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"When Walt was 50"

When Walt was 50
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26 February 2006
(Happy Birthday, Walt!)

Walt's 50th birthday party was the best party I ever planned.  The kids and I worked on preparations for a whole year (I drove them nuts, I think), but in the end, it went off without a hitch and a wonderful time was had by all, even the guest of honor.

I was thinking about Walt's 50th birthday party because (a) today is his 66th birthday, and (b) I was dubbing the VHS tape of the party onto DVD and remembering how much fun it had been.

In order to plan an event like this, it first helps to have children who work for the city, and who run the theatre.   We held the event at the theatre.  I figured we could pull off a surprise because we held it about 2 weeks before the actual birthday, and Walt isn't a suspicious person in the first place.

It was a roast and more than 100 people came.  Walt thought he was going to a Lawsuit concert.  When all the guests were at the theatre, one of the kids called me and we headed out to the theatre ourselves.  There was a lookout stationed and when they saw us come, the kids started playing, as if it were a normal gig and we were coming in late.  Walt had to pay to get into his own birthday.

They finished the song they were doing, played another song and then Paul announced that this was a surprise for Walt.  They dropped a banner from the flies, there was a follow spot out into the house, there were chaser lights around the edge of the stage.  (Ned's best friend Greg, a lighting designer, ran all the lights.  He later went on to travel around the country with Neil Diamond for a couple of years, so obviously we had one of the best guys in the business working for our little party!)

Walt still didn't realize that this was actually not a Lawsuit concert, but his surprise birthday party.   They had to call him to come to the stage.

As he got to the stage, people from all parts of his life came flooding in from the wings, where they had been waiting, and he began to get the idea. 

The kids were part of the tech crew for the city's annual performance of The Nutcracker, so they borrowed the oversized chair from that set and put it on the stage.  They dressed Walt in one of the peers' robes and crown from the Davis Comic Opera Company production of Iolanthe.    

edith.jpg (6510 bytes)When he sat on the big chair, with his back against the back of the chair, his feet barely reached the front of the chair.  It was like Laugh In's "Edith Ann."

The psychiatrist's wife (who was a county supervisor at the time), read a proclamation naming this Walt Sykes day in Yolo County.

And then the roast began.   His mother and siblings, a friend from his growing up years in Hawaii (whom he hadn't seen or heard from in about 40 years--but we found him!).  And there were the "groups" -- people from our college years, people from The Lamplighters who had come from San Francisco for the afternoon, people from the Davis Comic Opera Company, people in our "International dinner" group, people he had worked with over the years.  Some were very funny, others weren't, but all spoke with love.

The kids "said it with music," performing "Don't Go to London; It's Under Construction," the song that Ned wrote after we returned from our huge family vacation to England and Ireland.

Will Connolly, from The Lamplighters, performed the "title song" (if it can be called that!) from the W.C. Fields movie, The Fatal Glass of Beer, accompanying himself (if it can be called that) on the dulcimer.

Walt's former boss and best friend, Dave Johnson, who had come from Portland, regaled the folks with tales of Walt's sartorial expertise, and how Walt had found a place in Berkeley (Harry's Ties) where you could get ties, six for $5. 

(It's surprising how many people also gave him ties at this event--he had become noted for his loud, garish ties.)

Davis Comic Opera Company's Stephen Peithman had written an "epic" about Walt, which was very funny (as it would be -- Steve is a professional writer).

Jean Ziaja of the Lamplighters got together with most of the Lawsuit bunch and sang a version of When Fredrick was a little lad" from Pirates of Penzance, to which I had written new lyrics.  Hearing the song sung 16 years later, I have to admit I'm rather proud of my lyrics!

The roast itself lasted about an hour and a half, after which there was a wonderful pot luck meal and champagne for all.  Best of all, the kids did all the clean up...this is the advantage of having children who are employed by the city of Davis to be in charge of the theatre!

When it was all over, I retired from the party planning business.  I knew that nothing I ever did could top that one.  There are still a couple of people that I see very irregularly, who always mention the party and what a good time they had there.

After I finished dubbing the VHS tape onto DVD today, I put together a video of a few segments from the party to post as today's video (back to Sedona tomorrow).  (I had to pick and choose or it would end up being a 120 minute video.)  It just seemed a fitting tribute to Walt on his birthday (even if his computer won't let him view it anyway!)



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