The following is an exert from my upcoming book – Memoirs of a Mid-life Crises:
I have been to one 50th birthday party in my entire life and it was enough to make me sour on the idea of ever attending one for myself. The birthday party was for a sweet woman named Francine I worked with at one of the few office jobs I had taken before realizing that sitting in a chair all day wasn’t for me.
Francine had made an off hand comment that a date that came up on the calendar during one of the meetings was her birthday. This of course prompted the HR guy to look her up and realize that this wasn’t just any birthday, this was her 50th.
Never a group to miss out on an opportunity to have a party the office immediately went into birthday celebration frenzy, reserving space at a local tavern and even renting some guy to show up and sing happy birthday to her. When one of my fellow minions mentioned that broadcasting someones age to everyone in the office was not only bad taste it might be illegal she was brushed off.
Regretting her lack of discretion Francine tried in vain to object, she didn’t want it to be a big deal, it was just another day. Francine told them she was not a drinker anyway only having alcohol on holidays with dinner and even then only a glass of wine. Herd mentality won out though, and like a lot of groups of people that start out with good intentions they ended up bullying her into a party she never wanted at a place she would rather not go.
I showed up earlier than her at the day of the great event. No one could accuse me of being averse to alcohol after all, and I was surprised to see the balloons and confetti on the tables reserved for us. I have noticed that when we are children birthdays are full of funny hats and noisemakers, we put all that away sometime in our teens just before we become adults, but apparently they come back to haunt us at 50 and beyond. Thankfully, the cake had a number fifty candle instead of fifty individual candles. No sense in getting the fire department involved.
Francine arrived promptly at 8 o’clock obviously embarrassed at the roar of happy birthday that greeted her when she walked in the door. The hired singer appeared, shirtless, trim abs, and hunky. He led her to her seat. The twenty-something singer sang happy birthday to her in what he probably thought was a sexy voice gyrating around her and making lewd gestures.
I perched on a bar stool close enough for no one to say I was being standoffish, but far enough away where I wasn’t part of the madness. The birthday singer crooned on and through it all Francine sat red-faced as he danced and sang in front of her to the delight of everyone else in the crowd. Looking on, I got the distinct impression that this is what it must feel like for a bunny rabbit being cornered by a pack of wolves.
The song ended, the shirtless hunk was dismissed, and Francine visibly relaxed. Then the speeches started. The first by our boss, a mid-40s guy named Greg who started with the company at around the same time as Francine did about 15 years ago. Greg was the boss, instead of Francine, by virtue of his college degree and an affinity for kissing the rear of anyone a rung higher up the ladder than him. It was well known in the office he was having an affair with one of our coworker’s wives, an amicable guy named Bill who our dear old boss Greg kept working almost every weekend so he could do the dirty with his wife.
Greg tried to be magnanimous in his praise of her. But when he hit a part where he said he never would have got where he was without her I saw her flinch. Francine was destined to be number two not because she wasn’t a hard worker but because she was a hard worker. She spent most of her work hours making Greg look good.
Next up was her ex-husband and this really surprised me. Francine and Wally divorced long before I got there, but the office gossip said it was over the woman that he was with this very night that just happened to be 10 years Francine’s junior. Francine grinned and bore through it, only once visibly breathing through her teeth. A few more of her coworkers spoke and used words like “grand” and “great” to describe her. When they were done they demanded she blow out the candle and Francine complied, probably hoping that it was finally over.
But it wasn’t.
We all had to do a shot of tequila in honor of the great lady’s birthday. She objected of course, Francine was a teetotaler, as I said before, but once again they insisted and Francine her face flushed before, now went stop light red as the alcohol hit her stomach. This amused everyone else, and while they all laughed heartily at Francine’s coughing and discomfort. I couldn’t help but think from my perch at the bar that this night would not end well.
After her bout with the shot of tequila Francine reluctantly had a glass of wine while the party went on around her. As the night went on Francine had a lot of glasses of wine. No one noticed but me as now that they had paid homage to her it was time to ignore her, just like in the office, and get down to some serious gossiping and fun times.
I had made friends with three gentlemen at the bar, one that insisted on telling me the difference between psychologists and psychiatrists, another gentleman who worked in some medical field that I couldn’t really pin down, and a lawyer that I had imagined to be a great ambulance chaser from the department store look of his suit. I dubbed them the three amigos and we had a good time chatting as middle aged men do, setting the world right, remembering when everything was better and trying to figure out how to get the Buffalo Bills to finally win a Superbowl.
One of the three amigos, the medical guy, asked what we where doing there tonight and I told him about Francine’s 50th birthday party. He gave me an alarmed look and the psychologist or psychiatrist said something about it being a bad idea.
The three amigos asked for the low down on the office crew and I, never averse to a little gossip, filled them in with glee. Francine was the dear sweet lady of the office. She was second in command and never had to threaten or yell to get people to do what she wanted because she was generally well respected. Although religion was never discussed most of us assumed she was a church lady. Francine was the type of woman everyone looked for when the shit hit the fan and then promptly ignored when things calmed down, I explained. I went on to describe the various characters in the office and the roles they play.
In retrospect, I think it was two bottles of wine before she finally cracked. People had been randomly walking up to her table trying to make small talk with her, but she stopped replying to them about a half hour ago. She sat still, staring downward at the confetti covered tabletop, a grim look on her face. Then out of nowhere, she let out a wail. The sound was loud, something between wounded kitten and trapped bear with a loud sob thrown in for good measure.
This did get everyone’s attention, and the party stopped, all eyes were on Francine.
She looked up, one tear rolling down her check and stared straight forward. For a second no one moved, then our boss Greg decided to take action. As he walked over toward Francine, arm reaching for hers, he tried to make light of the situation, saying, “Poor Francine’s had a little too much.”
Francine through gritted teeth replied, “Don’t touch me.”
What had gotten quiet before had now gone to a dead silence. Everyone seemed to stop moving and talking. Even my buddies, the three amigos had lost interest in their discussion and were looking at Francine intently.
Our supervisor clearly embarrassed could only stammer out “Francine, come on,” as he looked right and left for help.
Oddly enough, it was Wally’s girlfriend who decided to spring into action next. Loudly she told Wally to go outside and see if there was a taxi cab handy and as he scurried off she approached Francine, saying, “Come on honey, we will get you out of here,” as if they were the best of buddies.
The reaction from Francine was immediate. Donna froze in place as Francine said something low to her. I couldn’t hear everything she said, but I did hear the word dog. And that is what seems to have stopped Donna in her tracks.
“What?” Donna said, surprised.
Then, dear sweet Francine replied, “You heard me, like a dog in heat.”
My eyes widened and I involuntarily leaned forward, noticing that the three amigos had already done the same.
“Wally used to follow me around like a dog in heat twenty years ago, ten years after that he followed you around like a dog in heat. Any day now it will be some other bitch the dog will follow.”
The color seemed to drain from Donna’s face and she said nothing.
By now Wally had come in, a twenty-something taxi driver in tow, but hearing this stopped him as well. The whole place was speechless it seems, except for Francine, who got up slowly and surveyed her coworkers.
The tears were gone. Now there was only defiance and anger in her look as she slowly walked through the crowd toward the cab driver and the door. She stopped in front of Cynthia a small mousy girl who had started around the same time I had.
Cynthia was an enigma to me. While not model sexy she was a pretty girl, but around the office she seemed scared of her own shadow. Unlike my coworkers she avoided any office gossip. She never attended any of the after office activity’s and only seemed to have made friends with Francine with whom she had an almost daughter mother relationship. When I walked up behind her one day and spoke to her I thought she was going to jump out of her skin. I had often wondered how she got that way.
As Francine passed her she raised her hand and brushed Cynthia’s cheek lightly. Looking in her eyes, she said, “You’re better off without him you know, real men aren’t like that.” Francine sighed and continued, “You’re young and you’re strong honey, you will survive.”
No one else seemed to know what Francine was talking about, but Cynthia smiled, and a tear rolled down her face. “How?”
Francine smiled wearily as she said, “I’m an old campaigner hun”.
She patted her lightly on the check and as she passed by her said, “Better days darling, better days are coming”
Francine positioned herself in front of Bill and put one hand on either cheek of his face. Lightly she pulled him closer to her and looking into his eyes with a look of pity, she said, “You’re a good man Bill, good doesn’t always equal smart. Stop being a sucker, everyone in the office but you knows Greg is sleeping with your wife.”
I could hear a groan going through the crowd. But still no one moved. It was as if a spell had been cast.
As Francine moved forward on unsteady feet. She got about three feet away from her driver when she turned back and spared a withering glance at Christine who was the bimbo that every office seemed to have. Always in the low cut skirts, always with her breasts sticking out, always leaning those breasts into every guy’s face, Christine was the one that got away with dressing and acting in a manner that anybody else would’ve gotten in trouble for.
Francine looked at her and swaying a little back and forth said loudly. “If you come to the office dressed like a slut again, you’re fired.”
At this she looked back at her taxicab driver and said, “Well?”
The poor guy looked terrified as if Francine would turn her wrath on him. He quickly moved forward arm extended and she placed her arm around him to steady herself. As they walked out arms around each other, our little crowd could do nothing but stare at their retreating figures. Francine’s arm moved down the young man’s backside and patted him three times primly on the rear.
“You might just get lucky tonight young man,” she said
I would have paid good money to see the look on his face.
As they went to the door, him holding her arm like a queen. She stopped for the briefest of moments looked back at all of us and said simply, “You’re all assholes.”
That’s when I realized that was the first time I had ever heard Francine curse.
The three amigos next to me were all standing now and in the wake of Francine’s wrath they started clapping.
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