Humor by John Christmann

Cruise Control

speedometer showing 90

I just returned from a birthday party over the weekend. It was totally out of control.

At least according to my dad.

It was his birthday. He turned the big nine-oh. That is ninety with a capital 9.

I think when you turn 90, an “out of control” birthday party has a different connotation than, say, when your celebration odometer turns over common milestones like 30 or 40 or 50. For a 90th birthday bash, “out of control” has nothing to do with raucous inebriation, broken windows, loud music, table dancing, neighborhood complaints, or police.

Although it is certainly something to aspire to.

At 90 years of age, an “out of control” birthday party also doesn’t equate to a room full of screaming five-year-olds on sugar highs popping balloons, spilling drinks, wearing frosting, and ripping open far too many presents than they deserve.

No, for my dad “out of control” simply meant that an organized party was being thrown in his honor and the guest list was over sixty people.

That is not to say that If the police had come, he wouldn’t have been arrested.

“Sixty people?” he exclaimed in shock when the responses started pouring in. “This is getting out of control!”

Sixty people. I don’t even know sixty people. If the party had been for me, I couldn’t have paid that many people to show up. Even with an open bar. I could use a little “out of control” in my life.

I told him it was an honor. That the response was an indication of the love and respect others felt for him.

I told him that it is not everyday that he turns 90. I probably could have come up with something a little less obvious.

“Sixty people?” he repeated incredulously.

“They are YOUR friends” I told him. “You gave me the list, remember? Plus some close relatives. Like your grandkids. They add up.”

I had to call all of his personal friends up to invite them. I didn’t know many of them. I quickly learned that when you call out of the blue as the offspring of a man who is approaching 90 years of age, the protracted silence that ensues on the other end of the line after you politely introduce yourself is not the welcome anticipation of good news.

Before long I quickly started every cold call with an upbeat declaration that my dad was turning 90 and we were holding a birthday party in his honor.

Then they asked who the hell I was.

Personally I am not that keen on milestone birthday parties for myself. I mean, it’s not like I have done anything to deserve them other than hanging around for a long time. No, I prefer to go to the milestone birthdays of others; to publically and openly celebrate their lives, not the life of my own.

Especially when the parties are out of control.

I have had only one party thrown in my honor. My wife threw me a surprise Over the Hill 40th birthday party. And I can honestly say I was completely shocked and overwhelmed by the celebration.

Not because she threw a surprise party for me. But because she purposely threw it when I turned 39.

I must say my real 40th birthday a year later was kind of a let down. But at least the police didn’t show up.

I may get some of this birthday party trepidation from my dad. He is a modest man who does not like undo attention.

So I was a little surprised when he consented to celebrate his birthday beyond the devoted attention of his immediate family. I suppose it comes with the youthful, devil-may-care exuberance that comes with turning 90.

And so on July 29th, 90 years to the day after he was born, my father ultimately relented to the inevitable and let his age-appropriate concern with the uncertain subside for a few hours. A few drinks probably helped.

I know they helped me.

He graciously welcomed his many guests, who were truly honored to celebrate such an amazing occasion with him. And they told him so with words and warm embraces.

We drank wine. We ate good food. We presented him with a cake. We sang happy birthday. He blew out two candles. A Nine and a Zero.

Being a newly minted nonagenarian, he might have forgotten to make a wish.

But he raised a glass in toast. “To be rich in friends is to be poor at nothing,” he quoted.

And then, with a noticeably quavering voice of an incredibly healthy man who was genuinely moved by the overwhelming gathering of well-wishers, he added, “Today I feel like a millionaire.”

There was not a dry eye in the house.

It was totally out of control.