Number One (a short story)

Number One


            I'm making my chin disappear in the bedroom mirror again.  I'm pushing my jaw in and out, making gimpish noises as I go, transitioning from self-conscious to silly. It's a rapid cycle.  It’s self-flagellation. "Am I unique?" I think to myself.  "Am I the only rubber necked fool?"  "Am I worth a million dollars?"  "Am I?" This "million dollar" question had become my mantra; ever since I stepped out on my own and realized that the world wasn't as giving as TGIF had lead me to believe.   Unlike Balki bartokomous, you can't just live life a perfect stranger, the nerdy black scientist next door will keep to himself, and a full house will most likely be comprised of unwanted roommates from Craigslist. I'm making my chin disappear, and today is my birthday.

            I get the sinking suspicion that the era of the home movie has come to a close.  Of course recording ourselves has never been more "the thing to do" - Selfies on the toilet seat and what not; but, the era of the chunky black VHS tape, beholding all the awkwardness of life has gone the way of the velociraptor.  You cannot just unpost the VHS of your 6th grade "moonlight" skate, with Kate Dylan to Meatloaf's "Anything for Love."  No you can't do that!  No, you may forget about that catalog of unwanted captures, until you open up the basement credenza at Mom and Dad's house and there they are in all their God awful glory.  I felt this way the last time I saw them.  Then I inserted one into the VCR, and realized that like memories sometime do, the images were fading, even blank in places - Just scratchy static and wavy lines where my life used to be.

            I remember my first birthday, well not exactly.  I remember watching my first birthday on tape.  What a delightful little shit I was.  Clapping my pudgy little hands as Grandma dotes upon me with a Pall Mall in her mouth and ashtray resting on my high chair.  The camera shakily swings around to see Grandpa Robert fast asleep, as my brother Jesse pretends to pick his nose (classic bit) - He will soon be the culprit of a birthday gift heist which would result in my crying and I can only imagine a dance with "the belt" for him. As the camera makes way to a much skinnier version of my mom, I see my oldest brother Travis nose deep into an new Dungeon's Master Guide.  My mother, holding a hastily frosted chocolate cake, is making her way towards my chair.  I appear to be losing my god damned mind (Christ, to be passionate again!).  She speaks, and it's jarring to hear her speak to me at one, the same way she does to me at thirty-two.  "Who's my big boy?  Who wants to blow out baby's candle?" She's placating me, and I'm going for it whole hog.  She places the cake directly in front of me and yells at my father.  "Lelan, make sure you get it all!" She's mean mugging the camera.

            "I got it Karin."  My father replies.  He sounds a bit defeated.  I get that more now.  Life takes its piece, but for me in that moment, there is no piece, just the whole.  The whole Choclatey fucker, ripe for the taking.  Oh, and I take!  First one fist and then the other, cramming that Dunkin Hinesy goodness all over my fat little face.  Laughter erupts throughout the room, as I wallow in my decadence.  This would be the last time I would be allowed to be a prick of such magnitude.  I suppose that's the way it is for a lot of us out there.  There's just that one shining selfish moment.  That time before anxiety stopped you from saying I love you (this may have been a blessing at times, to be sure).  That time before social norms stopped you from getting ahead.  That time before you became aware of the consequences.  The time before you looked in the mirror, and said I'm tired.  There was that have your cake and eat it too moment - and if it was once captured on VHS, it's probably gone now.

            There are other birthdays of course (in fact, from 19 to 31, they blend together like a bad poolside daiquiri of drunken debauchery - Thank god the morning birthday flask has been retired), there's my Burger King birthday with the Whopper Jr. And the complimentary T-shirt.  There's number eleven, in which I received what were to be my years most prized possession - jet black buns-huggin Guess Jeans.  I like to think I gave Claudia Schiffer a run for her money (of course my money is now spent on Therapy for my regressed homosexual panic attacks - thanks sexy jeans!). There's fourteen, when my girlfriend promised me a blowjob, but got arrested for shoplifting instead (I like to think it was a gift for me, but most likely it was just some chachkies from Claire's).   Then there is eighteen, my first birthday away from home, a momentous occasion, a milestone, the beginning of a new era - and I don't remember God damned minute one. 

            I'm done playing in the mirror now, and getting I’m ready for work.  Yes, I'm working on my birthday.  It’s a sorry state of affairs, I suppose. My friend Trish will discover this, and text to remind me of my dumpishness.  My girlfriend will remind me that after work we'll have vegan cheesecake and use the new drill she got me to get started on some "projects."  I’ll stand at work quietly keeping to myself, with each conversation going back and forth in my mind if I should inform them of my “special day or not.”  I won’t (well, maybe if the opportunity arises that I can go home early).  I’ll get on the subway, and think how crowded it is.  I'll feel indignant that I’m riding a crowded train on my birthday. “On my birthday,” I’ll think.  I’ll stop at the Korean Deli and buy a pint of milk and a cheap sugary piece of cake – the prepackaged kind.  I’ll eat it like a troll in the park, careful to wipe my face afterwards.  I’ll check the mail for birthday checks like a selfish man-child.  I’ll shower, jerk off, put on the “given –up” sweats and become one with the couch. I’ll see some old movie that will make me feel sentimental (hell, maybe even Captain Ron), nudging me to log on for my yearly Facebook visit.  I’ll "like" all the well wishes, from the yearly well wishers, and post a blanketed thank you statement – “My fellow Americans, it is with great honor that I accept these salutations of good cheer.”  My mom will call. My dad will call. My brothers will call.  All wishing me a happy birthday.  All will be conveniently missed, leaving a string of voicemails to sing me to sleep.  There are other birthdays of course.  But none like number one.