So I was at the grocery store buying my wife a bottle of wine. The cashier (a broad-shouldered, older woman with a haircut reminiscent of something you would see in a lumberjack camp) took my ID. She looked at me, looked at my ID and then looked at me again. Immediately, I was overcome with a feeling of dread at the conversation coming.
“You got a birthday coming up,” she began. She sounded like a smoker, or she had a cold. Either way, her voice was rougher and deeper than mine. When I speak to people that have voices deeper than my own it always makes me feel like a kid and I should use words like “ma’am” and “sir.”
“Yup,” I replied simply. I hoped my short response with a word that wasn’t really even a word would end the discussion…. it didn’t.
“A big one,” she said with an evil smile. The smile was a tad disconcerting.
“Yes,” I said with a nod. There was then this awkward pause. Her, holding my license and smiling; me, doing my best not to make eye contact. After what felt like a minute, I added, “I’m trying not to think about it.”
That response surprised her, “Why?”
“Really,” I thought quickly to myself, “We are doing this here? At the grocery store? Now?” I coughed and spoke out loud, “I’m just not a fan of birthdays.”
It was then she turned to the other cashier, and spoke as if I wasn’t there, or an object at the store. She even gestured toward me with her thumb, in a check-this-out kind of way. “He has a birthday in a few days and is unhappy.”
More people were noticing our conversation. I’m usually okay with public attention (even though I consider myself an awkward introvert 90 percent of the time), but I wanted out of there. How do I explain, especially with a crowd now, I find this birthday more personal than any other? That I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with most people. Strangely, only finding comfort in blogging about it since it feels a little like journaling or a well-prepared rant.
She then turned back to me, “You know years don’t matter. You could die tomorrow.”
That was a cheery thought, and the last thing I wanted to consider. I saw the destruction of that curse immediately, like the debris after a bomb. Piles of unfinished books, not seeing my kids grow up…
While I was busy imagining people weeping as my ashes were scattered to the wind off of some random cliff, she was continuing, “I could die tomorrow.”
Was that supposed to cheer me up? Imagining an afterlife, forever being in this line, debating my mortality with an aggressive stranger. Then she paused awaiting my response. How does a person respond to that? This conversation had gone beyond talking about the weather.
“I’m sure,” I awkwardly began, and then coughed and tried again. “I’m sure we’ll both be fine.” I paused and added. “Ma’am.”
“That’s the spirit,” she replied quickly, a crooked smile forming over her face. She beamed like a priest who had saved a sinner.
She told me in one playful Facebook message she was researching the best Christmas music for me, even though this feels very early (even for me). What is more odd is she keeps recommending to me in phone calls and messages that I have to go onto Pandora and use the “Kenny G” mix.
Supposedly, the Kenny G mix is the best.
Now, I’m a jazz snob. My obsession with the genre usually leans towards the hard bop movement of the late 50’s (I almost saw Sonny Rollins in concert this year, but the show was cancelled for health reasons). Davis and Coltrane are part of almost every shuffle on my iPhone.
For me, it is all about the saxophone. I played saxoph0ne throughout my school years, starting in 5th grade. I worked part-time jobs throughout high school to buy great horns. When I went to college, I actually got in on a jazz scholarship. The dream of being the next great American author would come later, for the time being I dreamed of being a Marsalis. On a funny side, I actually had two opportunities to meet Branford, but wimped out on both occasions. I did see him in concert though, and Wynton numerous times.
It was in my sophomore year that my future in music began to change. My solos began to feel stale. I didn’t feel like I was saying anything new, just going through the motions. This realization made the change from music to books pretty easy.
But Kenny G?
Now here is the thing. I’ve seen Kenny G in concert!
I was in 6th grade at the time and was still learning about saxophone and jazz (that is my excuse and I am sticking to it). I was such a geek about the horn, I even had a poster in my room of a saxophone with smoke coming out of its bell. At the time though, I was thrilled. I merrily bounced in my seat, not recognizing at the time that there was a 40-year age gap between me and everyone else in that auditorium.
This was a very, very light jazz/rock concert. How light, you may ask?
You are not going to believe this, but Michael Bolton opened for Kenny G. And during Kenny’s set, Mr. Bolton joined him on stage for a few numbers and everyone went crazy. Looking back, I’m surprised my head didn’t explode from the excited energy around me.
(Of course, a better image might be of my brains seeping out of my ears like syrup from a tree. That seems to match the idea of light rock more.)
It’s funny how much I remember this moment, but near the end Kenny walked around with his saxophone. He went throughout the auditorium, up and down the aisles. Maybe it was the shock of seeing someone so young there, but he focused on me and stood in front of me for a good minute playing. Yes, there was only a few feet between me and Kenny. I remember the beads of sweat on his forehead, his long curly hair. I remember watching his fingering, trying to figure out which make of mouthpiece he was using… and, I can’t be certain, but I think even at one point during that solo he played the opening bars of Jingle Bells.
My kids wanted to give me my birthday presents from them early. They are five and two. And from both of them I got a new bow tie, one in each of their favorite colors. From my son it was in a bright green with stars; from my daughter it was purple and orange. Leaving me with the conundrum of which do I wear first. At least I thought that would be my big problem.
After my shower on Monday, I grabbed the bow ties and decided to go with the green thinking it would be easier to make the older child happy since the toddler probably wouldn’t remember anyway.
The first time I noted there was a problem was when I was trying to unfold the bow tie in its package. There was this rip noise. Now, I have about four bow ties and I have never experienced a rip noise before.
I ran under a light with it (as careful as a medic with a patient) and inspected the tie inch by inch. What was that rip? What was it? Then I noticed a little string in the back. I went to the bathroom got some nail clippers and snipped away at it… and to my shock the tie (my new tie) fell apart into three pieces at my feet!
It was almost tranquil how delicately they fell down.
Now I had no way to know this was a pre-tied bow tie. My wife had no way to know either. It didn’t say on the package and even on the back of the package were pictured instructions on how to tie a bow tie. Why put instructions on how to tie a bow tie on the back of a pre-tied bow tie!?! Yup, Arrow ties at Kohl’s I am calling you out for stupidity and bad packaging. Later, when I returned it to the store even the worker behind the customer service desk didn’t get it.
But the trip to return both ties would come later. Instead, at that moment I had a feeling of horror.
For there I was, with two broken ties (Yes, I had to try both), their remnants scattered on the bed before me. Downstairs, I could hear my children talking to each other happily, preparing for their day, not yet aware at all of the destruction that was just done to their special presents. What would I tell them? What?
No, I don’t get pre-tied bow ties.
If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!
Need an editor? Dream of finishing that book but need some help? Learn about my editing services by visiting this page on my site. Or you can contact Rebecca T. Dickson and request to work with me by clicking the image below.