This month, one of my good friends celebrated her 42 years. So when her husband approached me about a surprise birthday party, the conversation went something like this:
“So, K is turning 42 this year. And, well, you know what that means, right?”
I giggled. “Yeah. It’s the answer to Life the Universe and Everything. Whatcha thinking?”
“I’d like to plan a surprise party . . .” he said grinning.
He and I both giggled again. “This is going to be fun.”
And it was fun! There was a bit of hair-pulling, but I think that comes with any surprise party. We tried to distract, and stall, and finagle (I love that word). She argued, suggested, and stalled right back at us with no knowledge of what we were planning. This all culminated in the birthday girl planning her own party at the same place and same time as the surprise party. As I said there was a bit of
cursing up a storm and almost spoiling the surprise just to get her to go along hair-pulling that accompanied the planning process.
We also figured out in all the many secret conversations that a large number of attendees had never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And really, understanding the significance of 42 is lost if you’ve never experienced Douglas Adams.
“What is it?” asked Arthur.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a sort of electronic book. It tells you everything you need to know about anything. That’s its job.”
Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.
“I like the cover,” he said, “‘Don’t Panic.’ It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.”
For instance, we asked everyone who came to the party to bring a towel. If you have not read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you might not know that a towel “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have,” with uses ranging from “wrapping it around you for warmth as you bound across the moons of Jaglan Beta” to using it “to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth.” And don’t forget that you can also “wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat” and “wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes.”
In fact everyone seemed rather surprised when they agreed that it was, in fact, the best party accessory they had ever come across. Granted most of these people were parents, but many discovered their towel unintentionally became useful as their napkin, an oven hot pad, their child’s napkin, a sponge to mop up a spilled drink, a scarf, and a shawl/umbrella to run out to the car while it was snowing. I’m thinking of making it a requirement for every birthday party. 🙂
For the benefit of all the unfortunate guests who had never read the book I hung up some quotes explaining decorations or other inside jokes they might otherwise miss. These included:
The Dolphin–A large dolphin-shaped balloon floated around the middle of the room with a quote on its side: “So Long and Thanks for all the Fish.” Not only is this quote the name of another Douglas Adams book, it also is the message dolphins tried to communicate to humans in the moments before Earth was blown up to make way for a hyperspatial express route.
Babel fish–Swedish fish and goldfish were essential, especially since K is from Sweden. We put a sign next to them that explained Babel fish. The Guide describes them as “small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.” Yup, I want one.
Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster–The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy calls the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster the best drink in existence, the effect of which “is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” I found several recipes; the most commonly served involves Jack Daniels, orange juice, blue curacao, and peach schnapps. The blog Knuckle Salad lays out a recipe for the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster much closer to the one described in the book, but I’m not sure I’d want to drink very much of it.
Add to this a few fairy lights, some glow sticks, stars cut out of glitter paper, and lots of white balloons and you have a fun celebration for a fantastic woman. I thought about bringing some petunias and white mice, but it is winter after all and that didn’t seem fair to the flowers . . . (read the book!)