On Birthdays

littleguyI have traveled around the sun one more time. The custom is to celebrate this feat of survival and centrifugal force with parties, presents, cakes, candles and a card.

When I was a kid growing up in Queens, NY, the place to be was a family restaurant on Union Turnpike called Sandy’s. My best recollection was the specialty of the house at Sandy’s was some sort of hamburger and fries, but since no one really ate at Sandy’s intentionally, its menu has long ago faded from my memory.

A Sandy’s birthday party was pretty much the same. You invited 10, 12 kids, one of whom was designated to exhibit the violent effects of nausea precisely when you were opening the biggest, and presumably, best present in the pile.

There were party favors that included one of those noisemakers that unrolls when you blow on it. It was always fun to blow the thing in a kid’s face at the precise time he or she was about to place a forkful of fries in their mouth. It resulted in proving over and over again, to the birthday boy’s delight, that french fries are definitely not aerodynamic. Either is ketchup.

Opening presents was always fun. Back in the 60’s you mainly received from your friends board games, a football or a high-caliber faux firearm you could use to pretend you were either a war hero or cowboy ridding the American West of indigenous people who still regret selling Manhattan to those nasty Dutch boys for 24 bucks in bangles and beads.

The tension would build as you unwrapped each gift. If you received a sweet air rifle the kids yelled “yay!!!!.” If you received the board game “Park and Shop” you might hear one of the kids quietly mutter, “I have that game. It sucks. Actually, that IS my game. Couldn’t wait to dump it on someone.” Receiving a football or anything else that could be construed as a projectile brought horror to the host parents as a spontaneous game of catch would break out in the restaurant. If you were accurate you nailed a busboy with a full load of dirty dishes. The noise they made when they crashed to the tile floor was the best birthday present of all.

Sandy’s closed in the mid-60’s and was followed in its space by restaurants called Sands and Pancake Island, which finally gave way at the end of the decade to the slot car craze evolving into Sebring Raceway, where we blew hours and our allowances on racing our slot cars. I lost track of it after that when I went away to college.

We’ll go out to eat again for my birthday, but it won’t be like Sandy’s. For one, it’ll just be our family and no one will be bringing presents, since to make their lives easier, I find a few things online, buy them and let the gang wrap them. When they hand them to me I act totally surprised when I rip off the paper and they give me a look that says, “whatever keeps him awake.”

Make no mistake, I appreciate the chance to take another trip around the sun, even though by now I know all the rest stops and bars and space junk. You never know how many of those trips you’re granted, but I know one thing. I won’t waste a minute playing Park and Shop. That game sucks!

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