birthdays in review

18th birthday: July 9, 1984, Spotswood, New Jersey. All I remember is that I overslept for my job at Spotswood Pharmacy, which I’d started a couple weeks earlier. They called me half an hour after my shift actually began. Alarmed, I quickly threw on some clothes and biked up Monmouth Road and past Devoe Lake to work. The rest of the day is a blur. If it was a typical day, I probably spent most of my time working the front register, selling cigarettes to locals (and cigars for the regulars at Bennie’s Tavern across the street). I probably made some deliveries. If I was closing, I probably vaccumed.

I can still remember aspects of that job vividly, though: the smell of pipe tobacco and cardboard behind the counter, the tedium of running Lotto numbers, the period Top 40 radio omnipresent in the background (“When Doves Cry” and “Maneater” will always mean Spotswood Pharmacy to me), the low tips from our usual deliverees. I was constantly aware that in less than two months, my entire life would change: I’d get a car and move up to New Brunswick for college. The whole summer of 1984 felt like a strange holding pattern.

21st birthday: July 9, 1987, somewhere along Route 35, New Jersey. Went to see my friend Pamela‘s band, a Patti Smith/Raincoats-inspired foursome, at a club called Mingles somewhere along Route 35 (Hazlet? Sayreville?). In the 1980s, at least, a “Route 35 Club” was nowhere you wanted to find yourself if you were a nerdy, bespectacled college student. Picture the Crazy Horse, Adriana’s club on The Sopranos, and you’re pretty close – I can almost smell the pomade and polyester as I write. Pam’s band played in the “Down Under Club,” which was Mingles’ basement finished with a bar and some mirrors.

It was so cool being carded and ordering a legal drink. I never did get a fake ID, so up until now I had to just hope that they wouldn’t ask for ID at the door. The night took a huge downhill slide from there. The musty basement was conspicuously empty. The opening band (whom I sort of knew from Rutgers) did a heavy metal cover of “A Horse With No Name,” overdramatizing the chorus in proto-Tenacious D manner. “Na-na-NA! NA! Na-na-na-NA! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-NA!!” It was hilarious and dire at once. By the time Pamela and her band went on, the audience consisted of two of the band’s family members and me. They dedicated a song to me, which was nice, but I felt awful for them. Allegedly the booking agent didn’t pay them, and at least one band member got a bottle thrown at him. It may have been the most depressing night I ever spent at a rock club. Welcome to the house of fun; now I’ve come of age.

30th birthday: July 9, 1996, New York, NY. No idea what I was doing on the actual day, but I remember where I was at that month. My landlord had just given me notice that she was selling the apartment where I’d lived those past four years, and I had no idea where I was going to live. I had been dating this girl for a month or so, but I already knew that it wasn’t working out. I was working at VH1, vaguely dissatisfied and wondering how I was going to get myself out from there. Thanks largely to the Internet, I’d recently fallen in with a group of friends, acquaintances and drinking partners after going to shows by myself for years. My grandmother died; I spent the night before the funeral drinking in the West Village with some friends. I saw Neutral Milk Hotel a bunch of times, as they were living in town. Little did I know how much change was around the corner – not nearly as tumultuous as 1984, but life-changing nonetheless.

40th birthday: July 9, 2006, St. Louis, MO. I spent the morning with my wife and two children. Esther really enjoyed helping me open presents. I have to say I really made out well with presents: my haul included a turntable that automatically digitizes vinyl records, a CARE package of Tastykakes, some coffee, a nice set of iPod speakers (from my mom), and more. In the afternoon I wrote a paper for Civil Practice. Later we all went out for ice cream (I had a free Maggie Moo’s coupon) and I’ve just had my cake. Esther was nonstop funny as is her wont these days. Abby went to sleep with very little problem. I feel content and relaxed as I write.

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