise was planned for 4:30, but soon we realized the problem was much bigger than that. 

Like, the whole listing was a hoax.

There was no event space.

There was no party the night before. 

There wasn’t even a Rose, as we later found out.

Shannon was pale and so tense you could just about see her molecules twirling. A very long call to Airbnb customer service resulted in both good news and bad news. Good news: Airbnb doesn’t pay the host till after the stay so there would be a full refund. Bad news: Airbnb had no solution for a party of 25 standing on the sidewalk in the middle of Brooklyn with their provisions baking in the sun and a 4:30 surprise ticking ever closer. 

Shannon on the line with Airbnb customer service.

Some of the guests were taking it philosophically, having located a teeny little garage of a hipster beer joint down the block – like a row of taps in a painted cement wall and some spindly metal tables and chairs. Soon it dawned on us. We could have the surprise there! And just then Sandye and Mr. Wright showed up and it turned out that Sandye had an empty first-floor studio apartment with a little backyard to which we could move the whole shebang after that!  Talk about saving the day. 

Meanwhile, Adam had managed to conceal from Vince all the hysterical texts he’d been receiving from us about the ongoing crisis, and Shannon had replied to a text from Vince with a simple “nails wet,” so Vince was completely clueless when they walked through the door of the little no-name bar.

SURPRISE! we shouted. Oh, you should have seen his face! It was just what you dream of when you plan something like this. Shannon’s molecules stopped doing that crazy thing, and the hipster bartender gave Vince a free beer, and then we all piled into cars and Uber XLs and headed to Sandye’s.

The shrimp was eaten, pizzas were delivered, chocolate martinis were raised on high then summarily tossed back, and so many other things were tossed back that nobody minded sleeping on the floor at all. The party was said to be one of the best anyone could remember, and probably was only more fun for having faced the specter of its own death. I know I had the time of my life and woke up with the mysterious scrape on my right knee to prove it.

In the middle of the night, Shannon got a crazy, ranting email from “Rose” who now identified himself as – sorry about this — “Nigger Bob Studley.” She forwarded it on to Airbnb along with a lengthy and detailed letter explaining all the many ways they had failed her. Airbnb replied with a letter of apology and a $500 gift certificate toward her next rental.

The moral of the story is, don’t worry. You’re probably worrying about the wrong thing, anyway.

Marion Winik
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  1. Wow! What a wild time. That is a story whose telling will never get old! Air B&B is getting weird lately. I had two $600 on my credit card from an Air B&B in San Francisco. My credit card company flagged it. It was some scam some guys in Pakistan were running~hacking credit cards and setting up phony Air B&B accounts and running up charges for them! Thankfully, I got it all resolved, but it was very strange!

  2. Wow, just wow. It probably won’t stop me from worrying though. In fact it just gave me a whole new set of things to worry about!

  3. WOW! Dudes sign-off is very shady. Well told.

    Some of my takeaways:
    We viewed the empty lot from many different angles

    Shannon was pale and so tense you could just about see her molecules twirling

    “nails wet,”

  4. Your moral is the moral I’ve been learning from the last year of my life. It’s such a bummer and such a relief to find out again and again that you can’t control the world with your magical mind. And that many things turn out better than you could have imagined, And the ones that don’t make the best stories later on.

  5. “Don’t worry. You are probably worrying about the wrong thing, anyway”.
    This is great. I’m going to use it.

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