#368: The Birthday Present

September 3rd, 2014

I’m writing this about 10 hours before you’ll see this. It’s 8 p.m. Sept. 2, 2014.

Ten years ago tonight, my friends and I went out to get smashed at the Billy Goat. We did that a lot, in retrospect.

My out-of-town girlfriend was in town. We started to fight. We did that a lot too, in retrospect.

The drunken, rambling argument spilled out onto Michigan Avenue, then east down the river walkway. It culminated by the fountain designed to shoot a perfect parabola of water over the river. In practice, it pisses unfiltered sludge on any boat unfortunate enough to head underneath.

As I lay by the fountain’s edge, I asked my new ex what time it was. She told me. It was after midnight.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

She said she was sorry we broke up that day.

Five years ago tonight, I was at a different future ex’s apartment in Wilmette or Winnetka or some other Wuh-sounding northern suburb.

She was relaxing on the couch, as was her wont. I was hunched over a laptop typing, as was and remains mine.

I wrote a story for the Windy Citizen, a now-defunct site that used to let me scribble for them. I wrote about being scared of turning 30. I wrote about half wanting to go to the girl on the couch and half wanting “to run down to the lake, rip off my clothes and dive in, howling at the moon as I paddle naked through the water.”

I wrote about how writing felt like splitting the difference.

Thirty-five years ago tonight, Joe and a heavily pregnant Diane Dailing went to sleep. Joe was tired. He would bug me for years after about getting him up at 5 a.m. the next morning.

Seventy years ago tonight, Cpl. John Dailing was a few days away from missing his second son’s first birthday. He slept in a cot in New Guinea, working by day in a munitions factory. He was an older recruit, part of the “fathers’ draft” passed by Congress the year before.

There were other Sept. 2s, of course. Ones I can’t remember, ones I don’t want to forget.

So let me tell you how I spent this one.

Tonight, Sept. 2, 2014, I went to a faux Irish pub in my neighborhood. It’s the type with dark wood, Taco Tuesdays and waitresses in booty shorts. I sat by an open window that let in enough light to read Doc Savage by and enough wind to scatter the tip.

One of the waitresses wore a low-cut tank top that said “yolo yolo yolo” in a typewriter letter font. She had a laptop propped by the bar where she would take notes on the digestive system for nursing school.

Two old men came in, ordered Heinekens, then started chattering happily in Spanish. They backhanded each other’s chests whenever they made a point. They laughed a lot.

I read my book, sipped beer and smiled.

I left to go home, where a woman I don’t plan on letting go ordered a pizza with me. She watched Colbert online until bed. I hunched over a laptop typing.

I played online, listened to Oingo Boingo, felt sad about news stories I read. It’s 10 minutes to midnight now. It’s 10 minutes to my birthday. Nine now. Now eight. I still don’t know how to wrap this story up.

I’m still the same self-pitying, dramatic, depressive fuck I was at 25, 30 and, for that matter, 18. I’m still terrible, just grayer and way more into bikes than I was.

Birthdays are just dramatic affairs for some, I guess. For some of us, birthdays are days we compare ourselves to who we were when we were younger and who others were at our age now.

For some of us, we’ll always come up wanting.

I’ve loved the people I’ve wanted to love, fucked the people I’ve wanted to fuck, drank good beer and listened to good damn music. That’s all I can offer for my 35 years and I think that’s fine.

It’s after midnight now.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

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