My boss returned from leave a few weeks ago. It’s good to have him back. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the world, spanning everything from international relations to how to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate. His mind works in surprising ways–he concluded a conversation on space exploration and extraterrestrial colonization with, “I wonder how Bahá’ís living on Mars will know where the Qiblih is to face when they pray?” And of course he knows all about archival matters as well.
I arrived on Sunday to find a note on my keyboard in the handwriting of one of my officemates: “Sunday is Ted’s birthday.” My immediate reaction was concern. As his assistant, am I the birthday planner? Should I have baked a cake? Made a card? I proceeded to put his birthday on my Outlook calendar so that at least next year I’ll be prepared.
It turned out I needn’t have worried. One colleague, at our office devotions, wished him a happy birthday, leading to the group singing to him, leading to his reaction: “Thank you. Everyone needs to turn twenty-five at some point….and I’ll let you know when that happens to me.” And then she went home for lunch and baked him a cake. And then another colleague sent an email inviting everyone to the break room at 3:30 for a surprise party. So that’s how it’s done, I thought. But I noticed a problem. How would we ensure he came at that time without directly inviting him? I asked her, and she recommended that I take care of that.
Now, I’ve coordinated surprise parties before, but never on such short notice. And never for my boss. So I found myself getting a stress tummy ache trying to figure out how to get him in the break room without letting the proverbial cat out of the bag. Finally, utilizing yet another of Outlook’s many wonderful functions, I sent him a meeting invitation to “work on correspondence” at 3:30. But he didn’t reply. And didn’t reply. He was away from his office. Finally, slightly panicked, I bumped into him in the hallway and we agreed on the meeting time. But the hardest part was yet to come. Once we met, how would I get him to the break room? “Um, can we maybe discuss the space allocation of the break room cupboards? Can we go do some fieldwork there?”–or, stagger into his office, pallid and weak–“I’m actually super hungry now, can we go take break first?”
The fateful hour arrived. I heard his footsteps go into his office, then out–wait, what…and then from the break room, a collective shout of “Surprise!” It turns out Ted, probably in innocent pursuit of a drink of water, surprised his surprise party. He kindly came to fetch me, inquiring, “Well, are you ready for our ‘meeting’?”