When I turned one ‘n’ forty, my little girl, then three, and I went for one of our extended traipses on San Francisco’s Nob and Russian Hills, making up jokes and noting the interesting architecture. Dinnertime, of course, found us eating Korean barbecued chicken at our favorite restaurant down on Polk Street. Being with her was the best gift I could have requested. She now hasn’t deigned to speak to me since I was four ‘n’ fifty, but every year her failure to wish me a happy birthday hurts just a little bit less. If I live to be nine ‘n’ ninety maybe I may be able to say it doesn’t hurt awfully, but I make no promises.
When I turned one ‘n’ twenty, no friends took me out drinking, or to a brothel, in substantial part because I didn’t really have any friends. I was reaping as I’d sowed! I sat at length in front of a multistory office building near to the university I was attending because it seemed more salubrious than fighting in Vietnam, and felt sorry for myself, something for which I’ve always had a knack.
None of which is to suggest that I haven’t had more than my share of wonderful birthdays, or that I don’t feel blessed by love. The fact is that I have been loved far more than I deserve.
When I was six ‘n’ twenty, First Major Life Partner gave me a TEAC 3340 4-track recorder on which I could record demos of the songs I’d begun composing. In 2015, it would cost $6300. I was still using it 18 years later. Before Macintosh computers, it gave me more pleasure than anything I’d ever owned.
When I was nine and twenty, my second major adult Life Partner took me to dinner at the San Fernando Valley’s pre-eminent French restaurant, or at least the best French restaurant in the Valley tramps like us could afford. I got drunk and began bemoaning the world’s not having yet recognized my brilliance, something else at which I’ve always been very good. “I think we should go home,” The Nib, characteristically patient, fretted, impatiently. I humored her, and on opening the door of our 12th story apartment overlooking the actual Sunset Strip, discovered that it was full of people of whom I was fond, all shouting, “Happy birthday!” The best part of that wonderful evening was the sublimely loving look The Nib gave me when she saw that I, who earlier that year had applied for a patent on social awkwardness, was enjoying myself hugely.
My best birthday with First Wife was the one in Siena in 1982. After lunch, as the city shut down for its afternoon break, she shooed me away from our pensione and transformed herself into the spitting image of Elvira, Queen of the Dark, after whom she knew me to lust. Afterward, she revealed a wealth of Coca-Cola-themed gifts (I was a collector then) she’d been hiding in her luggage the past week. She kept the wig on to go to dinner, and an Italian teenager called her a strega, but not to her face, so I didn’t have to start any unpleasantness.
Many, many years ago, I advised 4th Life Partner, the zoo keeper, that I’d really love her making a big deal of my forthcoming 50th birthday. Fiercely resentful of expectations (one never got an actual Xmas or birthday gift from her, but only a coupon entitling him to one at some point when she wouldn’t resent bestowing it) as she was, she essentially told me to take a hike, and we wound up spending most of The Big Day at her mother’s house. (My birthday falls on Mothers Day every three or four years.) By early evening, when we got home to San Francisco, I was seething, and began pouring vodka down my throat. My friend and former work colleague Kathleen Guneratne to the rescue! She’d organized a glorious surprise party for me at a restaurant in the Inner Sunset. I remain in awe of her generosity.
Last year, The Little Brit and I were a few days home from Ibiza when she presented me with a Moroccan-style dinner — and a card to which was attached the details of our forthcoming surprise trip, in honor of my birthday, to Marrakech, to whose best restaurant she took me for another celebration. She’d taken me in earlier years to Paris for my birthday, and to dinner in Burlington, Vermont, but Bernie Sanders had long since ceased being its mayor. I’ve rarely felt more loved. We were on Rhodes for my birthday three years ago, and she took me to the best restaurant on our part of the island. She gave me a birthday card that said, “Let’s grow old together.” With tears in my eyes, I pointed out that I already had. Don’t pretend you don’t see what I mean.