On the John: The Birthday Column

On the John

Upon the midnight hour of his 28th birthday

1st draft started November 5, 2009, 11:54 PM, final draft finished November 6, 2009, 1:06 AM

Originally published on the readjack.com blog November 6, 2009

Photo 157

The writer, seen here the moment he crossed the lip of his 29th November 6th.

At 11:17 PM, the text arrived:

ONE MORE HOUR!!

…but my wonderful friend of seven years was wrong. Because I was born in New York. And so as far as my body and breath were concerned, it had been November 6th for 17 minutes.

11 minutes earlier, I had picked up the phone to call a friend of 16 years. I had just finished reading a commentary he’d written about his very first strip club experience (the earlies of April, 2005, upon the eve of The Illini Loss), and I was filling a promise made earlier in the evening (“…and I will call you as soon as I finish it…”).

That was a time when November 5th was not in question anywhere in the USA. As it turned out, I crossed the Brooklyn midnight hour during the span of his 3700 word essay (an engrossing read that chronicles the fearsome war between his sexual morality and his raging sexuality). And thus it was the first of arguably two, but arguably four, starts to my birthday: start of the day, start of the actual birth date, along with each adjusted for the time zone switch.

I reached for the phone to laud his work. I looked at the time on the screen—incredibly, it was 11:06! (Which is, of course, my birthday.)

Though not if you are British. Because if you are British my birthday is 6-11, a fact I was reminded of two years ago when a Brit I’d become friends with during the summer of 2004 got so turned around from spending three months in America with mostly Americans that he contacted me three weeks after my birthday with this message: “…it’s not that I forgot. It’s just that I was preparing to send you a birthday message on June 11th.”

And it was my birthday long ago in Australia, as I know from corresponding yesterday with an Australian friend who was celebrating his November 5th birthday round 5:51 our time the 4th.

And so as I pass through the midnight central standard time barrier that guides us sweetly to Chicago’s November 6th, (two down, two to go), it makes me wonder: what is time, really, but an undefinable feeling measured in unreliable human terms?

Ah, but those discussions are for another day.

Because these days, birthdays are all about the simple things. Like seeing the date in the usual places, like on the newspaper or parking tickets or movie posters (should your birthday fall on a Friday, or a cinematically profitable Wednesday). Or like nobody knowing that this very day is, quite possibly, the most specialist day of the whole wide year.

That’s the best. Because we all share New Years, Thanksgiving, the Fourth, Halloween, Super Bowl Sunday, Christmas, Pesach, but not Jack’s birthday. Or your birthday. Or nearly anybody’s birthday save King (kind of) and Christ (kind of) and Washington (kind of).

So it’s a kick for both of us, you and I, to be engaging in normal activities (reading and writing at a corporate book store), while only one of us holds the knowledge of The Special Day. It’s like a great secret, and who doesn’t love secrets?

Nobody, that’s who. Not even me at 28. (Or the start of Year 29, if you prefer.) Not all secrets, of course. Bad secrets are a burden, a millstone, a Stonecutters boulder of anxiety impossible to unfasten.

A good secret makes you float, glide, fly fly away.

Yet on a day that once centered around bringing cupcakes to classmates and having a party and sitting in a circle as you unwrapped gifts purchased by your friends’ parents as your own parents read the cards written by your friends’ parents as your friend circle gasped at the ONLY Skeletor action figure any of you have ever seen, or Guess Who, or the Starting Lineup figurine set of the 1989 Cubs, all of which was followed at some point with everyone having a go at bashing a paper-mache donkey with a bat (the only thing other than the ball that we were ever encouraged or even allowed to strike with a bat) so that candy would rush from its guts…

…well, on a day that once meant all that, it is fascinating to now be so simply satisfied with a good silent secret, and perhaps a quiet dinner with family.

And it’s the other small things, like tracking the final movie you watched during that year (Woody Allen’s Whatever Works), the final book you read (Royko’s Boss for a third time), the final music listened to (a playlist combining the Who, Kinks, Lennon, and Clapton), the final sports you watched (the Bulls squeaking past the Cleveland Cavaliers).

Though perhaps the best aspect of a birthday is the assumed renewal. Like New Years—secular or otherwise—a birthday holds enough special separation along the rungs of time as to warrant a declaration of reputational reprieve.

Today is my birthday! We modestly announce to ourselves. From this day forth, let me wake at 8 AM! Jog every morning! Twenty sit-ups and push-ups and pull-ups! Ninety minutes of reading and writing each! This is the year I get it all right! This is the year of me!

And why not? May as well put it all down on the page and see what it looks like. From there on, it’s only a matter of shaping.

Copyright 2009, jm silverstein

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