Sunday, May 21, 2006
Like they say in Florida, I want a recount.
This Wednesday, I will turn 49. Forty-nine Oh-sweet-Jesus-tell-me-I'm-dreaming years old. Where is the justice in that?
How could I, of all people, be one year short of being five decades old? I'm so young and full of life, I can't be heading into the AARP corral. There must be some mistake.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. My life is nowhere near where I wanted it to be, where I dreamed it would be, but I go though that routine most days of the week. I getting tired of hearing this myself.
All my idols are over the hill or retired. Handsome young actors of my youth are now playing somebody's dad on TV. And I see Paul McCartney has gone from adorable young Beatle to foolish old man, losing his much-too-young wife in front of the whole world.
Oh, I believe in yesterday. It's just today that's causing me fits.
In grammar school, the whole class used to sing "Happy Birthday" to you on your special day, one of the few decent memories I have from Catholic School.
Some of the companies I worked out used to bring you a cake and sing to you as well, though I believe the employees put these events together, not management. I even had a surprise party thrown for me while I was living in Pennslvania. That felt pretty good.
I like to tell people that I was born in 1957, the year the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and that I would prefer to believe the two events are not related.
And somewhere is this house I have one of the cards announcing my birth. It's written with this art deco kind of typeface and there's an image of man in a top hat and tails pointing up at a sign with his cane.
"Mr.& Mrs. James Lenihan Present Their Fourth Attraction," the card reads. Inside the card contains the various details of my weight and size. Here, I am world.
Me & Grandma
I share the May 24th birth date with several people, including Bob Dylan, Patti LaBell, the Brooklyn Bridge and Queen Victoria. I also share a birthday with grandmother, Clorinda Ferrari, who left this world about 38 years ago, before I had really had a chance to know her.
She was a piece of work, grandama was. She moved here from Italy in the early 20th Century, reuniting with her husband in the New World after an 8-year separation. My grandfather had come over here earlier to start his shoe repair business and he finally got enough money to bring his wife over.
Grandma was an old lady by the time I came along, with a heavy Italian accent, and slow, measured walk. I used to play this game with her, where I'd extend my butt, tempting her to give it a whack. I usually got away unscathed.
She hated loud noises, telling the TV to shut up instead of just turning it town. She once gave the driver of my favorite ice cream truck a hard time because he kept ringing the bell. I was mortified.
My grandmother was not fond of my father, to put it mildly, and during a very bad time in my parents' marriage she was the first to figure out why my father was disappearing at the strangest times.
"Somebody else's cooking is better," she'd say.
She would stand up to my father, when everybody else was in the family was terrified of the bastard. I know it's not right to speak of my father is this way, given his current condition, but this is how it was in my family.
I remember the night my grandmother died. She had been sick for a few days and it was a Friday night. I was watching "Star Trek" (I still remember the actual episode) and I remember actually praying to God that my parents wouldn't call the doctor because it disrupt my TV viewing.
What a selfish little bastard I was. But I was just a kid. I didnt' know that in a few hours my grandmother would die. I remember hearing her cry "Oh, God help me!" from her bedroom; and then there were ambulance attendants and cops in our house.
When my oldest brother Jim walked into our bedroom, I asked him how grandma was and his voice cracked as he said, "she's dead."
Oh, my brothers and I cried so hard. We went into her bedroom and my father insisted we kiss our grandmother goodbye. I just pecked her on the forehead, noticing the skin was cold, but my brother would not do it. He just stood in the doorway, crying and shaking his head back and forth.
Grandma is gone a long time now, but I treasure the memories I have of her. For the longest after she died, my mother would start crying at the mention of her name. I didn't know what she was going through until she herself died, and know I'm the one doing the crying.
Life Goes On
My mom always made us feel great on our birthdays. She'd invite all the kids over to our house and run the party herself.
She didn't hire a clown, she didn't rent a hall, and she didn't pay someone to organize the party for her. She was appalled when she found out people actually did this.
I guess she just loved her children too much to let some hired guns come in and run the birthday show.
One year I kept winning all the games--Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Musical Chairs, I was racking up the prizes and my mother was getting upset. She was afraid the other kids would think it was a fix.
As I got older and fond birthdays less enchanting, she told me of the "Birthday Blues," where you expect that special day to be some incredible event and when it falls short, as it pretty has to, you feel let down. Leave it to my mother to have such insight.
I recall one birthday, while I was a cop reporter in PA. I went to work and I knew some state troopers were doing a traffic stop on one of the backroads nearby. I went out there, hung out and shot the breeze with them. I mentioned it was my birthday and got good wishes and handshakes.
I wonder what the hell was going on in my life back then that I wound up at this location on my birthday. But these guys were my friends.
This year I think I'm going to take off on my birthday. It's in the middle of the week, but still, the idea of doing my job on the very day I was born, it doesn't seem right.
The other day I was IM-ing with a co-worker, who, upon hearing of my age, typed me a simple question: What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
Jesus, that one caught me off-guard. It underscores the fact that no one lives forever, that time goes by so quickly, and that you should not put things off if you really want to do them.
So, here I am, unpublished writer, an unproduced screenwriter. I dreamed of living in L.A. and traveling to exotic places, but here I am, living in my family's house, just me and my dad, while everything seems to change around us.
I think on my birthday I will give myself a break. For one day, I will not put myself down, moan about my fate or bad luck, shake my fist at the heavens or bang my head against the wall over all the things that might have been.
This year, I'm going to enjoy my birthday. I'm thank God for giving me another year and do my damnedest to make the new one even better. If I really want to tear myself down, I can always wait until the next day.
I got an early start on the celebrating on Friday when I went out with a group of people from a Brooklyn-based social club.
Most of the group's events happen in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and other chic neighorhoods--which is fine by me--but this get-together was being held in my own neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
I was the oldest one in the group, which tends to happen a lot at this time of my life. I went from kid to geezer in the wink of an eye.
Anway, I planned to go for just an hour or so and then head home to the comforting idiocy of late night TV, but I wound up drinking and dancing (!) to 1 a.m. I hadn't done something like this in years and it was fabulous. Too bad the music was so goddamn loud. And you can't understand a word they're saying...
On the way home I ran to a neighbor who was also coming home late, only he was just getting in from his night job at the Post Office.
"Can you believe it, Jerry?" I called across the street. "A man of my age out at this time of night?"
"Hey," he said, "you've got to do something different sometime."
You certainly do. Here's looking at me, kid.