By Katherine Wright 

When I worked at a children’s birthday party venue and event planning company, I attended many celebrations. Mostly birthdays, filled with excited kids, large balloons and over-the-top cakes I perpetually craved a slice of. It’s quite a strange experience to spend back-to-back hours rushing from one party to the next, singing “Happy Birthday” and then shuffling a new group of partiers into the studio.

One child’s notable event — their birthday, a party they’ve been looking forward to for weeks — was merely an item on my work to-do list, when one day could pack as many as five birthday parties in a row.

These chaotic, comparatively grand events eventually morphed themselves into other spectacles: holiday parties, off-site activities, grand openings. One of the more noteworthy occasions occurred at the opening of a pet store in New York City.

It was the kind of event that was comical in its randomness. We ushered in folding tables and appetizers and fish-shaped lollipops to the back of the store, each aisle filled with dog treats, reptile food and cat toys.

The atmosphere matched a typical pet store — bright, fluorescent lighting, white floors and fish tanks lined up on the side of the room. We set up our food, drinks and raffle table at the back, right next to the reptile cages.

As I was organizing the appetizers on a tray, adding sauces and garnishes, I was offered the chance to hold the snake and the hairless guinea pig, which I quickly turned down. I think anyone who attended that party and ate a few appetizers would be grateful for my decision.

When the guests arrived, I took a moment to appreciate the peculiarity of the situation. It’s not often that you attend a party in the same room as a growing lizard or hundreds of tiny fish. It’s not often that you pass out hors d’oeuvres in between cluttered aisles, trying to avoid running into large bags of pet food and sending crab cakes onto the kitty litter and fish pebble-covered tile floors.

We raffled off pet-themed gift baskets, had people guess the number of goldfish in the tanks and dared guests to cuddle with the snake and guinea pig. I even got to take a t-shirt and a fish lollipop home as a souvenir.

It was a wonderful event — strange and one-of-a-kind. I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to celebrate the opening of a pet store again. I doubt many people ever will, considering the rarity of the experience.

More than ever, I savor and appreciate this grand opening, this evening of work that jumped out at me in a sea of back-to-back birthday parties.

Especially right now, with quarantine and COVID-19, we have so few opportunities for stand-out situations — for anything outside the home, really. So I think about this pet store often. In fact, I just remembered I wrote about it a year ago — before the change in our world, and before I even knew just how special this little day was.

It says a lot that it’s still on my mind, an echo of the weird, little normal life we had before everything changed. May we meet again soon.