The Birthday Girl

September is my birthday month, and I’ve started noticing that it rolls around even more quickly than Christmas, which I’ve long contended comes by every 90 days. September, it seems, screeches up about every 60 days. This frighteningly fast recurrence of birthdays doesn’t afford me much time to dwell upon the physical and emotional toll that they bring, to say nothing of the feeling I get from scrolling and scrolling and scrolling to find the year of my birth in an online form of some kind.

I’ve decided to do a little dwelling now, since Christmas is due to arrive in about 10 minutes, and I won’t have time to feel sorry for myself about my birthday. I’ll be too busy feeling sorry for myself about not having started my shopping until December 24.

During the brief time the two of us find to catch up with one another, my best friend and I swap our cursory updates on kids, jobs and life in general before getting to the part of the conversation that really interests us: cataloguing our various flaws. The fodder for this activity grows exponentially with each year. I don’t know how much longer we can keep up this pace.

Most recently, we commiserated about our eyebrows, which once rivaled the Brooke Shields’ “Blue Lagoon”-era brows for their abundance. Now, the few brows that still grow have become wiry and wayward, pointing in every direction toward the cosmos and refusing to lie down. The rest have simply relocated themselves to our chins – springing up overnight out of nowhere like a toadstool – or worse, taken up residence in our nostrils.

Just as the conversation was turning from calloused heels to impending bunion surgeries, someone much younger casually approached us to take our photo, having no whiff of the mad, automated relay she had set into motion with this ridiculous, impromptu request.

For the uninitiated – the young and all men – here is The Drill: Pull off reading glasses. Suck in belly. Push down straggler eyebrows. Adjust each other’s bra straps (to ensure that all back fat is sufficiently camouflaged). One of us instructs the photographer to stand on a chair (so we can stretch out our chins) while the other desperately scans the room for two unsuspecting people to put on either side of us (thus covering our exposed, spreading arms, which must never, ever be photographed, but which must be exposed because we’ve been sweating in our Spanx® like it’s our job).

After the seamless execution of The Drill, as if by a Pavlovian reflex, we each handed over our email addresses to the photographer, with our offers to “fix” the photo to the point that neither of us would be recognizable. And who cares about the decoys standing on either side of us?

As The Drill has become more complex in recent years, I’ve begun keeping a checklist of age-related issues that have made the rite necessary in the first place. Poor reading vision – check. Penciled-on eyebrows – check. Whisker on chin – check. Bat-
wing arms – check. Back fat – check. Bunion – check. Protruding veins, belly and eyelids – check, check, check.

God help me, I’m not the Birthday Girl. I’m the Cafeteria Lady.

I pulled out my grade school yearbooks, which always included photos of the custodial staff, the school nurse and, of course, the cafeteria ladies, lined up like a plump little row of Stay Puft® marshmallows in their grandmotherly cat-eye glasses (which I now own) and compression stockings (which I now need). These are the only people I know who seemed to defy the passing of time; they looked exactly the same in six yearbooks.

Such are the hazards of birthdays, I suppose – things I should probably mull in private. But misery – particularly when sheathed in varicose veins and sun spots – loves company, so instead, I’ll just put on my party hat (which will be a hair net this year), and a plastic apron to entertain (a single-file line of) party guests with a celebratory dinner. On the menu: corndogs with peas and carrots, sliced peaches and a carton of milk, served up with a heaping side order of my personal tribulations from chronic reflux.

Categories: Lauren Hammack