Monday, August 09, 2004

Yesterday was a gorgeous day--everything relaxed and happy under that big Seattle sky. The fat grey raindrops on my actual birthday (Friday) made the air clear and solvent for my big birthday party at Discovery Park yesterday.

(And no, I don’t know why I used the word solvent there, especially when it means “capable of dissolving another substance,” at least in chemical terms. But it’s the word that appeared in my head, and I trust it. See, the rain dissolved the gunk that had been appearing in the sky from the lack of rain these past few weeks. And the clear sky dissolved...ah, who cares? It felt right, and I’m sticking with it.)

So it was my, “Hey, I’m alive to live another year!” party. This year, I know what it means to be alive. And to celebrate, I wanted all the people I love around me. Now, of course, that’s not possible. I can think of a googleplex of people whose presence would have enlivened the proceedings. In fact, anyone reading this right now? I wish you had been there. But luckily, the entire year has been teaching me to let go of my preconceptions and just live, dammit. (And besides, the airfare would have been too expensive for some of you, especially at last-moment’s notice.) So yes, I wish you could have been there to share it with me. But I wasn’t worried.

Instead, I sprawled out on my green tablecloth (the one I bought new for Thanksgiving, and someone promptly spilled red candle wax on it, and I’ve never been able to get it out) with Meri, eating sandwiches from Macrina Bakery and sucking back bottles of root beer. And then my parents arrived, with an enormous blue cooler full of beverages. (At one point, Mom put one of each kind on top of the cooler, as a kind of display of what was available: Coke, Vanilla Coke, and Arrowhead water. And it looked like she was running a little store for my friends.) And an enormous Tupperware container of homemade oatmeal cookies that Mom had made that morning. (See, I learned it from somewhere.) She had Pop in tow, who was grinning like a goon under his Vashon Island cap. Always good to see that loveable goofball. And Ruth and Mel, who are my parents’ best friends, and a constant source of amusement for me as well.

Then Tita and John showed up, and we all waved heartily at them. John rarely comes off the Island, so I was honored. He was also wearing some kind of Hawaiian shirt, as was my father. And suddenly, I was dazzled by the pure Americana of the event, especially when I noticed that the giant cooler had indentations where you could place your drinks. Tita and John made me smile, as always.

Then Amy and Paul came bearing grapes and a kite. We dragged out the cheese and bread. (Have you ever had Cambozola? Well, neither had Amy, even though she’s a foodie, like me. I recommend that you run right out and buy some, right now. Amy would agree with me, now that she has devoured a lot of it.) Lisa ambled up, only two days home from a month in Spain, after one of the most gruelling returns home I’ve heard, after a lifetime of bad airline stories. That made me happy, to see her. And we all sat around and ate, of course. And told stories. And laughed. Moved into the shaded picnic tables. Both Paul and Tita stepped in dog shit in their bare feet. Yuch.

And I didn’t worry about making anyone happy or making sure that everyone was properly introduced or tried to whip round and see that all the worlds were meeting gently. Ah, fuck it. My birthday--I’m going to have some of that pasta with homemade pesto that Tita made with the basil from her garden. And of course, everyone smiled and laughed and acted like old friends immediately.

And the sun kept shining on the field off the north parking lot of Disovery Park. If I lay back on the tablecloth and peered at the sky, I couldn’t see anything but blue. And feel anything but the warmth of the sun and the dance of the breeze along my face.

Tamara arrived, with a four-pound container of Red Vines. Awesome.

And so, all afternoon, people arrived in waves, with smiles on their faces (like that kindergarten song. Did you have to sing that one? “We’re all in our places, with bright shiny faces. And this is the way, we start off our day.” I have this feeling that singing that every morning when I was five left a deeper impression on me than I’m willing to see right now.). And we lounged and laughed, inviting our souls. The former-student contingent showed up, the ones who had just graduated. They’re still really excited that they can be with me at a party now, and listen to me swear. (Oh, and swear I do. It takes all my willpower to not sprinkle fuck lightly into sentences at school. Take away the rigors of work life and I become a truck driver. Well, not technically. Just my language.) And I was really excited to see them, outside the walls of school, just human beings with hilarious stories and gorgeous smiles. Thank goodness, I don’t have to be in charge of them anymore.

Almost every single person who arrived said the following, as Jessica and Brian did: “Well, we were standing by our car, looking at the groups on the lawn, wondering if this was the right place. And then we heard your laugh, rising above every other noise, and we knew we were in the right place.” All right, I give up. I have a loud laugh. And damned it makes me happy that this is how people identify me. (Much better than that connection with Pierce Brosnan, thank you.)

So there were dozens of people there, laughing and eating and telling stories and looking relaxed. My parents had brought their bocce ball set, and massive games using wide swaths of the field ensued. I looked over once in a while to see a green ball bouncing wildly across wheat-colored grass, just to knock the red one out of its place. Everyone was happy.

Later, a big bunch of us played Apples to Apples, this goofy-ass word game that makes everyone laugh. Really, I defy you to play it and not enjoy yourself. Short of a big Scrabble tournament, things couldn’t have been better, game-wise. We shouted and pitched forward and swore and slapped the table at some of the choices. And Lisa, who complained vociferously that she hated games for the competition, even won!

Mary, my 73-year-old friend from Hydro-fit, and her irascible daughter, Katie, showed up with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of white wine (warm, but with a ziploc bag of ice cubes accompanying) about 7:00. We sat telling stories, of course. (Apparently, Dave Matthews is a really good tipper.) Laughing. Katie mentioned something about Dick’s burgers. Eric said that he has a certain guilty pleasure there, and he has to visit frequently. Meri admitted that she’d never been to Dick’s before. Aghast, Eric and I turned toward and each other, and said, “We’re going.” So, waving goodbye to Mary and Katie, we drove down to Lower Queen Anne and ordered Dick’s specials, bags of french fries, and chocolate shakes. I haven’t eaten food like that in a long time (not since Lane Seven in Sitka). Damn, it was good. And somehow, we started telling falling stories. Because I’m an inveterate easy laugh for anyone tripping in front of me. Mostly, what makes me laugh is clever word-play, someone who really pays attention to the phrases that have arisen in the moments between us and riffs and repeats. I’m a goner. But for some reason, pratfalls just kill me. So Eric and Meri and I traded falling stories, and I laughed until I was nearly apopleptic.

What a perfect ending to a perfect day.

The party gathered friends from the most disparate places: people I’ve dragged here from New York; the little liberal private school in Capitol Hill; the tony gym in Belltown; retired folks from Gig Harbor; my little magic camp in Sitka (when I described it that way the other day, Mel wanted to know what magic tricks I had learned. ha.); the 18-year-olds who are now my friends; and the outdoor pool in Magnolia. And they’re all just fucking great. I’m so damned blessed.

Driving to Dick’s, trying to talk with Meri, I noticed that my voice had gone completely hoarse. I could barely talk. Was I growing sick? And then I realized I had been so completely imbued with happiness all day that I had laughed myself hoarse. Not a bad way to go.

(And yes, there are approximately three hundred parenthetical comments in this post. It’s my birthday. I’m allowed.)

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