Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Birthday Presence

Sunset over Hudson. 8:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011. A sunny day in New York; warm but not terrible. About eight-thirty in the evening we had a nice steady rainfall that washed the air, the sidewalks and the streets, and watered the flowers, the trees, the grass, as well as bringing in a fresh breeze however brief.

Yesterday was my birthday and quite a few years ago I decided that if at all possible, I would not work (or do anything else I didn’t feel like doing) on my birthday. That’s my present to myself. It’s a luxury yet it costs nothing. So I can afford it, and it’s a great pleasure.
City foliage appreciating the heat's respite.
This is my way of telling you that I did not prepare anything for today’s Diary. I had something in mind but knew it would take some time to put together, and I quite easily decided to forget it for today.

Also I just didn’t feel like it. Instead I read the things I like to read. I made myself two grilled ham and cheese and tomato sandwiches on my George Foreman grill. I walked the dogs, snoozed, walked the dogs again and read some more. Some friends sent me plants for my garden and a huge orchid which is stately and delicate and will keep its beauty around this house for a good amount of time.

I’ve always liked birthdays but never thought of them much in terms of significance. For this six or seven year old, it was the greatest day of the year, especially since it was in summertime with its no-school and long days.

JH took these shots from the other side of the table. He said to me, "you're not gonna like 'em." I said "why?" He said because I'd have the same complaint I often have about pictures of myself. I think I look goofy, and frankly I think it only bothers me because I am goofy. And now at this age: Pleeeeease! However, in the first one I'm trying to show how great Alison's cake was and in the second I get to see what I look like after "making the wish" (and I did "make a wish," please God). In that one I think I look a little weird, which means ...?
When I was thirty a friend recommended I read Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” which was heady stuff for a non-intellectual man who was neither here nor there in terms of maturity. I did have an awareness of no longer being the kid that I still felt like, and it did turn out to be a time when I “changed” my life, and the road I would take. But it was all subconscious at the time.

Turning 35 I was amazed that I still felt like a kid, an adolescent, Maybe fourteen. All those years leading up to that number I which I had always thought of as “old” -- as in mature, settled. I didn’t bother me to realize that it wasn’t true. Feeling like a kid gave me license that I would use. A couple years later I decided that my life could only work for me if I were a writer.

I had been in business at the time, and fairly prosperous. Ironically it was that prosperity which motivated me to move on. I sold my business (in Connecticut), got rid of most of my belongings except my typewriter and my books, and with a dog and five cats, and I moved to Los Angeles to start a new life. Which thirty-odd years later is this life.

All of that adventure was handled with the unconscious aplomb of a boy unaware of pitfalls or even the possibility thereof. That was naivete but so is youth, and when taking a risk, it is helpful – something I learned after the fact.

The years that followed – my Life in Hollywood I like to think of it as --were a great struggle, in many ways including financially. Hardship and disappointment and feelings of inadequacy were always present or nearby. Although that turned out to be an inner struggle. Because I was also having a good life, even a great life on this adventure, aided and abetted by good, thoughtful, generous friends, many interesting people and much to learn.

Looking back on those years of making the change, I sometimes get a little nervous for that “kid” embarking on the unknown. I see that in reality I was throwing myself off a cliff of stability, to swim in the deep dark ocean.

But I did; and so it was. Yesterday I celebrated my 70th. The leading up of the last couple of months have been different. I’d never considered a number before. Even when friends (and strangers too) would mention the Big Four-Oh, the Big Five-Oh, Six-Oh; I think, truly, who cares? No one said anything about this one, except maybe to look at me in shock which I took as a compliment but also understanding the subtext of their “shock.”

Otherwise I’ve felt a little embarrassed. I mean, here I am at this number which is considered Old and I’m still back in 9th grade in many ways, and even six and seven in others.

I’ve always had older friends, since I was a young man. The older friends have always been the enhancers, the ones who know, who provide the wit and wisdom as well as the stories of lives with sensibility. They have the authority I lack. Now many of them – the much older ones – have departed, and those who remain are reaching into their ninth and tenth decades. This is quite a phenomenal thing to watch. Those I know who are, incidentally, are sharper than ever and maybe even more passionate about living.
Party's over: Ann Rapp, Birthday Boy, Robert Caravaggi, and Margo Howard. The two women had never met before although Ann reads Margo on and was commending her on her Murdoch column; and then they learned that they both lived in Hollywood (Ann grew up there) and knew a lot of the same people. More stories to keep you listening.
However, now I’m moving into that territory, and that’s what this number has made clear. The difference has to do with vunerability. Life. Otherwise, it’s another day and Lord let the world be safe for all of us.

Last night my partner Jeff Hirsch and his fiancée Danielle Rossi hosted a little dinner for me with some old friends and newer old friends, at Swifty’s. The place was packed like an autumn night and conversations had the room rattling the decibels higher and higher.

We had a good time and it was finished off with one my tastiest birthday gifts, delivered as a big surprise yesterday afternoon, from Alison Mazzola and her merry band of public relations staff. It came with the instructions: Do Not Refrigeate. That fresh. The kind you like at six. Or seventy-six. Or whatever.

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