This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … adult birthdays.
Two weeks ago I got exclamation point-filled email from a coworker inviting a dozen of us to a birthday happy hour she was organizing. The guest of honor was her (or “she,” for all you grammarian fucktards). Her birthday was still nine days away at this point, but she was already making plans and wearing out her keyboard “shift” button with a string of “!!!!!!” after every sentence. This woman was turning 38.
A few days later I got an email from a coworker bemoaning the tragedy that was him being at work on his birthday, as, and I quote, “I make it a policy never to come to work on my birthday.” This man turned 47 that day.
The next day found me in Baltimore meeting up for drinks with a former colleague who was in town for a conference with some of his new co-workers. At the first bar we hit, two of these coworkers – grown-ass men, mind you – were talking about how they were going to drink a few shots later that night to celebrate their birthdays, neither of which fell on the actual day we were drinking. One was 40, the other was 31.
I turned 48 last Wednesday. I went to work, told no one it was my birthday, came home, made myself some dinner, fell asleep for an hour, took care of a few house errands when I woke up, then watched my Pittsburgh Penguins get their asses handed to them in Dallas. And that was how I celebrated my birthday. Why so mundane? Because, being an adult instead of a narcissistic man-child, I treated the day like what it really was: Just another Wednesday.
Adults making big to-dos out of their own birthdays are just silly, because you’re celebrating a non-accomplishment. All the work was done by other people. Your old man got your mom drunk, he was too lazy to put on a condom, they fucked (after she blew him first, no doubt) and nine months later a slimy little human parasite (you) issued forth from your mother’s gaping womb. A doctor slapped your bare ass, and you’ve been crying and whining about shit ever since. This is what you see fit to celebrate once a year with cake and song.
My disgust is only for those adult, self-thrown birthday celebrations. I don’t mind kids celebrating birthdays, as long as these kids are treated like the rights-less sub-humans they are for the other 364 days out of the year. For one day each year, it’s fine for a kid to be indulged and not subjected to the iron-fisted rule of top-notch parent-tsars. Give the little shit a special dinner, let him open a few gifts, sing to him, have him blow out some candles and allow him to eat himself sick with a third slice of cake. Then the next day, go back to making sure he doesn’t forget that he has no input into family matters, should be only seen and not heard and will be acknowledged again only on his next birthday, and only if he shows he knows his goddamn place in the overall scheme of things for the next 364 days.
Don’t think my cranky attitude is the result of middle age making me bitter about lost youth and impending old age (Stoli-ravaged liver and Ty Cobb lifetime batting average cholesterol level permitting). I’ve almost always felt this way about birthdays. My mother threw me a decent birthday when I was 10, treating me and a few friends to lunch and then a movie. It’s a nice memory. But after that, I don’t remember another birthday celebration or even caring about my birthday.
“But what about your 21st?” your pathetically clichéd ass asks. Oh boy, I really lived it up. I purposely asked to be put on the schedule that night at the restaurant where I worked. It saved me from feeling that I should doing something moronic (and clichéd) like throwing up three organs after drinking 21 shots or having friends buy me kamikazes until I went comatose. However, a well-meaning douchebag coworker insisted we all go out after work to celebrate this meaningless milestone. I just wanted to go home and do some college homework, but he insisted. We all piled into his car, and not a mile from the restaurant he hydroplaned, smashed into a car stopped at a light and thus ended the big Celebration of Me. He got a citation. I got a big knot on my forehead. Happy fucking 21st.
I don’t recall ever really celebrating another birthday. Instead, I’ve watched every other adult on this planet play the annual game called “I’m So Special, Now Sing to Me and Give Me Cake.” It doesn’t piss me off. It just puzzles me. Well, one type of birthday celebration does rile me up pretty good. I don’t eat at chain restaurants much anymore, but when I do, I know my meal will be interrupted at least three times by the bile-inducing spectacle of six sober-faced servers singing a corny birthday song to some shellshocked birthday diner.
It’s the most effortless, unoriginal gesture in the entire birthday catalogue, which is probably why people continue to do it. The person who arranges this thirty-second ordeal of insincerity does nothing more than put in a request for the performance with some put-upon waitress, who then must round up five more no doubt very busy servers to provide backing vocals. Some inane restaurant policy requires the staff to honor this request, regardless of how long my undelivered Applebee’s turkey wrap and fries withers under the heat lamps, ignored and growing increasingly inedible.
The six servers show up tableside at Birthday Central and sing with all the enthusiasm of a back alley crack whore sucking off some suburban dad for the crumpled twenty that will buy her her next fix. (Okay, bad comparison, as there is at least some degree of enthusiasm in the hummer, as the faster she tastes load, the faster she’ll get her high on.)
Just watch the servers’ faces the next time you’re subjected to this sad scene. Total blankness. And the birthday boy or girl (I mean 30-something adult) usually sits there with that plastic Laura Bush smile, unable to muster up any real emotional reaction to six bored strangers singing – nay, shouting! – off-key, insincere birthday wishes, always punctuated by a few quick claps or a hearty “Hey!” or, if it’s a Mexican chain, a cleverly inserted “Olé!”
The tablemates have similar Stepford Wife expressions, as no real feelings of joy are possible during this exercise in unoriginality. As soon as the song ends, the stone-faced servers scatter like roaches at the first sign of light and the people at the birthday table never say a word as the letdown from all this faux fun immediately sets in. These stupid songs should come not only with that flavorless hunk of three-week-old bland cake shipped frozen from the Wichita factory, but also with a week’s supply of Zoloft to help quell the suicidal urges that ensue for every person who had to participate in or even watch this generic soul-crusher of a birthday acknowledgment.
I don’t begrudge anyone a little birthday love from close friends and family. It’s nice when people let you know that you’re special to them and that they’re glad you were born. Even this miserable bastard gets some birthday love. But I don’t cultivate it. I don’t announce it to everyone I know. I don’t down shots and hold happy hours in my own honor. I go to work, mind my own business and delete every fucking birthday invitation that shows up in my inbox. Olé.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.