So. Wow. Where to begin?
As the key to my front door turned on Saturday evening, I took a breath, suddenly not knowing exactly what I was about to find on the other side.
Until that last moment, I had truly believed I was merely depositing my gym bag, turning right around, and heading back out into the cold January air. Instead, I was met with a greeting far warmer than I could have ever imagined.
As all of you had long known – and as I began to realize – my wife had deftly designed a masterful surprise party to commemorate my 35 birthday, and upon entering my eighth floor apartment, I was instantly overwhelmed, extremely surprised, and above all, incredibly touched.
Seeing the smiling faces of people who’d come from near and far was intensely moving. It’s a testament to the selfless nature of true friends and the powerful love people have for an open bar operated by a slicked-back gentleman named Cameron.
I am so grateful and appreciative to all of you for taking time out of your lives to share the evening with me. It truly was a night I’ll never forget and for so many reasons.
Much of it can not be put into words – but that doesn’t mean I won’t try!
Here now, a selection of memories, moments, and thoughts to help me put a bow on one of the greatest birthday gifts ever:
Much of it began by hearing “Happy Birthday, Jas,” from a giggling Courtney Dolan. One of my wife’s best friends, Courtney and I go way back. Back to the days of D.C., back to the snow of Syracuse. So far back, in fact, that over the years I’ve become able to interpret the hidden meaning behind each of her comments. And as I embraced the person who served as the maid of honor at my wedding, and I heard her utter those three words, I was beyond certain that what she was really thinking was: “Wait, does my outfit look alright? No, seriously Jas. Is everyone looking at me?”
Moments later I shared some special time with Haleigh Raff, as the woman who “books celebs for Piers Morgan” invited me into her “circle of trust,” talking shop and spilling details (but not wine) while Jack and Rudy listened in, promising to keep their Iams-encrusted jowls sealed (note: neither of the dogs actually eat Iams, but I went with it for the sake of the story.)
As I helped Julie Zann and her husband collect their coats prior to departure, I witnessed “Piers Morgan Tonight’s” top political booker rave over the joy of the app UBER, all the while hearing her wonder if there was a way she could “Presbyterian” down the price, so as to help counteract her husband’s ghastly car service addiction.
In the same room, I soon caught Elisabeth Brubaker pulling her scarf off of a hanger, attempting to leave early simply because she no longer knew anyone at the party. That soon changed, however, as I insisted she stay longer, forcing another adult beverage into her hand, while introducing her to Erica Pitzi-Flanary.
An accomplished journalist currently reporting for New York’s WPIX, Pitzi is known for her masterful coverage of Staten Island following Hurricane Sandy. She’s also known for having one of the dirtiest mouths ever seen on a pretty girl, with a passion for rattling off specific details about the female genitalia. It’s a topic she’s well-versed in, and when she went into great depth with Elisabeth, my colleague and friend needed help picking her jaw up off the floor. But that’s Erica: completely unfiltered, and entirely honest. And she also brings amazing party favors.
Her husband Patrick Flanary, meanwhile, spent a large chunk of his evening “geeking out” with Jacob Banks, as my sister’s boyfriend engaged him in a lively conversation that covered music and film, over nearly three hours. “PFlan” once described himself as having a “PR shell, but a prose soul,” and after Saturday evening he can now add “life-long Bro-mance with Jake Banks” to his Twitter description. According to Jake, what the two experienced “is called a conversation,” but to those witnessing the interaction, it looked more like two men making love with their minds.
From making love, to making babies, “Miss Levy” came in the wake of both. Seven months pregnant, with the belly to prove it, Mrs. Allyson Schenker arrived without her significant other, as “Howahd” was home, having fallen ill. Nonetheless, the grade school teacher once accused of having her thong spotted by a student, had hiked up her pregnancy panties, tugged on a maternity dress, and “schlepped into the city” to celebrate. And no matter how much water Cameron fed her, I never was able to get her to reveal the gender of her unborn triplets (there has to be at least 3 kids in there, Miss Levy…)
A nod here now, to four people presently able to provide a window into Ally’s future. Both Julie and Rob, and Nedal and Tamryn, have each recently welcomed beautiful new babies into this big, bad world. Neighbors from the old apartment (shout out to the Marc, 29th Floor), and now friends for as long as they’ll have me, it’s because of the Bennett’s and Shami’s that Oscar will find three friendly faces – in Ellery, Vienna, and Jayden – greeting him on the first day of Kindergarten. But despite being new parents, why at least one of them couldn’t at least stop by the party, I’m still not sure (just sayin’…) I mean, shortly after Oscar was born, we took him to Iceland for the Hunt-Potter wedding!
And speaking of the “Boss Lady,” there were a handful of people who had never met Jolie Hunt, having only heard tales of her existence through various NYC industry back-channels. Well, let me say, the “Boss Lady” who loves a compliment certainly earned herself a few on this evening, holding court in the way only she can. Whether seated in the dining room, inviting various party-goers into her lair of intimate conversation, or having migrated over to the couch, where she was able to showcase her olfactory excellence – “Erin, I think I smell…” – “JH” came to play. A special nod to her and her husband Will [Potter] for graciously and generously donating the wine.
Staying with wine, stand up and take a bow Mrs. Kyleigh Kalakay. When I turned to hear Erin’s dear friend from Vernon, Conn. shouting “Hey Jas! Where is my effin’ Chardonnay,” I knew we had landed at a very special portion of the evening. Boasting two gorgeous little girls, and a figure that would make such a statement seem impossible, “Ky-Ky” made a point to enjoy her time in the big city, leaving both daughters – and all inhibitions – behind in Connecticut. I only wonder if her husband Chris realized he’d be spending the evening babysitting his eldest blonde princess, only hours removed from having been “peer-pressured” into buying her the type of handbag that they do not sell at “American Girl.”
Of course Chris and Kyleigh were not the only guests to log some miles in order to attend Saturday’s shin-dig. Initially based in Manhattan, Cecilia Dowd has since relocated to Long Island, making her presence at the party that much more impressive, and touching. Add in the fact that the Saab vehicle she often used to transport me to and from News 12 in Woodbury features an interior temperature equivalent to that of Bikram yoga, and one understands why she dressed in shorts for the evening. Seeing her in said shorts, one also understands why Andrew Rappaport came too. The unquestioned “captain” of the News 12 Long Island Sports staff, “Raf” never misses a chance to stir the pot, or push my buttons. Seeing his grizzly beard in person brought me back to the days of cold opens, colder frozen yogurt and office arguments with Rob Del Muro, who took to twitter on the evening in question to send his regrets:
— Rob Del Muro (@gmen8069) January 27, 2013
Describing me as an “over-sharer,” in advance of the party my wife had invited those that are into social media to use various digital tools to help me celebrate. On my actual birthday – the previous Wednesday – embarrassing photos quickly covered my Facebook wall, as shots of a younger, slimmer, and extremely compromised “Big Kurtz” posted from morning through midnight. At the party, meanwhile, the technology turned to Twitter, as those that get down with the 140 character micro-blogging site were encouraged to push the hashtag #bigkurtzbday (you’ll notice Rob – aka @gmen8069 – executed this to perfection above.) Despite the best efforts and insistence of some, the hashtag never quite reached “trending” status. However, it certainly did spice up my feed for the better part of a few hours. And in the spirit of twitter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer a “h/t” to @billvoth, who I’ve come to learn is the brains behind the branding.
All of this attention to the “social web” seems sensible in light of my relatively new job at CNN, where I serve as the digital producer for “Piers Morgan Tonight.” As co-workers and colleagues wandered through my living and dining rooms, it dawned on me that I’d made a handful of really great friends during my 12 months stationed in the Time Warner Center.
In fact, earlier in the evening I introduced Ella Chick as someone who does the same job as me, but only better, and for a more reputable program (she’s the D.P. for “Anderson Cooper 360°.”) I then watched her make no attempt to hide her joy at being described in such fashion. That joy though, soon turned to horror, as Chick and her husband Scott began to take in a still photo slide show, revealing various pictures of the birthday boy (thanks to DJ Spinny aka Snap-A-Dactyl aka Michael “Doc” Dolan for his across the pond editing efforts.)
Amongst the requisite and ubiquitous shots of my wedding and Bar Mitzah – and somewhere right before the picture of me holding my newborn son in the hospital – rolled a picture of me posing in a simple, red, string bikini. Why I’d wear such a thing, let along pose for a picture while doing so, remains a mystery. A mystery that Ella will never be able to solve, as the image floats forever through her mind.
An image I’ll never be able to shake is that of my good friends Grant and Justine, as they stood in the back of the room as I arrived. Still in shock from the initial surprise – and not yet really able to comprehend the situation – realizing that “The Lodi” had traveled from San Francisco to New York for the weekend was mind-numbing. They came with a singular purpose: to celebrate, and enjoy. And that they did, leaving nothing on the table – a little something extra may have been left in the sink, but nothing on the table. Our friendship dates back more than a decade and covers multiple states. It encompasses weddings and bachelor parties, holidays and moving days, and far too many late evenings to recount in this space. Seeing this couple brought about a rush of emotions I’m still attempting to process. Grant and Justine are the types of friends who always make the extra effort, always go the extra mile (in this case 3,000,) for those they care about. Seeing that type of selfless dedication extended in my direction – as had been countless times in the past – was truly humbling. I’ll never forget it. To them, I simply say “Thank You.”
And to Stephanie Dobbs Brown I say “You’re Welcome!” Never one to miss an evening drinking wine alongside my wife, “SDB” is of the opinion that she should be commended for the various in sundry gifts she bestows upon those she interacts with. The more vino she guzzles, the more gratitude she deserves. But here’s the kicker: Dobbs-Brown is efficient with her appreciation, meaning she wastes no time waiting for anyone to actually thank her. Instead, she merely announces a prerequisite response after citing the gift or action she treated you to. “This party Erin threw you? You’re welcome!” “This one-armed dress I’m wearing? YOU’RE WELCOME!” “These hiccups I’m experiencing? YOU…ARE…WELCOME!” So, Steph, with this blog, I say to you, “No, you’re welcome!”
Real appreciation, however, ought to be doled out on Dobbs’ husband, the custom-suit clad Matt Brown. For on this evening, Matt did in fact do something that was worthy of praise: he guest bar-tended. With the clock having struck midnight on Cameron, the evening was left with a full bar, but no one to operate it. That dilemma was quickly rectified, as Matt, who added a floral apron to his ensemble, popped back behind our roving table of libations and emerged with a tray of Tequila shots. Whether or not the Tequila shots were a good idea is another issue entirely; but for Matt, the provider of Patron, a hearty L’Chaim!
Of course, Matt was not the only party patron to don floral. Representing Brooklyn, N.Y. by way of Morgantown, W. Va. Amanda Lawrence emerged through the front door, wearing a flowery blazer, and carrying with her memories of many a good time. New York is the third state I’ve shared with “Mandy,” as we first crossed paths as low-level television journalists in Charlottesville, Va. and then later both landed in Fort Myers, Fla. Seeing her on Saturday was a wonderful surprise, as schedules and such keep us from visiting as often as we’d like. But when the girl who passed me a 7-and-7 at my wedding became the woman who handed me a bottle of Seagram’s at my birthday party, I knew that all was right in the world.
Always adhering strictly to social etiquette (I wonder where she got that, Boss Lady?!,) I hear that the lovely Maura McGreevy was the first guest to RSVP. Able to brighten any room with an ear-to-ear smile, Maura was also on hand for Oscar’s bris. Both occasions were centered around celebrations, but luckily for my son, Saturday’s party needed no gauze, nor topical numbing ointment. However, if they had, I imagine Maura would have somehow known to bring them. She’s good like that. Plus, my mother still talks about the time they met at the Hunt-Potter Engagement Party: “Oh, More-Uh…what a lovely gihrl…a total sweet-haht…”
As anyone born on or around Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or New Year’s knows, it’s tough to share a Birthday with someone, or something else. Your special day often gets overlooked, ignored, or at the very least, having to be dual-celebrated. Such is the plight for Lauren Azzollini. Also born on January 23rd, Lauren shelved her disdain for having to spend her birthday weekend at my apartment by making a point to graciously attend the surprise fiesta, even going so far as to suggest that she finds the fact that we have the same birthday to be a positive. I know she’s full of it, but I appreciate the gesture. And, she always calls me “babe,” which I particularly enjoy. When I reminded her that she’ll always be younger, and better looking than me, I think she began to feel a bit better. She then patted me on the butt, and peaced out for another party, a party that was likely to celebrate her properly, and exclusively.
Angela and Tony Rinella also cut their evening short, but for an entirely different reason. With “Tony 5” likely running circles around some poor Upper West Side baby-sitter, the Rinella’s had a very short window, a reality Erin and I are probably only a matter of months away from facing first-hand. Nonetheless, my wife’s college roommate – who once believed that Gin, Vodka, Tequila, and Rum, all in the same cup, make a good drink – prioritized the party, and made a point to attend after initially thinking it was impossible. They were the first pair of faces I saw upon arriving, perhaps a metaphor for the fact that it was for their wedding that Erin and I first visited New York, and years later, it was Angela – toting a 6-pack of Smirnoff Ice – that first helped welcome us to Manhattan as residents. They were gone as quickly as they came, but if history is any indicator, I’ll see them again soon.
It’s uncertain how much time Erin spent preparing for the party, or how long ago she began shoring up the details, but I do know that she couldn’t have done it alone. Rumor has it Michelle Horowitz – clad from head to toe in Diane von Furstenberg – may have played an integral role, joining for a “planning brunch” weeks ago. Truth be told, I had just assumed that “MH” was only stealing an opportunity to canoodle with Oscar. Apparently, her motives were more calculated. I only regret not having her deliver a toast on Saturday night, as having seen her speak in person, I’m very well aware of the ways in which she turns a phrase, bridging humor with emotion while captivating a room.
I referenced my sister’s boyfriend Jake earlier. But he would have never stepped into my living room Saturday night if my sister hadn’t said it was okay. In fact, I’m pretty sure that “Babe” Banks checks with my sister before he gets dressed, brushes his teeth, or gets the mail. That’s sort of the way Jamie Kurtz rolls: she takes control, and gets stuff done. With the intensity of my wife, and the pedigree of my mother, she represents a whole lot of what is right in my world. We used to fight like cats and dogs as kids. Today she’d be one of the first people I’d bring into my foxhole.
Seeing her Saturday wasn’t entirely surprising – when something is important, she’s there. She takes a warrior’s mentality into everything she does and when she’s on your side you can ask for no better ally. Just don’t cross her, or you’ll end up with a She-Ra “Sword of Protection” smacked up against your head (take my word for it … it hurts.) Watching “Jam” develop such a friendship with Erin is one of the truly rewarding aspects of being married. Erin and Jamie view each other as sisters, which means they routinely take turns abusing me, delighting each other to no end in the process. But it’s a pain I welcome. A torture I’ve come to expect, and almost enjoy. My sister knows me as well as anyone, she shares my dreams and my demons. And besides, there something pretty darn cool about having someone at your 35 Birthday, who was also at your fifth.
To this point I’ve used this space to offer thanks to everyone who attended Saturday’s surprise party held at my home. I’ve shared stories from the evening, memories from the past. It truly was a remarkable night, thanks in part to all of you. However, there is one person who deserves more thanks than anyone, the person who emailed and called each of you days in advance, the person who poured her heart and soul into this event, the way she routinely does with most everything in her life: my beautiful, caring, selfless, and loving wife, Erin.
What she did for me on Saturday, and the weeks leading up to it, is something I’ll never forget. In our nearly 12 years together, she’s wowed me time and again. She’s the strongest, most-dedicated person I know, a woman with a huge heart, and tiny, little, itsy-bitsy waist. But even for her, this was impressive. Planning something for me, a guy who consistently runs late and regularly abuses deadlines, must not have been easy. I imagine I nearly ruined my own good fun several times. But as I’ve come to learn, you don’t tell Erin there’s something she can’t do.
Driven and persistent don’t begin to cover it. She’s a tank with great legs, who typically rolls over anything in her way. In classic fashion, on Saturday night every ‘t’ was crossed, every lower-case ‘j’ was dotted. From social media and decor to the food and the friends, Erin didn’t miss a single detail. I do feel badly, however, because she was so busy playing hostess that the poor girl didn’t have a chance to enjoy any of the party. Next time, maybe she’ll make time for a glass of wine. I know she was busy, but she could have worked in some fun along the way.
Learning what Erin did Saturday filled me with so many emotions – love, happiness, surprise, excitement – but perhaps the strongest takeaway for me is pride. I’m proud of my wife, proud that she is my wife, proud to share my family’s name with her. I’m proud of the woman she’s become and I’m proud of myself for reeling in such a catch! But mostly I’m proud of my life — of our life — of the life we’re leading, that centers around her heart.
I used to think that I couldn’t be happy unless I was the center of attention. Being with Erin, I now know that I’m most happy standing just to her left, as she makes magic happen every day.
Please forward me any good photos you took on Saturday evening, so I can collect them in digital album form. My preferred method of photo receipt is text message, via 239.896.7173.
» Follow Jason Kurtz on Twitter
» Follow Jason Kurtz on Instagram