Maybe you heard about the parents in Britain who billed another family for not attending their son’s birthday party after they said they would come. The bill was equal to $24 — described as a “no-show fee” after their son skipped the party held at a local ski resort.
This story hit all the news shows and “went viral.” Commentators excoriated the family, trashed the parents and even threw the birthday boy under the bus. Some readers piled on the school for allowing the note to be placed in the absentee kid’s backpack. “The school is not the postal service,” one blogger blared.
Other readers dredged up their own nightmare tales of stiffed wedding RSVPs and enough other baggage to fill up a Southwest overhead bin. And then people argued with others who were arguing.
Almost no one defended the parents who sent the bill.
Except me. I thought it was brilliant.
Let’s review. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, birthday parties were simple. In the ’60s, I honestly remember just one or two birthdays; what I recall is that they were modest with a couple siblings and maybe a cousin or two. Zero photos. Mona baked a German chocolate cake from scratch, dad smoked his pipe, sipped his scotch and nodded. Back then, the toys were yo-yos, Hot Wheels and baseball cards. The parties lasted a couple minutes, and then we ran outside and played until the streetlights came on.
Everyone had a sense for what really mattered. I’m absolutely certain mom never declared: “For Matt’s birthday, let’s rent the community center and invite all of St. Pat’s grade school.”
But things changed. Everything got bigger and the world fell apart.
In the 2000s we had elaborate parties at Chuck E Cheese’s that a Hollywood event planner couldn’t replicate. That giant rat who apparently is Chuck E himself flunked every focus group ever assembled. At our party he prompted screams and tears — and that was just the adults. One year we hired a magician into our home to entertain an army of toddlers on a sugar surge. After five minutes it was clear that the magic man’s best disappearing act was evading prosecutors.
Another time we had a bowling party at Incred-A-Bowl and my wife decided to invite the entire class of boys. I don’t know the number, but Lori said it was at least 25 kids heaving, launching, guttering balls. None came close to the pins, for the record. My job was to record the gifts for the later thank you ‘note’ — which, if yours never arrived, it’s not coming.
After gift No. 25 I ended up in the bar and started picking Keno numbers. Kids would disappear and it would be my fault.
“Honey, Peter is missing.”
“Who is Peter?”
“He’s Robert’s guest. Please find him.”
I learned quickly all the missing boys could be found at one place: at the crane machine, obsessing over a dragon-engraved cigarette lighter.
But in fairness: Big blowout parties weren’t our fault. It wasn’t even our kid’s idea. They got big for one reason: the all too common “let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s not worth it. Let’s be inclusive.” Leave one kid out and their mom turns into a grudge-holding, revenge-extracting lunatic. So we included everyone, and chaos followed.
So back to the British bill-senders. After all this production, arrangements, location, names added, a billion other arrangements, a positive RSVP and the kid blows it off? Add to the equation that this was no ordinary party — it included a snow-tubing run, toboggan rides, balloons and likely a mammoth cake. Yes, 5-year-olds at a ski resort. I’m willing to bet this kid was invited because his mom would have thrown a fit if he was omitted from an event that all his classmates would be talking about.
I trolled all over the ’net and found just one other like-minded reader: “Anyone who objects to this line of reasoning has never paid for a ‘fee per person’ catered event (e.g., wedding reception, etc.), only to have no-shows that did NOT involve blood, fire, doctors or ambulances.”
But using the backpack to deliver the bill? Clearly bad form.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes occasionally for 816. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.