It has recently come to my attention that there’s some sort of ritual attached to the American 21st birthday. Human sacrifice? Paint-by-number? I’ve just never been sure. My dossier is incomplete.
So, in the spirit of discovery, and because my state-issued identification told me it was the case, I decided to become 21 this past weekend as part of an impromptu case study. I vowed to document my findings and share them with those still left in the dark ‘- and let me tell you, the results were staggering.
But while I skillfully noted the merriment’s standards ‘- a taxi driver’s unasked-for lesson in Chester A. Arthur’s foreign policy, Lady-and-the-Tramping a street meat sandwich with an accomplice ‘- I thought back to birthday standards past. Of course, 16 had its failed driver’s test, 13 gave the gift-wrapped prophesy of teenage angst to come and 18 meant I could sneak cigarettes to my hospital-ridden friends with holes in their necks.
And while these are milestones, no doubt, I couldn’t help but feel like others had been swept under the rug. What about the unparalleled marvel of 11? The gratification of making it to four? Dare I ask it: Have we forgotten about sexy seven?
So, instead of publishing my encounters with booze-soaked Funfetti and Absolut Boston (Kenmore ads be damned, by the way ‘- it tastes like topsoil), I am going back in time to shed some retroactive and rightful light on the enchantment of birthdays forgotten.
Birth: I leave the hospital with the stuff of orphan mockery ‘- the nameless bracelet. In my parents’ defense, they only had nine months to window shop for my identity, and they had their hands full coping with the urban chaos of life in New Hampshire. Plus, it’s not like they finally decided ‘- two weeks later ‘- on some generic, run-of-the mill, personalized magnet-ready name like Matthew.
Age six: A lesson in life and gender identity. Not my own, but that of the red Power Ranger. A friend’s mom volunteers to pose as my favorite superhero at the bowling alley. I toss a ball toward the inflatable bumper to the left and notice on my right the heaving rack on the generally un-breasted Tyrannosaurus-harnesser. Jason could handle the pressure of balancing algebra and Rita Repulsa’s devilish plotting, but on September 27, 1994, he was finally defeated by a C-cup’s unflattering floral pattern and a spandex suit that Tonya Harding would call too tight. You know, before she beat him with a lead pipe. Yeah, Zordon was pissed.
Age nine: Stricken by Doug Funnie’s hate-to-be-shirtless syndrome, I set a world record for time in-between pool exits, T-shirt applications, self towel-offings, T-shirt removals and pool reentries. I mistakenly address my friend’s recently divorced mother by her formal married name and send her into a different pool of her own tears. I drown my sorrows in a blue Mondo and the notion that my new copy of Yoshi’s Island will be more than enough to compensate for the day’s trials.
Age 12: I join the ranks of the VFW multi-purpose function hall elite. A hateful MC invites some friends and me up on-stage to play air guitar on a balloon. The six of us are blindfolded in front of our audience, which is in varying states of pubescence. While Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’ blasts through a crap stereo’s static and the resulting chagrin of conservative parent-chaperones, the man with the microphone removes the bandanas from my friends’ faces. Otherwise-bashful, I decide, with new courage from our solidarity, to gyrate on the floor, unaware of the fact that I am now alone in my plight. I thread the needle of my legs with a blow up Binya-Binya from Gullah Gullah Island. When my eyes are metaphorically reopened, neither the blue hairspray from Partyrama in my middle part nor my braces’ new Halloween-inspired color scheme can save me.
Age 17: By my high school senior year’s commencement, I have three lasting friendships. One is with a barely opened shortbread cookie named Lorna Doone, who my friends Jamie and Marisa and I found on a flight to Venice, and who has recently decayed in a film of mold and neglect. The three living pieces to our four-part puzzle wrap Lorna in a Ziploc and toss her over a guardrail into a well-deserved watergrave, The Pond Near Exit Four. The stuff of Cracker Barrel celebrity stares critically from the comfort of rocking chairs-for-sale and various assisted breathing apparatuses. My friends and I swear to return each year to mourn the friend we could never eat, but three subsequent Chicken Tenderloin Dinners have never eased our lingering pain.’
Maybe eight carried more weight than I indicated, and 19 was certainly nothing to scoff at. Either way, 22 is looming, and I’ve got some studying to do. I’ll be damned if I let myself fall of the wagon again.