& Yesterday was my birthday. No big deal, I was thinking: I had 74 of them before. What could be different?
But, you know, birthdays mean different things to different people at different times. I was thinking about that yesterday, as I sat on my horse, Grayson, who was taking me on a leisurely tour down to the river and back, and later, as I sat on my ass (no, not my burros) doing nothing except puffing on a cigar. I was thinking about all of my friends who had come from long distances to say Happy Birthday. That was enjoyable.
Not long ago, a lady at the table next to me in a Santa Fe restaurant, pulling back the corners of her mouth and clutching her breast in not-so-feigned fear and trepidation, announced to her lunch partner and a good number of us sitting nearby that: “I’m gonna be 30 next week! Oh. My. God!”
Oh. My. God. Don’t buy any more green bananas or jumbo-sized jugs of Metamucil! Start measuring the coffin!
I shouldn’t laugh; I’ve done the same, more than once. I think 31 was particularly bad. That’s back when my hair was short, my ties (and my torso) were skinny and my boss wanted me to be worrying about whether some crusty old editor in Rawlins, Wyoming was going to buy my product — the stunning, exceptional, speedy and slightly more expensive United Press International newswire — or choose the bland, mediocre and overvalued drudge delivered daily, with lava-like listlessness by our fierce competitors at the Associated Press (we called it Grandma, among other things).* What I really was worried about was my lot in life: Everybody else was going off to Woodstock for a gathering neither before nor since seen in the history of the world; I was decamped in a motel in Rawlins effing Wyoming trying to save a $55-a-week client in the middle of nowhere for a worldwide wire service. (I didn’t succeed — the AP underbid us by a nickel a week, and that’s what counted, unfortunately, to most small-minded small-town publishers who definition of journalism was, and unfortunately still is to be found on the bottom line of their balance sheets).
There were other memorable birthdays along the way (let me tell you, someday, about how they — a helluva lot of my friends who’d come great distances — surprised me on my 40th, and how we almost drowned most of them in the Colorado River). Some birthdays, like my 40th, were really good. Some weren’t so hot. Some were just, well, just another day.
Everybody takes their birthdays differently, I suppose. Some people just deny them. I had an acquaintance awhile back (moved on, now) who just wanted to be alone on her birthday. Well, ok. Whatever snuffs your candle, I say. Some people revel in the anniversaries of their birth — balloons, hats, hotdogs, beer and beaucoup backslapping. But that kind of multi-player folderol can become work, especially as the years roll on, so sometimes it’s just good to sit around with a few old friends and reminisce, perhaps slowly sipping something special. A couple of years ago, a neighbor played Happy Birthday on her accordion. That was nice. Just a couple of weeks ago, a few old friends had dropped by for a couple of days, and we sat out in the darkness imbibing Bushmills and reminding ourselves of how good it was, back then. And how good it is now, for that matter. For most of us, I’d guess, it’s nice to have friends around — lots of them, or a few of them, take your pick — to share another tolling of the bell.
Down here on the banks of the Chama River in Ameréxico, friends usually — not always, but usually — stop by on their way to somewhere else. It’s a little difficult getting together a gathering of folks from afar. The regular visitors are the meter reader and the coyotes who like to gobble the fermenting fruit that has fallen from the mulberry trees. The meter reader waves hello. The coyotes get drunk and sing all night. At least somebody’s having a party.
Yesterday, though, we had a big party here at the Cholla Ridge Ranch. Lots of old friends dropped by. They came on the telephone. And the came in my voicemail. And they came in e-mail. And they came on Facebook. Somebody even brought a book — electronic, but it’s a good book, nonetheless. One sang Happy Birthday. I recorded it on voicemail. Another arrived via Jib-Jab video, dancing and smiling right there before my eyes, even though I just know he’s 2,000 miles away. Some brought jokes, some even compliments. All sorts of friends came, from Ireland to Japan and lots of places in between, to my birthday party, and to remind me that we’re, well, old friends. That’s a helluva birthday gift, huh?
I guess I could write every one of my guests individually. But my fingers would fall off. Anyway, I’d rather tell all of you at once: Thanks a lot for coming by. It was good to see you. And this birthday was a big deal.
& Headin’ for 76, I’m outta here.
*That’s what they told us to say back then. You’d do anything for a nickel a week. The AP guys were all pretty good hands, too; we just thought we were a leetle bit faster, and a leetle bit flashier with the words. On the photo side, however, it was always neck-and-neck, good guys against good guys. The winner was always the newspaper reader. Too bad things have changed.