I had a different idea for my holiday post, but last night my wishes for writing about glad tidings and world peace were unceremoniously slapped aside by a story – a sweet little birthday story.
I was born on Christmas Day. Yes, the day. And since I was born on Christmas day, the day, I try to get as many of my friends together before the holidays so I can pretend for a couple of hours that I have a normal birthday and celebrate like you folks who don’t have to buy presents for people for your birthday – you people who don’t have to send out mass amounts of cards for your birthday – you people who simply and selfishly enjoy the day of your birth on your day without having to really do anything for anyone else – like say, decorate a tree, your house, or your dog for your birthday (oh, you don’t do that? Umm… me either. This is a little awkward). You’re the kind of people who don’t have to call friends and family and wish them a happy day on your birthday. Your grandmother never slurred out, “Oh, it’s your birthday. I forgot. Happy Birthday!” I deeply envy you. I may be a tad bitter, except for the fact that my birthday is still cooler than yours (unless you were born on Halloween and then you totally trump my day). I digress.
I’ve been throwing birthday parties for myself for well over a decade. We’ve gone skating and bowling and tree gawking. There have been pizza parties, steak parties and Indian food parties. YUM! AT some point, “Dancing Queen” makes its way in there towards the end signifying the end of the festivities so everyone can rush off and get back to Christmas.
For the most part, with rare exception, my birthdays are unremarkable. Sure, there was the time that guy’s wife was channeling her inner 16-year-old, felt her skating groove-thang return and mid hip thrust promptly spilled out of the skating rink smacking her arm against a bench. Have you ever seen a greenstick fracture? Let’s just say if she weren’t an adult, that’s exactly what her arm looked like as the two bones in her forearm (ulna/radius for science geeks) were bent in an impossible direction upwards. Once we saw her husband was taking her to the hospital, someone cheerfully asked, “who wants ice cream?” and we troopered off to Amy’s Ice Cream like good supportive friends.
The next birthday that really sticks out, if you discount that time I was a complete jerk at bowling, was my big “0” birthday where I suddenly started sobbing inconsolably over a gift I received while a roomful of people became uncomfortably silent and stared. Every time I tried to raise my head to explain, an ugly, pained expression crept across my face and I went back to weeping. Fortunately, one of my closest friends was sitting next to me and she started grilling gift givers whose presents had yet to be open, “is this going to make Beth cry?” If they said no, the gift then passed Anna’s security check and it was handed over to me.
Oh, I suppose there was the time I grabbed April’s breast. That was awkward. Hey, I was reaching behind me thinking Jay was standing there and my hand was VERY surprised by what had appeared on Jay’s body. People make mistakes sometimes.
And finally there was last night.
My day had started out beautifully. I took half a day off from work, met Jay to see “The Fighter” (great movie, I expect big things for Christian Bale this award season), we came home, goofed around and then met a group of folks for “The Santaland Diaries” – a production based off the work of David Sedaris about a guy who comes to find himself working as an elf at Macy’s in NYC. It was hysterical! The production let out at about 10:30, so we headed off to a local diner to meet up with a few more friends.
The place is fairly packed, but it’s a 24 hour diner, it’s a couple of days before Christmas and it’s an Austin hotspot. The host seats nine of us towards the back within minutes.
Now let me say that for the most part this gang of folks I was with is pretty tame and easy-going, so we’re just back there laughing – not in a particular rush, no one has anywhere to be and everyone was just chatting away. Our waitress comes out and takes our drink order without writing it down, but I can’t judge – some people can keep that in their heads. Well ok, not her, but some. When she takes our food order, she breaks out the pad there – yay. The first warning sign should have been when our waitress re-appeared with her pad and asked “who 86ed the sour cream again?” Not a big deal. We get that cleared up and the information gets passed to the kitchen, but this was truly foreshadowing. Now unbeknownst to us and probably her, the kitchen is missing things like bread and several of our dishes had various versions of toast (we’re late breakfast eaters), so half the food comes out and is missing side items (like toast) and there’s no mention of it – like maybe we’ll just forget and not be annoying about it. The manager, who is handing out the food, explains the bread shortage and also how our ticket was split, so only half of the table would be served until the other half was ready. Ok, I don’t care. I would like to know what’s going on with my toast, since it fell under the “we don’t have that kind of bread” category, but I have a high tolerance and I resign myself to not getting toast and not getting to choose another side to replace it. Hey, it’s the Christmas season and I don’t particularly feel like giving anyone guff.
The second batch of food arrives as the first batch has cooled. Mmmm cold eggs for the polite! Now more sides are missing and an entire plate of food. We’re a little more noticeably grumbly, but you’ll have to take it on faith that we still weren’t being rude. (Tense situations make me uneasy and that sickening feeling I get when they start occurring hadn’t started to trigger.) Everyone was being calm and explaining, “we’re still missing his food and we still need the French toast for that order” and as she said she’d go back and check on it, I chimed in, “and can I have some silverware?” She made the kind of face that let me know I’d better scrounge the spare spoons and knives that currently weren’t being used by my friends, which I’m glad I did because we never saw her again. We broke our waitress. For 20 minutes we sat there, James without his food, dregs of drinks sitting in nearly empty glasses, and me with my sad scrounged up silverware. We joked about cobbling together a dinner for James from the food remains and we mostly sat there speculating on whether the waitress had decided her waiting days were over.
Unfortunately, all the heavy hitters from team birthday Beth were pinned into the booth leaving those of us who are more of the, “that’s ok… we don’t really need food – I don’t like toast or my meal or even silverware all that much” persuasion at the end. The heavy hitters looked like they were weighing their options for climbing over the booths or maybe down the center of the table to fix things when I finally decided to get up. It was a moment where I had to figure out what would make my stomach flip more – someone walking down a table at a restaurant or me just calling a manager over. It was a tough call that took me 5-10 minutes to work out. I finally realized I could just ask for the manager to come over and then it would allow all of the more Type A folks a chance to go nuts while I bobbed my head along in polite support and agreement. A complete win-win!
The manager comes over, wide-eyed and starts apologizing before all the grievances come pouring out. Again, everyone was fairly polite, but everyone also wanted to express that things like “James never got his food” was kind of a big deal – up there with “our waitress never came back”. (In fact, when I went to get the manager, I cased the restaurant a bit and she was nowhere to be seen.)
The bill arrives for the nine of us. No, make that eight since James never got his food and the bill was $15. We agreed that was fair. (I still feel a little guilty over that, but I’m trying to let it go.)
We proceed to head out, bond in the parking lot over the craziness and agree that next year my birthday dinner should either be a Chick-fil-A or a local burger joint. Some folks offer to be willing to do a “part 2” somewhere else after Christmas. I love my friends.
Personally, I’d like to think that on the way out, our waitress grabbed two beers, gave the finger to the restaurant and popped the emergency slide out the back door.
That’s a wrap.