The Birthdays Girl

My wife loves birthdays, and she’s very good at them.  Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be her birthday for her to get excited.  This past week has been a bonanza for her.  First she had my 60th.  Then she had Farley’s First.  Oh, yeah, there was Thanksgiving in the middle.  This will be a layered slice.

Yup, the big six-oh.  We didn’t go out, of course, and this saved me some embarrassment.  On my big four-oh, Nancy threw me a party at a restaurant.  Wanting to be accurate and extravagant at the same time, she had the restaurant folks bring out a birthday cake with exactly forty candles.  Not a 4 and an O, which would have shown moderation, but 40 actual candles.  A funny thing happened when the birthday boy blew out the candles.  There was a lot of smoke.  Now, I’ve always really liked the smell of newly-extinguished candles, that delicious blend of carbon and paraffin, but in this case, the cloud of smoke was too much for the restaurant’s smoke detectors to take.  They began to blare.  

Fortunately, the restaurant did not have a sprinkler system.  That would have made for a soggy birthday cake.  UNfortunately, they also didn’t have the ability to turn off the smoke alarm.  It was hardwired, loud, and persistent.  Everyone had to evacuate.  

When the three fire trucks and crews arrived to make sure that my cake candles had, in fact, been fully extinguished, the firefighters also determined that the alarm’s shut-off was in the insurance office next door to the restaurant.  Unfortunately, it was after hours for the insurance office, and their doors were locked.  There were a lot of disgruntled restaurant patrons on the sidewalk.  They glared at me, disgusted by my advanced age.  

But that was Y2K.  This is 2020. The global pandemic meant I would not be clearing any restaurants this year.  Nancy was undaunted, however.  She could not bear a party-less birthday.  She procured the requisite gigantic mylar balloons, prepared a birthday brunch (see artist’s rendering below),  presented several amazing gifts, and this was all BEFORE the birthday dinner. She baked an extravagant chocolate-on-chocolate birthday cake, which she wisely adorned with two simple and safe candles.  Ahh the feng shui of the placeholder digit.  After dinner, right on schedule, our Portal chimed and virtual guests began to arrive.  We crammed as many family members as we could safely fit into one Zoom call.  It was fabulous for everyone…except our dog Farley.  

Frittata for Brunch

It had been a rough day for the pampered pooch.  I don’t think it was just that it was the first time in his entire life that he had to share the spotlight.  No, he’s not like that.  First, he had been mightily spooked by the arrival of the terrifying balloons.  Normally unflappable, Farley had cowered in the living room, refusing to enter the dining room, even when a bonanza of beg-worthy birthday bounty beckoned.  Nope.  Don’t care how good the food is. Not goin’ near the floating monsters.

It turned out he was not just spooked, he was also sick.  Because it’s 2020, we really couldn’t call it an event without a health issue, so Nancy and Sarah ended up taking Farley on his first visit to the Emergency vet (our dogs have historically preferred to get sick on weekends and holidays). The doctor informed them that Farley had scored the Daily Double, both a bacterial infection and a parasite.  Yay!  This might have had some causal connection with Farley’s affinity for what one of my old students referred to as “yard meatballs.”  Yeah, it turns out they’re not good for you.

Anyway, Farley didn’t enjoy my birthday, but everyone else did, and just one week of chicken and rice later, it was his turn.  Farley, the pandemic pup, turned the big Oh-One, and Nancy, the birthday girl, went back to work.  She had, of course, noted each of Farley’s month birthdays with a treat, an “I’m ___months-old” sign and a photo op, but this was bigger.  She ordered a tiny cone-shaped hat with a slim elastic tie, a handsome “It’s My Birthday” scarf, and several indestructible chew toys that he promptly destroyed.  

My contribution?  I removed the evil balloons from the dining room.  Oh, and I didn’t eat anything I found in the yard. 

We paraded the birthday boy around the neighborhood, where most of the neighbors now know Farley’s name but have no idea who we are.  That’s a pandemic phenomenon in our parts.  We know Quinn, Barkley, Rosie, Freddi, and Lucy, but we have no idea of the names of the humans at the other end of the leash.  It goes both ways. To many of our neighbors, we are merely Farley’s parents, or quite possibly Farley’s weird parents.  

Never before have we had a dog who enjoys dressing up.  Farley actually likes wearing clothes and accessories.  He wore his bow tie to Thanksgiving, and then on his birthday, he gladly sported the party hat and scarf.  Nancy was mightily pleased.  She could stand giving up balloons as long as she could keep acquiring new outfits for the boy.  When we returned from our second walk, she got to work on his birthday dinner.  No kibble tonight. Heck, no chicken and rice.   Instead, a turkey meatloaf cupcake with orange mashed potato icing.  Hold the candles.

This may not have been the best dining option for a dog who recently recovered from digestive issues, but hey, you’re only one once.  

As Farley sprawled on the couch, head in Nancy’s lap, gnawing the remains of his indestructible toy and perfuming the air with his contented flatulence, I sat squeezed between that “other end” and the armrest. He sighed.  I sighed.  And, for a brief moment, our eyes met .  In that tiny space of time, I’m quite sure we shared the same unspoken thought: “Yup, she’s my girl, she loves me, and she loves her a birthday bash.”

Saturday Morning Walk with Unicorn and Pony

It’s Halloween morning, cool and crisp, just three days before election armageddon, and I head out for a walk with my daughter, wife, and dog.  

Sarah and I are dressed casually, kind of like the way I used to dress for Halloween when I was in junior high.  In other words, normal slobby Saturday attire. I can still remember those quaint doorstep conversations:

“Trick or Treat.”

“And what are you?”

“I’m a rude and sullen youth.  Can I have some of your candy?”

Nancy, however, has dressed for the occasion.  She has on her rainbow unicorn onesie.  It’s loud. And Farley, the reason for our walk, wants everyone to see him with his saddle and bronco-riding cowboy on his back.  It’s more than just cute. It speaks to his quiet nobility and heroic selflessness.

I figure that dressed this outlandishly we’re just going around the block, but I am wrong.  We’re headed out for the extended weekend walk.  Sometimes we take the route that Nancy refers to as the real estate walk, the route that takes us past the houses that make you want to say, “Wow, if only they’d have an open house.  I’d just like to say I walked through that one.”  

We don’t go that way, though.  Nancy suggests the harbor walk.  That route passes some remarkable real estate as well, but it ends with a great view of the Sound and Long Island.  Very scenic.   It also takes us down the main drag of little Southport village.  Farley likes to go that way so that the nice older men who hold court in front of Switzer’s Pharmacy can stop their conversation and say, “Nice looking dog,”  Or, “What breed is he?  Great Dane?”  Or “Nice coat.” Farley likes that.

Today, we imagine that Farley’s outfit might draw a different reaction.  Nancy’s too.  We figure that in these troubled, unprecedented times, the two of them might inspire a giggle, a snort, or at least a chuckle.  It’s the least we could do for our community’s spirit.

We figured wrong. Apparently it takes a lot to rouse the coffee-sipping Southporter having his Saturday schmooze.  At each turn, we’re met with the most poker-faced reactions.  “Oh, hi, Rainbow Unicorn. [bored voice]  Nice horn.”

Or, “Nice looking dog?  Nice coat. What’s he?  Great Dane? ”

Or to me, “Hey, love the sweats. Nice coat.  What’s that?  Patagonia?”

Seriously?  Don’t you want to chuckle or guffaw?  How many Rainbow Unicorns have you seen today walking a pony dog with a rodeo cowboy waving a yellow handkerchief?  I mean it’s 9:00 a.m. There can’t have been that many yet.

[Shoulder shrug.]  “You know.  Seen stranger things.” [sips coffee].