Walter Mencken 3:39 p.m., June 18
I’m done celebrating my birthday with others. Next year, the finger to everybody. I’m taking my aged self to the day spa to get a mani-pedi, a massage, and plenty of Jacuzzi time. Ahh, pure bliss.
My horror begins at twenty-two. As I am finishing up my last year of college in Santa Cruz, I fly home in time for the big day (big day of doom and depression). The North Park sign on University Avenue that always welcomes me home may as well fall to the ground and shatter. I feel anything but welcome.
My “best” friends, Trisha and Consuelo, who asked me to fly home for my birthday, forget all the critical details of birthdays—like getting the night off work and planning a celebration. The night before the dreadful day, I find myself brainstorming ideas with them at Rudfords as to how we can celebrate. This is what I flew home for? “I just don’t plan anything, and then everything works out,” Trisha says. “Just wait and see,” Consuelo adds.
Wait and see? Speaking of seeing, did either of them see the plane that just flew in from San Jose? The one they told me to board. The grilled cheese and homemade salsa at Rudfords is suddenly far more appetizing than their wrecked ideas about birthdays. But since I have never tried this wait and see approach to birthdays, and want to be open-minded and optimistic, I decide to give waiting a chance.
I wait and wait, and when the day comes and they take me to Scolari’s Office for cocktails, I wait some more. Trisha forgets her wallet. Consuelo lets out a sigh accompanied by an eye roll, then they both glance at me, and I pretend not to notice either of them until finally somebody pays. Crossing my fingers that my friends treat me to a cheap bourbon and coke at Scolari’s Office is not exactly how I envisioned my twenty-second. Afterward, we go to Denny’s on Florida Street where some drunken lady runs into our table and knocks a glass of water over. There are a lot of things I want for my birthday, but a wet crotch isn’t one of them.
Twenty-three: I hide under a rock and vow to never come out.
Twenty-four: I repress it. Twenty-five: I turn down encouragement to celebrate.
Twenty-six: Time to come out from under my rock. My new friend, Jill, has a birthday within a week of mine. Hoping a co-pilot will help alleviate my birthday pain and make the bad luck go away, I suggest a joint birthday celebration. The bitter reality proves there is no end to my birthday curse.
As I plunge further into the rings of hell, Jill and I rent out the back room of a delicious Mexican restaurant in the Mission District of San Francisco. We think it will be nice to have a small dinner at the restaurant beforehand, and then open up the after party to any and everyone we know. Since we agree that dining in large groups is inevitably catastrophic, we decide to only bring two friends each.
Before our celebration I have a flashback of a recent birthday where I am dining with a group of thirteen. Nobody knew how to split the bill, people wanted separate checks, and as the check presenter slowly made its way around the table subtle disagreements ensued. Nobody knew how much to put in for the birthday guest, and nobody wanted to ask out loud except everyone could hear each other whispering. By the time everyone figured it out I was hungry again. And there was of course, the usual jackass who wasn’t directly invited, but was a friend of a friends, and an embarrassment to everybody because he kept touching the waiter’s tray and snapping at the waiter from across the room. I remember wanting to bury my head in my napkin and keep it there. Thank god Jill and I are on the same page about dining in small groups.
I feel so relieved and really look forward to a quiet stress free dinner. But when I get to the restaurant I find Jill sitting at a table with sixteen of her best friends, who order everything on the menu. Meanwhile the two friends I invited order a plate of enchiladas and share them. When the bill comes and Jill’s sixteen friends want to split it, it becomes birthday chaos instead of birthday bliss. Our segregated sides of the table go to war—Jill’s side is yelling like a bunch of homeless lunatics in San Francisco and demanding that my friends put in more money. Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that a food fight would be a lot more fun.
Twenty-seven: I go to the Red Lobster near the Sports Arena with my parents. Seriously.
Twenty-eight: Not a single soul remembers. Red Lobster is sounding like the Grand Lobster at this point. My best friend, Vania, texts me at 9pm the day of: “Is it your…?” “Yes,” I reply. Everyone else who later realizes that they forgot says, “I will make it up to you.” I don’t see a single cupcake for that false promise.
So why is my birthday so terrible? Is it because I was born fat (eleven pounds) and I broke a bone on the way out because I was too big? Are my birthday expectations too extraordinary and high? Was I a super villain in a past life, perhaps the Birthday Hater? Does anyone even want to celebrate other people’s birthdays? Are they no different than Valentines Day, where so many people feel put to the test and it’s really not that big of a deal? Whatever it is, I have decided to redefine my birthday and make it a day where I celebrate myself, by myself, exactly the way I want to. It’s the only way I know I’ll get exactly what I am looking for. And hopefully I won’t spill water on my crotch.