"So what do you want to do for your birthday?" I asked the little guy who was about to turn 9.
"I want to have a slumber party," he said. "I want to invite Danny and Frankie and Johnny and Mickey and Dennis. I want to go out for pizza, then go bowling, come home and have some ice cream and cake, then go to bed."
His reply came in one breathless, staccato burst. I regarded him in a new light, as a small but nevertheless crafty opportunist. Having waited until parental defenses were sufficiently low, he flashed a quick, overhand right.
I countered with a math problem: How do you fit nine of you(including the regular, diminutive boarders) into two kids' bedrooms? Where would your friends sleep?
"Right here," he said, ignoring the numbers and pointing toward the living room floor.
Acquiescing to such a plan has been difficult to explain to some not on close terms with a 9-year-old, and even more so to some who are. The birthday boy's mother offered her thoughts. "You're a sucker," she said, but she agreed, too.
I was not the envy of the block that night. "Have a good evening," said a neighbor, who seemed to know what I was walking into as I neared the house.
The scream from inside came as nothing out of the ordinary but one look furnished the first surprise: the party had begun early. No such thing as coming fashionably late at this age, it seemed.
On the way to Shakey's with everyone stuffed into my compact, I decided I probably wouldn't be able to hold out forever against the purchase of a station wagon. Thrown together, this group produced a kind of chemistry that occupants of cars stopped for red lights couldn't help notice.
One beauty of Shakey's was that you couldn't hear this group for all the others. Another was that nothing was breakable except the balloons that were given out.
There's a small bit of strategy that can be applied in any trip to Shakey's, I had been advised. One must concede the vast amount of pizza that will be consumed; not so the number of sodas drunk.
If one can delay the first round long enough ("See the man make the pizza . . .") he possibly can get away with only two rounds, the advice went. This was accomplished with the exception of one who claimed he was on fire, and seemed convincing.
On to bowling. This I had already perceived as a formidable hurdle because no neighborhood alley would take reservations. We tried two places: the shortest wait was said to be two hours. There was a noticeable restlessness as we got back in the car.
"How about Baskin-Robbins?" I suggested. "Everybody gets an ice cream cone."
"Boooooo . . ."
"We want to go bowling."
So it was ice cream, then home for cake, opening of presents, and . . . a bonus entertainment arranged by one of the participants.
"Got the guns, Frankie?" one asked.
Frankie opened his satchel, previously thought to contain night clothes, and produced an array of plastic weaponry.
At 10:30 the war games were halted and everyone went to bed, on the floor. Slmber party, of course, proved a misnomer. At 1:30 a.m., the resident mother recommended trying a stern approach.
"All right, you guys, if you're not asleep by 2 we all go home."
"But our parents are asleep," came a voice from the darkness.
"Then there's going to be trouble because we'll wake them up."
"What if we go to sleep, will we have to go home then?"
"Guys," came the same voice, "we'd better concentrate on going to sleep."
"Yeah, not like English and math," said another.
So it was as simple as pulling a curtain. It couldn't have been more than five minutes before everyone went to sleep. And it seemed no longer before everyone woke up.
A couple of hours later it was still only 8 o'clock when I reached out for the paper to see my neighbor from the evening before, now off to work and looking fresh. "Surviving?" he asked.
The party ended at 10 a.m. ("Get your guns, Frankie"), most of the 15 1/2 hours having been spent awake.
"Is that all?" asked the chief celebrant.
"There'll be another time," I told him. But I didn't say when.