A Birthday to Remember

    This column has always been about the absurdities involved in running a small business. There are times when I stray, when nothing even remotely absurd happens in an entire week and Iím forced to write about other matters.
   Last week was not one of those weeks.
    My birthday was last week. And by coincidence, on that day, I was hoping to give myself the best birthday present ever. I had an appointment at 10:30 to meet with Mr. Big, one of my landlords, who happened to have his office across the street from mine.
    I had struggled through three difficult years of negotiations and posturing to reach this point. Mr. Big and I had finally hammered out an agreement to lease a prime retail space owned by Mr. Big, a space I had tenaciously coveted.
    And that day last week, my birthday, was the day it would, with luck, be consummated. All the struggles, all the frustration, all the negotiations had come to a head. The papers were ready. The only question was whether Mr. Big, who was never in a hurry to do anything, would actually sign.
    "Where are you going?" asked Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, as I headed out the door, papers in hand.
    "To secure our companyís future," I replied. "I have an appointment with Mr. Big where he will, with luck, sign the new lease that will take us into the next century with all rockets firing."
    Ms. Ferguson didnít seem overly excited. In fact, she looked a little upset. "When will you be back?"
    "I donít know," I replied. "Iím not coming back until that lease is signed."
    Ms. Ferguson nodded, then turned away glumly. I shrugged and walked out.
    The meeting with Mr. Big started out fine. We quickly resolved a few incidentals in the lease that had been pending. By 11 oíclock we had nothing left to talk about. The moment was at hand. No more delays.
    I pushed the papers across the table to Mr. Big. "Time to sign," I said, holding my breath.
   Mr. Big sighed, and picked up a pen. He couldnít delay me any longer. My adrenaline was flowing as he squinted to see exactly where he was to sign.
   It wasnít a scream, it was a call, a yodel, the prelude to a song. We both looked up, and bursting into Mr. Bigís office was a huge woman dressed as a Viking, complete with horns.
   And behind her, toting a camera to capture my horrified reaction for eternity, was Ms. Ferguson.


    It took a few seconds to register, and when it did I quickly decided to strangle Ms. Ferguson as soon as the opportunity arose. Here I was, ready to close a multimillion dollar lease deal, one that I had persistently sought for three years, and a big Viking lady with a singing birthday telegram appears at the penultimate moment.
    I looked at Mr. Big. "Were you in on this?" I asked, praying he had given advance approval.
    Mr. Big, who is on the conservative side of conservative, shook his head. But to my great relief, he also seemed to be enjoying the moment. So far.
    My next thought was please, PLEASE, just sing your song and go. If this Viking lady also happened to be a stripper, I was dead meat.
    Fortunately, Ms. Ferguson and her compatriots couldnít afford any extras. The clothes stayed on, and so did Mr. Bigís smile. My smile had been frozen on from the first moment.
    While she sang me my birthday song, composed by Ms. Ferguson, the Viking lady made me wear a horned Viking hat. So there I was, in my shining moment as a businessman, looking like Hagar the Horrible.
    As singing telegrams are designed to do, I was humiliated. I glanced again at Mr. Big, the papers still unsigned in front of him. He was now grinning from ear to ear, loving every minute of it.
    Ms. Ferguson, who obviously had scheduled the Viking lady for 11 a.m. unaware of my meeting, had lucked out. She not only got her $85 worth for the telegram, but Mr. Big laughingly signed the papers as soon as the Viking lady completed her performance.
    I will never forget that birthday. My only regret was that I was in such a state of horrified shock throughout the performance that I didnít think of the perfect line until two days later.
    As Mr. Big finally inked his signature after three grueling years, I should have leaned back, lit a cigar and said, "Itís true. It ainít over Ďtil the fat lady sings."


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