Friday, November 15, 2002
No matter how hard you try to avoid it, every year it happens again. The first sign is when I start seeing pumpkins. They start popping up in early October, soon followed by skeletons, vampires, ghosts and other symbols of evil and death. These harbingers of doom remind me of the encroaching horror that awaits, consecrated in an annual ritual of ancient origin known as: my birthday.
See, my birthday comes right after Halloween, so whenever I start seeing Halloween decorations I know that I'm about to get another year older. The fact that my birthday coincides with a pagan festival celebrating the passage into the world of the dead helps put things in perspective. I'm not getting older, I'm getting deader.
This never used to be a problem. For many years I looked forward to the Halloween season because it was really just a prelude to my special day. Going out to get pumpkins was the unofficial start of my birthday season. Picking out costumes, stocking up with candy, the whole trick or treat thing... These were just warm-ups before the real event. My day. The day of me. What a great day, presents cake, ice cream, all your friends are there. People sing, play games, have fun, and it's all about me!
I think the last really good birthday I had was freshman year in college. I had a bunch of new friends and some old ones too. We all got together in my dorm room and listened to Steve Martin's "Let's Get Small" album which was my hallmates' gift to me. They sang and gave me a cake with candles. It was a lot of fun, but it was kind of the end of the innocence. The next year I had a mid-term the day after my birthday so I had to study instead of party. Not that I couldn't do both, mind you, but I was just a sophomore and I was still trying to take college seriously.
After that birthdays started to lose their significance. Either I was busy doing something else or I was off by myself somewhere. The clincher was when I turned twenty-five. I was so sick with food poisoning that I spent the whole day throwing up. Birthdays never seemed quite the same after that.
For a long time I pretty much just avoided my birthday. Not because of getting older, but because it seemed like a kid's thing. If I wanted a present, I could always go out and get one. Same with cake. It never seemed like it was worth the trouble. Other people I knew still celebrated their birthdays, and that was cool. And certain friends of mine could always be counted on to call me on my birthday. I always admired them for that. I can never remember anyone's birthday. It's just another day, right? No big deal.
But this year was different. I'd done a pretty good job of avoiding telling anyone at work about my birthday. Still, they find out. And in the past I reluctantly took part in the festivities, even though it seems kind of silly for a bunch of grownups in a business office to be singing Happy Birthday and blowing out candles. It's kid stuff.
I guess this year I finally decided that being in denial isn't as much fun as being the center of attention. So instead of trying to avoid my birthday, I went around telling everyone about it and invited them for cake and ice cream. I even went out and bought party hats. I led everyone in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, made a special wish and blew out the candles. And you know, it was fun.
I think that one of the things you learn as you grow older and wiser is that trying to be cool and aloof and above it all is a big waste of time. It's much less work to be goofy and have fun.
I wish that everyone could come to my birthday and we could all wear dumb hats and eat cake and sing off-key and make stupid jokes about getting old. That's my birthday wish. I also want to wish happy birthday to everyone else. I know I don't always remember when they are, but they are definitely worth celebrating. And may all your wishes come true.
"Old Man" Dick