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On Saturday night I went to a surprise party.

Surprise parties are the best, as long as everyone is awesome and no one ruins it.

There’s just something about making someone feel so unexpectedly loved.

But first, (and if we’re going to be honest, then this is the best part), you have to make the guest of honor — the “surprisee,” if you will — feel like total crap.

“Oh, it’s your birthday this week?  Huh.  I think I already have plans on Saturday, but maybe we can get together Sunday?  Hmm… but I have to get up really early on Monday, so let’s get lunch instead of dinner.  I have to pick up my dry cleaning by 1:00, so can we go at like 11:00?  That cute little cafe downtown is a little far for me to drive, but they have a Chili’s near the mall.  Hey, I’ll buy you a birthday margarita!  It will be great!  As long as I can get to the dry cleaner’s by 1:00.”

And the fantastic part is you don’t really care that your friend looks like she wants to punch you in the face because you know, deep down, that she will feel terrible for thinking these unsavory thoughts about you when she sees you at her surprise party.

And that’s why surprise parties are the best — because they make your friends feel terrible for doubting your commitment to the friendship.  Which makes you feel great, because you can be like, “See?  I really do love you!  I love you so much that I will lie to your face and make you feel unloved, just so I can make you feel terrible later.  Which, in the end, will really make you — and especially me — feel awesome.”

See how that works?

We surprised my friend Danielle for her birthday, after each of us in turn told her — subtly — that we had more important things to do.  (By the way, of course I forgot my nice camera, so all you get is fuzzy, semi-inebriated photos of the evening’s festivities.)

It was just a small group of friends — that’s me in the gray dress in the middle, Danielle in the gray dress crouched down on the right, and the looker standing on the far right is her boyfriend Matt.

Matt planned the surprise (because he’s not just a looker — he’s a thinker, too).

(And sorry, ladies — he’s very much taken.)

It was probably the most fantastic food at any surprise party in the history of ever because Danielle’s friend Morgan (far left in the top photo) works as a catering manager for a really fantastic restaurant called Elliott’s on Linden in Pinehurst.

We may have taken advantage of this fact.

Lamb skewers with a spicy remoulade dipping sauce, seafood risotto, cheesy grits with sausage, mini grilled cheese triangles with tiny cups of tomato basil bisque, dim sum, and various dips, local cheeses, breads, and crackers.  (That’s the lamb with remoulade in the above photo.  Not, uh… whatever else it may look like.)

And let’s not forget the desserts.

So basically, I was stuffing my face, and then I noticed this.

Morgan’s tattoo.

Look close.

No, it’s not a Celtic knot symbolizing her spiritual faith for all eternity.  No, it’s not some inspirational word written in French or Latin or any language other than the one in which she’s fluent.  And no, it’s not the birth date of a child or the death date of a grandparent or the date she went to her first Creed concert and decided that she would, in fact, embrace the world with arms wide open by getting a wrist tattoo.


It’s just a word, and it’s written in english, and it says…




That’s it.


Of course it was the result of an evening’s drunken escapade — the kind where permanent ink always seems like a great idea to commemorate something you’re sure was quite hilarious at the time.  And then you wake up in that fuzzy, semi-delirious state-of-mind — that place where you can’t quite remember which of your brain’s crazy recollections are real, and which are just dreams, and then you feel it.  You feel it before you see it.  That bee sting burn that indicates you may have done something really, incredibly, stupid.

It’s something characters do, not real people, like the face tattoo in The Hangover II or the butterfly tramp stamp in Californication.

Except in this case it is very real, very permanent, and very… inappropriate.

Or is it?

I mean, maybe it would actually be kind of nice if we could all get branded with a blunt word that describes our prominent personalities.  I know many people who would stamp me with “inappropriate” or “loud” or “incredisexylicious.”

Okay.  Maybe not that last one.

But if I had a tattoo that said “inappropriate,” people would no longer be shocked when I say something, well —  inappropriate.  They couldn’t get offended because I’d be all, “Hey.  Can’t you see the tattoo?  It’s not like I didn’t warn you.”

It would give people a heads-up.  You’d go to shake a hand, check out the wrist, and immediately have an idea of who you’re dealing with:  Funny?  Great!  Bigot?  No thanks.  Easy?  Let me buy you another drink.

I might need to buy a tattoo machine for the sole purpose of branding people while they sleep.

Labels are bad, you say?  People are more complex than a single word?  Yes, we are.  But think about it.  Deep down, in our heart of hearts, we all have something very definable.  Something very us.  Something not likely to change anytime soon.  It might be good, it might be bad, but whatever it is, it just is.

If you had a word, what would it be?