I recently finished a year of daily birthday posts at the Clack House, a Clay Aiken fan message board. Of my own volition, I looked up birthday trivia for the members, most of whom I’ve never met. Why? Because I'm crazy about birthdays.
Every time I have to fill out a questionnaire, under “favorite food,” I always write “birthday cake.” And I’m not picky about what kind it is, either -- upscale flourless, old fashioned bakery, or grocery store freezer case, chocolate or yellow or lemon or cheesecake -- I love them all equally.
And it isn’t just the cake. I love the candles, the decorations, the cards, the idea of honoring someone annually just for making it through another year. Whenever the waiters gather around to sing “Happy Birthday” to the hapless patrons in restaurants, I’m right there, lustily singing along. At surprise parties, I'm front and center. Need somebody to circulate the office birthday card? Decorate the conference room? Make the party favors? I'm there.
I’m not sure why I feel this is important -- maybe it’s because I’m a twin and never had a birthday to call my own. Always had to go out and buy a present, even though it was MY birthday. Always had to share the cake and the party. In my father’s photo albums, there are photos of my brother and me from every birthday, starting with side-by-side highchairs and one candle in the cake (which I doubt they let us actually eat), through the gender-specific outfits (cowboy and cowgirl, Indian and squaw, Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann, Superman and Wonder Woman, Captain Kirk and ...well...some female Vulcan or other...oh, you get the idea. In all of the photos, I’m wearing an expression of simmering resentment. Which finally boiled over at age eight, when I threw a tantrum and demanded my own party. (My brother must’ve been thoroughly sick of my attention whoring by then). In later years, he and I started dispensing with the formalities -- we’d go together on a shopping trip shortly before the big day and each buy ourselves the thing we wanted. Then we'd exchange them, take them home, wrap them up, present them to each other at the family party, and act surprised. And our parents were none the wiser. Wish we still had the time to do that. And that my parents were still around to be hoodwinked.
Outside of finding the funniest card -- a favorite pastime, and I like to stockpile the really good ones -- my favorite aspect of birthdays is the quest for the perfect gift. In my opinion, the ideal birthday present is:
a) something the person really, really wants (bonus points if they haven’t told anyone and you managed to find out somehow)
b) something luxurious and decadent that they would never dream of buying for themselves (bonus points if you managed to get said luxurious item without maxxing out your credit card)
c) something ingenious and personal that makes them laugh like crazy (eBay is good for this)
d) any or all of the above
I once had a rather eccentric but charming British boss who loved black. All her clothes were black. Her furniture was black, her car was black, her dogs were black, her jewelry was black -- black, black, black. (I’ll give her this -- she was easy to buy for.) I once convinced her favorite florist to spray paint a big floral arrangement black. Another year, I bought her a big glass bowl of black marbles for her desk. (I don’t recommend this -- they tend to be mistaken for something edible, and nobody appreciates unnecessary dental work.) My proudest moment came when I convinced my coworkers to go in on a more expensive gift -- we bought up as many boxes of Crayola crayons as we could get on sale, and subsequently presented her with an all-black box of 64 Crayolas. I felt honored to see it a few years later in a Plexiglas shadow box on a wall in her home.
I must take after my aunt -- for my 40th birthday, she gave me a shoebox (European size 40, of course). Inside, I found a necklace made of 40 paperclips, a 40-watt light bulb, 40 uncooked macaronis, a deck with 40 cards in it, a box of 40 pushpins, a gift card to a store in the amount of $40, a roll of 40 pennies, etc., etc. Clever, I had to admit. Around that time, I started to wonder about her sanity -- after decades of exchanging saccharine birthday cards featuring kitties and bunnies and puppies, out of the blue my sweet, pure Southern Baptist aunt sent me a card with two side-by-side Xs on the front instructing me to open it holding it down at my waist. When I did, I was startled to see this message: “Here’s where your tits have ended up.” Well, after that the game was on, and the cards flying back and forth have gotten raunchier every year. I don’t think she shows mine to my uncle -- she probably keeps them in a dresser drawer under her hankies and takes them out to giggle over when she’s alone. Hope so, anyway.
For this coming week, I needed to come up with a birthday gift for a close coworker of mine -- a high-strung workaholic who chews gum incessantly and never leaves her desk. Correction: the only time she leaves her desk is to beg people for gum -- she never has time to buy any. After tricking her into telling me her favorite flavor, it was off to The Container Store to pick up a tall airtight clamp-lid Mason jar and a wine bottle gift bag. Then I headed to the drugstore to buy out their supply of Wrigley Extra Sugarless Cool Green Apple. You know, it takes a long time to unwrap 200 pieces of gum. Think she’ll like it? Although if I never again have to smell Wrigley Extra Sugarless Cool Green Apple, it’ll be too soon for me.
So I’ll probably be giving her a wide berth for a while. I hope she has a happy birthday. Maybe I’ll hear about it afterwards.