It was my birthday Friday. I turned forty-eight, in case anyone’s keeping score. I woke up and started a new painting out the window. Then I went to Lou Mitchell’s for breakfast and ordered toast, which I’ve been not eating for months now. Then I walked east to State Street and took the #29 bus to Navy Pier.
EXPO Chicago was there and, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, it is my own personal Yom Kippur. The fact it fell on my birthday this year is just an atonement/reflection/misery cherry on top. The thing which set this year’s fair apart from every other is that Sue, from Richard Norton Gallery, kindly gave me a pass, thus saving me from paying $20 for this annual hairshirt/bed-of-nails. Also, I can’t recall a show I liked less. I usually tally at least five or six paintings or drawings that appeal; this year there were two. A little Harold Haydon cityscape at Richard Norton and a Charles Burchfield watercolor at DC Moore. I stayed long enough to thank Sue for the free pass and to eat an overpriced cannoli from Eataly, then got the hell out of there.
I bought a book called The Nix at the Dial and started reading it on the outdoor patio of a Michigan Ave coffee shop as the skies darkened and the raindrops started to fall. Then I went to Five Guys and wolfed down a bacon-burger and fries for no other reason than to kill the half hour left before work.
I opened the bar at 4pm and not much happened until Shay came in with pomegranates and chocolate for my birthday. A couple hours later a procession of two candle-lit birthday pies came at me, followed by half the bar singing “Happy Birthday to You” and cheering, with many whiskey shots after. One of the reasons I agreed to work this night was to avoid acknowledgement of the blessed occasion. I obviously failed at that completely.
With every passing year celebrating my birthday feels more ludicrous, but ignoring it completely is impossible with living relatives still around, and in a certain way, pretending it’s not happening is even more of a conscious effort than just surviving the well-wishes. One day I’ll figure out some way to make it just another day, but I haven’t figured out how yet.
The next day I met Marie at Gene and Georgetti and we ate a feast of prime rib, carpaccio, a bunch of sides, a bottle of wine, cannoli, spumoni, espresso, and shots of limoncello to top it off. If I have one birthday tradition, it’s a trip to Gene and Georgetti, maybe my favorite restaurant in town. I always look around at the other diners and wonder whether they and I have anything in common. While I waited for Marie to arrive, I watched a bunch of aging, drunken bros pile out of a limo and press bills into their Asian driver’s hand. Several murmured apologies into his ear as they did it. Several of them were about my age and I’d bet money they were bribing the driver’s silence for being racist, obnoxious pricks. The news these days is full of men just like them being called out for behavior that they always assumed was their birthright. Lets hope their time is coming to an end. Whether it is or not, I felt like a Martian compared to them, which, I hope, counts in my favor.
I woke Sunday morning and worked on the computer a bit. Then I went to something called The Other Art Fair, which was even more depressing to me than the “real” art fair. I left after about fifteen minutes, feeling my year’s atonement ritual was now complete. Now it’s time to live through another year. Maybe next year I’ll figure out how to skip all this altogether.