The fun of a ‘free’ day

Thanks to the cyber nonsense like Facebook and Google calendars and whatnot, birthdays have become the annual equivalent of haircuts, something you do that can even be kinda of fun, but then everybody feels the need to comment afterward. I’m not a fan of obligatory commentary.

Because of the simple fact that my birthday falls on or around Thanksgiving every year, I keep it relatively under the radar. And because I’m not very cyber-aware, the “masses” usually don’t notice my birthday (or if they do, I don’t notice their tweets and posts. I’m not sure which is which, but it’s fine with me either way). In short, I endure little birthday “commentary” from afar.

Sometimes this neurotic behavior backfires. About a month before my birthday this year I took it off. I carved out an absolutely “free” day. Then I didn’t tell anyone about it. The day before my free day, I discovered everyone I knew had plans. I had no idea what to do with my day and nobody to do it with. Nice planning, I thought.

So I tweaked my thinking. A free day, is a good thing, even if doing it alone. I asked a couple people at work what they’d do with a free day (not revealing it was my birthday). We all agreed finding a new author in a used book store sounded like a start. One of my coworkers said it was about time she read George Elliot. I said I didn’t know him. She said, “he’s a she.” Fascinating. Finding this female George Elliot became the first item on my free day agenda.

Next I got an email from a budding friend who is accomplished, brilliant, cultured, creative, a bit bawdy and fucking interesting. He invited me to dinner or lunch or coffee, by sheer coincidence. He didn’t know it would fall on my birthday. I chose lunch. He chose a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place clear on the other side of town. Perfect. A quest on my birthday followed by lively conversation. Check.

My free day started as it always does, an early morning walk with my dogs, a cup of coffee, the San Francisco Chronicle (in print, thank you very much. I despise digital newspaper as much as I despise haircut commentary). The first texts started to pop up, reminding me people like me. That’s a cheery way to start any day.

The Youngest One woke up and barrelled into my room with loud birthday cheer. Anyone else being loud might have annoyed me, but I’m a fan when any of our kids, no matter how old they get, show exuberance. We are all still pretty much that way on Christmas morning, which is why I’m glad we still spend it together every year. Anyway, she made me the best card ever. The Bride then gave me a great gift. It was barely 7 a.m. and the free day was off to a fine start.

The night before I got a hankering to have a record player. I wanted this for my birthday two years before but forgot to tell anyone and didn’t get it. I decided this year I’d correct that oversight. So after reading the paper, I checked out Amazon Prime. It assured me I’d get my new record player by 8 p.m. that night, so I bought it. I added “buy a record” to my to-do list for the day. Cyber isn’t all bad, I decided.

As the house emptied, I thought, “what now?” I noticed half of a loaf of bread. We had just made peanut butter. Three bananas sat on the counter. I decided to make lunch. I made a few of them. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, some crackers, a protein bar and fruit. I put the lunches in my backpack and went to Starbucks. I ordered some small coffees. Then I wandered outside for some lunch meetings. I hadn’t gotten very far when a man in a trench coat, rain hat and long flowing gray hair said, “Coffee! How nice.”

I handed him one.

“Huh?” he said. “Seriously, I can have this?”

“Yeah. You want lunch, too?” I said, reaching into my backpack.

We sat and talked awhile. He said he was known as Captain Democracy for all the shit he stirs up. His other name was Robert. I chose to call him Captain. I like shit stirrers. He lived in a SRO in North Beach but said it was “Fucking madness. Nobody has brain in their head, man. I need conversation.”

We didn’t make plans to meet again, but both said we’d run into each other again.

“Let’s grab more coffee next time,” I said.

“Yeah, and some stimulating conversation. It’s madness over there where I live,” he said again as I left.

I’ll keep an eye out for him to make sure I keep my promise for another conversation, I decided. I noted it on my Keep list so I don’t forget because well-intentioned I may be, I forget everything.

Next, The Youngest One texted me to meet her at the coffee shop. She’s buying, she said. “Effin Awesome,” I said. We met. I knew she had places to be yet she took the time to share my free day, which kept getting better and better. We had one of those great conversations that Captain Democracy’s been lacking in his life.

I caught a crosstown bus I’ve never taken before to meet my friend for lunch. It exceeded expectations both regarding food and conversations. Being something of a sapiosexual I could have almost fucked him right there, but lacking any homosexuality, I didn’t. It was a great time all the same. I told him I’m learning Italian so I can someday go to my first opera and understand it. He rose to the challenge, setting next summer as the final exam. He offered to turn me from a classical music Luddite into a student with grace.

Fluent in Italian and the opera, he said, “I will take on your training. You will thrive.”

He sent me away with homework to find a certain record and start listening to it. The quest began.

In all, I hit three bookstores. I then thumbed through a small dent in the more than 50,000 records stuffed into a North Beach shop basement that looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.  I had in my possession a book by George Elliot, a book for my daughter, a list of three books I want to find used copies of and four records. On impulse, I broke my eating plan and bought a slice, which I woofed down walking amid hurried commuters trying to get the hell out of the city. I felt thrilled I wasn’t one of them.

On the way into our building, I stopped to chat with Andre the doorman, to try to convince him he could come to Thanksgiving dinner without feeling awkward. Eventually, we agreed that I’d bring him down a plate of dinner and let him eat it in peace. I could relate. I wouldn’t want to meet a bunch of strangers either.  I then told him about my day. It had shaped up into a fine, fine day.

I asked him how Amazon would get in once he left. I worried that my record player wouldn’t arrive, which was my only worry of the day so far. I shouldn’t have. Upstairs and getting ready for dinner out alone with The Bride, the doorbell rang, which never happens. Andre held a box from Amazon and sang Happy Birthday. The whole thing. It was not corny or awkward like it usually is. I wanted to hug him but instead told him thanks.

As I set up my record player, I got a call from a guy I know from rehab. “Should I sing Happy Birthday to you!” he said.

“How did you find out it’s my birthday,” I demanded. He finally copped to a reminder from Google. Those bastards don’t miss anything. They should have called themselves Big Brother. I told my friend I’d hang up on him if he sang. Andre had covered that.

Digression: To properly acknowledge a birthday, send something that was planned at least 48 hours in advance (and make sure it gets there on time) Late really doesn’t count. The event is over, and the satisfaction quotient drops by at least 50 percent. Make it a card. A present. A donation to a cause. A ten spot with a note scrawled on it that says, “blow me today!” Something noncyber. This is the one way to show you had known the person’s birthday before Facebook told you. I received several cards, a couple of books, and a phone call from my father the day before my birthday, of which told him “it’s not my birthday, try again,” and promptly hung up on him. He got it right the next day and won quite a few points for trying, even if he missed by a day.

For me, I am aware of fewer than 10 birthdays, and I often forget half of them. So believe me, I’m not keeping score. Just offering a bit of 20th Century advice for a soulless 21st-cyber century. Rant over.

The Bride and I ate dinner in a small restaurant in yet a different part of town and finished it with a berry shortcake. We didn’t have candles or waiters sing, thank goodness. After talking the dog for a late walk, The Bride kissed me and said, “Happy, Happy Birthday.”

“It was,” I said.




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