The party went well, inasmuch as there were no children left over after all the parents had come and gone, and no parents went home empty handed. That’s the best you can hope for – no lawsuits, no TV cameras outside the door demanding a comment. How could you lose a child? How? Eventually you snap and say something stupid like “what am I, a licensed day care? You want me to tie them to cement blocks?” And then you’re in the paper next day: “UNLICENSED CHILD CARE CENTER PROPOSES CHAINING CHILDREN TO CEMENT BLOCKS, LOSES ONE IN BIRTHDAY FRACAS.”

(A “fracas” in newspaper headline terms is somewhere between a flap and a melee.)

My wife did all the planning, just like last year. I blew up all the balloons, just like last year. There were about 60 balloons – 15 with prizes inside, another 45 with pieces of paper, 15 of which had a star on the paper to indicate that the guest had won another prize. There was a big scavenger hunt, which led to more prizes – I drew by hand all the clues, and it was a miracle the kids could find anything. “What’s this?”

“It’s either a red pepper or a human heart.”


To help the kids burn off the energy, my wife rented a bouncy tent.

I’m sure they make them bigger, although they would have to be delivered by helicopter.

While the kids were bouncing around I conversed a spell with the Crazy Uke and the Giant Swede, both of whom stuck around for a while, then taunted me cruelly by producing thick Macanudos and retiring for a gambol about the neighborhood while they smoked. Friends? Hah. But while we sat down watching our kids play we gazed up at the Disney tent, and critiqued the princesses. Snow White: eh. Looks like she’s made out of some pale crumbly cheese, and she has a history – lived with seven men, for heaven’s sake. The Swede admitted he was partial to Sleeping Beauty, who does have a lanky charm. Cinderella did nothing for no one. I suggested that one had to be both nuts and a eunuch, if that’s not contradictory, to prefer any of them to Jasmine. That hair! Those eyes! But they’re both married to blondes. (Sisters, in fact.) I understand. Belle didn’t get much in the way of manly grunts, probably because no one wanted their throat ripped out by her boyfriend. Ariel was not represented, perhaps because even for the whole Disney Princess thing the idea of a mermaid leaning out of a castle is a bit silly. She’d have to have a big bowl full of water over her head, and then she’d have a strained expression that suggested she’d like to see Belle, Cindy, Snow and Sleeper head down to her hood and look sexy as the crushing depths pulverized their fine thin bones.

Last year the balloons popped on their own; the grass was so try, the balloons so cheap, that a mere breeze was enough to send them bouncing to their doom. This year we popped them indoors, the easier to find the little slips of paper inside. As I watched the kids stomp and hug and sit on the balloons to no avail, I flashed back to a word on the package:

Helium quality

Oh great. Oh joy. I’d bought balloons as thick as drunk’s tongue. We had to get a small nail and pop the balloons on the child’s behalf.. Then Pin the Tail on the Donkey – eleven kids, eleven attempts. A deadly combination: half has played already and wants to wander off; the other half gets itchy waiting for their turn. Pinwheels were handed out. Sudden horrid Tutsi-Hutu-strength rivalries over who gets what color pinwheel, but slaughter was averted when my wife announced CAKE AND ICE CREAM. I wonder if that works in real conflicts. I suspect it would. You could probably have stopped WWI in 1915 by sending Americans in to shout “CAKE AND ICE CREAM!” up and down the lines. And then five years later we’d be blamed for spreading obesity and tooth decay. Fine, have your Ypres and Sommes, you ungrateful bloody bastards.

By 3:30 the magical sound of children’s voices sounded like something else. Presents were opened; I hovered over with a notepad and a Sharpie, trying to figure out who gave what. Many Groovy Girls. Many Polly Pockets. Many art sets. But no Barbie Rapunzel. One of her friends had said she was getting a Barbie Rapunzel for Gnat, but as is often the case with little kids, she was just making it up.

By 4:00 the parents arrived, collected their tots, and we had the world to ourselves again. What to do? Why, head into the bouncy and bounce. It was perhaps her highlight – strip down to her underwear and bounce for hours until the sun went down.

No Barbie Rapunzel. But she didn’t seem to notice. By the end of the party she was glazed and baked.

The next day I got up and headed out. Returned the duvet cover to the Mall of America. Went to the hardware superstore for a globe to replace the one that fell from a ceiling light fixture downstairs. Heck, buy three, so we have a consistent globe profile. Shoot 20 miles north to pick up a rug that had just arrived from the tireless looms of India. Stop off at Target . . . there it was, the Barbie Rapunzel. Ten bucks or so. Sure, I bought it. Just in case. Grocery store. Home: wife & child & mother-in-law out at a play. Put the burgers on the grill, haul up the rug, swap out the old one into the dining room, have supper, get back to work on other tasks. Family arrives back around nine. They’d been to see “Annie.” What was it about?

“About a little gurl whose family died,” Gnat said. She thought a moment. “Sydney didn’t give me a Bawbie Rapunzel.”

“She said that halfway through the play,” my wife said. “Just occurred to her.”

“Well, maybe Santa will bring one.”

“Can you ask him now?”

“No. He’s sleeping.”

“Well, what’s his phone number?”



I went upstairs, got out the Emergency Barbie, and put it where she’d see it in her bathroom. Wait a while. Great rejoicing. My wife loved the rug, my child loved the Barbie; I am now officially the greatest dad in the world.

Oh, one more thing. The Mall of America is flanked by two gigantic parking ramps. You’re pointed to your parking spot by helpful attendants. I was guided to level P6 (Tennessee) and I paused outside my car to take a few puffs from the afternoon cigar. I should note that I had made three trips back into the house after I’d first attempted to leave – forgot the videos, forgot the iPod, forgot the checkbook. I seemed to hit every light on the way to the freeway; I took the wrong exit, thinking there was still construction on Killebrew. A hundred random elements conspired to put me exactly where I was, walking toward the skyway, thinking: you know, I would hate to run into that Lisa character I met last week, the one who hit me up for five bucks with a hard-luck story, but it would make a great Bleat moment.

And there she was. Walking away from the skyway. Her? Huh? Quick check – black hair, tattooed forearms, and that purse: black on top, pink bottom.

A hundred random elements. Ten seconds earlier, ten seconds later, I would have missed her. So now I look at that fiver as the price of admission: $1.25 for the set up, $1.25 for the second act. The final act will come, and it’ll be worth $2.50 just to see the look on her face if she comes up to me again, and I whip out the cell phone.

“Control? I have located Lisa 697. Deploy the rovers.”

I’m not bitter. Before I wondered if I was a chump, and now I know I am a chump. That’s worth five bucks.

Thanks to Brian, I saw this.

The website has some more posters for you to print off and post:

Fine. Whatever. Meanwhile, we have an Orange Alert in NYC. One of the targets is supposedly the Citicorp building. Why? Well, it has some Saudi investment, but what doesn’t. Perhaps it’s the distinctive nature of the building, which is one of the few 70s structures I really love. I’ve always had a soft-spot for the Citicorp, even though it does things I don’t like – the way it lifts its skirts and shows its structural pillars, for example, is a classic piece of nonsense-on-stilts 70s design, but this is one of the few examples where it works. The sunken plaza is one of my favorite spots in New York, but only at sunset. In the afternoon everyone’s broiling in the pit; at rush hour it’s dense and frenetic. At twilight time - when there’s that perfect Manhattan balance between the lights in the towers and the glow of the sky – the Citicorp corner is one of the finest spots in Midtown. You can clamber down, look up and out: such a view.

Like the WTC, it has a shopping mall and a subway station, which makes it an appealing target.

And it has a church. The famous chapel whose interior was designed by Louise Nevelson. American bank, Saudi interests, heathen temple: no wonder they reinforced the pillars in 02.


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