For the past few years I've been weening myself of the whole BIRTHDAY! thing. I mean, I have been getting nutso about August 31st since the mid-1970s and, I don't know, maybe I don't need to spend that particular 24 hour cycle trying to shoot fireworks from my fingertips and sweating glitter. So I stopped doing the big bar birthday party and instead celebrated by eating enough DQ Blizzard Cake to equal 2 and a half pitchers of beer. And I planned to keep doing that every August 31st until I ran out of years.
But then I saw that Cloud Cult was playing Big Top Chautauqua on my birthday and I had to re-instate the whole BIRTHDAY! thing. It was glaringly obvious that the universe wants me to be a person who stops acquaintances at Target and says: "Oh, by the way, it's my birthday." (True story). I mean, why else would my favorite band in the history of the world be playing this cool outdoor venue during a blue moon? Please. Subtlety is obviously a lost art.
I didn't set my alarm for midnight this year. I didn't have to. I knew I would instinctively know the second I entered my 37th year. My phone did light up, though, with the first text of the day from CHRISSIE! We had head-sized slabs of ice cream cake and Chuck let me open the mysterious boxes that had been appearing on our doorstep all week.
What a haul! He got me the coolest assortment of stuff: A drinking glass that says Shit Show on it, a handmade leather Kindle cover and five graphic novels that deviate from my Wish List, including a True Crime Graphic Novel, a sub-genre I didn't even know existed.
I then watched four hours of reality TV backlog. I've got it pretty bad for "Gallery Girls" these days.
Facebook gives the a birthday all the pageantry it had in grade school -- times every person you know. It is so, so fun.
One of the highlights of birthday cheer was a texted video from my friend S'Fire who played an acoustic version of Happy Birthday. I watched it like seven times. I'm saving it for my day-changer files, one of those things that can flip the switch on a meh day and put it into awesome overdrive.
BAYFIELD OR BUST
It's been years since I bought a physical CD, but since I was going to be driving to Bayfield I decided to pick up some singalong songs for the drive. I got Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" and Regina Spektor's new album. One of these would be able to suit my driving mood at all points of the trip.
AN ESSAY ON KATY PERRY
Hear me out here: I like this little blue-hair bopper who sings specifically to high school girls and gives them a really sexy version of adulthood. A the sand-in-the-stilettos, broken chandelier, warrant-for-arrest frivolity and none of the "Here I am eating a tuna fish sandwich in a cafeteria without windows for the twenty-seventh day in a row, I can't wear nice shoes because of my bunions, I have a zit on my back and six dollars to last me until a week from Tuesday. Can't wait to curl up under my menagerie and watch 'Big Bang Theory' and have tator tots for dinner again" reality. In the world Katy Perry sings about, a hangover is just a messy ponytail and an excuse to wear extra large sunglasses. It sounds like a nice place to visit.
But what I really like is her song "The One That Got Away." This song, in which she gets a writing credit, waxes nostalgic about the boyfriend the protagonist used to make out with in a Mustang while listening to Radiohead. They got matching tattoos. She was June Carter to his Johnny Cash. But she heard he got the tattoo removed and now she has to come to grips with the fact that she's no longer his muse.
"The One That Got Away" is not a song for adults. It is for young women currently steeped in all the "before" footage. It's a romantic song that gives lends weight to that super-cute boy they ride into adulthood and then dismiss in a dramatic fashion. The truth, of course, is that by the time you crest age 25 the high school boyfriend is just a stranger who, at one time, knew a lot about your body and your taste in music. And if you're feeling nostalgic about him after that, you aren't really feeling nostalgia for him. You're feeling nostalgia for a time when everything was new and novel and every day of the summer was at least six hours longer than a traditional clock would indicate.
The radio version of the song is this kind of tinny up-beat pop song that doesn't really match the mood of the lyrics. Still, catchy. But: The acoustic version The One That Got Away (Acoustic). This is where Katy Perry really shines. You will believe with every fiber of your toe muscles that Katy Perry is in her late 20s and really, genuinely misses her Johnny Cash. It's really lovely and if I played guitar it would become my go-to song for campfire singalongs.
So, I really never got around to Regina Spektor.
UNDER THE BIG TOP
I've seen Cloud Cult a bunch of times now and I think this was the best one, aside from the problem of what to do when the music starts burrowing into your soul. The seats are like church pews and the whole row was shaking with the movement of bouncing legs and bobbing heads. Eventually a foursome to our right simply couldn't take it anymore and they sprung up and danced with closed eyes and I swear it was like some sort of tent revival.
The vibe was really great and Craig Minowa was full of pleasant chatter about spirit and energy and stars and other things that make me roll my eyes outside of the Cloud Cult setting. The new cello player is really animated and exciting. They played a version of their song "The Ghost Inside Our House" that they worked up based on the way Trampled covers it and that was super cool. The couple in front of us decided they needed to stand, which gave us an excuse to stand, too.
Then the whole band was singing and half the band was barefoot. It was like someone had spun them all in circles and set them on the stage and told them their favorite team just won the big game. While this crazy fantastic cool moment was unfolding, Fannie leaned over and tried to convince me that stage painter Connie Minowa had ruined her painting by including a cheeseburger in it.
"See, she painted Big Top. That blue at the top is a tent and those are the lights and the trees and that's a cheeseburger from the concession stand," she explained.
"I think that's an egg in a tree," I whispered.
"No, it's a burger," Fannie insisted.
THE AFOREMENTIONED COUPLE
... turned out to be Fannie's boyfriend from eighth grade and his wife. I gave them a ride to the Madeline Island Ferry and for two miles I was brain deep in Chaos Car. But it was the perfect kind of random run-in that I love.
AND THEN IT WAS OVER
I left Bayfield feeling like Cloud Cult looked when they poured their guts on that stage. It was such a great day and there was a big moon and this Katy Perry album. "What if every day of 37 feels like this?!" I thought, secretly convinced that it would.
Then I hit Superior Wisconsin at about 1:30 a.m. and got pulled over for speeding. The deputy asked if I'd been drinking and I panicked. I told him about the two beers I drank between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and the two pulls I'd taken from Fannie's Gin and Tonic during the show. I was just starting in on the nail polish remover I'd used at 5 p.m. when I realized that this was all very stupid. I obviously wasn't drunk and if I had been I wouldn't have been driving.
He asked me to step out of the car for a field sobriety test. I understand that when people say they had two beers five hours ago, they really mean that they had 12 beers an hour ago. I had to watch a red dot move from right to left, then up and down. I had to walk heel to toe for nine steps. I had to stand on one foot and count to 20 out loud. Then, because he said I seemed impaired, I had to take a breathalyzer.
This was all very humiliating, the thing a lot of people miss out on because they do this choreography when they're actually hammered instead of not at all hammered. But by then I was wondering if maybe I was drunk and just didn't know it. I don't process booze well. The smell seeps out of my body on impact and then lingers.
"Have you ever done one of these before?" the cop asked as he booted up the breathalyzer.
"Yes," I said, immediately cursing the fact that the first thing to fall out of my mouth was, again, honesty.
This must have some sort of cliche dad-was-a-cop root.
The last time I took a breathalyzer I was drunk riding and I had to blow to see if I could take over driving duties Fannie, who wasn't drunk driving but also wasn't 100 percent sober. I remember watching the number on the alcohol-o-meter rise to .17, rooting it along because I didn't really know what any of it meant. The policeman gave me a disgusted look: "You can't sub in for the driver, you clown, you're worse than her."
Last night I peeked over to see the number on the reader.
"What is it?" I asked.
"0.00," he said.
I still got the speeding ticket -- though it was a reduced ticket. He said it was a birthday gift, but I hope it's because he felt like a dick for making me compete in the sidewalk Olympics. Birthday=Over.
(Well, kind of over. I've turned this birthday into a full weekend affair).