Friday, May 11, 2007

John M. Scalzi's Weekend Assignment #165: Memorable Birthdays

Weekend Assignment #165: You've had your share of birthdays by now. Relate one or two that stick out in your mind. Could be a happy birthday, or an important birthday, or a birthday when something interesting but unrelated happened. Any interesting birthday works.

Extra Credit: What birthday are you looking forward to? Numerically, I mean.

Dear John,

Congratulations on attaining your thirty-eighth birthday Рonly eighteen years my junior. May your next thirty-eight be as eventful as mine have, but with less of the pain and heartache. That'll make you a likely great-grandfather and past Grand Master of Science Fiction. It''ll be your name the youngsters have thrown in their faces, rather than Campbell, Heinlein, Ellison, Le Guin, Clark, or Philip K. Dick. Your lovely wife's hair may have greyed but that indomitable spirit should remain. Athena's success as World Dominatrix and favorite darling of stage, screens, and 3D-VD will continue unabated (although, I think her insistence on broadcasting the live birth of her third child throughout the known universe was a bit on the risqu̩ side for this old phartoid).

My most memorable birthday had to have been my twenty-first. My father had had some serious health and financial frights that year and he was feeling Death breathing down his neck. Or at least haunting the neighborhood. I'd had a very successful summer working as a wood and metal shop counselor for a boys camp. Got through the whole summer season with no more serious an injury than a few splinters in campers (the one staff member who “did it all the time” amputated his thumb on the table saw, but I was away on a day off when it happened, so no blame nor foul accrued). But I digress.

On my twenty-first birthday I received a bottle of Chivas Regal – a twelve year old scotch. That was the beginning of a long relationship...

The piece de resistance, though, was a full sized, unabridged Random House Dictionary. You know the type, John. About 5000 pages, ten kilos of paper and hardboard, indexed, full etymology of every entry, those great old line drawing illustrations of people, places and things. Needs it's own stand to rest upon – a book just too heavy to hold for very long. I'd always wanted one. I finally had one!

Surprising how needs and desires change. Twenty years later, I was still acquiring reference books – that time, a Black's Law Dictionary. These days, I'd be thankful to have the equivalent library on a USB dongle ... carrying around all those books would be too heavy, too much like work. Today, I use WordWeb most of the time – the heck with carrying around a dongle.

I also got something else that day. A hint at the wellspring of my father's emotions. Those two gifts personify to me who and what he was about. That has sustained me through some tough times in my life and I am grateful.

But, back then, I was an ungrateful cur. I needed a car and promptly went out and got one of these, in a medium navy blue:

I named her Climb and she was with me for seven years and 250,000 miles of fun, adventure, drudgery and terror. I lived in her or, out of the back of her. Off the top of her, sometimes, too. I came down Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado with the engine off doing over 105 miles an hour. She climbed mountains throughout North America, fought her way through clouds of mosquitoes so thick they blocked her radiator, air filter and heater port intake screens, forded streams over the top of her floor rails on numerous occasions from Mexico to the Yukon and in-between. I miss her to this day. Poor dear, she rusted out. I'm a dab hand at fixing engines and transmissions, but the steel manufactured in the late sixties and early seventies was so poor that vehicles started showing holes within a year of coming off the factory lines.

Come to think on it, I started rusting from the inside out, almost as fast, too.

So there you have my twenty-first birthday reminiscences. Hope they were as good for you as they were for me (ahem). Extend my respect and appreciation to your wife and the demon spawn. Enjoy your homecoming – it's a fleeting pleasure.


Extra Credit: Well, since I should be dead already, anything extra is a bonus. I'd really like to have one hell of a party when I hit 85, right after they amputate my other leg and install the new electronic replacement eyes I'll need, given how this diabetes is progressing...

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