My Typical Saturday

November 30, 2008
It’s noon on Saturday: party rush hour. As I nearly miss the child-size styrofoam cup I’m pouring fruit punch into, I remember I’ve forgotten to say “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl. She and several of her five-year-old friends are here, in a single, small room. The crowd is chowing down on greasy pizza, having just finished springing and bouncing for over an hour. They all previously received an invitation bearing the description of an “Inflatable Party Zone,” a place of enormous bounce houses and obstacle courses. They have been invited to my workplace.

The room is a life-size carton of Crayola Crayons. Christmas red, sunshine yellow and sky blue coat the walls, engulfing everything in a bright and dizzy reflection. The blandest object visible is the trash can, but even with its reputation it beams brightly red. The deep purple of royalty are the benches, which line the wall and add additional obstacles to the area. Balloons of orange, pink, and green, float haphazardly in the stuffy atmosphere. No relief from this swirl of pigment can be found. It’s a child’s dream, a wonder. The little four-foot-tall beings run around in their own, personal play place.

Four large tables stand their ground in the center of the room, with benches and purple and blue table covers. There is the clown-nose red present table glowing at the front of the room, and a supply table hiding in the back. That is where I find only the slightest relief. And there is the highlight of the room: the birthday throne! The royal position of the child of honor, inflated and shining, never still, bigger than anything in the area, adding to the obstacles.

But something’s missing: the guests. Thirty, forty, sometimes fifty participants take part in this uncontainable explosion. Kids scrambling on benches, parents leaning on walls. Kids yelling noisily, parents chatting ordinarily. Oops! There goes the fruit punch, onto the already-sticky-from-years-and-years-of-parties floor. And there goes the miniature three-year-old brother, trotting carelessly through it.

All of this commotion continues simultaneously while I direct the party. I run through the motions with rapidity and swiftness while the guests eat and laugh with delight and bliss. As I survey the scene, the birthday girl’s facial expression reminds me: the cake. It is imperative to hurry, for if I don’t, I will be met with impatient, five-year-old glares. However, I cannot imagine what trouble would surround me if I dropped the cake in the rush. Positioning the candles around the delicate dessert, I am met with a setback. What an appropriate time for the lighter to be malfunctioning. But, the parents have brought their own lighter, something I usually take for granted. Now I am able to refocus. I delicately slide the masterpiece onto my forearms, bending my knees slightly. The birthday girl is waiting- quite excitedly- in the birthday throne. A quick chanting of “Happy Birthday” sets the stage for mayhem. My thoughts bombard me: Cut the cake. Pass it out. Get the ice cream. Give out silverware. “Parents, would you like a piece?” “Well, I shouldn’t,” they decline, their deep craving showing through their refusal.

I step back and take a short breath. The scent of butter cream icing with chocolate cake is present, mixing with the essence of leftover pizza thrown arbitrarily onto the supply table by an oblivious guest. I wonder if they have any idea what it is like to clean up after fifty people in a matter of minutes. But there is not time to ponder. Back into the wildness.

As an employee, it is critical to have powerful eardrums. One would assume that all would be hushed as the guests hurriedly swallow their food. But this is never the case. With dozens of mouths, silence is nonexistent. Not even the adults in all their maturity can contain their roaring laughter. But the throne may very well be the most deafening thing present. Continually being loaded with spinning air, it supplies the sound of a hot air balloon, making loud its call.

Through the entirety of the party there is a smaller scale of noises as well. The pitter-patter of dashing feet can be heard, along with clicking of cameras. Most apparent to me is the questioning. “When do we do the cake? Do I light the candles? Would you like help passing out the cake? Can I order an extra Diet Pepsi? Can we start presents? When is our time over? Do I pay at the front desk?” The party parents never fail to be jumpy and anxious. Meanwhile I must retrieve the napkins they asked for and find their ice cream in the cooler. The never-ending tasks flood my mind; there is never a moment to spare.

Attempting to travel through the masses is unfeasible. One step, and crash! A little child sprawls on the floor, then hastily remounts themselves and dashes away. Another stride, and I feel the cool soda race down my legs, released by the miniature boy who was too anxious for more cake. A bump here into the party father, a collision there into the mountain of gift bags. Now I’m tangled in the web of ribbons from the balloons, who nod their heads at my embarrassment. With help from a young girl, I am made free from the snare, and I continue on to reach the birthday child. Instantly I must dodge the tissue paper, thrown by the child from the depths of Grandmother Jo’s gift. The youthful guests swarm around my legs like pests, anxious to confirm that their present was the favorite.

As I quickly detach myself from the mob, I gather any debris that litters the room. The party begins to disappear, and the noise dissipates. The present cart is loaded, and thunders away to the host’s minivan. Finally I am permitted to consume the pizza and cake left by the celebration. Now I can taste what I smelled earlier, cheese and pizza sauce closely followed by spongy cake and creamy icing. Air fills my lungs as I contemplate the chaos of the party. But it is finished, and I am at last able to relax.

But that is simply a pipedream. Only fifty minutes until the next party. My checklist: Rapidly take out the trash, swiftly sweep the floor, speedily wipe the tables, quickly lay out the plates…. The chaos has only just begun.

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