On this week’s Spin Cycle, our topic is “Birthdays: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?” I’ve had kind of a bad history with birthdays, so I tend not to like them. I know this baffles some of my friends a bit, but perhaps these two stories will shed a little light on why, when my birthday comes around, I tend to run for cover and just pray it ends soon.
My first story goes back to my thirteenth birthday. Perhaps the number thirteen should have been a clue things weren’t going to go well. It was my eighth grade year, and one of my good friends was in my homeroom. We’ll call her Ellen. The school day was wrapping up, and I was double checking my Chandler for my homework assignments. (Who didn’t love those Chandlers back then? Mine was covered in stickers and doodles made with highlighters and tons of colored paper clips.)
When I realized I hadn’t written down the social studies homework, I turned around to ask Ellen what the homework was. Ellen had gotten up from her desk to get a tissue or something; however, her Chandler was left wide open, so I decided to peak to see if she’d written down the social studies homework. Instead of finding it, I saw large letters declaring “Amy’s Surprise Birthday Party” on Saturday.
Clearly, I was not supposed to see that. I turned around quickly to face the front again, but I wasn’t fast enough. Ellen was heading back down the aisle, and she saw me whip around.
“What did you just see?” she screeched.
“Nothing.” I was a bad liar.
“Yes, you did!” Ellen screeched again.
“I was just looking for the social studies homework. I forgot to write it down.”
Ellen gave me a funny look. She wasn’t convinced, but I refused to admit I’d seen anything about my birthday party.
The rest of the week passed, and I heard nothing about it. Maybe they had decided to cancel it since I’d found out. Finally, Saturday morning arrived. I was restless around the house. Had they really canceled it? Then I got the call from my friend Ann. She lived near Ellen, and her house was the obvious choice for hosting a party. Ann invited me over to hang out at her house with her, Ellen, and another of our mutual friends. Ann didn’t sound too excited, but I figured this was the invitation to my “surprise” party.
My mom drove me over, and I wondered if they’d actually try to surprise me or just forget about it and we’d hang out for the day. As I walked to the house, I prepared myself to act surprised.
When I stepped inside, three eighth grade girls gave a very lackluster “Surprise.”
Before I could even muster up some feigned surprise, one of the girls said, “But you already expected that.”
“Yeah, you totally ruined it,” said another, her arms crossed, her face dour.
“You shouldn’t have been snooping in Ellen’s Chandler,” said the third.
“But . . but . . .” I protested. “I just wanted to know the social studies homework.”
It didn’t matter. I had managed to ruin my own birthday party. Eventually, they got over it, and we spent the day hanging out together, but I felt terrible about ruining the party for them. My birthday party had been ruined, and it was all my fault.
Skip ahead to my twenty-first birthday. That’s supposed to be a big one for everyone, right? You’re finally able to drink legally.
My twenty-first birthday fell on a Thursday night. It was in my senior year of college, and I was one of the youngest of my friends. Thus, they had all celebrated their twenty-first birthdays before me (and without me).
My roommate had told all our friends that we’d go out on the actual night of my birthday. When I got home from classes that Thursday afternoon, I had come down with some sort of cold. Nothing awful, but definitely not feeling up to par. All I wanted to do was curl up and go to bed.
“Could we go out tomorrow night instead of tonight?” I asked my roommate.
“No!” she yelled. “Everyone’s been waiting for this for a long time. We have to go out tonight!”
I didn’t see what a big deal it would be to wait one night. I was sure I’d feel better if I could just get one good night’s sleep. But no, my roommate was adamant. We had to go out that night. Everyone was depending on it. I couldn’t disappoint everyone else!
You see, I should have learned my lesson with my thirteenth birthday. Your birthday is not about you. It’s about an excuse for everyone else to have a party. They really don’t care what you want. They just want a party.
So I followed my friends onto a Milwaukee bus, and we headed to an area where they were sure there were some great bars. Only no one could find them when we got there. Finally, after lots of walking around, we found a bar that my friends agreed was suitable.
“Oh just wait,” everyone said. “Since it’s your twenty-first birthday, you’ll get all sorts of free drinks and drink specials.”
So into the first bar we went. My friends told the bartender it was my twenty-first birthday and asked if there was anything special he could do for me.
Nope. No free drink. No drink specials. My friends ordered beers for themselves. I don’t drink beer. When I was a little kid, my dad let me sip his beer, so I could see what it tasted like. Puke. That’s what I thought beer tasted like.
So I stood around lamely not knowing what to do. I had never ordered from a bar before. Did they serve wine? Seriously, I didn’t know. I was that naive. And even if they did serve wine, how did I order it? I knew enough to know I like wine, but I knew nothing about types of wine. At that time, I couldn’t have found the words pinot grigio to save my life. Did one just order white wine? What if there was a follow-up question about what type of white wine? I’d have no idea how to answer!
And mixed drinks? I knew nothing about them. My parents used to drink something called a Manhattan or another drink called a highball, but again, I knew nothing about them. Would I like them? How much would they cost? Were those the current right names for the drinks or were those the 1960s names? And why didn’t bars have menus? How was I supposed to know what they had and how much it cost?
The bar was crowded, so I stood in the midst of the crowd while my friends drank beers, and I drank . . . nothing. No one even offered to get me a Coke.
After a while, my friends decided to try another bar. They were sure there were some more around here, so we started walking the streets of Milwaukee. And we walked. And we walked. Remember that I was feeling sick and very tired that night. The walking did not help that matter.
Finally, we found a second bar. The same thing happened. No free drinks. No drink specials. My friends drank beer, and I drank nothing. Again, none of my friends offered to get me a drink, except for one guy who offered to get me a beer. When I said I don’t drink beer, he just shrugged his shoulders and went off to get his own. The place was crowded, and there was nowhere to sit. I prayed we’d find a bar where I could at least sit, even if I wasn’t going to drink.
After the second bar, we spent more time wandering the streets of Milwaukee. I couldn’t understand how all my friends who had turned 21 before me didn’t seem to know where any of the “good bars” actually were. The walking was getting extremely tiresome. People argued about which way to go to find a good bar. I began to pray for the night to end. All I wanted was my bed.
Then someone mentioned a German bar. There it was, lit up in the distance. We got inside, and it was like we’d stepped right into Deutschland. Oh, and look at that! An open table we could sit at! And what’s this? An actual menu? You mean, I could sit and peruse the selections? What a concept!
So yes, I sat at a wooden table in a German bar in Milwaukee and drank one wine cooler for my twenty-first birthday. After that, my friends let me go home and go to bed.
These are just two of my not-so-hot birthdays from the past, and part of the reason why I like to “duck and cover” every year when my birthday comes around. You know what I want for my birthday? Peace and quiet, and no one making a big deal out of it. Just give me a couple of nephews to hug, and I’m a happy camper.
Got a birthday story to share? Click on the Spin Cycle button below and link up your post at the end of Ginny Marie’s post.