July 18, 2019

It Was My Birthday . . . by William F Jordan


It was my birthday—read that ‘ancient’—and I wasn’t feeling well—read that a slight cold and a mild cough—so, as I sat at my desk at the Doodlebug Island Run-on—read that a newspaper only a few years younger than I—I was feeling an odd mix of ennui and nostalgia. And the worst part of it was that not a single person had popped in to wish me the best of the day. Oh, I had had visitors alright, the kind who wanted to complain about their names being spelled wrong, or items of factual interest that exceeded the mark or fell short of it. But the appearance of a friendly face with a wreathe of good wishes written on his countenance hadn’t materialized. (I know that that last sentence is long on sentiment and overwrought wordiness, but it was my birthday and I felt entitled.)

About then I decided it might be a good day to indulge a few of my secret ambitions, so I called the Sedona Air Service and made arrangements to go up with an instructor who would let me take the controls of the bi-wing Waco once we were airborne. Actually, I had to promise to pay extra, provide free advertising for six months, and never let anyone know of the arrangement. So, remember, you didn’t hear it from me.

Then I called the Flagstaff Jumpmaster’s Club and made arrangements to make a tandem parachute jump—something I had seen George Herbert Walker Bush do on television—and I completed the trifecta list of events by calling the soaring club in Camp Verde and booking a glider ride the next day it was warm enough to produce thermals.

But I didn’t get to do any of those things. The people who owned the Waco called back with a change of heart—their insurance wouldn’t cover me, they said—my wife nixed the parachute jump, and the soaring club canceled operations for the winter. I thought briefly about joining the nearest monastery, but the possibility of coarse bread and an endless promise of Gregorian chanting killed that idea. Just then Giles Ferguson came through the door.

“You’ve had your biblical allotment of birthdays plus the addition of so many more no one can count that high, so spare me the necessity of some macabre greeting in which we’re supposed to be happy you were even born.”

“They say that even the devil can quote scripture, so I’m not surprised that an atheist like you would make reference to something biblical. But the idea of your showing up with nothing tangible in the way of a gift is positively blasphemous.”

“That’s not strictly true. I’m giving you the same thing I gave you last year.”

“You didn’t get me anything last year.”

“Of course not, and now you see the marvelous simplicity and consistency of my gift-giving!”

“I see the simplicity and the consistency of your leaving by the same door by which you entered!”

Ignoring my rough humor, he pushed the office blinds aside. “Doc Hastings and a few of your acquaintances are on their way. I would have used the word ‘friends’ except it’s questionable you ever made any. Here they are now.”

Sure enough, Doc and a few others entered followed by my wife and a group of her friends, and they were followed by other Islanders. Shortly the office began to bulge with people so that space and solitude swapped places and I began to wish for those monastery walls and the contemplative life threatened only by coarse bread and Gregorian chanting.

Still, it was nice that folks put themselves to that trouble, and I was at the point of congratulating myself on having so many of them fussing over me when someone ventured to ask how old I was, and that wouldn’t have been so bad had that someone not credited me with with a goodly number of years in excess of my real age.

“Just how close to a hundred are you?” he asked.

Now, have you ever noticed that the use of sarcasm always bears testimony to the fact you have lost the argument, and, at my age, statements including ideas of truth are right behind? I told the guy his Doodlebug subscription rate had just been tripled, and that the next edition would include his obituary notice. Maybe he’ll learn to fool with someone else, someone incapable of retaliation.

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