I have this history of designing my own birthday experiences.
What brought it on? Being last of five overachieving children, I thought. Four people have already turned five. What’s impressive the fifth time around? My mother’s quiet relief? I was unaware at the time. I just remember silly soap in the wading pool and convincing everyone I knew how to speak French.
In order to celebrate turning nine, I designed, implemented and resisted winning a scavenger hunt for eight bewildered peers. If it sounds like resume material, it’s because I’ve always wanted to put it on there and have taken to using that sort of language when describing it, just in case I ever develop the nerve to come out of the scavenger hunting closet and act proud. No sign of this so far. But nine was good. I became acutely aware of my parents’ lack of a priori knowledge of the universe, and, for the first and last time for what would be many years, forgave them for it. I remember nine as a year of squinting in disbelief and holding my hand to my brow, casting about for confirmation from anyone else in the area. Of course none was ever forthcoming, and I’m almost accustomed to the fact.
Got home in time to turn 18 and staged a barbecue in which I invited primarily mentors, although I have not really conceived of it this way until this very moment. It’s true, though: My friends were not there, being variously dead, incarcerated, far-flung or being treated for hepatitis. I treated myself to a haircut and facial the day of the party, and my sister, eight years senior and very femme, mobbed me upon arrival to see what sort of base I was using. My embarrassment triggered an explosive rage in her which I remember in heart breaking detail. I had to wash my face to disperse the tears, but felt about ten pounds lighter afterward. Make-up, someone had neglected to tell me, weighed. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the lawn, and feel the light abrasion of the diving board where I set up the food.
Turned 20-something one year on the proper day: Friday the 13th. In an otherwise empty room six pedestals sported six black and white monitors that broadcast an animation synchronized to the soundtrack I had painstakingly engineered. This represented my last, most caligula-like perversion about homemade party tapes, which admit it, are only good ten years on when you play them on a road trip, buckling in hilarity as you shout: Can You Believe We Listened To This Stuff? I was very gratified to see the police (consistently the last guests to arrive at all of my parties) shut it all down after Colin lost his grip on the bat and sent it whirleygigging into the darkness in the street. It was amusing, but he fully missed the pinata.
On my 30th birthday I felt absolutely certain everyone would immediately begin taking me seriously. To celebrate, I rented a honkin lincoln continental and put Z in the passenger side, me behind the wheel, Zappa in the over-ornamented tape player, and set the cruise control to 91, the sum of my age plus the year I was born. A birthday weekend ensued, just the two of us. When I came back, now 30 plus 3 days, no one took me seriously. I mean, not even. I set my sights on 35, while my friends, being variously climbing or climbed upon, asked me not to bring up the fact we were all aging rapidly. You don’t get it, I said with, now that I think about it, child-like enthusiasm: Old Is Good. Old Is The Door To Wise.
Renting the jumphouse was the easiest part of turning 35. So was putting the ice in the trunk of the Buick and storing the kegs there, while using the expansive hood for a fruit smoothie preparation surface, and the spacious interior for a hot box. Saved all year to finance The Sushi Moment, in which a perfectly nice group of people turned into sharks once the laquer trays appeared. It wasn’t until my 14 year old niece went wide-eyed during the performance of the 11-piece sex-positive dyke punk band that I realized I may have invited guests from too many disparate places to enjoy too many disparate kinds of birthday fun. I thought it over while stealing a few hops in the jump house while the band climaxed in it’s own way. I vowed to tone it down in order to let the love shine through. I also made myself sick from contemplative hopping.
This year I’m going to the Upper West Side to co-celebrate with Z’s niece who turns eight. With her birthday a day before mine we are both embarrassed not to have considered this arrangement before. Now’s the time, of course. This is her last year of unconditional belief in the power of adults around her, and I see her urbanity culminating in a bored yawn on the horizon. We’re rushing toward it, cruise control set to Infinity.
Cake. Curled ribbon. A momentary sense of entitlement. A backdrop of mortification.
Go ahead. Make your day.