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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

3 Great Gifts

Despite my best efforts wishing to the contrary, my birthday is rapidly approaching, and my trek into the “middle-aged” demographic is progressing past its infancy. To be honest, though, if you’ve got to grow old (and I have it on good authority that you do), it’s really best to do it as a man. After all, the guy from The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials looks like he’s somewhere north of 60, Sean Connery is north of 70, and Hugh Hefner is north of 80, and all three of them will see more supermodels naked this week than I’ll see during the rest of my life. Being an old guy is cool, where as being an old lady means support hose, comfortable shoes and feeding pigeons in the park. But of the few downsides to aging with a y-chromosome, perhaps the most stark is the dearth of great birthday presents after you’ve turned 21. Like most men, my taste in toys runs on the pricey side, and the number of people in my life who like me enough to buy any of them for me runs on the very, very low side. And so, as most birthdays pass, I’m left to buy myself something great. There have, however, been a few presents that have defied this trend; gifts so unexpectedly wonderful that they still give me pause - and make me immeasurably grateful for my friends (and even for my birthdays), and so in the interests of optimism for my many birthdays to come, here are the three best birthday presents I’ve ever gotten:

1. Surprise, Surprise. For as easy as I am to disappoint, I’m really quite difficult to surprise. After two adult careers in leadership and professional advising, I’ve learned to pick up on little hints to put together the big picture - long before it’s obvious. While this type of skill has it’s advantages - it also has it’s downside, in that no one was ever able to successfully throw me a surprise party before the age of 34. It’s not as though I expect or even enjoy a giant to-do being made out of an otherwise nondescript day - after all, once you’re out of your twenties, you’re really only obligated to celebrate the passing of decades rather than years, and there’s a waning joy with each one (until you’re making Willard Scott’s list). But having spent nearly a decade of my own on the left side of the country - where good friends are in vastly shorter supply that good networking opportunities, I found myself wanting for the type of fun that everyone was pretending to have with their “friends”. And so it happened that a very good girlfriend planned a very good surprise party directly under my nose. The ruse was so convincing that I nearly came unglued after passing through the door of the party room at my then-favorite indoor go-kart track. There were a few people there - some true and honest friends, some well-intended absences and a lot of smiles to go around. There will be more birthdays, and more parties, but I suspect I’ll never be surprised like that again, and that will have been my best birthday party ever.

2. Tequila Sunrise. I wish I could say that I turned 21 someplace cool: Cabo, Vegas, New York City, or even someplace with a beach. I wish I could say there was a famous bar, a luxurious downtown setting, or some cool band playing. I wish I could say that there were dozens of my friends helping me ring it in, and some Hangover-style epic story of shenanigans hazily recalled the next day. But I can’t. I turned 21 on the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Kings Bay, Georgia - at the crappy base bar, with all of about twenty people total in attendance, and only one there for me. Sammy T. Wray, USMC, the craziest jarheaded son-of-a-bitch I ever met, and a classmate of mine at the Naval Academy just happened to have the extraordinary misfortune of being stuck in Kings Bay for the only day he’d ever willingly spend on a submarine. Years later I would return to this base as my first and only duty station as a commissioned officer - and come to discover that Kings Bay is affectionately known as the armpit of Georgia, which is a generous explanation. And if you think that drinking in the base bar on a rural submarine base on a Sunday night in mid-June sounds horribly lonely and depressing, you’d be right. But backed by a DJ with a bad mic and a music collection ripped straight from Top 40 radio, the courage that only your first 4 shots of tequila can provide and the support of one very loud shipmate, I had a night that I only barely remember, and a morning that involved my first “strange ceiling” wake up. I’m sure I never thanked him appropriately - so, wherever you are, thanks, Sammy.

3. Up-Chucks. Every once in a while you have a friend who knows you so well that rather than getting you what you want for your birthday they get you something you need. Now, I don’t mean they’re wrapping up household necessities, vitamin supplements or a long-overdue gym membership. No, I mean, they give you something that you never would have found on your own, and that becomes something you can’t possible live without. I usually try to achieve this Zen by giving loved ones their first Apple products - but as I have a house full of those, no one can replicate that particular method. But in 2007, my best friend (and a better friend than I deserve or could imagine) David gave me just such a gift - in a small cardboard box that didn’t have any batteries, wires or screens in it. After having spent eight years living there, and finally making my escape, it could easily be argued that there still isn’t much California about me - but aside from some great friends, the only other thing I took away from the Golden State was a rockin’ pair of Chucks. For the uninitiated, I’m talking the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star shoe - and my first pair (and the best birthday gift ever) was a black & white pair of low-rise lace ups. Since that day, I’ve bought almost ten more pairs, worn them to everything from weddings to country bars and they’ve become a seminal part of my adult wardrobe. But, I don’t like any of them as much as my first pair - which I’ll again be wearing this year to celebrate.

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Whoever said that birthdays aren’t about presents has never really gotten any good ones. In fact, the best thing about birthdays are the presents. There’s nothing particularly awesome about turning another year older - especially after turning 21; so unless it’s about the cake - it has to be about the presents. But it’s just as important to note that presents don’t always come wrapped. In a world this busy, just the gift of people’s time is precious - and good times and good memories are some of the most enduring gifts you’ll ever receive. Birthdays are milestones in our lives, but if all you have to mark the passage of another year is a higher number to put next to your name - you’re doing it wrong. So, this year, I’m hoping for some great presents - inasmuch as I’m hoping for great times with great friends, because while every poor bastard has to get older once a year, not everyone has all of you to make each year better than the last.


Eric said...

I want you to know how impressed I am that you are comfortable admitting your night of drunken forbidden love with Sammy. I've always just assumed that any organization so rife with institutionalized homophobia (at least from the outside looking in) and with pretty specific rules about, ahem, socializing with the females who are about, must be at least as rife with one-off ventures into the dark side of rainbows, but you rarely hear them talking about it! Kudos for you and your self-confidence! And hey, good for you making him yell, too! Anything you're gonna do is worth doing well...

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