Backstory: How long can two hours be?

Think of the longest two hours of your life. That first dinner with the in-laws? The second dinner with the in-laws? The Barry Manilow tribute to Celine Dion?

Think again.

Try the last birthday party you gave for your child. Remember how, five minutes into the party, you looked at your watch? How, one minute later, you checked someone else's watch?

There is nothing longer than a child's birthday party. No matter how many diversions you provide for the child attendees. How much pizza you give them. How many gifts you stuff into their goody bags. Nothing will make those two hours go faster.

The agony begins one month before the event, when you compile the guest list with your child.

"How about if we invite five of your best friends?" you ask sweetly.

"I want everybody," he answers firmly.

"How about if we just have those five kids, and I'll buy you 30 gifts?"

"It won't be the same."

"It'll be better."

"No, Daddy, if the kids aren't there, it won't be a real party," he explains as if talking to a 4-year-old.

Of course, you give in. Even though you try to pare the list slightly.

"Who is Svetlana Shumakova?"

"A good friend of mine from kindergarten."

"Do you talk to her?"

"Yeah. Maybe. Sort of. Not really. "

Svetlana gets an invite. Because he wants everybody. Except Jimmy Marks, the son of your wife's best friend.

"I hate Jimmy Marks," your son says defiantly.

"We have to have him, honey."

"I hate him. He's a jerk."

"Mrs. Marks will buy you the torture chamber of the hideous manbeast."

A thoughtful pause. "He can come."

All this is a mere prelude to the pain of the big day itself. You volunteer to sit outside and direct traffic. Your wife tells you to stay in the house and take the coats.

You volunteer to pick up the pizzas. Your wife reminds you they're being delivered.

You volunteer to run off and buy her the endangered species coat of her choice. She tells you to wait two hours.

Nothing works. You're trapped. So you try to keep a tight smile on your face.

When Jimmy Marks bites you in the leg, you smile. When Alison Glass throws up on your shoes, you smile. When the magician's bird won't come down from the ceiling, you smile.

You smile at the pizza man who delivers 12 anchovy pizzas by mistake. You smile and comfort Svetlana who sits in a corner for two hours in tears because Jimmy Marks tripped her.

You don't smile at the five mothers who are late picking up their children. And, with a faux grin on your face, you promise the latest mother of all to look for little Tony's hat.

Finally, mercifully, it's over. Your son is happily playing with his toys. Your wife is on the phone assuring Svetlana's mother that her daughter had a wonderful time. You sit back and realize that once again you've discovered the same irrefutable truth you learn at every birthday party: You, too, really don't like Jimmy Marks.

Chuck Cohen is a satirist and advertising writer in California.

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