I turned 27 a couple weeks ago, and you know what that means?
Nothing, actually. It means absolutely nothing.
Since turning 21 I’ve found that birthdays are increasingly blasé events. A few friends and family asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I just shrugged my shoulders. They do, of course, realize that I got married last year, and the result of that wedding was just about every knick-knack and paddywhack a man and his wife could ever need, so I’ve got nothing left on the wish list.
Oh sure, there’s always books and fun t-shirts. I can’t get enough of those things. But I’ve got like three rotations of t-shirts right now and an entire bookshelf full of tomes I have yet to crack open. What’s the point of asking for more?
What I really want is a gigantic flatscreen HD television set, but who do I ask to get that?
Aside from the perennial conundrum of wanting and needing nothing special for my post-21 birthdays, there’s just the issue of these years not being particularly exciting. When you’re 16 there’s the driver’s license. At 18 it’s cigarettes and lotto tickets and Playboy. At 21 it’s booze and bars. Even 25 is something to celebrate because you can legally rent a car and your auto insurance rates drop. But 27? Who are we kidding here? Birthdays are going to be boring from now until I’m 30, at which point I’m secretly hoping for a huge surprise party with all two of my friends. That’s three years away. In the meantime, I’m in birthday purgatory.
To help pass the time, I’m giving a short summary from some of the birthdays I can actually remember. Many of them are a blur, but there are some that I’ll never forget for one reason or another.
Happy Birthday to me…
Age 1 – Obviously I can’t remember this birthday but we’ve got it on tape. When my mom brought the birthday cake to my high chair, all alit with a single burning candle, I of course smashed my pudgy little craw into the frosting and delivered the sweet paste to about 90% of the lower half of my face. I looked like a baby mime. This was the year I was given a tiny little multi-colored xylophone with a yellow plastic mallet. It appeared to be my favorite new toy. By a 27-year-old’s standards, it looked pretty boring, but I’m sure the cake was good. My mom and dad seemed really happy. I can’t imagine what that’s like—watching your firstborn kid hit a year, then ruin the cake and deliver frosting into his own hair. Must’ve been like a dream.
Age 8 – I begged and begged and begged parents for years to allow me to host a birthday party at every child’s Mecca—Showbiz Pizza. The name of the company has since been changed to Chuck E. Cheese, of course, but the shtick was essentially the same—indoor jungle gym, ball pit, video games, skee-ball, and tickets, which bought you crappy prizes like giant pencils and stickers. I don’t remember much, but I was allowed to bring four of my closest friends. I’m pretty sure my friends Marty and Neal were there (one of them got me a Ninja Turtles/Bart Simpson t-shirt that I’m not even sure how to explain—the 90s were awesome), but I don’t remember the other two. Bro and Sis came too, obviously, and I’m sure it was lots of fun. It was the only birthday party I ever had there, but that’s more than I can say for my wife. She’s never stepped foot into a Showbiz Pizza in her entire life. Fate just never guided her there. This is the place where a kid can be a kid, and she was robbed of that. Had I known here when I was eight, I certainly would’ve invited her.
Age 16 – My folks took me and a few of my sophomoric high school buddies to Chicago for the evening, allowing us to dine at the delicious yet kitschy Cheesecake Factory at the base of the John Hancock building. After chowing down we took a trip to the top of the city’s second-tallest skyscraper and got a nice view of the city. We were allowed to wander around Michigan Avenue for a while, which ended up serving as a mistake, because my buddy Andy got stopped by a homeless guy who shined his shoes and made him pay $30. We were all a little too stunned to stop the whole thing. My parents felt really bad and reimbursed him, and I was so scarred that I never went to Chicago ever again. Except for all those times I’ve gone since then for Bulls game, Sox games, visits to friends and family, school field trips, and one time for the Taste of Chicago. Other than that, though, I’ve never been back, no matter how good the cheesecake was.
Age 21 – Most people do something crazy on their 21st birthday, like get tanked on near-nuclear quantities of alcohol and then throw up on their dorm room floors. As a summer baby, I was not given the usual college student bar tour and celebrated my 21st back home with the two of my friends who were actually in town at the time. We went to a couple bars, had a couple of beers, then drove home. I want to say I was in bed by 11:00. Personally, I have no problem with this because bars always have been among my least favorite places—all that smoke and noise and expensive booze. I could have more fun buying the beer for cheaper and hanging out with people I’ve hand-chosen at someplace quiet and breathable. So don’t feel bad for me; I really didn’t mind. My parents, on the other hand, seemed a little upset. They waited for me to get home that night, their 35mm cameras in hand, expecting me to wobble in like Andy Capp after a hard night at the pub. Instead I was like, “Hey guys. It was fun! Going to bed!” And that was that. Lame? Absolutely, but have I ever claimed to be anything but?
To celebrate 27, my wife and I recently hosted a little joint birthday party (hers is July 3rd–she’ll be 25) and had a very nice time. We got the cheesy decorations, tied the balloons to the mailbox, and even talked most of our guests into doing relay races. It was like being a kid again (well, except for the inclusion of Bud Light), and everybody really seemed to have a good time. That’s the way a birthday should go. It doesn’t have to be exciting or even particularly eventful. Just get the friends together, have a few drinks, and play few games. That’s all I need.
At least that’s all I need until I turn 30. Then somebody better bring the noise and turn this mother out. I’ll bring the cheesecake, you bring the flatscreen.