back to the Black Table

Two Christmases ago, someone gave me a planner. It was a nice one. It was leather-bound, with a guide to Manhattan restaurants, a nationwide area code identifier and a detailed, if already outdated subway map (this was Christmas 2001, and the map included trains that went under the World Trade Center).

I'd never had a weekly planner before. "You see, Will, you can organize your life. When you have a wedding to go to in May, you can write it in there months ahead of time, so you don't forget," she said. I always forget dates, and phone numbers, and pretty much everything, actually. It was a well-thought-out gift.

But they had no idea the monster she had created.

Within two days of receiving the gift, I had filled in almost half the days of 2002. Somehow, a date with nothing written in it became a day wasted. I researched the last four years of my life and found every possible anniversary, relevant or irrelevant. I listed the one-year anniversary of living in a Webcam house, the four-year anniversary of the day I received the first email from a woman I later dated, and the birthdays of just about anyone I ran into on the street. I scoured through the schedules of my favorite sports team, marking every game, even if it wasn't until November.

The planner never left my side. To this day, I take my 2003 planner into every work meeting, even if we're just discussing what we have planned for after the meeting. Nothing is too miniscule or frivolous for my planner; flipping through the other day, I discovered that August 15 is the one-year anniversary of seeing the White Stripes in concert. That information will undoubtedly come in handy somewhere.

Of course, now the whole situation is out of control.

The girl I'm currently dating asked me last night if I'd like to see a movie with her next week. Before she'd even finished the question, the planner was in my hand. Let's see … Wednesday, the Illini play Purdue, along with the new edition of ESPN's Hot Stove Heaters about the St. Louis Cardinals. Tuesday is the five-year anniversary of interviewing Reese Witherspoon in Los Angeles. Monday is the third episode of Joe Millionaire. And Thursday is out too. Hmm. I can pencil you in for Tuesday, February 11, between 8 p.m. and 10:30. Wait, check that: The Oscar nominations come out that morning. Make that 9 and 10:30.

For years, I had sleepwalked through life, not knowing or caring what happened the next day, just hopping from one stone to another. But my planner, this newfound elixir, gave me the ability to see into the future. What am I doing on May 29? Well, I'll be sending Kathie Fries a birthday email and lamenting that the Cardinals don't play that day. And it fits in my breast pocket!

With my control freak tendencies already running rampant, this just pushed them over the edge. Nothing in the world exists that cannot be grist for my incessant planning mill.

Last year was the perfect Super Bowl to have a party. True, my beloved Arizona Cardinals weren't playing, but considering my likely crowd, it didn't matter. The New England Patriots were on one side, and about half my friends, it seems, have signed up for the life-long Sisyphus-like task of rooting for sports teams from Boston.

On the other, the St. Louis Rams, who not only reminded me of home, but also were the favored team of the woman I was helplessly agog over at the time -- The Girl. We had just begun dating - for the second time; long story - and it was essential that she not just have a good time, but that she have a mind-boggling unbelievable time, that she levitated from her chair and spun around in ecstasy, that she bowed to the heavens above that she was so fortunate to have such a brilliant, charming, astonishingly handsome and, most important, well-organized host.

Because my apartment is too far away to expect anyone to travel there, I decided to hold the festivities at a bar where we'd watched various games during the season -- Bar None, picked as one of the best college bars by Playboy magazine. They had an area in the back, ideal for a group of about 20 people, the amount I anticipated. Everyone just shows up, watches the game, easy peasy. No problems.

But then my mind took over. What if she doesn't know anyone there? What if my friends are too crass for her? What if we don't have enough seats, and she has to stand through the whole game? What if there aren't enough girls there? What if she thinks we're all just a bunch of stupid guys screaming at men wearing butt pads run into one another? What if I ruin the whole thing? What if she thinks I'm misogynist? What if I blow the whole thing?

More girls. There had to be more girls. I began contacting every girl I knew in the tri-state area, or at least the ones who still spoke to me. I asked every male friend to encourage every woman they knew to show up.

I became obsessed with the B-to-G ratio. Male friends who couldn't wait to watch the game were left off the invite list while I invited female strangers off the street. You know how sentences in telegrams end with the word "Stop?" That was me during Super Bowl week last year. Every statement ended with "B-to-G ratio. We need more G's."

And the seats! What if we ran out of seats? What if the place turned out to be insanely crowded? It is the Super Bowl, after all. This, this too I can control! The game started at 6, so I showed up at the bar at noon and scoped out the back. Stunningly, six hours before game time, there was no one there. Perfect! I had brought four different coats with me, and I dropped them at every possible booth. When anyone came to the back to sit, I stopped them. "Uh, somebody's sitting there." Three hours later, the same guy returned. "Er, yeah, that guy, um, he's in the bathroom right now."

People finally started filing in around 5. I immediately showed them to their assigned seat -- I couldn't have The Girl sitting with any Patriots fans, now could I? -- and paced up and down, waiting for her to arrive. I suppose I could have kept myself busy by introducing the random assortment of women who wondered why the hell they had been beckoned here by a guy they hadn't talked to in months, but there was no time! She would be here any minute.

Kickoff. U2 bellowing at halftime. Third quarter. Still no sign of The Girl. I don't remember watching a single play in the first half. At last, midway through the quarter, she arrived, looking harried, exhausted and more than a little annoyed. I scampered to her like a dog awaiting a treat. "Sorry, I'm late. I think you gave me the wrong address."

I had. Sigh.

Well, you know how the game turned out. The girl? Well, she left me about four months later. Why? "Will, you barely give me any space to breathe. It seems like you have something for the two of us to do every night of the week."

This year, everyone can plan their own damned Super Bowl party.



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