Monday, April 16, 2007

On 23

There’s something incredibly mundane about turning 23. I write from experience, because yesterday was my birthday. Anyone who was with me was reminded of this ad nauseum, because any request afforded me was responded with “It’s my birthday.”

Last January, my roommate Ted hit the big 2-3. My friends and I celebrated by taking him to Applebee’s: the Neighborhood Grill and Bar. This venue seemed somehow appropriate, as its pseudo-personality of framed portraits of pop culture stand-bys like Frank Sinatra and Michael Jordan are juxtaposed by contemporaries like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Carrie Underwood. Despite the down-your-throat attitude of the suburban American-style eatery, my dining experience was one of anonymity, for I was just another face in the crowd celebrating another meaningless milestone.

I accosted a co-worker to cover my shift that day, citing for the first time the soon-to-be familiar excuse: “It’s my birthday.” She accepted without much dissent.

“Well, if it’s your birthday. . .”

Then, of course, came the obligatory inquiry as to my age, which was to be followed by the equally obligatory: “23? Wow, you’re getting old.”

It’s all downhill from here. Every previous birthday served a sort of potentiality. 18 was, of course, significant because of the potential to buy cigarettes and porn. 19 invested all its hopes in a trip (which never panned out) to Canada for alcohol and gambling. 20 came and went without much potential; it’s more of a state-imposed hiatus until 21, which opens one up to the world of (legal) bar hopping and the inherent dating scene. Before you know it, you’re 22 and used to the bar scene—maybe even a bit jaded by it.

Personally, I enjoyed 22. The perpetual slew of slurred speech and blurred liaisons reached a steady rhythm and made it easier to pace myself, both in terms of intake and interactions. I fell into a niche and was neither a youngster nor an oldhead. My age could still be categorized as ‘early twenties:’ youthful and alive.

But what of 23? Following Ted’s lead, some friends and I went to our favorite birthday hangout, Applebee’s. We sat below a 5’ tall portrait of Jessica Simpson. Our server, an enthusiastic ‘early twenty-something’ go-getter, asked how I was doing.

“It’s my birthday.”

This information was greeted with a complimentary sundae, a rather anonymous dessert item. A person selects a sundae from a menu just as one would select a pair of socks from a bin at Wal-Mart. Don’t get me wrong--I’m not for sundaes; I’m not against them. I just found that it equated with the limited amount of gratuity bestowed upon a humble agester turning 23.

One day removed, I’m bracing myself for the questions about aging: “So, how does it feel to be old?”

I suppose it’s no different than being 22. I would assume it’s no different than being 24 or 27. And that’s just the point of entering the mid twenties. Time accelerates and it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate one interval from the next. Birthdays can be grouped within 3-to-5-year blocks. That is, until you turn 30, when all bets are off. Intervals jump to 10-year spans. But that’s so far down the line, I won’t focus on it.

I sat in silence and enjoyed my anonymous sundae in the anonymous suburban restaurant. My mood that day did not suggest mild depression or even light cynicism. If it does now, I assure you, humble reader, that it is not intended. There is just a certain blankness that accompanies the 23rd year, and I felt it should be expressed. But at the same time, we all search for reasons to celebrate, and, much like birthdays, we tend to lose that sort of enthusiasm as time goes on.

But, at least we can reside our hopes in that one selfish day when we can say:

“It’s my birthday.”


Charles said...

Hey, Ryan, Charlie, Ted, Alice, K. F. ... I'm just here at Applebees--working on my novel!

You are old as shit. I have a shovel full of dirt, ready for your casket.

Geoffrey Bigler said...

After reading this, I am greatly looking forward to my "special" day...