From left: Steve L., Frank St Peter, Skipper Burke, Jim Jorgenson, Bill Caley, Sammy Wells; David L. in center (Birthday party, circa 1950)
I’ve come to conclude that birthdays, like New Years Eves, are a source of minor depression throughout one’s life, though the sources of depression change over time. Childhood birthdays unquestionably have an exciting component in that they are tied to gaining status, e.g., getting older, getting bigger, more competent, being allowed to do more things, getting praised. At the all-boy birthday parties I went to in childhood, though, all the other party-goers were jealous of the birthday kid getting all those presents, and they dealt with this by punishing him in various ways, the magnitude of the punishments escalating with age. Once you reach your sixties or seventies, marking that one is a year older is not that exciting. Nobody seems jealous about my birthdays any more, and onlookers provide more positive strokes than punishments. This may be because having a birthday is sufficiently negative all by itself that others don’t wish to contribute further to one’s malaise.
Katja left for work yesterday morning, and I slept in for a while. I had some coffee and checked my e-mail. If birthdays weren’t gloomy enough, my e-mail didn’t help. Every now and then, my family has had to deal with the thorny issue of whether or not to keep and maintain our family property (“Farm”) in Birch Creek. Opinions have always been polarized, with some people opting to keep Farm at all costs, others with a strong preference for selling, probably a majority neutral on the issue, and a resultant inability to reach any decisions at all. I decided I set it aside mentally, though my mind wandered back to it all day long.
One of my routines is to take the dogs for a 30-minute walk each morning, and that seemed like a good way to start my special day. Mike, however, was the most stubborn that he’s ever been. After he’d walked 30 feet, turned around a few times and peed on the lawn, he decided that that was enough. I started dragging him down the street by his choke collar, a technique which borders on torture. Then I tried pushing him from behind, which led him to snarl and snap at me. Finally I tried saying “heel”, a command he’d learned in obedience school six years earlier. It was surprisingly though only briefly effective. He did respond and trotted forward at my side. This only lasted for three or four steps, however, whereupon Mike turned around and started pulling me toward home again. I would say “heel” again, even louder, and he would come with me another three or four steps. We proceeded up the block this way, doing three or four steps at a time and me shouting “heel” each time to keep it going. After a full block of this, Mike seemed to give up, and we then proceeded at a pretty consistent pace for the rest of the journey. I don’t know what Duffy was thinking. I guess he wasn’t that interested, and he did adjust without protest to Mike’s fitful stops and starts.
I’ve known for months that my driver’s license was about to expire, but now the day had arrived. We normally go to the Ohio DMV office in Swifton Commons, a nearly empty shopping mall 10 minutes north of our home. When I got there I found that they had permanently closed in June. Fortunately there was another branch a quarter mile up Reading Road. There were three clerks and nine people in line. As I watched, I thought the clerks were asking pretty private questions in this public situation about alcohol use, drug abuse, outstanding warrants, epilepsy, etc., but, when my turn came, I answered these just like anybody else. I stumbled on “dependence on alcohol” and said that I have a glass of red wine almost every day, but the lady told me that was permitted. I smiled as they took my photo, which I don’t normally do, and I did look happier than usual. When I checked over my new driver’s license, the clerk had typed in “Gray” for my hair color without asking me. What??? Don’t I get a say in this? I thought to myself, maybe she was thinking that I’ll have this license for four more years and I will be gray by then.
Jennifer’s kids were due to get free ice cream cones at Graeter’s for participating in the art exhibition, and she asked if I would like to join them and get the free ice cream cone that I was entitled to for my birthday. I was hesitant at first because I’d never heard of this and thought it was probably for kids, but then I thought, what the heck – I’m entitled. Walking over to Graeter’s, I asked Eleanor if she thought my hair was more brown or more gray. She looked and it and said she couldn’t say. Her mom laughed. I asked Calvin, and he responded, “More gray!” “That Calvin,” I said, “he’s certainly not shy with his opinions. I was going to get a chocolate ice cream cone, but the kids thought that was too ordinary. Calvin had ordered a Buckeye Blitz (chocolate, peanut butter, cookie dough, peanuts, and who knows what else). So I ordered one too. It was good. I’d commented to the clerk that I’d lived here for 43 years and never knew that you got a free ice cream cone on your birthday, and a white-haired gentleman thanked me, saying he’d never known that either.
I got several birthday cards in the mail – they all featured doggies. Matt and Phyllis sent a vintage greeting card with a fluffy white puppy carrying a basket of flowers and cuddling a kitten. Donna sent a sheepdog with absolutely wild hair getting brushed out. Katja’s had a pair of married dogs, with the wife admitting to being crabby, nagging, criticizing, stubborn, and moody, but concluding, “As long as we’re together I’m the happiest wife of all.” We both thought it was surprisingly accurate. I chatted with Donna by phone and felt better about our family property issues by the end of the conversation. J called to wish me happy birthday and said that he and V will be flying to Cincinnati in late August, the best present one could hope for.
Katja asked me where I’d like to go for my birthday dinner. I said Tinks or Olives would be nice, but she thought something more than a neighborhood place would be better. I like fish and suggested the Bonefish Grill, the Chart House, or Mitchell’s Fish Market. Katja thought Mitchell’s was the best, so we drove over to Newport on the Levee. Mitchell’s is a casual but stylish restaurant right on the Ohio River, with indoor and outdoor seating. We opted for indoors, right next to the window and with a view of the downtown skyline. It was very pleasant. Katja had a Bloody Mary, and I had a Manhattan. We talked about this and that. I showed Katja my driver’s license, and she thought it outrageous that they mis-labeled my hair color. She said I might want to try Grecian Formula, just in case. For dinner, Katja had crabcakes, and I had fish and chips. Katja let it slip to the waiter that it was my birthday, and I got to pick a dessert . I went for the Sharkfish Fin, a huge ice cream sculpture with multiple flavors and sauces. Katja said usually 4 or 5 people share it when they there go for lunch, but we managed to polish it off. It was delicious, but I was stuffed to the gills by the end.
So I started out feeling a little depressed about having a birthday, but it worked out to be a pleasing and lowkey sort of day, with lots of happy interchanges with family and friends. All in all, it was an excellent way to start the next 12 months of my life.