BIRTHDAY

Drew wouldn’t give me any ideas of what to get him for his birthday, but there was one thing he told me he DIDN’T want: tickets to see Sam Harris.

It was a little surprising, as Drew had made clear to me that he’s a bona fide Sam Harris fan. Who’s Sam Harris? Well, you may remember him from his stint on the original Star Search, where he charmed the judges with his hammy, over-the-top rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. Or you may remember him from — well, no, actually, that’s probably the only place you’d remember him from.

But Drew bought Sam’s self-titled 1984 album, which featured the non-hit single “Sugar Don’t Bite”. He even played it for me. (It stinks.) Tickets for this awful show seemed like the perfect birthday gift — it was something Drew would clearly enjoy, plus I’d score points for offering to suffer through something I hate just for his sake.

Only about two weeks before the big day, we drove past the theater where “Sam.” is playing. There was a huge, imposing marquee outside which said “Sam.” in big bold letters alongside a black and white picture of Sam, prostrate and with his arms stretched upward as if he’s just let loose such a powerful gush of song that he’s at once collapsing from exhaustion and praising God for the glorious gift of shmaltz that has made him so joyous.

“Ugh, how embarrassing,” someone in the car said. And surprisingly, it wasn’t me. “Can you believe that?” Drew continued.

“But I thought you liked him,” I said.

“I like him, but that looks just awful. I’d be so humiliated to be at that show.”

Then he glared at me. “Do not get me tickets to that for my birthday,” he said.

“Aw, c’mon, if you actually went, you’d probably–”

“Do NOT!”

Well, if you know me, you already know where this is heading. At that point, I had to get him those tickets.

Okay, so I wouldn’t actually make him go to a show he didn’t want to go to, but I was definitely going to make him think he was going. I ran some actual tickets for a concert we’re going to later this summer (R.E.M. and Wilco at the Hollywood Bowl) through my scanner, and with some help from Photoshop — voila! They became Sam Harris tickets for Monday June 2, 2003. (Thankfully, Drew doesn’t pay very close attention to detail, like the fact that there’s usually printing on the backs of Ticketmaster tickets as well — oops.)

I gave the tickets to Drew on Sunday night, and a master class in acting began.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I bought them before you said you didn’t want to go.”

“I’m such a jerk,” he said. “God, I’m so sorry I said that.”

“It’s okay. We can skip it. We can totally skip it.”

“No, you spent a lot of money on these tickets.”

“Only $90.”

“We’re going.”

“I mean, plus the service charge.”

“Really, I want to go. It’ll be fun.” Now I was watching Drew give the performance of his life.

“Really? You really want to?”

“I do. It was such a thoughtful gift. I do really like him. I don’t know why I said I didn’t want to go. It’s gonna be great. I’m excited.”

Then Drew took another look at the tickets. “It starts at 9:00? That’s a strange time.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too,” I said, then I quickly changed the subject. Since I knew there was no show, I wanted to be able to take him to dinner without him wondering how we were going to be done in time for an 8:00 show.

That was my first mistake.

I let Drew hang all day, and he told everyone he knew what a jerk he was by ordering me not to get him a gift that I had already bought for him. And all day long, he secretly dreaded going to the Sam Harris show.

Don’t I stink?

I wanted to play the whole thing out, to take him to dinner, wait until he said we needed to leave to get to the show on time and then take out the tickets and tear them up in front of him. “I know you don’t want to go, so we’re not going!” I’d say. Riiiiiiiiip!

But along the way, I was sure he’d found me out. He told me he spoke to a friend of his, who said that up until last week, I’d been making plans with her for Drew’s birthday night (something I wouldn’t do if I knew we were going to a concert that night). Then his assistant secretly told me, “He says you’re going to a show tonight, but he doesn’t know if it’s real.”

I tried to figure out how to play out the prank at this point. It was like the Friends episode where Rachel found out about Monica and Chandler (or maybe it was the one where Phoebe found out — God, am I really making a Friends reference?) Sure, he knew… but now I knew that he knew. Of course, what if his assistant told him that she’d tipped me off? Maybe he knew that I knew that he knew.

So I bailed. I told him the tickets were fake and we weren’t going.

Only he didn’t know. He didn’t know anything.

“Come on, we’re going, right?” he kept saying. I had to convince him it was a prank. Sure, he thought the curtain time was odd, and he noticed the lack of legalese on the back of the tickets, but he believed me anyway. Even at dinner, he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t until 9:00 came and went that he finally accepted that there was no concert — and he was very relieved that he was still sitting with me at the restaurant and not listening to Sam stretch his aging vocal chords for the high notes in whatever standards he was choosing to butcher in his new set list.

All that effort, and I could’ve gone so much further.

But I learned something that says a lot about our relationship. Drew trusts me. A lot.

Well, at least he used to.

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