Last Friday afternoon, my friend Alexa texted me, “Robert, I hope you are having a beautiful birthday worthy to your existence.” I responded. “I am on a Chinatown bus. In a way, it is precisely worthy of my birthday.” She agreed. I laughed and considered the truth of these texts.
Indeed, the Chinatown bus, the definite symbol of my dysfunctional Year 23, had found its way to the start of Year 24. Which was strangely depressing. I’d like to believe that, although not being My Year, I’d comfortably escaped the Greyhound and Chinatown and sleeping on the subway and getting egged on Independence Boulevard or everything like that. And yet here I was on my birthday, celebrating with a slumbering Asian man beside me, a champagne drinking gay couple in front of me and that one person who is annoying as shit on their cell phone behind me, it was a birthday I couldn’t make up any other way.
Which might make this difficult to believe because no one is actually allowed to say this but my birthday is secretly my favorite holiday. I’m sure that if I was born two thousand years ago in Palestine, I’d have a preference toward Christmas (or maybe Passover or the Roman holiday of Amburium). But, despite my fondness toward National Macaroni and Cheese Day (July 14), my birthday will stay my favorite holiday. For very selfish reasons. I think it’s fascinating to be alive and I’m fascinated by getting older but still feeling really young. I like thinking about the demands of another year while asking why anything should change just because the 14th turned into the 15th.
Now, just because my favorite holiday is my February 15th doesn’t mean I expect it to be anyone else’s or that they ought to remotely care about it at all. I’ve always felt this way. I spent my 21st birthday in my dorm room apartment eating a wonderful pack of Chicken Ramen. My roommates were ambivalent to the fact it was my birthday and did nothing. Which I didn’t mind because I didn’t tell them it was my birthday. If not for Facebook, it would have been just another Tuesday night. A gracious ex-girlfriend offered to buy me a milkshake. Which I declined. My birthday, while beautiful, didn’t require anyone else to recognize it as such for it to matter to me.
I had no thoughts to make any real plans. I was moving that night into the home of two women in their late 20s. In another life, I would have considered that the greatest gift of all. But in reality, I simple wanted to get rid of my suitcase and enjoy my birthday like I’d done most all 23 others, with little fanfare or fuss.
I got back to New York and discovered that a mutual friend was celebrating his birthday that Friday. Which I didn’t mind. We went back to Williamsburg and somehow I got stuck with the bill for two pitchers of beer. My friends wished me a happy birthday with a corn muffin and candles. It was pretty funny. I dug it.
Overall, it was a good Friday. With friends, with alcohol, in New York. It didn’t take my birthday for me to make it happen. But I was cool with it.
But if I am being honest, I actually wanted to do something for my birthday not just the day I was born. I wanted to see old friends and new friends and have them meet and watch them become friends. I know we’re supposed to downplay such things like birthdays and not want anyone to do anything for us but I really didn’t want that much. I wanted the satisfaction of seeing people have fun because they were doing so on my account.
I don’t know if I was allowed to say out loud. But I bit the bullet and made a plan and told my friends that, indeed, there was a plan. We were to go the 3 Dollar Tavern on Saturday because the Beer is three dollars and their wine is three dollars and some cloyingly sweet cocktail was three dollars. That’s what I wanted. My friends, hardly partiers, initially balked at the idea of going out a second straight night. But they didn’t really protest. “Wait, is this for your birthday? Of course, we’ll go.”
It’s amazing how often we question why friends would care about things as mindless as birthdays. But weirdly they do and they didn’t question it. They felt more obligation to celereate my day than I did so they all showed up.
Saturday night was actually pretty freakin’ fun. I failed at making hookah shapes and I played beer pong with my former coconut water buddy who’d brought a black Japanese friend with her. We discussed Coldplay’s performance at the Saitama Super Arena, my favorite performance of my favorite song Lovers in Japan and finally had someone to discuss it with. I met random people from Philadelphia and discussed Coldplay with people from the UK. I wouldn’t say it was the best birthday I’d ever had and I don’t need it to be. It was entirely great. The beers were three dollars, as promised. And I put them on my friend’s tab anyway. My friends, wall flowers since high school dances, finally were moved by Calvin Harris’ Sweet Nothing and we got moving on the strobe-lit floor. We were dancing like Albanians and Colombians and Dominicans and some random people I knew nothing about. But I screamed, “New people!” and they joined the party. It was good.
I made my way home at 5am and unlike most Saturday nights, felt no real depression or sadness or questions about my existential place in the universe. My birthday was everything I could have wanted because it’s all I would have asked for any day I’m alive. I was with people I like most in the City I prefer and didn’t pay for anything I had to drink. Which I love. If it takes a birthday to makes this happen so be it. If it happens on May 21st, so be it. But if my existence is the reason for such a night to be so, it is sort of more special. Because as much as I like being alive, I like seeing the people I like enjoying my being alive too. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that and I’m not even comfortable saying it but, still I do. So I said it!