Forty-four minus three

In three days I celebrate the forty-fourth anniversary of my birth.

Counting down to that day, I am posting birthday memories.

I saved this one for Christmas Day, because this birthday was full of all of my most favorite things. And it’s late, because I’ve been trying to fit in everything leading up to it. It was that good.

I’m talking about my 36th birthday: 2001. The year I wrote my first (unpublished) novel was also the first year I remember being friends with Tracy. Because my family was leaving for one of our traditional Christmas (and my birthday) trips, Tracy gave me my Christmas/birthday gift early. She told me, later, that she had trouble deciding what to get me, and had mentioned that to our mutual friend Lea.

Lea told her, “Oh, that’s easy! He’s a writer! Get him something to write with!”

So Tracy bought me a journal and some nice pens.

I took the journal with me on our trip – a cruise out of New Orleans.

The cruise itself was alright. I was not impressed with the customer service of the ship; my family and I had many complaints. But the positive memories remain with me today. Having lunch at a tourist-filled Margaritaville with a real Caribbean queen in Montego Bay, Jamaica and trying to talk her into taking me somewhere she goes for lunch. “Oh, no,” she said, “they will knife you dead.” Swimming on a sandbar in the Grand Caymans with thousands of manta rays with my sister, niece and younger nephew. Seeing the oil rigs spouting fire as we sailed back up the mouth of the Mississippi to port – an ecological nightmare, but it had it’s own strange beauty. All these and more were recorded in the journal Tracy gave me.

My sister and her family had decided they were going back to Portland on my birthday, but her mother- and father-in-law and their son, David, were staying longer in New Orleans, and I had decided to stay with them to spend my birthday in my very favorite city.

When we got back to the Big Easy, my friend David and I, as the bachelors, shared a room. I was dating a woman, A., at the time. On Christmas Eve, I called her to let her know how things were going and wish her a Merry Christmas. David asked me if she was special and I shrugged. He replied, “Well, she’s worth a call from New Orleans, right?” I was still uncertain.

David and I spent most of our nights prowling around Bourbon Street and the French Quarter. When my birthday approached, I had found a restaurant for my birthday dinner. Arnaud’s, on the corner of Rue Bienville and Bourbon (I’m linking to the Google cache because for some reason the actual website won’t open in Firefox).

The taxi dropped us off at the restaurant. We were shown to our table, by staff in white dinner jackets with white gloves, in a quiet corner near a window looking out onto Les Rue Bourbon. I don’t remember exactly what I had for dinner but it came in several courses, was all delicious, and included gator at one point. Arnaud’s may be the finest restaurant I have ever dined in.

All through dinner, I just knew that Betsy and Tom and David would likely be trying to get the Dixieland Jazz house band to sing me a birthday song, but I also knew that they would have to wait for me to leave the table to do that – so I stayed at the table for as long as I could. It was, literally, hydraulic pressure that forced me to leave, shortly before the dessert arrived (crème brûlée). I left and hurried back as quickly as I could.

And yet, they still managed to do it.

Seconds after I sat down, the jazz trio appeared, and announced my birthday loudly to the entire restaurant. I was embarrassed a little, but delighted beyond words.

The band sang two songs, the first of which was a modification of “Mac The Knife” – “Brian The Knife”. The second, of course, was a jazz version of “Happy Birthday”.

After dinner, Betsy and Tom went back to the hotel, and David and I set off again into the French Quarter for a night of booze and adventures. We did not return until sunrise – or maybe a bit after.

I’m saving those stories for another time. But suffice it to say it was a birthday I shall never forget.