The literal translation is round number but what it really means is a significant birthday. My mom was always talking about them when I was growing up but now it was her turn. I won’t say how old she turned but it was significant enough for me to come to Boston to help celebrate it.
Max picked me up from the airport and by the time we got to the house there were already plates of food being put out on the dining room table. It’s the same table as in the painting above (done almost 30 years ago) but with two leaves added to lengthen it so it takes up most of the room. The official reason for this get-together was Rosh Hashanah but I had only shown up to mark my mom’s birthday. I imagine many of her friends felt the same way.
For as long as I can remember, there has been a war between my mother and father about entertaining. My mother loves cooking and having people over while my father hates it. Over the years I’ve witnessed screaming matches, tears, and many ugly scenes over this. But as time has past, my mother has more or less won my father over to her side. I remember being shocked to see him in the kitchen helping with the salad one time. But that was a couple decades ago now. He still bitches and moans but mostly goes along with it these days.
Helping in the kitchen is one of the few ways I feel I can participate in these celebrations. I can’t shoot the breeze with people I don’t know well (even if I haven’t known some of them well for over thirty years now), but I can definitely clear their plates, refill their glasses, and clean up after they’re gone. For me, the most active, engaged parts of these evenings are before the guests arrive and after they’ve left.
This night I was struck by all the young people at the house. The children of my parents friends brought their children or, at the very least, their significant others. I spent much of the night on the back deck with my brothers and a few of these younger people. I mostly listened to their conversations. I hadn’t seen some of them since they were children so it was weird and interesting watching them as grownups.
Back in Chicago there was another kruglaya data on Saturday at the Hideout. The guitar player Rick Rizzo had recently turned sixty, as had a few of his music friends, so he invited them all to come play. It was also the sixtieth anniversary of Sputnik to give the day a coherent theme. Some of my favorite bands played.
I missed the start of 75 Dollar Bill’s set so when their plywood box-playing co-leader, Rick Brown, handed me a flyer for an after-gig at Co-Prosperity Sphere, I told him I’d be there. It didn’t hurt that the place was blocks from my house.
I ran into Matt there. Turns out he lent his standup bass to the guy playing with the band. We talked about what a mindfuck age is. He was as weirded out by Rick Rizzo and other people he’d played music with turning sixty as I was. When I was a kid, I thought of sixty as OLD, he said. He pointed at Rick Brown setting up his gear in the middle of the gallery and asked—Is that what sixty looks like?
The crowd was a mix of young people and middle-aged types like me and Matt. I pointed at myself, dressed in a bright orange t-shirt and shorts, beard, tattoos, and asked Matt—Is a forty-seven-year-old supposed to look like this?
He had no answer and neither do I. Fortunately, when I turn forty-seven in a few days, it will not be a kruglaya data. There will be no guests to greet or food to prepare, then put away. I’ve organized my life to avoid celebrations and get-togethers whenever possible. Over the last few years I’ve reluctantly begun to enjoy marking my birthday in some low-key way. It usually involves eating an expensive piece of meat. I imagine that’ll happen again this year too.