If this year as half as intense as any given day in this guy's life, I'm going to need to retire.
Celebrating your birthday when you’re still getting established in a new city is kind of a tricky maneuver. Back in Oregon – particularly in high school – I was surrounded by people who I had known for most of my life, so even if they couldn’t say exactly what day my birthday was on, they had enough memories of awkward elementary school bumper bowling parties to know that I had a birthday in late November.
Yesterday was my second Los Angeles birthday, but it was significantly different from the first. Last year I’d only been in town for a couple of months and, thanks to my rather consistent unemployment and generally antisocial behavior, only had a few friends, all of whom had come with me from Oregon and knew about my birthday.
In the year since then, though, everything has changed. I’ve been working at a career-type job for nearly ten months and have become so ingrained at the company that I’ve actually started to learn my coworkers’ names, and I’ve been lucky enough to make a number of new friends who, having only known me a few months, don’t know when I was born.
That put me in kind of an awkward position in the leadup to my birthday. On the one hand, I didn’t want to seem overly secretive by letting friends and coworkers find out about my birthday through Facebook. On the other hand, how the hell are you supposed to tell people that your birthday is coming up?
“Hey guys! How was your weekend?”
“Not that great. I had to take my wife to the hospital on Saturday night because she thought she was going to have a miscarriage. Everything turned out to be okay. I think it’s just weighing on her pretty hard now that she’s in the second trimester, and that’s when she lost the first baby. I’m just trying to be supp-”
“My birthday is coming up! November 27th! So… Y’know. I’m excited.”
Best case scenario, everyone feels weird. Worst case scenario, people feel obligated to try and buy you presents without knowing you that well. And since I don’t feel a particular need for mismatched haircare products or $10 Barnes and Noble gift cards,* I opted to keep my birthday on the DL and let everyone find out through Facebook.
*Barnes and Noble Gift Cards: When you have to give a gift to a bookish white person you don’t really know that well, accept no substitutes.
From time to time I toy with the idea of taking my birthday off of Facebook entirely, just so the whole day goes by with only a minimal brouhaha, if any brouhaha at all. I might receive fewer baked goods, but people might also come to see me as a mysterious figure existing outside of time and space, which might be a fair trade in the long run.
I guess I just don’t see my birthday as that big of a deal, or even something worth a huge amount of thought and celebration. It’s not like being 24 years old is a really noteworthy achievement – it’s actually physically impossible to not be 24 at some point in your life, provided you don’t die before you’re 24.
If I lived in Afghanistan, or Somalia, or somewhere in the Deep South with neighbors who didn’t appreciate the seven months of nonstop political commentary on my Facebook page, living to be 24 would be a really big deal, and I’d be more inclined to get excited and tell everybody.
“Hey, everybody! Who’s got two thumbs and hasn’t been murdered by warlords for 24 straight years? This g… Wait is that a Predator drone GUYS RUN OH SHI”
All I had to do to be 24 was just be for 24 years, and it really hasn’t been all that difficult, save for 9/11 and the day I found out Santa wasn’t real. I’d feel pretty self conscious throwing a party in honor of myself; if I were going to do it, I’d want it to be for something bigger than simply aging.
I might just have an unusually pessimistic attitude toward birthdays because I’ve got a lot of shit that I want to get done in my life as soon as possible, and I’m competing against people who did it faster and better than me. At age 20, Orson Welles was directing a Haitian-themed stage adaptation of MacBeth on Broadway. At 23, Paul Thomas Anderson had a short film at the Sundance Film Festival. Seth Rogen was writing for Freaks and Geeks when he was 17 years old – keep in mind, this is a high school dropout stoner we’re talking about.
One of my greatest fears, right up there with cockroaches, is the notion that I’ll spend 30 years sitting in an office thinking really hard about writing and never doing much more than crapping out a couple of blog updates on a mostly regular basis. So to me, birthdays are less a cause for celebration and more a cause for panic – a reminder that I’ve spent yet another year of my life not being an enormously successful writer.
I think that constant, pervasive fear of an ordinary life is a great thing – it’s what motivates me and keeps me from getting complacent. But I really need to learn how to take a day off from looking at what I haven’t done and focus on what I have, and if there’s any day to do that, it probably should be my birthday.
I’ve decided that next year I’d really like to try and meet everyone halfway with the enthusiasm about me being older. I’ve got a lot that I should be celebrating – particularly a whole mob of great friends who blew up my Facebook with greetings yesterday – and it’s about time I quit being neurotic and recognize it.
After all, aging isn’t completely terrible –the older I get, the more acceptable it is for me to be as crusty and jaded as I am, and that’s well worth a party.
Truman Capps is going to go right out and rent a car.
Truman Capps is going to go right out and rent a car.