Today is my birthday. I’m
39, ahem, I mean I’m, uh, a late thirty-something. A week or two ago I was happy, unbothered, still one year less old than I am today. It was an age I felt was still fully entrenched in the 30s. But now, I suddenly feel like the only part of me that is left in the 30s are my fingertips, and they are hanging on to the edge of a cliff for dear life. The rest of my body is dangling over the side, ready to drop into the 40s. I hope there’s a trampoline down there to break my fall.
My mother used to be unhappy about her “nine” birthday’s: 29, 39, 49. They were an ordeal she wasn’t thrilled about in the least. She didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to acknowledge it was her birthday on those particular years. As a child, I never understood that. “But it’s your birthday! You should be happy! You get PRESENTS! And what can be better than that?” I wondered.
I didn’t, in fact, understand that feeling, that… unease, at all until just a few days ago. The reality that “Lordy! Lordy! Look Who’s 40!” signs and “Over the Hill” birthday cards will probably be delivered in droves next year just to mock me. That undeniable fact that I am getting… older. I guess I’m one of those women that Stacy and Clinton have rules for on What Not to Wear… “No mini skirts if you’re over 35, no low-rise jeans,” etc… “Women in their late 30s can dress stylishly,” they shout. They advise that we should NOT look like we are trying to be a teenager again. And we don’t have to look like we are wearing our grandmother’s clothes, either. But the truth is, women in their late 30s aren’t getting carded at the liquor store anymore. And sometimes, we wish we were.
With all that, I suppose I’m finally starting to get it, the way my mother felt about getting older. I think I now understand why my mother never actually turned 50. She stayed 49 for 5 years or more, until my father agreed she could retire, at age 54. And I believe that’s where she remains. She’ll be stuck forever in her mid-fifties, or at least until she can start to collect social security, sometime in her 60s.
My father, on the other hand, never appeared to mind getting older. Mostly, I think, because he enjoys a bargain. He actually brags about getting that senior citizen discount on his breakfast at McDonalds.
Since my birthday fell on a Monday this year (the worst of all workdays, I believe), my husband decided we should celebrate it this weekend when we’d have more free time. He asked what I wanted to do for my birthday dinner, which he’d planned to have on Saturday night. ” Pizza!” I said. “My favorite pizza. Pick one of those up, and I’d like cake and chocolate ice cream. That’s all.”
It seemed like a simple enough request. Only, my husband doesn’t care for my favorite pizza that much. It’s not that the pizza tastes bad or anything. In fact, I heard that a few years ago when Oprah asked guests to name some of their favorite things, this particular pizza even got a mention on her show! So obviously, there are lots of people who like it. And it’s not that my husband doesn’t LIKE it, so much as he doesn’t think it’s “as great as all that,” if you know what I mean. So he mostly, I believe, doesn’t want to eat it on principle. Because I like it, because 99% of my family LOVES it and have declared it the BEST PIZZA EVER, he wants to NOT eat it, to show how “not great” he thinks it is. To say “It’s not all that you guys!” It’s only “so-so” in his opinion. He’s eaten better pizza, he likes to remind me. And he picked my birthday dinner to stage this protest.
He came home with a small box of pizza, a salad container balanced on top. I eyed the pizza box. “What size is THAT?” I asked (perhaps a bit accusatory). “A medium,” he replied. “What’s WRONG with you?” I asked (definitely accusatory). “Nothing!” he replied, (rather defensively, I might add). “I told you, I don’t like this pizza that much. This pizza is all yours; you can eat the entire thing. I’m not going to have any of it. I’m having this salad, and you can have some of the salad too.” “I don’t WANT salad,” I said. I thought, but didn’t say, “I don’t want your stinkin’ salad!” It’s my birthday! Who wants to eat SALAD on their birthday?” I wanted a LARGE pizza. I wanted leftovers that I could eat cold, for breakfast the next day. Maybe even for lunch too, if there was any left after I was done with breakfast.
He looked in the box as I pulled out a slice. “Uh, Uh!” I said. “You said you don’t like this pizza. You said you didn’t want any, so you can’t have any.” I’ll chop your fingers off if you try to take a piece, I thought. When I looked at the carry out menu attached to the top of the box, I discovered that a medium sized pizza feeds 2 to 3 people. So I ate half the pizza for dinner. I ate the remaining half for lunch the next day.
I had envisioned a casual birthday dinner, everyone enjoying their pizza. I had not envisioned my husband staging his silent protest by NOT eating any of my BIRTHDAY PIZZA. I hadn’t imagined I’d be watching him disdain my pizza while he ate salad and some leftover spaghetti that he found in the fridge. And then, as if to add insult to injury, he told me “Oh! I didn’t bake you a cake yet! But we have preschool graduation cake left over. We’ll just have that for your birthday.” “Whatever!” I muttered, through clenched teeth as I swallowed my pizza. “What?!” he asked, indignant. “We have half a graduation cake left ! We don’t need another cake. We’ll end up throwing out half a cake if I bake a cake. Besides, I didn’t even get to the store to buy ice cream yet anyway.”
I scowled at him. “What?!” he asked, again. “Why are you so mad? If it’s such a big deal I’ll make you a cake. Like I said, we’ll end up throwing a lot of cake out that we don’t eat, but fine. I’ll make you one!” “No,” I lied, “I don’t want one now. So never mind, just forget it.” He argued back “No! I’ll make one. I’ll make you a cake.” Again, I said, enunciating each and every syllable as clearly as I could “I . Don’t. Want. One!” “Don’t you understand? It’s not about the cake. I don’t need a cake. Like you said, we have cake. It’s the principle of the thing! You don’t “like” my favorite pizza enough to eat it on my birthday, but if someone invited us to dinner and that’s what they were serving, you’d eat it there. I’ve seen you do it! You claim I don’t need a birthday cake because we have left over graduation cake we can eat. I suppose,” I continued, “if you bought me any presents, you aren’t going to bother to wrap them because I’ll just tear off the wrapping paper and it will get thrown out, which would be a waste of your time and a waste of paper too, right?” I went upstairs contemplating ways to mess with his birthday. Burn the food, maybe. Take a trip out of town for work…
Sunday dawned and I heard Deep Blue Something’s song, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, on the radio. For the longest time I thought the song was about a guy and a girl who ate breakfast at Tiffany’s. You know, the jewelry store? The one where the jewelry comes nestled in a little blue box tied with a white ribbon? I might mention here as well, that it’s one of my favorite stores. You know, just in the off chance that you want to send me a belated birthday gift… But anyway, even with the line “I think I remember the film”, I still considered it must be a song about a film about a guy and girl who ate their breakfast there. I pondered the song a fair deal when it was first released. How could they eat inside the jewelry store? They don’t serve food there. I don’t believe you’re even allowed to bring food in there. Maybe, I thought, this guy and girl, maybe they work at the jewelry store and they share a coffee and danish each morning before they open the doors! That’s why they can do it. They aren’t customers carrying their breakfast into the store, they work there! They eat it in a back room, or an office, or something, where nobody can see them.
Eventually, my doubts grew, and I got around to reading the book. In case you didn’t know, Truman Capote wrote it, and it’s not about eating danish or donuts in the jewelry store at all. It’s about Holly Golightly, a young
socialite prostitute, living in NYC. Tiffany’s is where finds solace, and a feeling of serenity to calm her anxieties and fears (maybe she wasn’t actually looking at the price tags?). A short time after the book was published, the movie version came out, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. In the opening sequence she’s looking into a Tiffany’s display window. A scene which reminds me of myself, the way I’m often paging through the store’s catalog. I circle things I’d like to have, if I had the money, and I leave the open catalogs out in strategic places for my husband to find. Little “Blue Box Hints” I think of them. Hints which, if he pays attention, will provide him with an on-going list of things he could buy me to celebrate the various occasions in life, such as my birthday.
In the end, even though I got the wrong sized pizza, I did manage to eat every last piece of it myself. I also got a cake! It was all chocolate and apology, covered in white frosting with yellow writing, and it came with a half- gallon of my favorite chocolate ice cream. And oh yeah, lest I forget, I got a present. A pair of silver earrings that came wrapped in a little blue box tied with a white ribbon. I’m wearing them now.