Friday, May 7, 2010

My Cousin’s Fourth Birthday

My little cousin’s birthday is on January second, which fell on a Wednesday in 2008. He was turning four, and my aunt and uncle elected to celebrate his birthday on Saturday the fifth, at their place at 5pm. We normally spend the entirety of our Saturdays in town. Their place is a 25 minute drive from ours, in the opposite direction of the city. Given that we already live about 25 minutes out of town, this would put us a solid 50 minute drive out of the city. Despite the interruption that this presented to our normal weekend plans, we went.

The event was nice. It was a typical family function, with lots of food and lots of people. My wife and I ate, and planned to stay until the gifts were opened, maybe have dessert, and then leave. About halfway through dinner, the doorbell rang. My dad answered it, and I could see there were two youngish women at the door. There was a great deal of talking happening between them, and everybody was polite and smiling. I could see that my dad was using his amiable diplomatic persona. He’s the superintendent of a school district, and can become that character in an instant. I was curious what had brought that out. In a few moments my dad turned around and delicately announced that the girls had just backed into somebody’s car. It turns out that it was our car. There were so many cars at my aunt’s house that when we had showed up, we had had to street park. The women had backed their giant Isuzu SUV out of their driveway straight into my wife’s VW Jetta, putting a substantial crease in the rear passenger-side door. They were friends or acquaintances of my aunt. Apparently, one of them went to high school with her. My wife’s temper can be a lot to handle, and she was immediately muttering things under her breath. The girls were being very polite, and obviously had had the courtesy not to just drive off. Clearly they intended to pay for any damages. So I did my best to play the role of diplomat (a trait I inherited from my father), doing most of the talking for my wife. The woman who was actually driving the SUV never got out of the vehicle. The two women with whom I was talking were her friends who were riding with her. She remained in the vehicle with one other woman, and was digging frantically in her purse and glove compartment to produce her insurance information. After a while she shouted out the window that we should just call the police, and they could get her information for us. Her friends were visibly put off by this, but offered no objection. My wife went back in the house to call the police, while I waited on the front porch and memorized their license plate, watching, making sure they didn’t drive off. Eventually one of the girls ran back with the insurance card in hand. She apologized profusely, giving me the card to write down the necessary information. I immediately shouted back to my wife to cease calling the police, if she hadn’t done so already. While I wrote, she apologized for her friend’s curtness, explaining that she had just lost her three-year-old daughter to leukemia about two months before. This was the first time that they had been able to get her out of the house since then. That would have been good contextual information to have at the start of all this, as it may have helped subdue my wife’s reaction. Regardless, I took down the information, assured them that all would be fine, and wished them a good night. They smiled and left. My cousin opened his presents. We had dessert and left for our favorite bar.

Traffic into the city was minimal, because there was a Steelers game in progress. It was the first playoff game of the season, and everybody in the city was watching it. When we arrived at our favorite bar, it was relatively empty as well. Kumar and Greg were the only two people there, though they had the game playing on both TVs. It’s not really a place that people often go to watch sporting events, so it was odd to see sports on the TVs. Strangely, Greg and Kumar both follow the Steelers. I don’t understand it, though they’re not fanatical or obnoxious about it. Greg was clearly loaded already. It was about 8pm. He greeted us in his usual big-spirited style. He’s amazing. We asked him how his New Year’s was. He said that it had been terrible. On Monday, his best friend from high school had committed suicide. Greg’s about 33 now, and this friend lived in Seattle. He explained that they were still great friends, and had stayed in close touch ever since high school. When he returned to his day job, he learned that there was going to be a merger or something, and his whole office would be getting laid off at the end of the month. On top of that, his boss’s two-month-old niece just died of SIDS. At that point, 2008 wasn’t looking so good to any of us. So I ordered shots for the whole bar, all four of us. We drank to 2008. Conversation improved, and we got on to lighter subjects.

Eventually it came up that my wife and I are both atheists. Kumar seemed surprised by that fact. He and I discussed religion for a while, and it reminded me of a news clip that I had watched online that week. In California, a good-looking young surfer guy was attacked by a shark, nearly died, recovered completely, and subsequently found Jesus. He attributed his survival to God looking out for him. I think that’s just about the most self-serving, shitty logic there is. So God wanted the three-year-old girl to die of Leukemia, the two-month-old infant to die of SIDS, and Greg’s best friend to kill himself…but wanted to save the life of this surfer guy who was deliberately swimming in the ocean (which obviously contains sharks)? Am I supposed to believe that this is a decision made by an all-powerful and all-good, loving and benevolent God? I’m glad that surfer guy lived to surf another day, and I don’t fault him for enjoying what is a necessarily risky pastime. Life isn’t worth much if you don’t live it on your own terms. Calculated risks are part of that. However, the notion that God decided to intervene and save him, in the context of the thousands of people dying in Iraq, for example, is so self-absorbed it’s fucking offensive. Fuck you, and fuck your God. Kumar laughed when I told him all this. He was raised Hindu.

At one point the other bartender, whom we had only met for the first time on New Year’s, dropped by and dropped something off for Greg. He left quickly, with a big smile and a wave. Greg came over and showed us the bud he’d just been given. It smelled wonderful. He asked if we’d like to help him smoke it. We didn’t need much convincing. We just needed a location. We drank more. The bartender working the next shift showed up. She was mousy and quiet and totally straight. She was much more concerned about not getting fired than Greg had ever been. Her boyfriend showed up with her. Greg counted out his register and came around to the other side of the bar with us. He asked us if we wanted to see the basement, we said sure. The new bartender chick’s boyfriend came down with us. We locked the door and went down the steps into the basement. You could tell it was an old building, because the basement ceiling wasn’t high enough that I could stand upright without leaning my head to one side. The boyfriend had a bowl with him. Greg packed it and we all passed it around. When the bud was done, the boyfriend re-packed it with his own stuff. We passed it around some more. When that was done, we all went back upstairs to drink. From that point onward, my wife was done drinking. She had to be able to drive at the end of the evening. I didn’t have to worry about that, so I got hammered without restraint. Strangely, I don’t mind watching football when I’m drunk and high. Any other time, it makes me feel like my brain is atrophying. After we determined that she was sufficiently straight to drive, we left and went home without incident. Our dog was immensely happy to see us, and I poured myself a small glass of a 12 year old single malt Scotch, just to keep the buzz up. We played with Chalupa on the couch for a while, and only put her away when I felt like my passing out was imminent. Then we went up to bed.

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