Friday Free-for-All #92: Birthday Edition

Some random birthday memories over the years, in Q&A form.

Friday Free for All
In which I answer random questions — this time, my own questions about things relating to my birthday, which is today. An ongoing series.

Least favorite birthday party?

Ironically, it’s also the first one I vaguely remember, and was ruined by… a flu pandemic. (There were a lot of those going around when I was a kid, apparently.) It was my 4th birthday, and everyone had the flu, although I don’t remember anyone I knew of dying from it.

Although my mother had planned a big party for our backyard and sent out all the invitations, in the days before, invitee’s parents apparently started calling in to cancel because their kids had suddenly broken out in high fevers and were very sick.

Ultimately, the only kid who showed up, Scott, lived a couple of doors north of us — the one direction on the street I never went — and although I didn’t really know him, we did have sort of a small party together, with cake and that was about it.

I don’t remember getting sick, but I do remember our moms lifting us up onto the picnic table in the backyard so that we could both blow the candles out together. Facing each other. As you do when there’s a pandemic going on.

Sigh. Still — it could be worse. All those unvaccinated parents with sick kids could have just shown up because, “It’s just the flu.” At least people weren’t that stupid back then, and we had all the Moms to work as the CDC contact tracing network at the time. If one person came down with it (flu, measles, mumps, chicken pox, etc.) pretty soon they’d all have a good idea of who had it and who was going to start showing symptoms.

Memorable birthday faux pas?

When my play Bill & Joan was produced, we timed it around the centennial of William S. Burroughs’ birth, which was on February 5. Mine is the day before but something we didn’t know until we were in production was that his wife Joan’s birthday was also on February 4th. (That detail hadn’t been added to his biography when I’d originally read it.)

I think that our show nights were Thursday through Sunday, so my birthday had already passed before our next show, and I don’t even remember whether it was a Thursday or Friday night; possibly a Saturday.

Anyway, an old friend of mine had come to see the show but the gathering afterwards was generally always theatre company members and the friends of the cast who’d come to see it. My friend was the only one outside the company I knew that night. So we went down the block to a bar that was the unofficial hang-out for the theatre company to catch up.

Then I started to get texts from our AD. “Where are you?” I told him and he called me. “Your director wants to talk to you right now.”

“What about?”

“Just get back here.”

I excused myself and walked back — maybe it was notes or something — only to arrive and be greeted by “Happy birthday” and a cake fashioned out of a bunch of cupcakes. I blew out the candles, thanked everyone, then grabbed two cupcakes and headed back to the bar with the intention of bringing my friend back. I eventually did, but the whole thing may have seemed kind of assholey on my part.

Still, no one had told me “stick around” in the first place — and I really don’t like impromptu birthday observations with mostly strangers.

Most interesting birthday activity

This was been when I turned 21, although it’s a lot more wholesome than it sounds. Two friends of mine took me out to see a movie on opening day, although it must not have been that good, because I don’t remember what film it was.

Next, they took me out to dinner (their treat) and we went to the fancy place — Denny’s actually connected to the mall. Okay — fancy for starving college students. The other two were both seniors who had already turned 22 and were a few months from graduation.

Anyway, we had dinner and when the waitress came over to ask about dessert, the other two insisted to her, “Card him! Card him!” She did, realized what day it was, and explained that Denny’s had a very special special for 21st birthdays — a drink called the Hurricane.

I had no idea at the time what it was, but the waitress announced that it had a lot of rum in it. I looked it up just now, and it was actually created in the early 1940s in New Orleans. Apparently, they had a lack of fruit juice but a surplus of rum. Go figure.

This drink certainly didn’t lack in the rum department, and it came in a glass that was huge — in fact, one that became known as a “hurricane glass,” named after the drink.

And yes, I see the enormous irony in a drink from New Orleans being called that. Maybe because this one could probably get you as wasted as Katrina.

Anyway, I had the drink and we eventually left, but it wasn’t the hurricane that made the evening fun. Nope. Their last surprise was that we were all going ice-skating — something I’d never done before but had expressed an interest in.

Now let’s do the math here. Take friend out for birthday. Get him a pretty strong drink. Take him to the ice rink to do something he’s never done before. Was their intention that maybe I’d be so relaxed that I’d take right to it or so drunk that I’d fall down and break my ass?

Surprisingly, I actually took right to it, and didn’t fall down once — and yes, that surprised the hell out of me. We were on the ice long enough that the cold and the physical activity plus time started to cut the effects of the alcohol, and I got to love the whole experience.

Fortunately, I hadn’t driven, but you can bet that I sought out the ice rinks closest to the university and made it a habit to regularly visit after that.

Favorite celebs I share the day with

There are so many, surprisingly, and a lot of them are very interesting people. There’s the eccentric

Emperor Joshua Norton, who became a beloved figure in San Francisco and is still practically a saint there today; Charles Lindbergh, although not really a favorite because he’d probably be a big TFG supporter now; Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto; Rosa Parks, who wouldn’t give up her seat; Ida Lupino who, like Lucile Ball, was a very powerful woman in Hollywood in her time; George Romero, noted horror film director; Alice Cooper, noted rock star and horror film character; Jonathan Larson of Rent and Tick Tick Boom fame; Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden; and singer Natalie Imbruglia.

It’s a really eclectic bag, but I think the one thing in common can be summed up by the word “eccentric.”

Worst thing to happen on my birthday

Well, this was the worst thing for her, not for me, since I don’t even remember it happening. But it was on my birthday that Patty Hearst was kidnapped.

Most traumatic

I went to school. When I came home, my mom was in the E.R. and my dad had burned my birthday cake. For some reason, Mom had started to hyperventilate, so next door neighbor, who was visiting at the time, drove her to the E.R. Dad was called home early, really couldn’t do anything at the E.R. at the moment, so decided to bake my cake and managed to incinerate a basic Betty Crocker mix. No, I have no idea how one manages that.

This was the beginning of a long medical odyssey for my mother, although I never thought of it as my birthday ruined. Rather, it was the start of a difficult period for all of us as we and her doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. They never did, but to this day I’m convinced that it was actually the treatment attempts that ultimately killed her.

Now, I believe in modern medicine, I had great doctors that saved my life once thanks to it — but doctors were also different when my mom got sick, and I remember meeting her primary care physician one time. Total asshole who apparently didn’t think that women had the ability to know or report on what they felt happening inside of their own bodies.

Repeat: Total asshole.

Best gift

I’m really not into material gifts and actually never have been, not even as a kid — my birthday was close enough after Christmas for that former holiday to be the big one.

As an adult, the best birthday gifts I’ve ever gotten have been time with friends — just hanging out to celebrate, and that’s it. Although out of those, the bestest has been when one of the many times one of my best friends took me out to dinner for one of my favorite foods — usually Mexican or Thai — and we just hung around and talked one-on-one for a long time.

That’s better than any gift that can be stuck in a box, wrapped, and then very soon thereafter be lost, stolen, or break but, in any event, will never last as long as the memory of time with loved ones.

If it’s your birthday today or around this time of year, happy birthday Let me know when it is/was in the comments, and share a memory of your favorite celebration.

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