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IMG_3597Last week was his birthday. My boss at the steakhouse. He had the evening off, so once all the guests cleared out, a few of us—about a dozen or so—stayed behind to finalize all the preparations in one of our restaurant’s private dining rooms. Banners and balloons. Beers and wine, cake and snacks. Vodka.

Once all was in order, we then had the task of getting him there. See, this party was a surprise, and the birthday boy was likely to be in bed already. Old man that he is.

Now, how do you get the General Manager to just show up at his restaurant in the middle of the night for no reason???


So we had the Regional Manager call our boss to let him know that the Emergency Company had called. You know, the company that monitors the building to make sure there’s no fires and whatnot… “There’s a problem at the restaurant. A broken pipe or something.” He needed to go over to check it out as soon as possible.

But why wouldn’t the emergency company just call him directly? Well, hopefully his thoughts aren’t so sharp. It is the middle of the night, mind you.

An hour later, we were all celebrating and having a great time. The birthday boy had no idea a party had been planned. He may have shown up in his PJs.



Chocolate cake.


Happy Birthday, Boss!

This event reminded me: Man, I love birthdays. Not just mine. I mostly love other people’s birthdays. I love the opportunity to celebrate their lives and make them feel special. To think up something personal yet unexpected.

Sitting at my boss’s surprise birthday extravaganza reminded me of the birthday surprises from my former career. There we had developed a culture of creativity and celebration. Or at least we had a lot of fun. We worked tirelessly in many ways, but in birthdays we allowed the forced excuse to stop even if only briefly in order to celebrate and share a few laughs.

And our celebration had usually centered on pranks. Honestly, it was nothing crazy. Just simple things really. Little things to let them know we were thinking about them. To let them know that they added a bright spot of fun to our lives. For my office assistant’s birthday, we showered his whole office one year with silly string and confetti. Seriously, for the next three years right up until I left the organization, I don’t think he ever got all that silly string residue off the wall. This little patch always remained in the lower corner under the table. (How I am able to notice those little details is a curse that haunts my dreams…)

One year I led an effort to sabotage the treasurer’s office for her birthday. She was very technology-dependent, to say the least. But also the kind of person that had to have someone else set it all up for her. So one year I led a team that broke into her office and dismantled all her hardware. Her computer, printer, external hard drive, lots of big equipment, etc. She had a lot of stuff packed in there. And we unplugged and moved everything around. We then filled the whole thing with packing peanuts. I think that’s what you call them…

Cleanup was a major pain in the ass. But she laughed it off. For those most part.

One thing I’ve learned through the years is that some personality types do better with pranks than others :))

So sitting at my boss’s party last week, I was also reminded of the time I was called in the middle of the night for something urgent at the office. In my former career it wasn’t that uncommon for me to get phone calls in the middle of the night. A little community of emergencies that beckoned me to rush off and save them. And I had temporarily forgotten that it was my birthday.

When I arrived, the building was empty and dark. I went upstairs to the corner office to open my door. I slid my key into the slot. And turned. I had barely opened the door two inches when I heard a loud POP! Like a small firecracker. Jumped up and died half to death, I suddenly realized what day of the year it was. I reached for the switch and turned on the light to find my entire office filled with balloons. Packed floor to ceiling and wall to wall. Seriously there were at least a couple hundred filling both my desk space and the area I used for small meetings and counseling sessions. The whole area was filled. Hundreds of balloons. Red, yellow, blue, and white. They were filled to the ceiling. Head shaking, smile spread across my face, I began pushing my way through the latex ocean of captured helium toward my desk when the midnight silence was broken with a series of more loud pops! I searched frantically for the source, sure to find little barrels of noise littered across the floor. As I pushed balloons from my office and uncovered my desk chair, I rolled it back to find another loud Bang! as the chair was tied to another noise-popper.

Still alone in an otherwise silent building I called my wife to let her know what I had discovered. As I spoke with her I heard an echo and walked out from my office to the dim-lit hallway. And as I stepped from the threshold, a whole series of lights flashed on as my staff jumped out to yell “Surprise and Happy Birthday!”

After five or ten minutes of high-fives and hugs, of laughter and excitement over the big shock of it all, we all turned out the lights and went home to bed.

After all, this was a church.

So there was no vodka.

Good times… And happy birthdays…

I once worked on staff for a larger organization that celebrated birthdays by periodically going out to lunch at fancy steakhouses and whatnot. Every couple months, we’d go to Joe’s Seafood or Chicago Chop House or Maggiano’s. One time we even went to this amazing little Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chão. And it was all in celebration of whichever birthdays had taken place since the last outing. We’d pass around a card and all sign it. It was a nice token of appreciation. And who didn’t love a great meal!?

But I still love the idea of celebrating birthdays by pranking offices. Silly string. Balloons. Packing Peanuts. Confetti and popping firecracker thingies. I love them. I love the mess. I love how it takes a few days to get all the nooks and crannies cleaned out. I love how six months later, you’ll open a rare cabinet door to find remnants remaining from a little birthday love that first surprised you all those months ago.

And that’s really what it’s all about. Birthday love.

I mean we did it for fun. For a great excuse to do something stupid and juvenile. And of course we always made the birthday person clean up the mess themselves. Haha, sucker…

But even more than that we did it for the Birthday Love. To let them know we hadn’t forgotten about them. That despite all their long hours, hard work, and low pay, that we hadn’t forgotten them. That we remembered their birthday. And that we loved them enough to put planning and thought into how we marked their special day.

Seriously, one year I conspired with my office assistant’s girlfriend for six months with a meticulously calculated plan involving a “Birthday Bandit” to lead him all over the place with what he thought someone was going to do for his birthday. By the end of it all, he was so confused and cross-stitched that he had no idea what was going on. Having no idea I was involved, he would come to be with secret messages and clues he had received, asking for my ideas of input. This of course gave me opportunity to further throw him off track… Only to become the subject of a surprise 50th birthday party that caught him completely off guard! The party involving some 200 people and a program I had the joy to emcee, featuring a hardcore roast of the birthday boy. And I got the first jabs.

Six months of planning. For my secretary. And I would gladly continue adding to my 80-hour work-weeks in order to show him once again how much he means to me.

Birthdays. Beyond all the jokes and pranks, I also loved the simplicity of taking them out to lunch. But rather than bringing the whole staff along and going to some fancy place downtown, I’d just steal them away for some one-on-one time. We’d try and forget about agenda items and project timelines to just focus discussion on personal matters. I wanted to get to know them. To let them know that they mattered to me. That they were valued.

I guess that’s what birthdays are all about to me. And I guess that that’s why I love them so much. Taking the time and opportunity to escape the rat race and let my loved ones know how loved they are. That I not only remember their birthdays but make an added effort to clear a portion of my schedule for them.

Birthdays. Reminders that life is worth living, that life is fun, and that YOU are worth celebrating.

But I’ll let you handle the clean up. I just don’t have time for that shit ;))