Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Another Surprise Ending"

Sometimes when I make a speech of some sort – a wedding toast, a eulogy – I have reprinted its contents in this venue, estimating that it might be of wider interest (beyond those for whom it was originally intended), while also providing another piece in the hopefully fascinating jigsaw puzzle that is the mysterious totality of this writer.  I once even published a speech I put together but didn’t give.

The following concerns another speech I did not deliver recently. Though its contents will remain (substantially) private.

It was a birthday party for Dr. M – relatively intimate and unflashy, albeit with superb catering and two helium-inflated balloons.  The guest list was winnowed down to “the people who really matter to me.”  At the Guest of Honor’s request, there would be a Marimba band (whom she had heard performing at a nearby Farmer’s Market) and a “close up”, card-trick-style magician, because “The Birthday Honoree” adores magic.  See:  Blog Post about our recent Paris vacation, where, because we accidentally discovered it, we attended a performance by a Parisian magician, conducted entirely in indecipherable – by us – French.)

It would be a casual, informal celebration.

No speeches.  No toasts.

Then, encouraged by recently a friend’s wedding celebration she attended in Sweden in which the toasts of praise had extended long into the Scandinavian night, my daughter Anna announced that she wanted to deliver a toast at the party. 

Suddenly, I felt obligated to deliver one as well.  (If only to avert questions about why I hadn’t.  But also, you know, because I’m kind of good at it, and I did not want to be left out.  Note:  Whenever I am asked to make a speech, my immediate answer is a non-negotiable “No.”  Then, usually when I’m about to fall asleep, the contents of an oration assembles itself in my brain, and it’s usually pretty good, so I reverse course, and I do it.  The point is, I do not seek these opportunities out.  Though my unconscious seems eager to comply.)   

Then, however, just days before the party, Anna came down with a debilitating cold, her voice inoperatively weak and raspy.  Her condition impelled her to back out on the toast. 

Now it was just me, as some strung-together notions had in the interim coalesced in my head and I had written them down on paper, and begun rehearsing during spare moments in the day.  Nothing lengthy or elaborate; just two hundred and forty-three words.  A kind of Gettysburg Address of a speech.  But without the carnage.

With Anna bowing out, I immediately determined not to speak.  I knew Dr. M would be the opposite of disappointed, a fact I actually mentioned in the opening to my toast, when I said (or actually didn’t say, but was going to say):

I am pretty good at making a certain kind of a speech, where I tell stories about people, mentioning certain foibles and idiosyncrasies.  I gave (Dr. M) four presents for her birthday.  I would not be surprised that the one she appreciated the most was my assurance that I would not be making that kind of a speech at this party.

I then went on to complain (because all my speeches about others invariably devolve into issues about me) that the only problem was that that was the only kind of a speech I know how to make.  I then invited the invitees, made up entirely of family and good friends, all of them ideally qualified to do so, to each imagine a personally experienced example of Dr. M’s kindness, and wisdom and generosity and love.  (Writer’s Note:  When you can’t write what you can’t write, write about why you can’t write it.  It’s a neat trick, don’t you think?) 

That, at least partially, is what I’d prepared to say.  Now, it turns out, I would not be saying anything at all.

I did not give it a second thought.  Okay, I may have given it a second thought, but I did not give it a third one.  The party was relaxed and spontaneous and enjoyable and fun, the precise celebration imagined and wished for by the person who in this case mattered most. 

No speeches.  No toasts.

Including the one I had made up.

A glancing disappointment, but easily overcome.

The band, put together by a music teacher from Cal State Northridge – the players were all his students or former students – went through a sprightly repertoire of Marimba-flavored numbers, none of which I was familiar with. 


Out of the blue,

The band broke into a song I knew exceeding well.

Beginning with its infectious introduction:

A wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh,

A wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh….  

As if in a trance, before I knew what was happening, my feet walked me to the edge of the area where the band was set up, and I found myself


Singing along.

First the chorus,

A wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh, a wimoweh

And then the verses.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

The lion sleeps tonight.

In the jungle, the quiet jungle

The lion sleeps tonight…

With all their variations, rounds and recognizable harmonies.

(I was later informed that, with my eyes focused intently on the band – as if it were just me and them and nobody else was around – I appeared – in their words – to be “glowing.”)

The party lived up exactly to the “Guest of Honor’s” specifications.

And I too was happily content.

Regular followers will notice that, as with yesterday’s post (about “Found Money”), reality stepped in, providing an expected, and highly satisfying, twist to the narrative.

I have never much cared for reality.  (As I have been heard to complain, “It does what it wants.”)

But recently, at least,

Reality’s been doing some pretty nifty work.

And now, for your toe-tapping pleasure, not the Tokens’, but the one where I originally learned it:
It might say "Watch on Youtube."  See if that works.  If not, just hum the song to yourselves.

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