And other answers to unsolicited questions.
“My 30th birthday is coming up and some of my friends want to do a big party. I’m not so sure. What should I do?” — Birthday Betty
I don’t know if it’s a New York thing. But who decided adult people have to go out for drinks with their friends on their birthdays every year. I mean every year? The best birthday I ever had was when I was 5. I got a stuffed blue dinosaur with sewn buttons for eyes. I called him “Dino.” It was the Blizzard of ’76. So like 4 feet of snow fell in two days. My young classmates had to be held over large snowbanks and passed to another adult on the other side. It’s one of my first memories and definitely one of my finest.
No birthday could ever live up to that one. And none ever should. When you are young you believe that you’re special and on your birthday everything gets to be about you. When you’re older you realize that birthdays are meaningless and getting older is fine because death will probably be a huge relief.
30th birthdays are kind of traumatic, so I understand why you may have some misgivings about partying. I spend most parties in the corner with Ben, just bored as hell. Drinking a beer. I feel like the oldest person at most parties. I also enjoy spending most of the evening checking out people’s bookshelves. It’s always a terrifying look at someone else’s psyche. These are just the books they want people to know they’ve read. Nietzsche next to Toni Morrison next to The Watchmen. I always wonder where people hide their porn during parties. On their computers, I guess. But that’s the books I want to see on display on bookshelves at parties. Weird fetish coffee table books. Popping balloons. That kind of stuff.
Are you a party person? Or would you rather spend your birthday quietly playing hooky, far from the madding crowd? 30 is rough. 40 is rough. But after that, time means nothing. Except that you’re getting closer to retirement. Which, for me, will be a lot like working. I’ll be shelving books at the bookstore until I keel over, probably. Unless shelving drones are coming.
You can spend your birthday with your friends. But I always personally use it as a day to take my own temperature. Quite literally. I have a doctor’s appointment on my birthday. Then I’ll screw around in the city. Probably go to a movie. Get some tacos. Maybe shop for some books and some New England Patriots Super Bowl Champions stuff. I have a lot of it from over the years. The Patriots winning Super Bowls is the only birthday present I need. Also if I could get a stuffed dinosaur with buttons for eyes, that would be cool. Maybe some Ms. Marvel comic books. No big deal.
Birthdays don’t have to be a day of public consumption. That’s what drinking holidays are for. I get a little cranky on my birthday. If I’m at work I’ll be like “Why are you yelling at me? It’s my birthday!” It turns things awkward with bookstore customers. Your birthday is yours. Do with it as you may. Friends can be nice sometimes, too, I guess. All those other days of the year. For me birthdays are a present I give myself. I take off work and hide in a museum or see a dumb movie. I try to not think about living and dying, being alone or living unloved. Not staring at some bookshelf wondering when it will be OK for me to leave.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore. He is trying out for the WFMU Morning Show Thursday and Friday from 6–9 AM on 91.9 FM and on the web at wfmu.org