Thursday, January 15, 2009


With my birthday checking in this past week, it seemed like a good time to go down memory lane and take a look at the parties of yesteryear. Enjoy...

The Bowling Party

This was always the go-to party for any kid growing up. Didn't know where to have the party? Simple solution; invite everybody you know to Langan's and let them fire bowling balls off the rails for a couple of hours. The atmosphere was unbeatable and all beverages were served in small, white, styrofoam cups. This was a can't miss situation.

The one major bonus about having the bowling alley birthday party was "bowling alley pizza." What is it about bowling alleys that allows them to produce such excellent Za? You'd think that most of the people working there are either bowling junkies doubling as pedophiles or teenagers looking to make a few bucks on the weekend. Apparently they also employ one more person: a 5-Star chef in charge of dishing out some of the finest pizza this side of Naples. And it might sound like an overstatement, but I think you are much more likely to find a great slice of Za at a local bowling alley than you would anywhere in Italy.

It wasn't quite thin crust, but it wasn't too thick either where it might overwhelm someone with all their baby teeth still in. It was that special kind of pizza where you could pick up a piece, see a giant bubble taking up half the slice, and not have it bother you one bit. The pizza was that perfect. That's one thing that's missing from today's pizza. When's the last time you saw a giant bubble on one of your pieces? Sure, it might have reduced total surface area for the cheese and sauce to lay, and you might have felt ripped off when you got one of those slices. But going through experiences like that toughens you up as a youngster, letting you see early on that not everything is perfect in life. How do kids of today get that important knowledge with the flawless looking pies of 2009?

Back in the day, one of the major sources of panic at the bowling party was finding an adult to keep score at each lane. This was before the days of plush automatic scoring and free massages in between frames. With 20-30 kids at a party, 4 or 5 to a lane, you were looking at needing 5-6 adults to sit, watch, and mark these games accurately. You gotta wonder, now though. Why was it so important that all these games be scored so officially? We're talking about a 7-year old kid rolling a hot pink bowling ball (sometimes 2 at a time!) and having it bounce off the bumper 11 times before it ever reaches the head pin. I'm pretty sure an accurate final tally was the least of our problems.

And the adults never seemed to be too happy doing it, did they? First of all, they were forced to keep score with a very tiny pencil. Regular pencils were not allowed in bowling alleys. The place where they kept score was also usually poorly lit, forcing them to have to flick on that little night light over the scoresheet so they could see. As if they weren't having enough fun already, they would also have to constantly alert everyone as to who's turn it was, make sure nobody was putting any part of their body into the ball return, and provide frequent reminders to "hit the reset button" in between shots. This was somehow a very difficult concept to master. Kids would stand there with the most confused looks on their faces, totally unsure of the next step in their life. Seriously, though...I know technology was not at it's peak in the late 80's, but couldn't they have found a way to reset the pins themselves without forcing young children to perform this critical task?

The Leap-Year Kid

You ever met someone that was born on a leap-year and walk away thinking anything but, "What a $%#% loser!" Seriously, if you didn't have the wherewithal to be born either a few days earlier in February or a couple days later when March came around, why do I want to go to your birthday party? The only bonus about this kid was his birthday party invitations. We would be in 2nd or 3rd grade, maybe 8 or 9 years old. Open up the mail to find leap year guy's invite. "Come Help Celebrate as Ryan Turns 2 Years Old!!" As if the kid wasn't getting picked on enough at school already. I always got out of going to his parties, but I always wondered what kind of activities were planned for this man-child's two year celebration. A round table discussion on teething? Crawling races? Snacktime consisting of formula and mashed up carrots? Thanks, but no thanks.

Eat Your Heart Out, Shel Silverstein

You wanna know the exact moment when our sacred birthday parties Jumped the Shark? When our moms decided it was necessary for all invitations to be written in poem form. We were all set with the classic, "Who, What, Where, When, Why" routine on the invite, with the 'Why' answer always being "To Have a Great Time!!" This gave us all the information we needed. No clever rhymes were necessary. And by "clever", what I really mean is depressing, uninspiring, and lacking any real rhythm or flow whatsoever. Here's a sample from every birthday party invitation sent out in 1994.

Jason's turning 10, and he can't wait,
The party is at 4:00 on January 27th, so don't be late!!!!

Games, fun, and food will be had,
23984 Westbury Lane is the place to be...that's our pad!!!!


Time to Open Presents

This portion of the party was exciting for exactly 1 out of 25 kids at the joint: the birthday boy. Really, why did this have to be part of the agenda? Couldn't the kid have just opened his gifts when everybody went home? He's up there having the time of his life while the rest of us sat on the floor sitting Indian style, squirming non-stop, and hoping upon hope that he would get many long, rectangular boxes, an indication that clothing was forthcoming. This section of the party also contains one of the most embarrassing scenarios you could encounter at a b-day party. The situation where the kid opening presents opens a gift and shows it to everyone else, as is custom. Upon seeing it, you realize that is the exact same thing you got him. Shaaaab!! It's such a bummer when he gets to yours and there's that feeling inside of, "Why did my mom get him this present?? She should have known he was already getting one!!" Even though both guys brought the same gift, that first dude is always the hero while the second one goes home draped in shame and humiliation.

Of course, most of us went into the party having no idea what our mom got for the kid, anyway. It was always a shock when you would be thanked for a present, having exactly zero idea what he's thanking you for. Everybody loved doing that bit. You'd yell out to the b-day guy, "Yeah, you're welcome!" Then you'd turn back to your friends, and whisper, "I didn't even know what I got him until just now!!" Seemed like the funniest thing in the world at the time. Thinking back on it now...yeah, it really was a pretty solid bit.

And what was with the overzealous kid who always had to try and help you open your presents? "Mind your own f$%kin business, pal...this is my show." Why did this guy find it exciting to open someone else's presents, anyway? You ain't gettin' to play with any of it anyway, so why don't you go grab a seat with the rest of the misfits by the leftover Hulk Hogan cake?

Trick Candles

Simply put, the most frustrating product ever created. Does not matter if you are watching or actually trying to blow them out. Hurts all the same. It was funny once...maybe. Why did parents keep pushing this? I'm surprised more kids didn't flip out during this "hilarious" routine and fling the cake at the nearest wall. I get one legitimate chance the whole year to make a wish, and I have to sit and wait for these ridiculously strong candles to stop flickering?? No wonder the Cubs still haven't won the World Series.

The Burger King Magician

David Copperfield. Harry Houdini. David Blaine. You can have 'em all. Ask any red-blooded American male between the age of 21 and 28 who the greatest live performer of all-time is. You'll get one answer, and one answer only...the Burger King Magician. He did it all.

Unending handkerchief coming out of the mouth...check.

Having a book burst into flames, only to be completely erased when he slammed the book shut? Check and check.

Magic wand that kept going limp when the birthday kid tried waving it...timeless.

What wasn't this genius capable of? Always finished with the big bang. Dozens of pieces of candy emerging from under his silver platter, out of nowhere. He did things at those BK birthday parties that I will never forget. And I'm not even talking about the magic.

I'll be the one to say what all of us have been thinking. Ice Cream has been carrying Cake on its back for a long time. It's about time we made that clear. Share your thoughts in the comments section on the most overrated and underrated features of the childhood birthday party circuit.
E-mail the birthday boy at


BK said...

You forgot about the always classic Laser tag party. Phazer land was a terrifying dark and neon war zone!

Aubrey said...


Megan said...

I remember the Burger King Magician - by the way - his name is Jim Carmody. We were reunited recently, 20 years after my 5th birthday!

Megan said...

Check this out! Familiar?

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