Well, after putting the last issue of the Light to bed, I got a phone call from a student at New Mexico State asking me out on a date, so I guess things have been looking up around here lately.
We took in a Friday night show by the El Paso Symphony, and made arrangements to meet the following evening to work the Pledge Drive for the local public television station.
"Oh, she said, "I've got something to give you tomorrow night."
"Oh, really?" She smiled enigmatically.
After the pledge drive Saturday night, I walked her out to her car, and she handed me a thin packagewrapped in gold foil paper. Inside was a cross-stitching she had made of Ziggy as a symphony conductor, leading a chorus of Happy Birthday.
I was unexpectedly moved. "You know," I told her, "this is the first birthday present I've received so far."
'Uh, well," I corrected myself, "it's the first one I've had this year. I have had other birthdays, you know."
"We11, I'm sure you'll be getting many more real soon."
"More birthdays? No thanks, I think one is more than enough this year..."
More recently, I had occasion to chat with His Majesty J.W., then-monarch of the medievalist group I run with. Out of nowhere, he interrupted our conversation to ask, "So, Richard, which is it--three or four?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well, all you told everybody was that this birthday has a zero in it. So everybody's wondering whether the other number is a three or four. I'm betting on three," he reassured me, "but there were some fours." "Thanks, J.W. I suppose you can explain why there were no twos being bandied about?" Well, at least there's only one zero in it ... I'll admit I had a few bad days surrounding the momentous occasion, but by now I feel much the same as I always have: like an overgrown kid who's ill at ease among the grownups.
My physical condition didn't deteriorate overnight, although I actually weigh about ten pounds less than I recall weighing in high school; fanac and a hearty appetite don't always mix. One thing I do catch myself doing is creaking when I walk. My friends almost convinced me it was my shoes squeaking, until I caught myself doing it while taking the stairs barefoot....
I suppose the only thing that troubles me occasionally is thinking that at my age, you're generally supposed to have accomplished more than to be an office temp living in a one-room apartment in the desert. Well, actually I have; I've been through one marriage and a career in broadcast news; but the current social mood expects your curve of rising potential not to be lopped off in mid-arc, I believe. Heck, I should even have been publishing a regular fanzine a long time before this.
But to get back to the thrust, I decided my natal anniversary was a good excuse to try packing one more crowded party into my room, so I started making all kinds of plans: making an endless loop of Pete Townshend's "Slit Skirts," shopping for black wreaths and garlands, etc. Unfortunately, I found out two of my friends were planning a major-league bash at their house the same weekend, so I wound up just inviting people over for an informal evening at my pad on Monday, the actual day itself.
Naturally, I approached my friends' house Saturday night and found a note pinned to the door: "Sorry--Party Canceled. Everybody meet over at the El Paso Surf Club..."
So, I put my party favors back in storage for the weekend, and trotted over to the Surf Club, where my fellow sufferers were cringing in the midst of a crowd of fraternity revelers. Serves everybody right.
Monday night was an interesting mix of friends from my various circles: Alan, one of my co-workers from the Channel 4 days, who brought his main squeeze Judy and played with my computer most of the night; Alfred and Terry, who perused my copies of Hollywood Babylon and I Am Curious (Yellow) with fascination; and Paul, an actor I know from Gasoline Alley (look real close for him in Extreme Prejudice. Several times). It was a restrained event.
I got several phone calls from a frustrated guest who was having some trouble locating my place--it's not the easiest site to give directions to--and who finally showed up after the other guests had departed, bringing with him a bottle of Kahlua. He's an old colleague of mine from the ratings wars, and as we set down over a couple of beers and the chocolate cake I'd baked for the occasion, I asked him what he was doing when he'd turned thirty. He thought it over.
"I was on a plane to Arizona to take a job I'd been offered with the University. It was a writing job. Good money. But I'd just signed my divorce papers, and halfway over I realized if my kid stayed with my ex-wife, she'd have him fucked-up for sure. So as soon as the plane landed, I got off and bought a ticket on the next flight back to El Paso. And sure enough, four years later, the kid was with us.
"You know, up until that point, my whole career had been following an uphill curve. I was going places. Then I made that one decision, it just--cut off, right there." He thought it over some more. "But I had to look out for my kid."
We stayed up a while later--too late, by the tint of my eyes the next morning--talking over old times and trying to break the Hitchhikers' game on my computer. I gave him a piece of cake to take home to the kid.
We were so close, there was no room;
We bled inside each other's wounds
Well, who should turn up in El Paso recently but my old friend Patricia, taking a week's leave of absence from married life in Fort Worth to get together here with friends and family. Pat followed a newspaper editor back eastward when he got a job with the Star-Telegram; when I saw her, she was many months gone with their first child together, and were in line for an inheritance of three-quarters of a million dollars. So, look, these stories do have fairytale endings after all.
We seem to be facing an onslaught of weddings lately--which is at least a more hopeful development than the scourge of breakups that memorable Summer of '85. Another of my friends in the press community decided to take the plunge at the tender age of going-on-37. No sooner had they tied the knot then the newspaper decided to reassign him as the statehouse correspondent in Austin. With today's economic climate, the need for couples to draw two incomes often keeps the partners separated--especially when their hours don't jibe--ask me sometime how I know--and she's pretty resigned to being too busy working to have much time for him during the week, anyway. But she'd be happier if the paper would pay for him to commute to El Paso on weekends, what with the kid coming along and all. Besides, it's only 600 miles or so.
Of course, the big wedding news of the summer (you knew this was all leading up to something, didn't you?) is my ex tying the knot in mid-June. I wasn't invited, so no wedding report this issue. As I told my friend Kate, "At this rate, they're not going to get any wedding present from yours truly."
I did send Monica a birthday gift, however, her birthday only falling a week or so before the wedding. It was a cassette of Rosanne Cash's second album. Once upon a time, we had a chance to pick up one of Rosanne's album, Monica really wanted to get the second one, I kind of wanted the first, and as usual we ended up with the one I wanted. I always did feel bad about that.
I understand she was really delighted when she opened up the present. It's nice to know I can still make her happy, what with her acting as if I no longer exist and all.
Now, now, let's not be bitter or anything. In fact, I spoke with Monica over the pbone about how she liked her present and all the usual stfnal gossip. I even ran into her into her soon-to-be spousal unit, Zoomer, at a party he other might. (Great. Now she's Mrs. Zoomer.)
It was a farewell party for the Associated Press correspondent, Doralisa, who was being transferred to New York to monitor all the copy coming in from 90 overseas bureaus. We've taken in a movie or dinner here and there, and I'll be sorry to see her go.
The party was at the house of the new editor and publisher of the El Paso Times, who wound up joining Doralisa in the pool after she'd been thrown in. A few other people ended up in the water, too--it was the warmest I'd felt in months--although Tom, the publisher, and his wife remarked how swiftly you could clear the party of guests once people started hitting the water.
I wound up relating all this story, my clothes still moist, on my friend Kate's porch at some ungodly hour of the morning, and I passed on the farewell I'd been inspired to give Doralisa:
"You can never have too many friends, or enough time."
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