Me and My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday


I’ve been hearing thunk-thunk in the middle of the night lately, always confusing me, always sounding as though it’s coming from outside at a time of night when it’s supposed to be quiet. No construction, no car doors. No thunk-thunks.

And then I realize it’s the ceiling fan, which has been on continuously for the past weeks. I’m not sure it’s ever turned off, in fact, which makes me worry a little, but the room stays cool. With dark curtains (to keep the early sun from waking up the sleeping professor too soon on her summer days) helping, the bedroom is a very cool place.

It puzzled me a little, then, to wake up this morning with sweat dripping down my forehead and a damp shirt. It’s been warm but nice warm, not bad warm. We can gripe up here about the high 80s but I’m not even seeing that temperature in my neighborhood. There’s nothing unbearable about 82 for a high, and it drops into the low 60s when I sleep.

So I’m going to assume that my body temperature normalized at some point during the night, which happens. This is a good sign. Moist but good.

I actually had a very nice birthday. I couldn’t work up the slightest angst over having a zero in my age once again, none, and probably because 59 is so close to the Big Six-Oh that I just rounded up for the past year. Hey, I’m 60 years old! I can’t do that…whatever that hard thing is. I’m 60! And so on. It was fine.

So it was just my normal fun at having a mid-summer birthday when the weather is always great. I don’t need any help to feel special. Summers are just generally special, and I always have a wedding anniversary coming on its heels. It’s hard to have a bad birthday.

It doesn’t mean I don’t try.

My friends in Renton threw a backyard barbecue on Wednesday, a birthday celebration for me, a simple gesture of grace and love that moved me more than I let on, I think. Julie dropped off the frozen burgers and other things the day before, and I chopped onions and she sliced tomatoes and we had an abundance of buns in the backseat as we left home on Wednesday at 4:30pm for a 6pm start, hoping to get there as early as possible to help set up.

There’s a Seattle dichotomy that’s always been present, at least in the past 35 years, at least to me. Politics are progressive but tempered by this weird frontier feeling of being isolated in a corner of the country, God’s country, and so we have the funny picture I remember of a Jeep stuffed with shotguns, fishing equipment, and hiking gear while the bumper sticker read “George Bush is The Devil.” It wasn’t unusual.

So we may be a bunch of libs but we don’t like paying for stuff. Our infrastructure has been bad since I moved here and has, surprise, gotten worse. Mass transit is much better but still basically a joke, and traffic is among the worst in the country.

At 4:48pm, I texted Scott, whose house this shindig was being held at, letting him know we were about 45 minutes away, judging from Google Maps. I also texted my brother, who was approaching from the south, driving up from Oregon and heading for the party.


I texted them both again an hour later, telling them about unexpected heavy traffic and apparently some lights out on the side streets we’d been dumped onto. My brother by then had parked outside my friends’ house, and was just going to wait with his air conditioning until we got there.

Which we did, an hour later. We covered those 30 miles, mostly freeway, in just under 2-1/2 hours. I was an hour late for my own party. Good start.

I was embarrassed and irritated, but that melted away in a minute. About 25 people were hanging out in the backyard, drinking beer and wine and having a great time in the spectacular weather. We had burgers and dogs, salad and two cakes, both made by my 15-year-old apprentice baker, Molly. The pupil has surpassed the teacher (I’ve never taught her anything, but I like to think this way).


We left around 9pm, just as dusk was dusking up, and it’s the last thing I remember.

That’s not true. That’s theatrical. It just feels that way.

It’s fuzzy, though. We went out for a mid-morning breakfast at a local restaurant in Mukilteo, all six of us. I tend to eat breakfast almost immediately these days, so I had a snack before and wasn’t all that hungry, but it was my birthday. I had biscuits and gravy, some eggs, hash browns. I had a few bites of a dessert French toast thing (I hate French toast) that the restaurant graciously provided. It was a fine meal.

French toast stuffed with sin

French toast stuffed with sin

It sat like a rock in my gut, though, and continued to feel that way for the rest of the day. I took a little walk with my brother. I laid down for a semi-nap. I fought mild nausea. I took a shower and got presentable, and we headed out for our dinner reservation, at a favorite restaurant on the waterfront.

I knew this was a bad idea. I knew it, knew it, knew it. What are you gonna do? It’s your birthday, people have made an effort, the sun is shining, the fish are frying. Suck it up. Not worth worrying about a rumbling in the tummy.

It was the smell of the frying fish, in fact. Before I sat down, I understood what was going to happen. We were seated next to the window, next to a door that waiters used to go out on the patio and serve the guests sitting there. It was right over the water, a straight shot down in case I needed to lean over the side, which I felt was imminent.

After drinks were ordered but before they arrived, I made the call. Either I went out to the car or we all went, but this wasn’t going to happen. We explained to the staff, who were kind and understanding, and we headed home. About a mile or so down the road, I told Julie to pull over on a side street unless she was willing to do some clean-up on the inside of the car.

This has happened before, of course, because you know what? I was young and stupid and in college once, that’s what. But it’s been a while since I tossed my cookies in public, and it’s never a good look. Better on a street than in a restaurant, but I’m not really making that distinction now.

And the guy, an employee of the business I’d lost my breakfast in front of? The guy carrying the broom and heading for the remnants of my stomach with a not-pleasant look on his face as we drove off? I bet he didn’t make the distinction, either. I have some guilt.

So I went home on my 60th birthday, no dinner, no fun, and while my family headed off for a second attempt at eating (Italian, this time), I got reacquainted with the cool feel of porcelain against my cheek a little more, then curled up in a ball and listened while my temperature rose.

No one went looking for a thermometer. I’m an easy call when it comes to fever; I get hot and dry, and I start talking like an insane person. I make no sense, yanking stray sentences out of my brain like it was a grab bag, completely random. I was sick.

Dunno. Some kind of a bug. It felt flu-like, definitely. The stomach region still feels a little wobbly, but the nausea dwindled after the big night. I stumbled around yesterday, waking at 5am, going back to sleep for an hour or so, getting up, back to sleep, rinse, repeat. My brother and his crew headed off in the late morning, no need to hang around the sick guy, and I spent the day drifting in and out, making little sense, remembering pretty much nothing except a short documentary on the careers of Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart before I headed to bed.

This morning I feel like you’re supposed to feel after a couple of days with a mild illness. Some achiness, probably mostly from lack of movement. Some light-headedness, mostly (assuming, again) because I didn’t eat for over 24 hours, and then barely. The scale says I’ve lost 4 pounds, which is pretty horrifying but then. I’m never this dehydrated, and I know a lot about scales. This will improve.

I said yesterday, when I’d regained enough brain power to type a Facebook post, that I’ll just have a do-over next year, but I think not. I think I’d rather not repeat this, and just enjoy a perfectly normal and uneventful birthday next year. As always, some gratitude for still being alive will be in order. I don’t need extra help to remind me.

And I’m skipping breakfast next July 26. Just a little superstitious now.

I went around at the party and got pictures with some of the group.

Row 1: The cakes, Sheila and Candis, Susie and Diane, macho posing with Dan (got some grief about this one, from people saying "Eat something!" Stop saying that).
Row 2: Molly the baker, Maggie (Molly's mom) and Barb (cohost with the mostest), Megan (Molly's sis), Derona and Pete, my brother at the infamous breakfast place.

Row 3: The breakfast, Bill on our birthday walk around the lake

Chuck SigarsComment