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I decided to throw myself a birthday party.
It seemed like a great idea.
I had been living in what was for me a new city and a new job for a good eight months -– working in Orlando at Walt Disney world’s MGM studios doing “tour guide” for an attraction called “The Great Movie Ride.” Guests got in my 30-seat vehicle and I drove them through impeccably recreated scenes from "Casablanca," "Tarzan," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and "Public Enemy." The James Cagney scene was my favorite part of the ride, because for a few seconds, I got to live in the '40s.
So, when the Atlantic Dance Hall, a night club created as a tribute to 1940s American Band Stand opened on Disney property, I knew it was the perfect location for my birthday festivities. Yes, I would throw a ride-wide birthday bash, and everyone would be invited.
This was before eVite and Facebook RSVPs. If you wanted to send an invitation, you’d better get an address and a stamp. I didn’t want to fuss with all of that (mistake #1) -- I just wanted to casually invite everyone! So, I made big posterboard signs advertising the soiree, and taped them up throughout the break room.
We were a tight crew, us Movie Riders. And, although the ride tended to attract those in transition (i.e., students there on the Disney College Program, who would be leaving after four months) there was a core group of us that I considered us friends. There was Michael, the big-nosed, skinny gay mobster who pretends to highjack my vehicle; there was Blond Tour Guide Rob, whom I’d given a flirty Valentine before realizing he was dating Blond Tour Guide Jen; and of course, James, five-foot-three New Yorker who made an 8-hour workday feel like 8 minutes; I’d gotten drunk at HIS birthday party and had myself a big cry on bed and slept over. It was awesome.
The night of the party, I rolled my hair in a 1940s coiffure, sealing it with an armory of bobby pins and a see-through net. I blew $25 on lipsticks at Walgreens, hoping one of them would be the perfect match to my retro red dress.
I strode into the Atlantic Dance Hall, glorious in its carefully facsimilated design, and set about the task of nabbing the best tables, since they wouldn’t take a reservation. Hm, but how many tables? I hadn’t thought to count heads. No matter. I put two tables together, and spread out my purse and sweater as far as they could reach, as if to say, “Don’t even think of sitting here.”
I relaxed, knowing I had a full thirty minutes before anyone was going to show up. I got a drink and mentally planned the night’s possible scenarios. Someone’s hungry? Here’s the appetizer menu. Need a break from dancing? We can walk over to Epcot, one of the other Disney parks, and watch the fireworks at midnight. After that? There’s a piano bar that’s open till 3 am just around the corner. I had every possible scenario planned.
Almost every one.
So excited! I double check the pins in my hair and add another swipe of lipstick.
I hadn’t seen any of my friends yet, but couldn’t shake the feeling people were watching me. Clusters of them kept stopping a few feet from my table and looking at me -– and they were not friends looking for the birthday girl. That’s when it hit me: These people thought I, in my retro gear, was part of Streetmosphere, Disney’s street performer troupe! Awkward moments when they realized I wasn’t going to break into a New Yo-wek accent and insist they write their name on my dance card.
I decided to take a walk around the dance hall -- maybe some of them were upstairs and had missed me. But, how could they miss me alone at a center table in a red dress in full '40s hair and make-up? How could they miss me when complete strangers couldn’t?
I left my sweater and drink on the table, and approached the bartender.
“I’m just going to check and see if my friends are upstairs. I know you’re not supposed to but keep an eye on my stuff? It’s my birthday!” I smiled, and gave a little bat of my thickly mascaraed lashes. He gave one of those will-do nods.
I did a full sweep of the place and came back to the bar.
“What can I get you?” the barkeep asked.
“I’m just waiting for someone,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t notice the slight change I’d made from the plural to the singular.
“You want another?” he asked, eyeing my empty champagne glass.
“OK,” I said, and reached into my purse to pay.
“Do you want to start a tab?” he motioned to the tables I was holding.
Did I tell people nine instead of eight? Am I crazy? I could have sworn I said eight.
The club was really picking up. Now, they were charging a cover. That’s exactly why I wanted people to get here at 8, so people wouldn’t have to pay a cover!
Splitting headache from champagne and lack of food.
The bartender cast pitiful looks my way.
“I guess my friends, my friend is late. Um, if you see anyone in vintage clothes, send them my way,” I gave a perky little gesture, and looked at my watch, pretending to be only mildly irritated by some flaky best friend.
Light-headed, stomach growling, headache. I flagged down the waiter that I had waved away two hours before. “You know, I think I will get something. While I wait.”
He came back with another glass of champagne. “Oh, no, I--“
“This is from the bartender,” the waiter said, “on the house.” I looked over the guy, raised my glass and rallied a smile, but I wanted to disappear, humiliated.
Hand slumped in my face, I knew what this meant. No one was coming to my birthday party.
I fled the dance hall and walked around to the entrance of Epcot’s World Showcase. The last thing I wanted to do was go home to an empty apartment, so I used my Disney ID to get into the park. I could feel eyes follow me -– She must be part of the show, someone murmured of my retro look. I kept my eyes glued to the gray cement and kept walking.
I kept walking around the World. I walked straight through Italy, France, and Morocco. I walked through Germany, Japan, and Norway.
I got myself a pain du chocolate and latte from faux France and sat on a faux French bench, and that’s when it hit me. RSVP. Respondez Si’l Vous Plait. I did this wrong. No headcount, what was I thinking?
No one showed up to my birthday party, and I survived. C’est la vie.