- Tiny fires, totally appropriate for a birthday party. Photograph by Adelyn
"I'm wearing a green shirt," my brother said on the phone.
"Oh yeah, I see you." I waved to my brother standing near the south entrance to Madison Square Park. He came all the way from New Jersey for my little Shake Shack birthday party. Aw.
But as I got closer, I saw something...funny. A group of people lined up by a few tables pulled far from the main Shake Shack seating area. As I got closer, some of the people hastily propped large gray circles in front of their faces—faces that I recognized because I invited them to my party. But there were also people that I hadn't invited. And the gray circles confounded me so.
I got closer.
Then...I couldn't get any closer because I was right in front of them.
"OH GOD YOU ARE WEARING MANATEE* MASKS? WAIT WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE HERE? HEY, YOU SAID YOU WOULDN'T BE HERE! OH JEBUS DID I GET TRICKED AGAIN, YES I DID."
* Oh hey, I like manatees.
- ROBYN SMUSH. Photograph by Adelyn
- Mask, I haz. Photographs by Kwan
It took a while for my brain to process the scene—20 friends or so huddled around a makeshift picnic area of towels on the sandy ground, a few cake-strewn tables, some gift bags. My eyes—they watered a bit from pure delirious happiness confusion somethingsomething. I didn't know what to say, so I probably just squealed a lot. Squeals mixed with, "Oh my god, whaaat, oh my god, WHAAATIZTHIS YOU GUYYYSSSS!!???" as invisible spurts of dumbfoundedness dribbled out of my ears.
You'd think after getting two surprise birthday parties last year I would've learned by now, but nope; my memory sucks and I'm very, very easy to fool. The twist this year was that I had already planned a party-thingy at Shake Shack. The week before my birthday, I had emailed about 30 friends with the invite, "Hey, let's get together at Shake Shack at 7:30 next Friday for my birthday. Eat some burgers, hang out, whatever. I'll bring a cake." What I didn't know is that Tristan and friends had been planning all week on how to turn my plan into a bigger party complete with manatee masks, a pinata, more cakes (by the way, thumbs down for Momofuku Milk Bar's "Birthday" cake; get the banana one), and more people. They succeeded 1000% and did a great job of pulling together most of my friends considering that I BCC-ed my original invite. (This means a handful of people had no idea about the surprise, but it all worked out in the end.) Tristan tricked the shizz out of me by telling me a week earlier that he wouldn't be able to make it to my party. I should've known that one of my best friends would never miss my birthday.
My brother wasn't in on the surprise, though. It was just by coincidence that he was standing so close to the actual party without knowing it. He was confused, although not as much as I was. "You...know all these people?"
My main worry about gathering so many people at Shake Shack was dealing with the inevitably long wait for the food and finding a place to sit. But seating had been taken care of by the pre-planning, and the waiting problem was solved by a handful of my friends taking orders for everyone in the group and waiting in the 45+ minute line as the rest of us chatted and whatnot/watched me squeal some more. (Props to Ed for buying a bunch of sundaes for my group!) SO SMOOTH, MAN. Party at Shake Shack = the best.
So it was great. Beyond great. ...Mega-great. (I'm in dire need of a larger vocabulary.) I regret that I could only talk in spurts with people and that I was constantly shuffling between conversations, but man, my heart was on the brink of exploding in a violent flurry of joyful rainbow confetti joy. The last time that happened was at my last birthday party.
It's really, realllllyy hard for me to comprehend why my friends would put so much time and energy into making my birthday so awesome. (I've only thrown a surprise party once in my life and it was...well, it wasn't very smooth.) The friends ranged from those I had known for ten years to those I had only met three or four times. I wouldn't say I make friends easily. The only reason I have so many friends is because they found me (thnx, Internet), and I've just been lucky to some infinitesimally rare cosmic degree to be on the receiving end of their kindness. I don't know what I can do to show my gratitude—donate my liver? Offer my firstborn? Display an endless stream of weird facial expressions? Okay, I'll go with the last one.
I also need to note that Shake Shack is great not just for their food (the Shack Burger is my favorite burger in New York City—judge me if you'd like), but for their Danny Meyer-ized service. After my friends who had waited in line brought back our burgers, we realized that two orders fell by the wayside. There was no way my burger-less friends were going to wait another 45 minutes for their food—they'd rather go somewhere else. So Kwan went to the front of the line, asked the cashier who took his order if he could place another order right then and there since he had already paid his waiting dues, and although she hesitated a bit, she let him do it. (I should note that Kwan is one of the nicest, most courteous people you could ever meet; skipping the line may seem like a dick move, but you'd want to do it too if you were in his position.) While Kwan waited for the two extra burgers, a manager recognized him, wondering why he was back for more, and when he told her what happened she was quick to get him the burgers he wanted. Union Square Hospitality Group, I salute you.
- YAY I KILLED IT. Photographs by Kwan
And there was a piñata. No manatee-shaped piñata could be found, but the donkey worked just fine for being on the receiving end of my murderous smashes.
I hobbled home with bags of gifts, extra cake, and a tray of manatee and unicorn-shaped cookies (made by the almighty Adelyn). But the best gift of all?
- Not everyone who came is actually in this photo. Oops. Um. Not in order, there's Greg, Diana, Tam, Al, Sarah, Melissa, Veronica, Tristan, John, Claire, Liz, Lihan, Kwan, James, Chichi, Adelyn, Foster, Samantha, and Nathan. Francine, Bert, Ben, Christine, and JD had already left.
FRIENDSHIP. [cue fluttering hearts and smiley faces and glistening eyes and after-school specials]
Yeah, that's some molten cheesiness right there. But you know it's true. Without friends, the rest means nothing.
I suspect my parties can only go downhill from here, unless someone actually finds a manatee-shaped piñata for my 26th birthday. (I realize that smashing a manatee-shaped piñata would be sort of antithetical to my affinity for these blimp-like, aquatic mammals, perhaps made even more inappropriate by manatees being endangered. ...We'll say it's an evil homicidal manatee.)