Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy (hic) Birthday!

Okay, so that happened.

Early October marks two important dates in my calendar. One, my wedding anniversary; and two, my birthday (12 and 47 respectively). Since we're usually in Vegas this time of year to celebrate, I pulled a Vegas staycation and partied for about 10 days straight. Meaning, I didn't take a day off. There was one night off, but no full 24-hour periods. Birthdays and anniversaries fall under the protective canopy of those vacation/holiday fun periods.

Now I didn't once get fall-down, blackout, even silly drunk. I didn't get angry. And except for the odd lagging hangover, I didn't get depressed either. I wasn't even depressed yesterday - my first full day off in, well, quite a while.

But there is one thing I wanted to share with you because I look back at it as if over my shoulder at a suspension bridge I've just managed to cross ... before it collapsed into a million toothpick sized pieces and fell down a thousand-foot ravine, taking with it my hiking boots ... my backpack ... and my cell phone. In other words, a close call the likes of which I haven't experienced in many years.

It was the day before my birthday and a friend of mine wanted to take me for a birthday lunch. This is the fabulous, drop-dead model friend, btw, L. She was getting her hair done near where I live and I was going to meet her there. But in the morning she got a call from her agency and a big company was doing an open casting for something she would be perfect for. Meaning, lunch would be cut short - and wouldn't include too much drinking. No problem, what with her having a child now, our serious party days are over anyway.

I was all ready to go, as primped up and pretty as I felt I could reasonably get when I got a text from her. She was at the salon, running behind. I could come later or come and watch her get the finishing touches put on her long, blonde tresses. It's difficult to describe L's hair. It's difficult - as a woman - to be in the same room with L's hair. I think Dante Rossetti might have had a girl like her in mind when he wrote: "She had three lilies in her hand, and the stars in her hair were seven." (The Blessed Damozel - 1850) I mean, I think a thousand of my hairs have committed suicide every day since I've known her out of sheer futility when faced with such grand competition.

In other words, it was going to be slight, sweet suffering to sit with her while her expensive stylist blow-dried her luscious locks.

But what to do? I had time to kill. I had wine on the brain. It was my birthday week!

To make matters worse, she was treating me and I hated the idea that she'd have to spend too much money. Why not just top myself up a bit? And have a bit of a drink before I get there? It might make sitting in the salon go down easier too.

So I did the thing I'm never supposed to do. I went into the fridge and I got my bottle of pinot grigio and I got my little red Segg reusable bottle (sneaking wine around in purses is a lot easier now that there are so many eco-options!) and I filled it with about 5 ounces of wine. I put the lid on.

I heard myself saying: "This is a line, Ms. Functional. This is a line you have not crossed in over seven years. And now you're going to do it - because you don't want to watch a younger woman get her hair done? Come on!"

"But it's my birthday!" I pleaded with myself. "It can be a whole new Wildcard rule! Sure you can drink-on-the-go the day before your birthday ... when you're about to meet a beautiful friend ... and she has to pay for the drinks ... and you don't want her to ... because she's looking for a job (even though she's independently wealthy with investments) ... Just this once! What could it hurt?" And I tucked the jug in my purse and off I went into the lovely, unseasonably warm late-morning sun.

The leaves on the trees were turning. Our lovely street, lined with pubs and restaurants, looked so welcoming, almost corny. Every step I took I heard myself say: "This is a line you should not cross. Do not cross this line. Do not drink-on-the-go. Do not start carrying bottles of wine in your purse. Do not do that. This is a line and if you cross this line ... who's to say you don't cross every other line, too?"

And as my boots clicked on the sidewalk, I saw a chalkboard set up in front of a charming pub about a half a block from our building. The patio full of umbrellas and wrought iron furniture, half shaded by yellow-red maple trees, was empty in the noontime sun. The message on the board read something to the effect that it was such a beautiful day, why not come and enjoy a pint on the patio or something like that.

And suddenly, my boots were turning left onto the patio. "If you want a drink before you go to lunch - because you're nervous, jealous, it's your birthday, you're hung over, greedy, addicted, depressed, excited, anxious, generous, whatever! Do it. Just do not drink from that Segg bottle."

But how would I get out? I had about twenty minutes or so, maybe half an hour. Would I really just sit there and down a glass of wine by myself on the patio then leave? Like some common lush? Which I am, let's face it. But a common lush with a plan.

"Will you be having lunch?" the waitress asked as I took a table in the half shade.

"Yes," I heard myself say. "There will be two of us." Which wasn't a lie. There would be two of us for lunch - just not there.

She handed me two menus. "Can I start you with something?"

"I think I'll have a glass of pinot grigio," I said after a hesitation - as if the afterthought of a dignified lady.

As she left, my mind was spinning like an iTunes playlist for excuses as to how I could, after a glass of wine and about twenty minutes, get up and leave without the friend who was supposed to join me for lunch. Clearly I would have to lie - which I hate to do. I would have to pretend to get a call. Or a text or something. I hate lying - I try not to lie anymore. I was so deep into a world of lies before I started cleansing I knew I didn't want to end up there again. But how to dash off a patio after one glass of wine without announcing to everyone that - hey, yes, Ms. Functional needed a goddamn drink already. It's her 47th birthday and she's about to have lunch with a 34-year-old professional model!

I saw the waitress turn the corner with my wine on her tray and, I swear, just as she was approaching the table, my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I was so incredibly grateful for something to distract me, something that made it seem like, yes! maybe I am just getting my plans changed, that I answered.

It was, believe it or not, my cell phone company. They needed our new credit card number to process a payment. I had to dig out a notepad to write on to take the number down. The waitress was now standing at my table trying to set down the wine.

"Can you hang on a moment," I said to the cell phone lady, digging in my purse for my trusty Moleskin notebook. "Thank you so much," I smiled at the waitress who set the wine down and turned away, leaving me chatting with - for all she knows - and what I wanted her to believe, my lunch mate.

A few moments later, she came back and I was happily sipping my wine, astonished that the universe had delivered to me - a day before my birthday - such an incredible gift as a reason not to be embarrassed to have a glass of wine by myself.

"My friend's not coming," I told her. Again, not a word of a lie. "You can just bring the check."

"Absolutely." And there it was. I sat and sipped in wonder that - even though it was basically a bill collector - I had a great excuse and I didn't have to lie.

btw, we had a lovely lunch. And yes, her hair looked beautiful. (She ended up getting that gig!) When I got home I poured those few ounces of pinot back into the bottle on the fridge door and I rinsed out the Segg and I set it on the sink and I'm sure I leaned against the counter for a few moments, so grateful - so goddamn grateful I hadn't broken one of my own wildcard rules. Because you can't. You can't. You just can't.

And I didn't. And over the next few days - every time I used my Segg (on the drive to my inlaws for a birthday celebration), or passed it to my husband when we were out - I imagined the shrieking guilt I would've felt if I had known that I had used that bottle for wine-on-the-go.

I still look at that little red Segg bottle with all the attachment and joy of a priceless Faberge egg.

And I still can't over the timing. The great, generous, loving, perfect - and quite comical - birthday gift from the universe as a call from my cell phone company about a tab.