Birthdays bring with them intrinsically opposing outfits. The conical cardboard hat is popular, no doubt, but it’s nothing compared to the nothingness of nudity with a grin. Unfortunately, neither of those have I ever been comfortable wearing.

Happy Birthday to me. Looking around, it’s the same as it’s been for a long time. I live in my mother’s basement, and my job is only called that by the most generous of standards. This is my life, for the eighth straight year.

At least my mom can now drop the ‘almost’ when she tells me to, “Get your act together. You’re almost 30.” Maybe the split second she’s saving in her short diatribes could be deferred to something positive to the world, such as volunteering or shutting her face.

People treat you differently when they know it’s your birthday, even if it only stems from the achievement of remaining alive, which is usually the goal. It’s not much of a feat for a waking human. It’s an inevitability. And yet a reward is usually offered and accepted. A card, a present. Having a birthday was a major contributing factor in one of my most memorable romantic encounters. I recognized early the potential of this realistically meaningless day, and it led to what some would call a scheme, and what I would only sometimes call a scheme. My ritual continues again this year. My phone turned off and my birthday-confirming identification front and centre in my wallet, I will visit every restaurant within walking distance of my apartment that is foolish enough to offer a meal gratis on the patron’s birthday.

It’s a Sunday. I always take my birthday off work, but this first day of the week is ideal for what I have planned. A series of mini brunches followed by, something that still confuses me, a relatively slow day dinner. Rumpelstiltskin’s is shut down, by order of whoever’s job it is to shut down businesses mostly populated by and possibly run by small rodents, but an eatery with a similar free-meal-on-your-birthday deal has sprung up in the vicinity – The Glass Onion, a vegan restaurant I’ve yet to fre-quent but that Jane likes, her ignorance notwithstanding. The natural wave of the restaurant industry brings my potential total this year up to seven. Allowing for unexpected line-ups and unforeseen policy changes, I can expect to consume no less than five entire meals today. For the first, I’m bound for Ray’s Deli, whose husband-wife ownership relationship exudes the bickering stereotypical of a couple of Italian gangsters who can’t find the gabagool.

From my window I see that it’s a clear day, and the sun hits me just right as I close my front door. Walking down my street, a boy stands behind a makeshift kiosk and calls out, offering me a glass of lemonade at at exorbitant price. I laugh to myself and politely decline, refraining from telling him that today, of all days, I pay for nothing.

My prospective route mapped out, I stop at Ray’s for an appetizer turkey bacon club. Judy is the only one working, and she’s been in the neighbourhood long enough to know exactly what I’m doing here, so I don’t mess around.

“Hey, Mrs. Judy,” I call out. “Happy Birthday!”

“Yosef!” she incorrectly calls me¹, all the while laughing to herself because of my pretending it was actually her birthday. “It’s another years! You must be one whole million!”

She’s funny for an old bitty, for sure, but her humour doesn’t translate well for me. Regardless, I laugh right back at her, knowing that the simulation of a conversation is all I will need to snag a coke with my already-complimentary sandwich.

“You crazy,” I tell her in my best Tracy impression, done primarily to keep myself occupied while I suffer through her talking to herself and collecting the ingredients for my first meal of the day.

A brief awkwardness ensues, interrupted by the bells over the restaurant’s entrance, as a group of customers see themselves to a table. Leading the pack is an Indigenous Australian sorcerer, and he’s not playing games.

[End of Part I. Part II of 11 will reveal itself in time.]

¹ [Narrator’s note: She uses a y in place of the obvious j, if my name was in fact Joseph or even Josef, and not Matt.]

October 8 – Patrick Watson gets a birthday boyla
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