The last night of my life as a twenty-seven year-old was by turns uncomfortable, strange, awkward verging on mortifying, and, I suppose, if you were to force it out of me, also a lot of fun. Which, really, is everything anyone could want out of a birthday, isn't it? Unless all you wanted on your birthday was to not experience a) male rejection or b) public humiliation, in which case you would have been vastly disappointed. It was a mixed bag, all in all, but I think in the end the good outweighed the bad.
My best friend Talia was sweet enough to risk life and limb on the Chinatown bus ride from hell and spend my birthday weekend with me. Friday night we headed to the Cantab, where Tom joined us for some drinks and live music. Shortly after we arrived I spied a quite cute and yet also intensely familiar face near the front door. I desperately tried to place where I had seen him before, and then it hit me: he was a dead ringer for Don Hall, my short-lived and ultimately disappointing undergraduate Halloween fling, and also more subtley for a darker-haired, more alive Jonathan Brandis (may he rest in peace). But no, it was more than that; I had seen him before, him himself, and at this very bar nonetheless. It must have been at least a year ago, but I had seen him playing in a band here, and after having stared at him onstage all night long his face was still imprinted in my mind, a year later. My heart jumped; I had to talk to him. This...this had to happen. I just wasn't sure how. First things first, I decided, and ordered another beer. Then I caught his eye with an extended glance over my shoulder. It seemed to work because he came over and ordered a beer, standing right next to me. Standing right next to me! But for some reason I couldn't do it, couldn't make myself turn and look at him, talk to him, not yet. In a minute I will, I thought, in just another minute. Then he walked forward a few feet to get a better view of the band, and the opportunity was lost. Damn.
Meanwhile, due to Talia's insistance that I open my gifts at the bar and not in the privacy of my own home, the bartender caught wind of the fact that it was my birthday and told the singer of the band, who at that moment called me out on the dance floor. My sudden horror and red-faced confusion was only amplified by some old guy standing right in front of me yelling, over the clapping and shouts of encouragement, "Show us your hooters!!!!" I reluctantly and dazedly stumbled through the parting sea of dancers to the middle of the dance floor where the singer proceeded to serenade me with a jazzy and souful birthday tune, as everyone looked at me expectantly. Oh god. I couldn't just stand there like some red-faced statue; I would have to dance. This posed a problem, however. Because contrary to what some people will tell you about my dancing ability after a few gin and tonics, under normal circumstances, I do not dance. Not at all, not even a little. And especially not after only a beer and a half and an entire bar watching my every move. I frantically gestured to Tal for help, my best friend who I've known for fourteen years, my best friend who wide-eyed shook her head no, and remained solidly on her bar stool. Luckily Tom responded to my plea and joined me on the dance floor, as I half-heartedly shook my hips for all of twelve seconds, and he whipped out his camera to capture the worst twelve seconds of my life for posterity. I held out as long as I could, roughly the aforementioned twelve seconds, before I fled to the safety of my bar stool and my beer, my sweet, sweet beer, who would never leave me nor forsake me. It was a little while before I could even pick up my beer, though, as my hands seemed permanently cemented to my face. This cloud had a silver lining, though, because the aforementioned cute musician guy nudged my arm, saying, "She's singing to you," and pointing to the singer. Indeed she was. Though I had fled the scene, she continued to sing to me, wishing me birthday happiness. I know what I wish for, I thought. "Wow," he said, "you were really embarassed out there!"
"Yeah, heh," I said.
"They do that all the time for birthdays. I've never seen anyone walk out in the middle though!"
"Really?" I said. "Never?"
Oh god, this just keeps getting worse, I thought. I will surely never, ever live this down.
I eventually moved past my embarassment, however, enough to tell him that I thought I had seen him here before, and did he happen to play in a band? Indeed he did. He played here every Thursday night, drums. His name was Justin, he was 34, and he was reading Proust. We had to shout to hear each other over the music, my mouth right next to his ear. I had to forcibly prevent myself from putting his entire ear in my mouth, it looked that delicious. At one point in our conversation he shushed me for a drum solo, someone else's drum solo, as he air drummed, grinning like a maniac, and I waited. I had dated a musician before; I was familiar with the air instrument playing, the giddy, rapturous expression of pure delight at some particular musical turn of phrase, and so I waited. We continued our conversation, and I told him what I do in life, and he told me about Proust. I tried to tell him about a book called How Proust Can Change Your Life, ask him if he had heard of it, but instead he said, "I'm having a really hard time hearing you, Rachel. Let's talk during the break." I said ok, thinking, did I just get ditched? Did I just get ditched on my birthday? No, I assured myself, I'm sure that's not it. It was really hard to hear each other, and he's trying to listen to the music. I'm sure we'll talk more during the break. But then the break came, and he was at the other end of the bar, and not looking at me. The next time I looked, he wasn't there at all. And somehow I can't help feeling like Don Hall has screwed me over twice now, and why do I do this to myself?
To whom it may concern: All I want for my birthday are the last remaining shreds of my dignity. I think I saw some scattered on the bar room floor. Thanks.
I decided to cut my losses, and we headed to the Enormous Room for more expensive drinks and a swanker setting. Tom bailed, but Tal and I grabbed some fruity and potent beverages and settled ourselves on a couch for some serious lounging and people watching. We became engrossed in gab, hands gesturing wildly, and hardly noticed the two guys who sat down next to us, flanking us on either side. They must have been waiting a while to try to talk to us, trying to find a break in conversation to get a word in edgewise. When they finally did, I turned to the blazer-wearing guy next to me with reluctance, not particularly eager to talk to him. I gave him short answers, not wanting to get involved in a long conversation. When he said, "So, where are you from?" I sighed, thinking, do we really have to do this?
"Maryland," I said.
"Where in Maryland?" he said.
Oh god, please don't make me play this game. "Montgomery County," I said.
"Where in Montgomery County?" he said. Thinking I'd call his bluff, I told him. "No way!" he said. "Really?" And he named our mascot and the ecology magnet program I had spent four years in.
"Wait, you went there too?!" I said. "No way!!!" A tiny town of 5,000 people, and a high school with a student population of 600, and it turns out the guy sitting next to me in a bar 463 miles away went there too, was in the same magnet program as me, and graduated two years before I did. As soon as he said his name I recognized him, remembered vaguely who he was. We named people we knew, our old teachers. We had been on the track team together. Crazy. He and his friend were both at Harvard, almost done with their PhDs. There was no love match on either side, Talia on hers or me on mine, and so eventually they left, and Tal and I left shortly thereafter. Before that, though, at his request I gave him my e-mail address, and he actually e-mailed today. Said it was nice to meet me and Talia and he hadn't kept in touch with anyone from high school after leaving, and he had enjoyed talking to us.
So, humiliation, mortal embarassment, and rejection aside, I guess overall it was a good night. In any case, my first day as a twenty-eight year-old was a vast improvement, with gorgeous weather, shopping and a movie with Tal, and dinner and drinks (and even a little bit of dancing) ((a very little bit)) with some friends later in the night. In any case, cupcakes, presents, and free drinks always make turning another year older go down a little bit smoother.
So here's to twenty-eight, and high hopes for an exciting, adventure-filled, and drama-free new year. Cheers!