The extent to which I hate the other parents at this child’s birthday party can be measured by both the petulant scowl on my face and in the extra attention I’m paying my kids.
The boys are confused, wondering why I won’t leave them alone. I don’t care—better that than having to talk to another insurance salesman who just moved to this area from Madison. He’s a weekend commuter because he works in Chicago. It’s okay because it’s only an extra half an hour, because he can take I-94 the whole way, rather than OH MY GOD I REALLY COULD NOT CARE LESS. Excuse me a moment, bud, I think one of my kids is calling me. He might have his neck caught in a rope ladder.
The muscle guy over there just took his sweater off in that manner that muscle guys do, crossing his arms and lifting up and over the head from the front—this ensures a full view of his washboard abs as his T-shirt rides up. It’s gross, as it looks like a crab, but naturally I am very impressed, as I am always impressed by colossal narcissists with nothing better to do with their time than stare at themselves in the mirror while moaning for 15 hours a week. He also leaves the play area for 10 minutes at a time and tells his obnoxious, bully kids he has to “check his emails,” so he’s obviously an important businessman and workaholic as well as a pointless consumer of calories and thoroughly unlikeable human.
One of his children, red-haired and ugly, has the same name as my son. At the very start of the party, muscle-man and I are right next to one another and he eyes me thoroughly, obviously as a competitor as I am physically in reasonable shape, so to diffuse the tension I say, “Oh hey, another Zak, good name!” and without cracking a smile he says, “It’s a popular name.” Also I’m pretty sure he tried to make his voice as gruff as he could to impart this special knowledge. He clearly has serious emotional issues, and I’m thrilled that he’s chosen me to project onto.
His other son is fat, and it gives me great pleasure to think about how much that must irk him.
The miserable older-woman with insane crossed eyes looks at one of my children like he’s a bag of dog shit as he runs past her, yelling. I mutter to her that it’s a party and if her kid weren’t so weird, he would be running and shrieking too. She looks in my direction and I am elated that she heard me, except maybe she’s looking at the tip of her nose, it’s difficult to tell. I think she’s probably always looking at the tip of her nose. I wonder if her brain has made it invisible like it does with the blood vessels in our eyes. I start to ask her, and then realize that would cross even the shaky line I have in place, and so I unevenly turn my question into, “He-eeyyy, uh, how do you like this place?” and hope that she thinks she must have been mistaken when she heard me say under my breath that her kid is abnormal. “Fine,” she replies, curtly, so either she heard me and is angry or she’s just unfriendly. Either way it ends our relationship.
Looking around, there’s one tall guy who seems nice: he’s smiling and chatting with a woman. She looks fine too, actually. Neither of them look wholly convinced and there seems to be a slight language barrier as she is Indian, like Indian-Indian, not US-Indian. But at least they’re trying, and doing okay. I briefly consider joining them, and then I get a grip on myself and scamper back up the soft-play stepladder to the top of the slides, bumping children with my adult hips as I go, yelling, “Hang on boys, I’m coming! Daddy’s here!”
While I’m up at the top of a peculiar structure, crunched in a plexiglass box, head being crushed into my chest by the intense lack of space, there is an incident. The testosterone overload of muscle-man has caused a fugue state in a normal-size man, and he’s screaming at one of the children. I miss the first part as the plexiglass box insulates me from the sound, so I clear the children out of the way like I’m doing the breaststroke and zip down one of the slides. When I reach the bottom, the man yells, “Well, that wasn’t very nice, was it!” into the face of one of muscle-man’s kids. I stop my own face from displaying my glee at this event and scan the room for muscle-man. Fortunately for the other guy, he’s out, presumably off doing a business deal, a merger or an acquisition or something. The kid, and it’s the bigger one, not the fat one, starts bawling. The yelling man grabs his own crying child, a girl so tall I thought she was an adult in my peripheral vision, and makes for the exit. Just as he nears the door, he grabs a party bag from a big box on a table nearby, and continues to push his daughter out by the back of her neck.
The other parents are stunned. One man in the corner by the ball pit seems to be having some sort of stress-breakdown, but I think it’s unrelated as he has been on his phone for the entire party so far. My boys both run up to me, hair slicked to one side by sweat and purple of face, and proclaim hunger, thirst, and the need to urinate. I see this as an opportunity to leave and repeat their needs back to them loudly for all to hear. The hosts are way over the other side of the room, and I make a half-hearted attempt to wave and can’t even manage the energy to do so, so I just throw an arm up and then let it fall down at my side again like a jellified fascist salute.
As I come to the exit, muscle-man blocks the way out by coming back in. I think he sees his son crying just behind me through a gap between my arm and my body. My children run through his legs. He looks at me accusingly and says, “What’s happened here?” and I casually say, while grabbing a handful of party bags, “Yeah, your Zak beat a girl up and she’s gone home crying. Her dad yelled at him. You might want to reconsider the example you’re setting for your boys,” and then I turn sideways and squeeze past him and we are THE FUCK OUT.
Illustration by Rose Montgomery