One of the more dubious claims one can publicly state: “I was a good parent.” Why? Because your children are out there somewhere and might read it. But I do believe that my wife Karen and I were (are) reasonably good parents and one of the things we did best was birthday parties. I always thought we should publish our work in a book and get rich and famous, but alas, we never did.
But the parties were original, if nothing else. There was the preschool version with a piñata and “fishing in Talia’s Ocean”— a big painted piece of cardboard behind which I was crouched attaching party favors to the “hook.” Then daughter Kerala’s 5th grade birthday with a “cocktail party” at our house, kids dressed up in elegant clothes with fake moustaches sipping Shirley Temple’s with little umbrellas and dancing to Fred Astaire singing “Cheek to Cheek.” Followed by a limousine ride to one of her friend’s house who shared the same birth date. Then Talia’s Middle School memorable Vertigo party— driving around San Francisco in two cars with walkie talkies (1996—pre-cell phones) and filming scenes (with a big clunky borrowed video camera) from Hitchcock’s film on location, watching it back at home and then the real film. And on into high school, dropping 16-year old Kerala and her friends off at the trail to the West Point Inn on Mt. Tam, where they hiked alone to this marvelous Inn and spent the night without a parent in sight. You get the idea.
So for my wife’s 65th birthday yesterday, it seemed a good time to bring back the imaginative birthday party. Talia, she and I (Kerala’s up in Portland) created a scavenger hunt in the Presidio, invited 25 people from different eras of Karen’s life, divided into teams and had ourselves a walloping good time. Events included asking practicing golfers if one of us could try our hand, getting strangers into group photos with sunglasses and hat to see if the other team can find “Where’s Waldo,” getting kids at a playground to sing Happy Birthday to Karen, building rock sculptures on fence posts, climbing trees and my personal favorite, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to match the beat of the flashing lighthouse light on distant Alcatraz. All of the above documented on cell phone cameras.
From there to a Burmese restaurant for a scrumptious lunch, sharing the photos, sipping sangria and of course, the mandatory candles and cake. Karen gave a lovely talk acknowledging her first birthday without a parent to call and thanking all for being willing to play and hike and eat and drink and talk together to share the occasion.
By now, it was 3:30 pm and the day was young! A few hours of rest and then off to the Fairmount Hotel’s Venetian Room to hear—Judy Collins! Singing Sondheim. She’s 76, looks great, sings great and put together a fine show mixing Mae West jokes with her autobiography and Sondheim’s biography. Truth be told, I’ve never loved the latter’s music—and truth be told, the evening didn’t change my mind. I hold him responsible for creating long-ling melodies that no one leaves the theater singing (a couple of exceptions) and breaking the connection between Broadway Musicals and jazz. Well, of course that’s stupid. He just reflected the times and there was also Tim Rice and others on that new musical bandwagon. Broadway and jazz had a great long run, roughly 1925 to 1965 (Coltrane’s My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music one of the last tunes in that long 40-year marriage). It was time for something else from both sides of the line.
But why is Judy Collins singing Broadway tunes? Didn’t come as a total surprise, because I found some CD’s of her working that repertoire. And her autobiography made it clear that these songs were in her blood. Still, she mixed some of her old folk standards in last night’s show—Someday Soon, Chelsea Morning, Both Sides Now, My Father Always Promised Us and you could feel the excitement in the room as all the white-headed audience members slipped back to their youth. (Wait! I was one of them!) Each in a nostalgic bubble remembering that old girlfriend/boyfriend or group of friends huddled around the stereo singing along with Judy. The soundtrack of the times.
It felt like a perfect end to a special day, but it wasn’t quite over yet. Driving home, some five minutes away from the house, our trusty old 260,000 mile ’89 Toyota Camry suddenly shut off, lights and engine. Pulled over, called Triple A and waited for them to confirm it was the alternator and a mere jumpstart would not hold. So we get towed to a nearby AAA garage. The driver had trouble opening it and offered to take it to another garage and leave us there to walk home. Which we did, just slightly wondering what would stop him from just taking off with our car since we don’t have any of his information. Hmm. But really, who would want it?
Our old Toyota still (hopefully) chugging along, our old friends still hiking up hills and willing to play silly games, Judy Collins still singing in her ‘70’s, my wife an official Senior Citizen, it was a day to celebrate longevity, youthful spirit and the pleasure of “keeping on keeping on.”