If any one has any videos of the forthcoming event, be a doll and share them with me via email. I’d like to see from your perspective.
“Come over for a birthday beer!” she said. Of course I had already started on my birthday beers, my work being completed for the day and the spring sun reminding me that a patio drink actually sounded quite pleasant. “I’ve a Zoom at 4.” Plenty of time to share a drink with my dearest friend of a few doors down.
I tuck my cigarettes into my left front pocket, push a cozy over my Pabst, and pet the cat on the way out. My phone – which hasn’t stopped chirping with birthday notifications – is discreetly slipped into one of the many pockets of my Camino traveling shorts. I step out onto the front lawn and feel the paradoxical heat of the breeze.
Fuck me, I think, what a beautiful fucking day.
The rose bushes are devoid of blossoms; all save one.
I step into the soft grass (supple through dedicated watering sessions) and inspect the token blossom. It is pink – stunningly beautiful – but its edges have only begun to unfold. Three rose bushes and only this lone bud trying to break free to share its beauty with the world. The color, that splash of color like a New Mexico sunset – filled with purples and auburns and golds and mauves and yellows and reds – is about to grace the lawn.
So fucking beautiful.
I take a cigarette from my breast, light it up, and watch as the smoke mingles with the budding blossom. The haze is quickly dissipated by the endless breeze that marks the springtime of my desert oasis. The beer opens with a frothy hiss, and I idle for a few minutes admiring the simplicity of Nature’s realm. The sun beats upon my back, but still I cannot pull myself from the rose. She is too beautiful.
Coming to my senses and remembering I’m obligated elsewhere, I walk the half block to her new home. As my brother would later remark, my attire was delightfully that of a disheveled hobo: the stink of working in the lawn, shorts and shirt filthy from unwashed labor, Afghan Tactical Sandals upon my tanned feet, and the sweat-stained cap of a working man. Cigarette and beer in hand, I walk unhindered, ignoring the cop that passes swiftly behind me. An open container is certainly frowned upon, no doubt more so given my profession as an educator. Fuck it. The die is cast.
We sit on her patio for the first drink – a birthday beer of Dos XX – where the beating sun adds some color to my lower legs and makes the cigarette smoke seem harsher under the constant glow. We schwatz about this and that, about school and lawn care, about moving out and in, about the beauty of the day. Eventually we migrate inside to escape the sun’s amiable wrath, to sit in the cooler interior with colder beer. I nudge a poster board off the table so as not to warp it with beer condensation rings. She mentions an art project with the nephew. Beautiful.
I finish several in the time spent at her new place before she informs me her meeting is at hand.
I walk back to my place, the sun still beating, a new cigarette immediately replacing the last one, an endless cycle of self-mortification. Like a medieval flagellant, I punish myself to truly feel God’s glory.
The blossom greets me at the door, still a rosy pink, still incomplete.
My mother is supposed to come by (she needs help with another computer program and wishes to utilize my faster internet). I tidy up – no bachelor wants his mother to see him living in squalor – before she arrives. I down another beer and another cigarette. It’s too beautiful a day to be cooped up inside, and few things compare to a gentle New Mexico breeze and the shade of an old tree, vices in hand.
The doorbell rings and I quickly answer. Not my mother, but a pair of my students. They are dressed for the heat in athletic attire, one with a skateboard in tow. I remain in my hobo apparel; thankfully I left the beer on the table before answering.
“Happy birthday, sir!”
How the fuck did they know it was my birthday?
“Ah, kids! Thank you kindly!” I said. “How kind of you to come by.”
How the fuck did they know where I live?
We schwatz for a few minutes about the online schooling (a tragedy of corona) and how they’re keeping busy and occupied. Hence the athletic attire: out for a good run and skateboarding in Nature’s bounty.
I bid them farewell after some time, receiving further birthday well wishes and hugs good bye as they continue their adventures. How good of them to drop by unannounced; they care about you. I check the phone for the time and see further birthday notifications. Someone had squealed and now my students were bombarding me, not with homework questions or seeking advice, but wishing me well on this anniversary of sorts. Ah, my goombas. What would I be without them?
I return to the backyard wherein I finish another smoke and another bottle; consistency and pacing are key. Through the open windows I can see to the street. As the last ember begins to scorch my yellow-tinted fingers, I see the familiar outline of my mother’s vehicle. Both parents disembark, remark inaudibly about the state of the place, and make their way to the front door as I snuff out this latest cigarette.
They come in – without knocking – and immediately want to see the backyard.
“Where’s your laptop, Mutti?” I said.
“I wanted to see your computer.”
Well that’s fucking dumb, I thought.
“Show me the tomatoes.”
“Jetz,” I said, gesturing to the back door.
As I show them the progress made with the endless amount of time (being a non-essential employee), my phone begins to vibrate ceaselessly in my pocket. I ignore it; as a rule, I do not check my phone with company present. That would be quite rude.
My mother’s phone begins to chirp – having no qualms about my sense of chivalry, she answers. I can hear my sister through the tin speaker (for she has always been loud). They schwatz for a minute as I show my father the woodpile.
“Your sister is coming by with a cake. Let’s go up front.”
“Fuck her,” I said. “She can come out back and deliver it.” Quarantine be damned.
My mother sighs. “She has two screaming kids. Go up front.”
I tense my grip on my latest beer but relent. Don’t argue with your folks, especially at my age. We make our way up front. Dad remarks that my flowers need more water and that my edging could use some work. He stops at the rose blossom and smiles. He knows far more than I.
As we wait for my sister’s untimely arrival, I hear a cacophony of car horns sounding out a marching beat. How irritating, I thought, for this is a nice neighborhood. I never liked the sound of horns; far too shrill and aggressive. It makes me think of grackles, those hideous birds that infest our area. I turn toward the noise.
Happy birthday, Bruno!
Sweet fucking Christ, I thought. What is this?
My sister is leading a caravan of cars – 15? 20? – a poster with birthday wishes taped to her vehicle’s front. The cacophony grows louder as I realize I’ve been hoodwinked. Her windows are down and she’s smiling and waving – proud sister that she is – as she passes by my place.
“Happy birthday, little brother!” she said as she glides past.
I’m dumbstruck and mouth a response. My hand automatically returns the wave without a thought. My other hand clenches my still-cold beer. The cacophony continues as the caravan makes its way down my street. Neighbors are coming out their front doors to see the commotion; they soon join in the fest by waving and shouting congratulatory remarks.
My brother and his family follow behind, a poster for Uncle Bruno stuck to their vehicle’s side. My nephews wave and cheer. My good friend – with whom I was sharing drinks not an hour ago – is grinning like a Machiavellian mastermind as they drive past. She fucking knew!
But the greatest surprise – the greatest gift – follows behind the family cars leading this Seussian romp: my students – past and present – have assembled in this parade and call from their cars. Windows are down and I can see my students, my beloved goombas, shouting and waving as they drive past.
“Happy birthday, Mr. B!” I hear them shout from their air-conditioned cars. It is a scene of mirth and surprise as the cars keep coming. I remain dressed as disheveled hobo, a beer in my hand, standing in the New Mexico sun as the parade continues. I wave dumbly back, shouting some thanks and gratitude to each student.
“Happy birthday, Bruno!”
The shouts never cease, each car striving to outdo the other in noise and celebration. I am taken aback by this outpouring of love.
There, some of my seniors. My first batch of students when I began my calling as an educator. They are denied so many rights of passage given the corona, but here they are in a force, waving and shouting. My OG Goombas. I wave fondly; it’s been too long since I’ve seen them.
Here, my juniors, those blessed kids who’ve had the misfortune of having me for two years in a row. They make up the bulk of the parade – a mosaic of car styles and vehicle colors that raucously makes it way through the neighborhood. The honking is drowned out by the shouts and exclamations of my students, for their enthusiasm cannot be contained. With windows down, heads and arms are out; some offer gifts and cards, and I dumbly step into the street to accept their well-wishes and bid them onward.
I still have a beer in my hand.
More cars continue to flood the street as the ruckus continues; those little fuckers, I thought. They threw me a parade!
As I awkwardly accept packages and envelopes, the tears begin to well up behind my eyes. How kind of them. How thoughtful of them. How blessed are they to be doing such a thing for a grumpy smartass like me. The grinding of engines and honking of horns is drowned out by their shouts and guffaws; my heart is ready to burst at this outpouring of love. What a spectacle; what a scene!
I see my students in their cars, returning their enthusiastic waves and cheers with my own, as I force the tears to stay put. I’m not crying in my front lawn as my classes march past.
As the last of the cars complete their circuit, I realize my parents have been behind me this entire time. They fucking knew. Mom didn’t need computer help – she just wanted to keep me at home for the big reveal. The sun’s heat pales in comparison to the warmth in my breast; I love those fucking kids.
Eventually the parade peters out, though a few students make a circuit to drop off still more gifts and cards. A few parents offer me six packs of beer, which I clumsily accept in the middle of the street. One student offers me her poster (a new keepsake for my classroom) and others simply swing back around to say their greetings anew. Dumbstruck and humbled, I finally step back onto the grass and out of the street. The honking has ceased and the shouts have been carried off in the wind. The curious neighbors have returned to their homes. A small pile of gifts and cards litter the lawn.
I’ve been holding my beer the entire time. Robotically I take a drink; it’s now cowboy cold, warmed from my pumping blood and the spring sun. I don’t notice the taste.
My sister and brother pull their cars along the sidewalk. My brother’s in-laws join suit. Suddenly I’ve got an impromptu family gathering on my hands. They are all laughing and chattering, congratulating themselves on their expert planning and execution. My sister is the mastermind – outwitted by my dear sister! – and my dear friend kept mum over the course of several patio drinks. She gives me the poster – the very one I had remarked upon earlier. Gaily, they gather the gifts, place them inside, then retreat to the backyard to schwatz and relax. Planning a surprise is tough work, and before long I’ve got the grill going. My neglected phone continues to blow up with new wishes and gotcha’s!
My family stays for the unofficial gathering and drinks all my new birthday beers. Eventually they retire to tend to their families and households; I escort them out and bid final farewells to cap this day of surprising mirth.
The sun is beginning to approach the western horizon; soon the sky will be a mosaic of brilliant color. A picturesque way to send off this day. My phone chirps again.
“Do you like wine,” she said.
The day continues to get better.
I pause in my front lawn where only hours ago I stood awestruck as my kids led a parade. What a day. I turn back toward the front, stopping to admire the rose bushes.
She blossomed. A full, pink rose – more beautiful than I had anticipated – now graces the lawn. All it took was a day for her beauty to become full. It is Nature’s way of reminding me of today’s love.
My heart is a well of love, replenished and overflowing with today’s spectacle. My kids – my goombas – who defied quarantine to participate in this birthday parade. I hear their shouts, see their smiling faces; I let a tear of joy fall.
Those little fuckers, I thought. I love them.