Best. Birthday. Ever.

Warning: This is a really long post and there’s barely anything in here that’s running related. You’ve been warned.

I rarely do anything that would qualify as exciting or special on my birthday. Since I generally don’t care about things like going to restaurants or “shows” (gag), my birthday plans usually revolve around three things: gastronimical pleasure, home entertainment and the temporary removal of all sources of stress.

Unfortunately, with a freelance deadline looming, I couldn’t totally remove all stress, but I worked all day Sunday and took today (which is my actual birthday) off. But the celebration began in earnest last night. This year, the food bit translated into $20/lb. filet mignon wrapped in bacon for the main (and, really, who gives a shit what else you serve with that), decent wine and something called a Belgian Chocolate Mousse Cake (which is as good as it sounds), with some ice cream thrown in there. For home entertainment, we laughed our way through “Whiteout” — a movie that went wrong in the first five seconds and could quite possibly spell the end of Kate Beckinsale’s career.

So now I’m 45 years old. This means several things to me. For one, if I’m lucky, I’ve still got roughly half a life left. I’ve got good longevity genes, and no senility or dementia in the line on either side, so I should be good to go — and fully cognizant — for at least another 45-50 years. It also means, once again, that I awoke on birthday morning thinking, “Do I feel older? Do I feel different?” The answer is no. I am just as confused, awkward and immature as I was at 25. But I take a strange pleasure and comfort in that. I like to think of myself at 80, still swearing up a storm and making stupid Photoshop collages. Why not.

As often happens first thing in the morning as I lie in bed, before the cat has started to bat at my face, my mind wanders to odd places. Today the number “45” brought to mind 45’s — or “singles” as we called them. These were small circular discs of plastic — or “records” — with two songs on them, one to each side. They were named to reflect the number of revolutions made per minute. We played them on something called a “record player” (or sometimes, “turntable”). We purchased them at places with names like “Record World” and “Tower Records.”

I recalled the first 45 I ever owned: “Rainy Days and Mondays” by The Carpenters. I acquired this single when I was six years old, having won it at a classmate’s birthday party. Since my record collection at the time was quite limited, and included no “grownup” music, I played this record somewhat obsessively on my little box turntable/speaker combo. The flip side, a nondescript song called “Saturday,” held no interest for me. It was the mournful yet uptempo strains of the hit single that gripped me.

Why would someone give this single to a six year old, when other hits of the day were more appropriate? The buyer could have gone with any number of cheerful songs: “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night, “Knock Three Times” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, or “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds (a tune I think still holds up today). To be fair, if you look at the Billboard 100 from 1971, it was a grim year for music. There’s nary a happy tune here.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, I’ve always credited that single for having simulateously warped me and turned me on to the talents of the songwriters of that day: Richard Carpenter, Paul Williams, Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach. I hadn’t been in the States that long, having spent the majority of my wee years living overseas in southeast Asia. I was so out of it culturally that when we got to California I took an IQ test and scored well below average because I couldn’t identify simple, common objects, such as a shopping cart.

So, in addition to a general fascination with music and sound, I suspect that I was also going through a period of overcompensation, soaking up everything having to do with American culture. With that single, I got into the habit of listening to songs over and over again and scrutinizing them. I still do that today. If something hooks me, I can listen to it repeatedly for several hours.* So I would like to thank whatever clueless parent picked that single.

Onto what else made this day great. There are so many things, I have to go with bullet points:

  • I had a long conversation with Jonathan’s 78-year-old Mum, Margaret. We made each other laugh several times. After our last trip to South Africa in October, I was doubtful she’d do any major travel again. But now they’ve got plans to go to England next spring to explore the eastern part of the countryside. Even if I’m unemployed then, we’re going too.
  • I also spoke with my mother, who has plans to come here next year, also in the spring. The last trip they made was something of a disaster, so I’m glad we’ll get another try.
  • I got a nice card (and some cash, which at my age is really unnecessary, but who’s complaining) from my Dad and stepmother. I’ve already spent it on some new running clothes.
  • I received a kind note out of the blue from Tom in Iowa, who is also coached by my coach, Kevin Beck. Another masters runner struggling and trying to make a breakthrough. He likes this blog.
  • I managed to keep my promise to reign in the birthday drinking so I wouldn’t be hung over on my birthday. I got up this morning feeling great and went out and motored through a 12 mile progression run. Then I came back and spent an hour looking at French and Saunders clips on You Tube. Sure, I was wasting my time. But I didn’t care. It’s my damned birthday.
  • My Facebook page was inundated with birthday wishes. As much as I denigrate Facebook and loathe my addiction to it, there’s a real charm to having a bunch of people, both friends and “friends,” saying “Happy Birthday!” to you.
  • I heard from one of the co-captains of the Green Mountain Relay team that there has been a mass exodus among the original team members and all of us alternates are needed. So I’m committed (or should be)! Come June I’ll be riding around with a bunch of strangers in a van in Vermont, trying to run fast at all hours and sitting in my own stink during the downtime.
  • I wrote what I think is a halfway decent short story on Saturday. I’m submitting it to NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction competition. Even if it goes nowhere, I think I’ve found a format (very short) that might work for me. I’ve got other story ideas percolating, which is always a good sign. So I’m not quite ready to give up on writing fiction, despite my many abortive attempts over the years.
  • I spent a few hours today out in our neglected garden. I have not touched it in about three years, so it’s a real mess. But those perennials have been busy. I have three times as many plants as I remember (I did lots of dividing and replanting) and my little Helleborus plant has, after four years, finally flowered. The incredibly expensive Solomon’s Seal that I bought at the Bronx Botanical Garden five years ago is also going like gangbusters — I think we’ll actually have a bonafide patch of the stuff this year. And the fern varietals section looks like something out of Alien.

It’s 70F and sunny out and I’m typing this from my front step while my cat lounges on the warm pavement in front of me. The love of my life is upstairs working, but soon to close our office door and make an appearance to join me in a glass of wine. Fuck. I have a good life.

* Some recent examples:
Am I Wry? No by Mew
One With the Freaks by The Notwist
Threads by This Will Destroy You

9 Responses

  1. Boy, do I wanna be the same when I’m 80. If I lose my ability to have a childish (albeit surprisingly smart – uhh Tim and Eric are genius) sense of humor, I don’t want to live. I also have the need to listen to a favorite song over and over again for a long time. I listened to Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks” dozens of times per day for about 3 months. Ironic? It was a soothing addiction. I tend to do that more when I’m stressed out too. …sounds like you had a friggin awesome birthday! jealous.

  2. What a great day! I am so glad you had a great birthday.

  3. I dunno. 2, 3, and 9 on the list are keepers. (Side note: No. 25: Tom Jones: She’s a Lady. Before the Scotland 10K, the announcer said he’s a Scot. Didn’t sound right to me. It wasn’t. Unless he’s from Edinberg.) You think 1971 was bad, take a look at No. 1 in 1969, the year of Woodstock.

    Glad you’re having a nice birthday. Maybe JS’s mother can send you a list of her favorite 78s.

    • The country of Wales is up in arms today. It’s not like they have tons of singers they can claim as their own. Neither does Scotland, for that matter. As they say in academia, “The infighting is so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

      78s…that’s a good one.

      • At least the teams in Scotland don’t have to play in the English Leagues. (Scotland trivia: In 1984, the IAAF World XC champs were at the Meadowlands. I carried the flag for the Scottish women, the St. Andrew’s Cross.)

  4. Julie!! Happy birthday!! Well I am SO GLAD that I invbited you to join the team as a real actual member today!! How auspicious, my timing is never this good. Well I am happy for you. What an amazing birthday you’ve have, perfectly indulgent. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I want to be like you when I am your age.

  5. […] alternates for my Green Mountain Relay team. I got four out of five vacated spots filled, one with this fabulous woman. Auspiciously, today is her birthday… Foot Locker opened its first store solely dedicated to […]

  6. What a wonderful day. Significant scores, on all fronts. And, belated gifts will arrive soon, plus: house guests! Woot.

    I think She’s a Lady is one of the weirdest songs ever and also one of the most compelling. I am always astonished that I want to hear it again as soon as it’s done.

  7. You’ll get this on the 6th, so I guess it’s “Happy belated bidet to you!” Glad it was a good one. The bottom of a new age-group is a good place to be — you get to take on Collen De Reuck.

    I’m also one of your readers who knows what small circular discs of plastic are — much more exciting than downloaded MP3 files.

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