The Annual Birthday Revue
Your birthday is coming up, I see. I hope you don't think I've forgotten.
I just wanted to write you this letter to discuss your birthday
plans. As your children, Julie, Danny and I want to try something
different this year. Before you rend any fabric, hear me out, please.
you know, each year we celebrate your birthday the same way -- with
a fictional, simulated crisis call. At some hour (preferably pre-breakfast
or post-television) during the daylong stretch of your birthday,
one of us places a frantic telephone call to you. The nature of
the call is usually this: some emergency has occurred -- preferably
a life-and-death type of situation, such as a car-jacking or emergency
experimental heart surgery -- and we saw fit to call you in the
middle of the crisis, not wanting to miss out on what could be our
very last opportunity to wish you a happy birthday. It is no secret
that, to you, this kind of sentiment is the greatest gift of all.
you know we used to trade off making calls each year? But now that
we've grown older and our lives have become more complicated (with
spouses and children for Julie, and Word Jumbles for Danny -- his
constant, almost daily, obligation), the responsibility has lately
fallen on my shoulders with the greatest frequency. After all, I
am the one with a background in acting. I'm sure you'll recall a
certain community theatre production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible
in which I played the totemic, but thematically essential, role
of Plymouth Rock. Remember how I spent two weeks living in a rock
quarry to prepare for that role? You brought me a baloney sandwich
every day. I never ate them because I was reluctant to break character,
but your efforts still meant a tremendous amount to me.
acting skills have never been essential in properly celebrating
your birthday, they have nonetheless proven most advantageous. When
placing a crisis call we always felt the presentation should be
as naturalistic as possible, for the greatest effect. I have access
to an endless library of sound effects cassettes and, in a pinch,
can call on the services of a fellow thespian to play the role of
an axe murderer, kidnapper, dog catcher, or lifeguard gone berserk,
if required. I think these elements have always helped you really
suspend disbelief -- that's stage talk, meant to describe the way
you felt when we went to see Miss Saigon at the Averill Park
High School and that giant papier maché helicopter descended
from the wings at the end of the production. The helicopter didn't
look especially realistic -- it was lumpy, and I'm pretty sure they
were just re-using the whale model they'd built for the previous
winter's production of Moby Dick. Ah, but in the moment
we believed it was a real U.S. Army helicopter. Well, I
believed it anyway. And the Vietnam vet in the audience who climbed
onstage and tried to board the half-painted prop helicopter believed
it, too. And that's precisely what I mean by suspension of disbelief.
I realize you've always been in on our game, that you've been vaguely
aware that each crisis call is an elaborately staged sham, and I
appreciate you never calling us on it. But I also know, even with
the knowledge that these crises are all just hokum and high theater,
you still seem to feel all the same emotions you would feel if one
of us really were calling you while being attacked by mummies.
a long time, Julie, Danny and I would call you on your birthday
with a simple "Happy birthday" and "I love you"
(or, in my case, a simple "I'm almost done blaming you for
my personal shortcomings.") I worry that small gesture left
you feeling unsatisfied and under-appreciated somehow. There was
always an air of, "That's it?" in your expressions of
gratitude. Or maybe it was the way you'd actually say, "That's
it?" and slam down the telephone receiver that created this
particular air. Either way, there was certainly an air.
now, when one of us calls to say "These men with Uzis are about
to throw me in the back of a windowless van and I just wanted to
wish you a happy birthday before they erase my mind, change my name
to 'Opal' and coerce me into joining their eco-terrorist faction,"
I really think you see the work. You can probably imagine the conference
calls and script meetings. You can sense we went to great lengths
to perfectly match the Lebanese dialect, even if it's only heard
as a muffled voice in the background. And you seem to appreciate
finer details, like the sound of a 1978 Chevrolet van engine revving
or a lifeless 140-pound female body being dragged across loose gravel
by its arms. You have a way of taking all of the horrible, life-threatening
details, assimilating them, and adding them up to signify a profound
and unconditional love from your children.
while we we're not always comfortable with the morbid themes we
explore and execute for our crisis call each year, we know what
it means to you and that knowledge has made the planning bearable,
and the production somewhat more enjoyable. But it's work -- between
craft services, late nights in the editing suite, and dealing with
the often-unsavory union bosses. And it's not that we don't think
you're worth it. We really do. But we are getting older, as are
you, and I think it's time I asked you, as a representative of your
three children: This year, how would you feel about dinner at Applebee's?
Todd (the one with glasses)
version for easy reading
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