Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Friday, April 25, 2003

Today, April 25th, is my birthday. No, I’m not going to tell you how old I am, because articulating it just depresses me. Suffice to say, when I was a rambunctious boy of eighteen I expected to be long dead by the year 2003.

I’m sure you know the old saying: Live fast, love hard, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. I believed in that. I tried living fast (my version proved more akin to a stroll than a sprint) and loving hard (I did seem to master that, alas), but I didn’t manage to die young (I expected to max out at 35) or leave a good-looking corpse (if I died today, my best hope would be for a distinguished-looking corpse).

I figured if I didn’t die by age 35, I would at least win a Nobel Prize or two before the birthday that arrived today. Yet I remain alive and prizeless. Hmf!

It’s odd about birthdays. People who aren’t experiencing one expect the birthday person to be upbeat and enthused -- the greeting is, after all, Happy Birthday! But often the poor soul marking the occasion is less than thrilled, to put it mildly.

This is on my mind, I suppose, because April is a birthday month in my family. My son Joe had his 23rd birthday on April 9. My son Mickey had his 20th on April 18. And today I am another year older.

If birthdays went the way most people expect them to, we’d be generating a lot of joy this month. But it hasn’t worked that way. Joe came home from California for his birthday, turned grumpy during the family dinner and griped about the food (it wasn’t sufficiently vegetarian), to his parents’ dismay. Mickey declined to come home from Bend, where he lives and works, saying he’d just as soon forget the whole birthday deal because he didn’t feel like celebrating the end of a year marked by romantic flame-outs, academic misadventures and living-arrangement woes. And now all I can think about is how old, old, OLD I am.

I guess expectations are responsible for many of the problems with birthdays. Relatives and friends expect you to be happy. They gather around and beam at you. They offer gifts for which you are supposed express profuse thanks. They cook food you are supposed to devour with gusto. You’re supposed to beam back. Truman Capote even referred to it in the title of a story -- “Children on Their Birthdays,” which draws its name from the author’s description of a young girl who always dreamed of living “somewhere else where . . . everything is pretty, like children on their birthdays.”

So what happens if you don’t feel like being hovered over, or the gifts merely add to your collection of meaningless junk, or you don’t like the food, or you feel used-up rather than pretty? You grump, fail to cooperate, perhaps even lash out.

Birthdays are pressure, in more ways than one. I guess that’s why they aren’t always happy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The meaningful convergences just go on an on!

As a high school underclassman, my son Mickey became fascinated with the movie “Inherit the Wind,” a veiled account of the Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee in 1925. He watched the movie over and over on videotape. When he was a senior at Central Catholic High School, drama students staged a production of the play on which the the movie was based, and Mickey acted in it.

One of the two central characters in "Inherit the Wind" is lawyer Henry Drummond, based on real-life attorney Clarence Darrow, who defended John Scopes against criminal charges filed against him for teaching evolution instead of Bible-based creationism in a public school science class. I learned just the other day that Darrow was born on April 18, which is the same day Mickey was born. Of course, Darrow was born in 1857, a few years before the Mickster. But they do share a birthday. Will ceases never wonder?

Darrow was a champion of civil liberties, and became famous for defending some of the most unpopular people of his time. He also fought for unions, racial equality, and the poor. Plus, he wielded a curmudgeonly wit.

He once said: "I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure."

Indeed. Mick’s man knew how to tell it.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Here they come again -- those scintillating Sunday Seven questions. Read the answers and cheer.

1) What are you wearing?

Red cotton sweatshirt purchased years ago to match the red uniform shirts worn by the MADD Dodgers, a Little League baseball team I managed; gray tee-shirt with a logo of a baseball player swinging a bat, a souvenir of a Florida trip to see Disney World and spring training in 1994; Levi’s blue jeans; black and brown semi-cowboy belt purchased at a hardware store in Hermiston, Oregon; red & white Nike sox (go, Phil!); sweat boots; Pro Ice Cold Therapy pack on my back.

2) What are you reading?

Spillway, a Los Angeles-based literary magazine that published me once and needs to do so again, soon, and in massive amounts.

3) What’s for dinner?

Easter ham, gravy, mashed potatoes, asparaguts, lemonade, banana cream pie.

4) What’s the best thing that happened this week?

I started a night class through the Mountain Writers Center in Portland taught by poet Peter Sears that is supposed to help me whip my poetry into shape for publication as a book. Sears is an energetic and entertaining teacher. If he succeeds in showing me how to get a book of poems published, I’ll nominate him for national educator of the year. Or maybe I’ll just name him that myself. The Dave Jordan Memorial Award for Excellence in Education. Sounds good, eh?

5) What’s bugging you?

My back hurts! I had to dig around in the disaster areas that are our basement and garage to find poetry samples to take to Sears’s class, and I hurt my back moving giant boxes and assorted pieces of heavy junk without being able to plant my feet. I’ve been applying an ice pack off and on for the last two days.

6) Where in the world is Carmen San Diego?

Lame Deer, Montana

7) What’s it all about, Dave?

Doing the hoky poky. Put your right foot in, put your right foot . . .

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