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Nobody Puts Kenzie In The Corner: I fully intend to surprise you

The lengths I go to for a good party, I swear.

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I love surprises. Thus, I love surprise parties. I feel this is probably the minority opinion, but I think blatantly deceiving someone into being unexpectedly accosted by all his/her loved ones in celebration of his/her birthday is a great idea. So, when senior Kelly Hulsey’s 18th birthday rolled through on Friday, I knew what we had to do. Yes, kids, this week we’ll be diverting from our beloved List to cover the absolute charade of organizing Kelly’s surprise party.

Several weeks ago, my mother Dawn O’Guin had suggested the idea of the surprise party, electing that we do it at Tick Tock Escape Games, which might sound familiar from an earlier post from this season  of NPKITC. Don’t worry, I won’t be re-covering the activity itself (though I will note that we escaped with over 5 minutes to spare this time, so take that Reid).

The initial steps were simple. Set a reservation for 5:00 PM for Sunday, September. 25. Coordinate with friends to ensure that they would show up early and be in the room to surprise Kelly. Find a restaurant for a little post-escape dinner.

The tricky part was Kelly. As most of the universe knows, Kelly and I do everything together. Every family vacation, every holiday, every concert, every finals cram study session, everything. This, of course, includes birthday celebrations. But this weekend made that especially difficult. On Friday, Kelly’s actual birthday, Kelly had a family dinner planned while I was at the St. James homecoming football game. On Saturday, Kelly had homecoming at Lee’s Summit North while I had homecoming at St. James. So, when a distressed Kelly left my house Thursday night vainly suggesting that we figure out something to do Sunday, I knew the time had come. I had to engage in Operation Surprise Birthday. Step one, construct a convincing ploy for us to be hanging out Sunday.

“Actually, Kell,” I lingered at the driver’s side door of her Acura. “I was going to text you about that. I have to location scout for some videos all day Sunday, and I wanted to see if you’d come with me.”

(For those of you that may not know, I do music. Kelly usually accompanies me in the various adventures of my unusual line of work, so this cover is far less outrageous in the context of our relationship than it would be in just about anyone else’s.)

“I know it’s not super fun or birthday-ish, but at least we’ll be together.” I added with feigned desperation.

“Sure, that sounds great!” Kelly assured me. I almost felt bad. Poor Kelly, always the ride or die, totally willing to be drug all over town in my car and listen to me blather on about music videos for hours in honor of her birthday.

Fast forward to Sunday. Kelly ended up spending the night after homecoming the night before. I had dance class in the morning, and by the time I got home, Kelly had already left my house. I rushed to make myself somewhat presentable, and picked her up at her house around 3:30 p.m. It wasn’t until I was sitting in her driveway watching her walk towards my car that a ghastly realization hit me–I had not actually planned any fake locations to “scout.” Kelly was now only a few short paces from my car. I frantically typed “cool things in Leawood” into Google as she approached

“Kelly! You look lovely! How are you? So cute!” I exclaimed as Kelly slid into the passenger seat, desperately attempting to stall for just enough time for me to figure out where on earth we were going.

“Thanks! I figured I’d look nice today,” she beamed, unaware of my distress. “Where we going?”

“The Overland Park Arboretum!” I read the first result off the webpage. She looked confused. I looked confused. Before that mutual confusion could manifest itself any further, I hit the reverse and flew out of her driveway and followed the GPS the 20 minutes to a random arboretum I’d never even heard of to scout for cool shoot locations for a video that does not exist.

“So, what video are we scouting for?” Kelly asked. I froze. Kelly knows she has heard all of my unreleased music. As soon as my engineer sends me a track, Kelly hears it, as well as all the details of said song (e.g., when it will be released, whether or not it gets a music video, what the video will probably look like, etc.). Which leaves me in the predicament of explaining why on earth we would be on the way to an arboretum.

I took care to add in plenty of hand motions and meditative pauses to make this sound slightly less fabricated than it was, “There’s not a specific song we have in mind, per se. But, we’re just looking for some general backup locations for all the videos coming up for me, Darrein and Above Waves.”

This was believable at least. Two other acts on my label, an R&B singer, Darrein Safron, and a pop band, Above Waves, had also been creating a lot of new material lately. I spent the rest of the drive spitting out vague, mostly truthful statements. I took care to make sure everything I said was rooted in truth, save the big part about us actually needing to go to a bunch of random places around the western KC-metro.

Finally, we arrived at the arboretum. I paid $6 for Kelly and I to go in, wander around, and take pictures of aesthetically appealing trees. I distinctly remember pointing my iPhone at a nondescript patch of trees whilst blabbering something about “artistic setting” and wondering how I even got into this.

After a brisk walk through the arboretum, Kell and I traversed to Downtown Overland Park to go to Vinyl Renaissance. Sidenote: this is actually a beautiful shop with one of the best physical music selections left in town. I towed Kell inside, pointed out some cool spots in the store to take “reference photos” of, insisted she picture Ryan Bradley (lead singer of Above Waves) in a leather jacket over by that wall or Darrein leaned up against that neon sign. Unlike the arboretum, the store was relatively busy, meaning people could see us inexplicably taking photos of corners and walls. I rushed Kelly out of there, knowing that if anyone asked me what we were doing, I might slip up and reveal the ruse to Kelly. I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally settled back into my car and departed for  our final stop, Tick Tock Escape Games.

“The boys in the video department were really inspired by the idea of confinement,” I explained. Yeah, that sounds legit.

Now, at this point, I was nervous. Extremely nervous. I was so nervous I said, “I love you,” to the man working the Krispy Kreme drive thru. Mind you, he was giving me a pumpkin spice donut, so that could have been an unrelated Freudian slip.

Finally, we arrived at Tick Tock just before 5:00 p.m. I had received a text from Raymore-Peculiar High School seniors Jordan Gregory and Mercedes Lopez alerting me that they were poised and ready in the room we would be escaping from.

“Wait here, I’m going to go let them know I brought someone with me,” I told Kelly, handing her my keys as I got out of the car. “I’ll wave you inside in a second.”

If you think this situation seems bizarre, try explaining this elaborate lie to the man working the counter at the escape game.

“Hi, I’m here for the surprise party. She’s in the car. So, I’m a musician, and she thinks we’re location scouting for a music video. If you could play along, that would be great.”

He very kindly agreed. I waved Kelly in.

“So, I’m going to show you some of what we have here,” he began, leading us down the hall. He briefly explained a pyramid-themed room, which Kelly and I briefly observed. I made sure to add in plenty of vague adjectives to demonstrate faux interest (i.e., “Nice,” “Fascinating,” “Very good to know,” etc.)

“This room is called Beasley’s Billions, which is another type of game we have,” he locked eyes with me as I walked towards a door. I knew the time had come. I opened the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jordan and Mercedes secreted just to the right of the door, out of immediate view.

“This is a nice one, Kell, come check it out.”

Kelly walked through the doorway.

“SURPRISE!”

Kell dead stopped. She looked at me, then our friends, then me. I was concerned. Why is she not talking? Is she mad? What did I do?

“I am a liar! There was no video to scout for!” I explained. This is about the time I think it all registered. She was excited, everyone hugged, it was a good time. Long story short, we escaped like pros and ended the night with an ungodly amount of pasta from North Italia.

So, a few concluding tips from my surprise experience:

  1. Know your plan before you begin so you don’t end up at a strange arboretum in the middle of Overland Park.
  2. Don’t try to pay in quarters at the Krispy Kreme on Metcalf.
  3. Really that’s about it.
  4. Arboretum.
  5. Krispy Kreme.

Thank you all for reading, folks. Remember to comment your feedback or your own surprise party misadventures. Be safe, y’all. Love you.

So long and goodnight,

Mackenzie Nicole O’Guin

Special thanks to Dawn O’Guin for coordinating this surprise with me, Jordan Gregory for driving his Mazda so very slowly, Mercedes Lopez for trying your best to explore all the tall shelves and hidden cubbies in the escape room despite being even shorter than me, our kind New Yorker waiter for charging my phone at the waiters’ station, and Kelly Hulsey for surviving 18 years of life.

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Nobody Puts Kenzie In The Corner: I fully intend to surprise you