"You have to do it," she said. "It's your thirtieth!"
We were finishing up the Prentice Loop on the 7, and the bus was empty. Sitting at the long red light on 57th; it makes sense somehow that big ideas are birthed in small places, the hushed excitement of voices daring at the possibility. I was skeptical. She wasn't.
"A birthday party? Really?"
"Yeah! You can make it a big thing!"
The next person I talked to about it was Leroy. I mentioned the idea, but also shared my trepidation that no one would come. Isn't the whole thing a bit frivolous? Who would show up for this thing, anyway?
"Shut the fuck up," he said. I started laughing. "Nathan, seriously. You really need to shut the fuck up right now. I love you, you saved my life, you're a great person, everybody loves you…. just shut up already! You're Nathan Vass, the–"
"Dude, no, no–"
"Shut up, Nathan! You think people aren't gonna come? Do you remember what happened during Paris last year?"
"Yeah, I guess there was that…."
"Uh. Yeah. Don't even worry about it. If you have a party, they'll come. Hell, I'll make them come!"
In a way he did, as he ended up catering the event. He was a Le Cordon Bleu student at the time. We quickly realized there'd be far too many people to feed with only catering, and the party became a potluck as well.
I'd like to share something regarding how this all came together that you might find interesting. I find it miraculous.
The party was originally planned to be on the roof of The Post, the luxury apartment building downtown. Kate Alkarni, of Kate Alkarni Gallery, lived there at the time, and she offered me the space (click here to watch a speech by me concerning my first and last time catsitting for Kate at The Post). All she had to do was reserve the roof on a date of our choosing. She did so.
A week beforehand, Leroy and I stopped by The Post because, as a chef, he would benefit from reviewing the kitchen facilities and appliances they had. I wanted to take a look at the walls to see if we could hang art. I still remember the guy's name at the front desk. Brian Chow looked us over skeptically, slowly, telling us no such reservation had been made.
He was the fellow you talked to about such things. Not only had no reservation been made, the roof had been reserved by another party, and despite the rule that the space could be reserved for only four hours, it had been blocked off for the entire day by one of the senior staff members there, and as such there would be no chance of any party, especially not mine, happening anytime at all on that date. Brian Chow pretended to look into the details, to see if there was anything he could do. The minutes ticked by. Leroy, who could see over his shoulder, would later tell me Chow had simply been surfing the net during those moments. A strange man indeed.
Bus driving isn't even on the top ten list of most stressful jobs. Event planning is. It's just a few rungs down from air traffic control. I'd always wondered why; now I knew. I'd just invited a thousand people with time and place details which were now inaccurate and unrealizable. I called Kate. What had happened with the reserving of the roof? She didn't know. No one knew. She proposed we have the party spread out in three locations– her apartment, The Post's game room, and a nearby movie room. Discussion with Post staff (I insisted on talking to someone besides Brian Chow) quickly revealed this would be impossible. The quantity of our guest list was a hilarious violation of fire code, and staff would be forced to lock the elevators to prevent any more attendees from overflowing into rooms with capacity limits of twenty, thirty-five and fifteen. Fuhgetaboutit. For reasons we couldn't fathom, The Post was dead in the water.
I was despondent less at the thought of no party than the thought of disappointing people, coming up short. Friends had gotten time off work. They were telling me what they were cooking to bring. They were excited. I resolved that the new venue needed to be secured in 48 hours, had to be in the same neighborhood as The Post, and take place at the same time on the same day. I spoke with galleries, restaurants, hotels and other event venues and faced dollar amounts far beyond me. Reserving a space for hundreds of people in downtown Seattle on a Saturday, with two days notice? It was comedy, the level of rejection you get from that one. My 48 hours were almost up.
The hero of this story is Chad Solomon. Friend and former bus driver, now streetcar operator, he saw me wandering anxiously about Pioneer Square as he finished up a shift.
"Are you looking for a new venue?"
Moments like this make me believe in angels. He knew of my search by way of social media, and happily showed me his building. Like Kate, he lived at the time in a luxury apartment building, not just downtown but a few blocks from The Post. Like The Post, it had a roof, except it was much larger. Was it available on the day we needed it? Yes, but in the afternoon, not the evening as I had planned. That's fine, I said. That's completely fine. I couldn't believe my good fortune. O, Chad. Thank you so much for reaching out that day. And for happening to walk by me at just the right moment.
The shift to an afternoon time turned out to be another stroke of fortune; it was a Sounders game day, and parking and traffic would've been a nightmare for all. We managed to avoid all that. O, Universe. You really are too kind!
Even that, however, was not the ultimate marvel. The real miraculousness is this, friend. At the last possible minute, Kate Alkarni got called away to Los Angeles to attend to an ill family member. If that original reservation at The Post had been correctly logged, Kate would not have been able to let anyone into her building, due to her unforeseen obligation in L.A. No exaggeration: the birthday party would have had to have been cancelled on the day of.
Brian Chow, how I love you.
In a recent post I described the guests thus:
The attendees at my "first and last" birthday party last year included a hundred or two of my favorite actors, artists, engineers, nurses, authors, professors, cooks, city and county government employees, social justice workers, hairdressers, millionaires, students, playwrights, bus drivers, photographers, storytellers, architects, musicians, bankers, dishwashers, community organizers, poets, businessmen and women, filmmakers, administrators and homeless people. The only connection points linking them were that they knew me, and that they respected kindness.
Other people get married; this was my wedding, a celebration not of me but of the goodness in humanity which I so dearly love. I bungled somewhat the speech I gave at the party, overcome as I was with excitement; I was trying to link the thankfulness in the bus incident I retold with my thankfulness for everyone present, my indebtedness to the mysterious ways of this world we live in.
There's an architecture we can't see from here on ground level. We scoff when coming upon a deux ex machina in stories, but that's only because fiction, as Mark Twain said, has to be plausible. Life doesn't. In life, it is not unreasonable to entertain the possibility of miracles. Help yourself in your journey, but trust yourself too, and trust in the universe to provide.
Just as the group photo above sadly leaves out as many people as it contains, the pictures below don't cover the half of it. What I mainly want to stress here is the cake. Look at that thing! It's an anatomically correct German chocolate version of a favorite coach type of mine, with a coach number and route I drove regularly (photos of the bus included below for reference!). It involved months of prep (unbeknownst to me) and its positioning and stand is based on an old photograph of mine (which contains the same route but a different coach type), also included below. Courtesy of one Hazel Margolis, who was eleven years old at the time. Will I ever receive a cake that grand again? Obviously not! It's all downhill from here, cake-wise...