Sunday, May 13, 2007

Life's Curves

I wasn't expecting any great shakes for my birthday on Friday. It wasn't due to the people in my life. As it turned out, they were conspiring to make it a good one.

It's just that I really just wanted to let it quietly pass-- to let it be a quiet step on the trudge to 50. I mentioned in yesterday's post-- friends joking about me even making it to 30. I did some things when I was younger that were unbelievably stupid. I'm lucky--and glad-- to be here.

We had a quiet day at work-- the prom was yesterday evening, so most of the students gave themselves the day off. The ones that were left found out that it was my birthday and quickly whipped up a birthday card.

It's the thought that counts, right?

I got two more gifts at work; a coworker who is one of my oldest friends gave me a Napolean Dynamite mousepad, and then we dismissed the handful of kids who were there, and went home a little after 11 am.

I decided to treat myself to lunch-- Indian food-- on the way home. I stopped at the Star of India, at Sheffield and Belmont, an old favorite.

When I walked into the restaurant, I thought of my friend Mark. I remembered running into him, having dinner with Eric, another friend of ours from college, at the Star of India one night 5 or 6 years ago.

It'll be a year since he died, in a few weeks. While the grief has become more manageable, I still miss him terribly. I was really missing him on my birthday. Of all of my friends, he was the one I pictured being old with, hanging around, talking about history, politics, the universe-- all the things we talked about over the years.

In the end, I found myself not so much sad, as thankful for the time I had with him in his short life.

After lunch, I ran home for a while. My physician had asked me to call her on Friday to get the results of routine blood tests she'd ordered up last Saturday. It was all great news. My cholesterol is still really low-- 180. My good cholesterol was good, my bad cholesterol was low, my blood sugar was very good (diabetes runs rampant on both sides of my family)-- and all the parts-- liver, kidneys, etc., are working properly. Riveting information, I know. But it was some welcome good news. For all the silly things I've done in this life, I've always made sure to eat healthily. It's good that in middle age, it's paying off. It was a nice little birthday present.

I ran a couple more errands and picked my son up with the intention of taking him to the batting cages for a little practice. He showed me his now-completed Lego Empire State Building, telling me that he had constructed it to 1/400th scale to match the little metal model airplanes he loves collecting.

He had a gift and a surprise for me. His gift was a "World's Best Dad" coffee mug. The surprise was a gluten-free pecan pie. I was delighted. He knew how much I loved pecan pie-- my mother used to make a pecan pie for my birthday instead of a birthday cake. Since I'd found out I had celiac disease, I hadn't had any pie or cake, except for some flourless chocolate cake at my wedding.

We got to the batting cages, but the wind was gusting so badly, they were closed. Instead, we had dinner-- Chinese food, of course-- and a great conversation. One of his gems in the course of the conversation was about something being "fair and balanced-- you know, the real fair and balanced-- not the Fox News version."

After dinner, we went to see my stepdaughter perform in a recital with the kids in her afterschool program, and went home to a quiet birthday celebration.

Kim and my stepdaughter had made a flourless chocolate cake for me while I was at work at the restaurant Thursday night. After two years of deprivation enforced by my celiac, it was really fun to finally have a couple of desserts.

We unwrapped presents after that. They were all great. My son Adam knows my taste for kitsch well and got me a great book, "Roadside Americana." The book is filled with things like the Cadillac Ranch (which I've seen) in Texas, Randy's Donuts in Ingleside, California, Carhenge in Nebraska and The Car Spindle, in the town of Berwyn, Illinois, where I was born.

It gave me some ideas of future roadtrips, and reminded me that my son will be old enough to get a driver's license in less than three years.

My stepdaughter got me a new laptop bag. She totally knows me like my son does-- it was just what I would have picked out. Even better, she put some buttons on it, which showed just how well she does know me:

Kim's gift was a total surprise-- a book I hadn't even known had been published. It's called "Chicago in the Sixties: Remembering a Time of Change," by Neal Samors. It's a fascinating book-- it's done in the format of people like Leon Dupres, Bob Sirrott and Con. Jan Schakowsky, Gale Sayers, Dick Biondi and others remembering life in Chicago during that period. I'm old enough to connect with events that they talk about-- the snowstorm of 1967, the first Richard Daley as mayor, hearing good music on AM radio, the 1968 Democratic convention riots. There are great articles and great pictures. I had a hard time putting the book down.

The kids decided that we needed to cap this great evening with a viewing of Napolean Dynamite. It was just as funny as we'd remembered it.

Later on, Adam and I stayed up to watch Letterman. Even Letterman was cooperating in making my birthday great: he had my very favorite comedian, Jake Johansen, on.

As it turned out, there was one more little gift.

The day before, I'd left what must have been a cryptic little post on my blog. In checking my traffic, I'd seen that someone in St. Louis, Missouri had hit my site under a search by my real name. It had to be "Kringle," (real name Chris-- get it? Chris Kringle? Dobie had a way of bestowing nicknames that stuck) I thought. He was the roommate and friend of Dobie, another old college friend when we all lived in Carman Hall, a high-rise dorm in the middle of the cornfields on the edge of Eastern Illinois University in 1981. He was living outside of St. Louis last time I'd heard.

I remembered the last time I'd seen him-- Dobie and I, who were rooming together in Chicago, had driven down to see Kringle. We went to a Cubs/Cardinals game. It was an adventure, because I was still in a cast up to my knee from the stupidest thing I've ever done. More on that another time.

I'm happy to say it was Kringle. He emailed me late Friday night.

I realized later that if I hadn't started blogging, we might not have found one another again.

As I went off to bed Friday night, I reflected on the day and the year. My friend Mike used to have a tagline on his email I loved. I can't remember who he was quoting, but the quote was "Do you want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans."

We spend our lives planning, and yet in the end life throws us unexpected curves. Some of those curves are bad, yes, but so many of them are good. The detours, I've come to realize, are as good or better than the original destinations.

In thinking of my day, I also thought of an old Elton John song, "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, which I'd heard for the first time when I saw Cameron Crowe's movie "Almost Famous." It had a lovely little line I quoted at my wedding, one that sums up my life:

"And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found"


lulu said...

What a nice Birthay day. I'm always a little meloncholy on mine, thinking about things that have changed or passed, but it sounds like you were able to do that and still have a wonderful day.

Jake Johannsen is my favorite comic. I had the chance to hang out with him about 12 years ago when I was living in SF and he was performing there. He's really sweet, rather quiet, and not as dark and depressing as most comics are in person.

Anon. Blogger said...

what an enjoyable post (as usual). Sounds like it was a wonderful birthday.

It is so darn wonderful to have people around you that you know know you, isn't it?

I also related so well to the idea of the 'journey' not ever being how it was planned. Yes indeed, people plan - God laughs!

Great post!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a lovely family and group of friends you have to make your day so very special. You really are blessed, and the best part is that you realize this.

Carol said...

Happy belated Birthday to you!Good that you had a great day with your favorite pecan pies and wonderful presents.You'll find some birthday gifts ideas in my blog too. Have a great day!

SamuraiFrog said...

That sounds like a great birthday. I'm glad you had a good time being with the people you love. And that "Roadside Americana" book is great.

Skylers Dad said...

Hey JY, that was really great to hear about your special day. It's nice that your friends know you so well, and I love the button about removing your soul. I am totally stealing that!

GETkristiLOVE said...

What a rich life you lead - raising two intuitive kids, touching the lives of other kids, and having such a great support system of wife and friends. No wonder you're still here.

The Elk said...

No mention of the Pat boone 'Yes I Can" album?
You ungrateful bastard!
I fondly remember you most stupid moment....It brought a horselaugh back then and still brings a chuckle today......

cheer34 said...

What a great day. Thanks for sharing it.

Natalie said...

That sounds like an awesome birthday. A pie and a cake? What could be better? Oh, awesome presents, which you got as well. Not to mention a Lego empire state building, Indian Food, and old friends. Awesome.

kim said...

What a wonderful family you have...especially your wife.

You, Mr. Yen, are a lucky man!

Coaster Punchman said...

Sounds like a great birthday to me. Mine is New Year's Eve so I don't know what it feels like to have a birthday on just an ordinary day. Sounds kind of peaceful actually.

Dale said...

Everything came together perfectly it sounds like Johnny. Glad it was so great.