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Different priorities

My guess would be that Crolish had had some skirmishes with surprise parties along the way, because his actions indicated a wariness of them. When it came time for a day special to Crolish, he became especially alert: peeking inside places before entering - and, once having entered, investigating behind furniture and large potted plants, inspecting closely the darker corners in a room before sitting guardedly on the edge of a chair.

Crolish seemed more or less to appreciate Disney World. Unless, as happened recently, we went near the occasion of his high school class reunion (when people were trying to pin him down as to whether he was going early or late - whereas he wasn't going at all). Crolish spent an hour grilling us as to our intentions, going over the van for evidence of noisemakers and yearbooks.

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He was fine at that Greek restaurant, really enjoying himself - until the waiters hoisted flaming things to the table, crying what sounded like ''Opah!'' When we found Crolish (behind a dirty dish cart by the kitchen), it took us a long time to convince him that it was not the beginning of a surprise party because his birthday was only four months away. Perhaps he overdid avoiding surprise parties, but I sympathize with the fellow, tending to barely endure them myself.

When Crolish passed his exams and became an architect, we were proud of him and told him so and let it go at that (much to his relief). Deidre, however, brooded that he was being neglected. She thought that there were the makings of a surprise party here, and began at once to organize one. She assigned us to our duties: Cliffnagle and his committee in charge of decorations; Trewitt and her committee in charge of food; Fitzweiler and his committee to provide entertainment; and so on.

I was charged with keeping Crolish from finding out, an impossible task, and of getting him there, even more impossible. I argued with Deidre that this simply wouldn't work out. ''Nonsense,'' she responded, irritated that I wasn't thrilled about my assignment, ''everybody loves surprise parties!''

As I knew he would, Crolish added up the clues, dropped from sight, and I didn't look for him. Deidre finally spotted him, she said, in the classical music room at the public library, crouching behind the empty table in the corner in the shadows bestowed by the potted ferns and hanging ivy.

I liked Deidre, but I liked Crolish too. After he unbarricaded his door and let me in, we talked. I suppose I tried in a halfhearted way to convince him that a surprise party would not be so bad. His eyes caught me just the right way with that intense, honest look he has: ''If this surprise party were being planned for you,'' he said severely, ''would you like it?'' I said after brief reflection that I would not; that while I would probably not go to the extremes of escape he was going to, I would, nevertheless, feel uneasy and wish the thing done.

From that point on, not only did Deidre have difficulty finding Crolish, but me too. Since she always has somebody in mind for a surprise party, I'm sure it was only a matter of a phone call or two to set events on a different track. After a modest meal at a quiet, unimposing restaurant, Crolish and I said goodnight. I was whistling as I walked home. There are people for whom surprise parties were never intended.

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