Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Birthdays, Part II


Compared to the opulent splendor of the other kids at school, my early birthday parties were very bland. They were usually just friends-of-the-family affairs, with none of my friends from school. My grandmother didn’t like having kids in the house, because, "They’re ay runnin aroon wi dirty feet and they gie their greasy wee hands on everything." In my grandmother's mind, inviting my actual friends to a birthday party ranked just below, "release dozens of drunken monkeys into the house" on the list of stupid ideas.

It wasn't until I was turning eight that I finally talked her into throwing me a proper party. To me, it was a monumental, coming of age moment. I would finally get a party, like the other kids! No longer would I sit at the head of a table piled not with cake and presents, but ashtrays and cheap beer. No longer would I spend my birthday begging my mom and uncles to put their conical party hats on their heads, instead of over their groins.

We planned it for an entire month. There would be a giant cake. There would be swimming, music, and streamers. My grandfather came up with up a bunch of party games (to be played out on the lawn, of course.) He even bought prizes for the winners—kazoos and other such plastic trinkets. My uncles would not be there, but my mom would, because having my mom at a birthday party was almost like hiring a clown.

Finally, the big day came. The decorations were up. The cake was out. I waited at the door, bouncing up and down on my little heels, watching the road for guests. I was so excited. We'd invited something like forty kids—the entire class, girls and boys, and some kids from the neighborhood to boot. I worried that I’d wear out my voice welcoming them all.

As it turned out, this would not be an issue.

Let's pause here, to let that little morsel of foreshadowing digest. Do you see what's coming next?

“No!” you say.

Ah, but yes, I reply.

“Surely not!” you cry.

Surely so.

“Not possible!”

Yup. Totally possible.

Because, out of forty invitations, two children attended.

Two children.

Two.

At my birthday party.

It was the most disappointing birthday celebration, if not of all human history, then at least since 1238AD, the year seven-year-old Prince Vasily of Kozelsk looked up from blowing out his candles, saw a towering wall of dust on the horizon, and asked, “Okay, which one of you idiots invited the Mongol Horde?”

My mother, to her credit, leapt into action. She got into her car with a determined look on her face, roared out of the driveway, hell-bent for leather, and returned half an hour later with two more children. I have no idea where she got them. Or, more to the point, how she got them. I sure didn't recognize them. Everyone was too afraid to ask who they were, and how soon the police would start looking for them.

I think, in all honesty, that they were bikers' kids, conscripted from the local Outlaws clubhouse where my mom hung out. Wherever the hell they came from, they were total strangers that I had never seen before, bearing gifts hastily wrapped in pages torn from automotive magazines. The gift-giving pleasantries ran something like this:

Me:   “What’s this?”

Stranger Kid:   “It’s Optimus Prime.”

Me:   “Oh.”

Stranger Kid:   “Well, it’s half of Optimus Prime.”

Me, after a long pause:   “‘Kay.”

It was the top half of Optimus Prime, for the record. And the joke’s on you, the universe, because the top half of Optimus Prime was the shit, and I would've never known how cool the top half of Optimus Prime was, if not for this horrible birthday experience. So your dumb plan backfired.

Another condolence perk was that my grandmother relented and let us all inside the house, I think because she couldn’t stand to see me and four other kids alone in the backyard, surrounded by emptiness. So we gathered at the dining room table, sitting around a comically large cake and a pile of untouched plastic kazoos. By now, I had donned a festive foil birthday hat, not because I was oblivious to how pathetic I looked in it, but from a calculated attempt to evoke the maximum amount of pathos. Sure, I was having a bad day, but I was already looking ahead to the favors I'd ask, when I finally cashed in all that sympathy.

My mother, bless her heart, tried to cheer me up by saying (this a direct quote, burned into my memory,) “Well, next year, these four are the only ones we’ll invite. That’ll show the ones who didn't come. Right, sweety?”

I've checked with Guinness, and that is officially the stupidest consolation statement since the year 1238AD, when Lord Konstantin the Moronic turned to young Prince Vasily and said, “Oh, I invited the Mongols. What? I heard they do a neat trick with horses.”

My grandmother must have seen the anguished look in my eyes, because she put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’ea worry. We’ll invite them all.” It was supremely touching. I looked up at her and smiled. And then she added, “But I’m nae buyin’ any birthday presents fer the wee buggers, when their birthdays come aroon. Yae can gie em' all cards.”

I was cool with that.

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