Posted by: facetothewind | February 5, 2008

Bumpy Birthday

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I had my birthday dinner by myself this year. It wasn’t planned as such. Nancy was stuck in traffic and didn’t have my cell number. Alex was sick and forgot to call me. Carlos had to work. I sat there at the appointed time drumming my fingers on the table for 35 minutes. It was a very cold night in Tucson. I was both sweaty and cold from my bike ride downtown.

Then I ordered my Afghani vegetarian sambosa and had 3 cups of green tea. I thought about all the people who forgot to call or come to my birthday party: Brad who was too tired but not too tired to go to another party; Patrick who always thinks my birthday is next week and who will generate a big excuse for not remembering; Margo and Sam who really are my favorite people in Tucson but our friendship really just never goes anywhere; My housemate who is too busy self-aggrandizing. I was surprised that Habib forgot. I think he’s in Tunisia and so he’s excused. Max – well he has a new boyfriend and so I can’t expect him to remember. I thought about how my family all remembered and how my best buddies from all over the country remembered: Jean, Tom, Pretzel, Cupcake, Ed, Larry, Al. They live in California, Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Florida. Pretzel sent flowers, Ida wrote a poem, Namoli crocheted a hat, Scott brought flowers, Nancy brought a Czech necklace, Penny got me a slinky dress and hat, Mom sent me some silk underwear. It was all very sweet and yet I was lamenting being by myself for dinner.

After dinner I walked my bike through the frosty evening to the University for choir practice. Nancy mentioned to the conductor that it was my birthday and so for the warm up, the crew of about 100+ members sang happy birthday to me, the sopranos towering over the lush low bass voices. I blushed and bowed beside the black Steinway at the bottom of the amphitheater rehearsal room, dressed in red stripes and brooches for the occasion of Fat Tuesday, Super Tuesday and my birthday all rolled into one.

The wall of sound and smiles made me grateful for the beginnings of a musical community that I’m developing with my choir. I have to say it’s really, really challenging to keep a sense of community, to maintain a sense of belonging as a gay man in his lower mid-forties. I’m too old to be the bearer of numerous connections that will get someone laid. I’m not wealthy or powerful. And so if one is not to get laid, get rich or famous from their contact with me, what’s the incentive? And who will be left standing beside me as our faces droop, our hair turns gray and our asses sag? We artists traded corporate stability and retirement packages for the immediacy of joy and expression. We didn’t settle down into life-strangling relationships. We didn’t have children. We stayed free only to find ourselves alone at the table in midlife.

I called Tommy who is a couple years older and one of my closest friends. He understands the plight of post-peak unfabulousness…the lack of social magnetism…the devaluing of our currency. He knows it all too well. I said to him, “Tommy, I’m sure glad I have a few artist friends who are reliable enough to remember my birthday. You all checked in with me and I’m grateful.”

“Well, now we’re all gonna start dying, so Gilmore, you’ll have to get used to that.”

“How ’bout I go first, then? Can you give me your diabetes?” We laughed at the gallows humor.

He played some Brahms on the piano for me: a rhapsody. Over the cell phone it sounded like someone had pushed a piano down the stairs of the Empire State Building.

After choir rehearsal there was a party to celebrate Fat Tuesday. I dressed up even more with beads, a blinking red star on my chest and a high birthday cake hat and yellow leopard print sunglasses. The party was full of people 20 years my senior. I ignored the silver-haired altos (the section where sopranos go to die), pushing through the crowd to find someone younger to talk to. I returned to Nancy who was sitting at the edge of the crowd, seemingly untortured by her low sixties invisibility.

The rest of the evening was spent at home calming down from choir practice/musical boot camp and watching the election returns come in on TV. Hillary and Obama are neck and neck. Who really cares. I have a date with my book in my flannel sheets.

Tomorrow I will have lunch with Kasia at the Malaysian restaurant, pick up some groceries, have a nap, prune the blue palo verde in the back. It’s not a bad life. It’s just not fabulous. And maybe that’s just what happens in middle age when you’ve hit your high water mark early: you eventually have to make peace with the ramp-down or as Sarah Susanka puts it on the cover of her book The Not So Big Life – Making Room for What Really Matters.

What really matters? What really matters? I’d let you know what the answer is, but I think when I finally know, I’ll be sound asleep.

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