A different year than most.
ASTORIA, NYC- I was betting on the pandemic panic being over by May 23rd, my birthday. Evidence was coming out that told us that Covid-19 isn’t nearly as dangerous as initially thought and the mounting adverse health ramifications of lockdown — not to mention economic — were becoming glaringly apparent. I thought the world would snap to its senses and call off the application of pseudoscience as policy: this isn’t Disease X, it hardly even kills anyone on its own, and what we’re doing to fight the pandemic is clearly far worse than the pandemic itself.
But I gave us far too much credit. May 23rd arrived and NYC was still in phase 0 of reopening. I would have a quarantine birthday.
I did not have high hopes for this birthday. However, no matter what, I knew that it would probably go better than my birthday last year:
I’m now 38 years old and I’m probably too old to be whining about my birthday party. My sister didn’t show up. I told her the night before that I didn’t support what she was doing — that I thought she was wrong — and she was out of there. That was that. When she left New York to return to Montana she didn’t even bother to say goodbye. Not even a text …
I didn’t see that coming.
So I woke up in the morning happy to add on another layer of birthday to cover up the one from last year. I opened the door to my room and found that my kids had created a defacto gate across it with party streamers. They told me that I had to break through it, like a runner winning a race. I did so. They cheered. The living room was decorated and my wife and kids were busy making a carrot cake.
We hung out for the day, ate hamburgers and chicken wings. Petra gave me a potato for my birthday, as she had been doing every year since she was a toddler, along with an embroidered Bills logo that she stitched over the past week while she was supposed to have been sleeping at night. Rivka gave me some drawings that she made. My wife gave me a chair.
As it was Memorial day weekend, I figured this meant that my birthday should be stretched out to three days — why not? On Memorial day we decided that we would go out and try to find a barbecue.
As bars and restaurants can’t have people sitting inside them some have started taking over the sidewalk. They set up grills and tables and serve food and drinks in the streets as the commercial districts of the city become defacto street parties. It’s a mildly cool reaction to the extreme governmental abuses of power. We found a bar grilling up hotdogs and I bought some for my kids.
We then went around the corner to a bar that had set up well-decorated barricades in front of the parking areas in front of their establishment. The local business association had petitioned the city to shut down a few commercial streets to traffic so they could set up tables outside for their customers — a sort of social distancing compromise, that made sense as Sars-Cov-2 doesn’t really spread outdoors. But yet again, the city chose the iron fist over science, so this bar just did it themselves.
Perhaps the only bright part of NYC’s Covid-19 measures was the fact that as you can buy drinks and consume them in the streets, my kids can join my wife and I on our forays around our neighborhood. We can walk, talk, joke around, and drink … like they do in Europe … or pretty much everywhere else in the world.
We spent the day walking south along the East River. It couldn’t have been a more perfect day…
… despite the fact that we had to continuously innovate places to urinate, as, for some reason that I don’t think anyone can understand, they shut down all the public toilets in the city and restaurants and bars don’t let you inside.
Ten years ago I celebrated my birthday in El Salvador. We were staying in the small city of Suchitoto in the foothills. While it was only an hour from San Salvador, it seemed a world away. We’d spend our days walking around on the cobblestone streets. Petra wasn’t even one year old and my wife was still proving to herself and everybody that just because she had a baby didn’t mean she couldn’t be cool.
My wife had a big party for me at the local expat bar and we invited the entire crew of regulars and pretty much everyone else that we knew — even the girls from the papusa restaurant that we’d eat at literally every night. The papusa girls fed Petra frosting from my carrot cake. It was the first thing she’d ever consumed besides breast milk and a lick of a pickle in New Jersey. It’s an El Salvador thing — Coca-cola is a staple for babies there.
This is what I wrote about it:
This was perhaps one of the biggest years of my life: since my last birthday I was married any had my first child. A big year. A lot seems to have changed, but really the plot is still the same. I still travel, I still write on Vagabondjourney.com full time. But so much more has been added to this plot, I now have a family to travel with me.
What stands out to me now is that, while I was still at the apex of youth, I seemed aware of its ephemeral qualities. I knew that big birthday parties full of friends would eventually be a thing of the past and I basked in it:
It made me happy to realize that I have friends here who were willing to come to my birthday party. It made me happier that they like me enough to buy me birthday beers. It is good to have friends, even if they are perpetually in the flow on the road sorts of friendships.
Nobody comes to my birthday parties anymore. I am an adult; a grown up — it’s just the way it often becomes. Not bad, just different. I appreciate what I had.
I concluded that post with a line that really interests me now: “Sometimes you find yourself the architect of your time, but your time is always the architect of you.” It seems as if I may have been reaching towards being poetic, but there is something true about it. You spend your early adult days building up and defining who you are and then the rest of your life watching it crumble, fall apart, and fade away. I actually like the term “over the hill” because that’s really how it is. You climb the bell curve of life and then slide down the other side.
I’m still climbing. I’m not there yet.