I recently had another birthday and again wasn’t gifted with what I really wanted — an harmonica.
I’ve been hinting at wanting one for many years, having offered subtle hints and suggestions along the lines of:
- “Wow! Did you hear that guy wailing on an harmonica? Sure wish I had one so I could learn to play.”
- “Honey, do you know anyone who plays an harmonica? No? Well, I know what would change that…”
- “What would I like for my birthday? Gee, I’d really love an harmonica.”
A birthday is different – none of us choose to be born, much less on a specific date. A birthday just means you managed to plod through another 12 months of dreary existence on this earth while avoiding being sneezed upon and contracting swine flu, or run over by a bus, or “accidentally” mixing prescription drugs and cinnamon schnapps. What little effort may have been expended in these avoidance maneuvers is minimal at most. So, cheerful sort that I am, I’m happy for my birthday to be just another ordinary day of avoiding sneezes and buses. But — if my wife or son ask, “What do you want for your birthday?” and I offer a gentle and unobtrusive suggestion such as “I’d like some warm socks” or “I’d enjoy going out for a hamburger” or, most significantly, “I’D LIKE AN HARMONICA”, then dammit! they’d better gimme those socks/that burger/AN HARMONICA.
Actual conversation, reproduced verbatim and occurs every year:
- WIFE: “What kind of birthday cake would you like?”
- ME: “I’d like a JELL-O cake.”
- WIFE: “I am not making you a JELL-O cake.”
She says a JELL-O cake is “gross”. Well, I think potato salad is “gross” but I don’t tell her she can’t eat it, especially if she asked for it for her birthday (although I would not allow her to eat it anywhere within a thousand-yard proximity to me). Why doesn’t she just tell me what kind of cake *she* would enjoy for my birthday? And then ask me to go to the store and pick one up?
See, this is exactly the kind of fracas I want to avoid by side-stepping the societal obligation to “celebrate” my birthday. It creates tension, angst, dissent, tumult… all feelings that leave me feeling rather blue. And what instrument best captures the essence of the blues? AN HARMONICA.
Am I the only one who sees the irony here? The one gift in the whole world that would make me happiest is precisely what I need to express my despair. Receiving an harmonica would fill me with such joy that I’d no longer have any need to play it.
Perhaps what I should get for my birthday is an oxymoron. Especially since I’m now starting to feel like one.