Monday, December 10, 2007

"I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

FANS OF THE A-TEAM recognize that quote. I had occasion to use it early Sunday morning, shortly after the end of possibly my most successful holiday party yet.

Friday's day off proved very helpful in closing most of the remaining loose ends on my to-do sheet. (Amusingly, I found 2006's to-do list near the end of my cleaning maneuvers.) By Saturday, I only had to pick up a few perishables, retrieve the food, get ice, and wait for the gang to show. (I decided against waxing the kitchen floor.) The cold or whatever that had lurked on Thursday was nowhere to be seen on Saturday morning, and I hit the gym for 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer to launch the day right.

I was unable to find a suitable crudité tray at three of the food stores where I looked. The closest candidate, at the local A&P, featured carrots with that white, dried-out look, which led me to believe the other veggies in the tray were also a touch dessicated. I figured, "Screw this, I'll make my own," and filled a basket with (literally) raw materials.

From there, I returned home and did my last major bits of cleaning: scouring the bathroom, and vacuuming. This is where I had encountered the only wrinkle in all the planning. With Laurel and Hardy timing, my toilet paper dispenser fell off the wall and broke last week, which had led me to Bed Bath & Beyond to secure a roll stand. I'd figured that even if the landlord cemented it to the wall, it wouldn't have a chance to set by go-time, and if it fell off while someone was actually using it, I'd never hear the end of it. Easier just to pick up a new one and have the building manager take care of it at greater leisure. Once I'd done with the john, I gave the whole place a pass with the Hoover.

With only the catering to worry about, I felt relaxed yet a-tingle with anticipation. I also felt strong. I'd been running around for a day and a half doing just about everything, and I still felt fairly spry. This time last year, in awful shape, I was slumped on the couch, with an aching lower back (very uncharacteristic) and feet that felt like I'd run a marathon. By the time folks arrived, I was ready to go to sleep. This year was quite different. I had written on the melamine white board I keep on the inside of my apartment door, "HOLIDAY PARTY 12/8," and then drawn an arrow from the command, "BE FIT FOR THIS!!!" I don't know if I'd qualify as "fit," but I am more toned up than I was last year, with enough left in the tank to pick up the food and spend several more hours actually enjoying the company of my guests. The daily workouts and greater attention to food choices both paid off.

In my food pickup, I had a timely assist from my father. He had volunteered his services for transport, as well as for free ice from the machine in the Elks lodge to which he belongs. I took him up on both offers. The catering was done at the local outlet of Bensí, a chain of Italian restaurants in northern and central New Jersey. I'd gone to them last year, and they came through big: After a pipe rupture in their kitchen forced them to close the location where I'd placed the order, they forwarded my order to the next most local restaurant, which prepped and delivered the food with little time lost. This time around, everything was ready on target, and I got the trays onto the warming racks with time enough before zero hour to let the water hear up and the fragrance of Italian food to waft enticingly through my apartment.

For some reason, the list of residents disappeared from my building's vestibule, and a large group of my friends gathered there, putting their minds together on how to contact me. Ordinarily, one enters a code next to the resident's name, then asks to be buzzed in. But this sheet was absent, and attempts to get my land line number through directory assistance were fruitless (it's unpublished). So finally someone called up to my cellphone, and I gave them the code, which was duly entered. A minute later, I had the pleasure of admitting at least eight adults and two children at once. For someone like me, who spends the first few minutes of live party time wondering if anyone will show up, such a flood of friends was like a host's holiday dream.

The party immediately ensued. Folks caught up, mingled, swapped gifts, and of course, ate and drank. Several kind folks brought desserts, which grew in a sweet mound on the computer desk I had temporarily cleared of this very laptop to make way. I did my usual grab bag frenzy, letting guests who didn't have an Amazon package or other requested gift pick a mystery gift card from one of the tackiest bags I've ever seen in a card store. I had originally chosen this weekend to allow for the most likely date on which I would take part in the mighty Felix's bachelor party (most likely next weekend), but I believe it was also a little less stressful for folks, not being on one of the crazier shopping weekends, as 12/15 and 12/22 will be. Even if they had to drive past some of our more insane commerce centers, there's a chance they might not have had to stop at any of them.

As midnight neared, folks began to head homeward, and I reluctantly let them motor off. Closing that door after the last group was the saddest part of the entire evening, as it marked the longest possible time between this party and the next one. I reflected on all the joy and laughter I'd just experienced while tidying up, a task that proved quite simple — again, I credit exercising more as the reason I still had gas in the ol' tank.

I rate the evening as an unmitigated success. I had a great and large crowd of friends, good weather for this time of year, no cancelations, two delightful children as part of the mix, a ton of great desserts owing to the generosity of my guests, and lots of tasty leftovers to see me into the week. As much as I do to get the bones of these parties set up, it's only the arrival of my friends that breathes any life into them. I credit these dear people with the success of this year's gathering far more than anything I could highlight on my to-do list. I provide the venue; they make it an event.

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