The Boat

Riverboat‘Round these parts, folks go to the boat for a good time. For those of you not familiar with the Cornfield and its vernacular, “going to the boat” means going to the riverboat casino in Peoria.

This past Saturday was my roommate Carrie’s birthday. Since it was a milestone birthday (I won’t say what stone that mile marks), she wanted to do something big. Our original plan was to go to Chicago, but since she hurt her knee and wouldn’t be able to do that much walking, she decided that going to the boat would be a good alternative.

Riverboat ViewWe stayed at the hotel. Our room was fabulous with a lovely view of the parking lot and the river beyond. I’m not joking. For a parking lot view, it was still really nice. I could write lyrical poems about the bathroom. The shower was divine. You can’t say that about most hotel showers.

We hit up the buffet that night for dinner. It was a seafood special, perfect for Carrie’s birthday as she is a big lover of seafood. It was a pretty nice spread and the food was pretty good. I’ve never had seafood lasagna before and wasn’t sure I’d like it, but it was some tasty, tasty stuff.

I was probably the youngest person at the buffet and frankly, I didn’t mind it. It made for a quiet meal. The guy sitting next to us was getting his prime rib on. Meanwhile, another lady went back to her table with a plate of mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts. Carrie looked horrified. “Is she being punished?”

Riverboat dinnerConsidering the dessert spread, maybe she thought she needed to earn that German chocolate cake. Laws knows that if salad didn’t count as a vegetable then I wouldn’t have eaten one all weekend.

The casino was loud and bright and crowded, but we managed to find our way to the lowest floor (deck?) and the slots. The dress code was quite loose as we saw some people dressed to the nines and other folks that didn’t seem to own any shirts with sleeves. A few people were in their pajamas.

The first night I won about forty dollars and Carrie won about fifty. The second night, we wore more on the losing end, but we still managed to come out ahead.

I spent my winnings on Steak n Shake.

We both had a lot of fun, but we both realized that we’re not casino people. We found the prime rib guy working two slots at once and he had at least 200 bucks in one of them. Another guy was sliding into Carrie’s seat as soon as she got out of it because he thought her machine was hot. We might have spent an hour or an hour and a half at most in the casino each night. It was fun while we were winning, not as fun when we were losing, and there were a whole lot of people that resembled zombies in there.

Definitely a fun once-in-a-while weekend thing, but we couldn’t make a job of it.

Happy 32!

Today is my birthday and I have successfully turned 32, which will hereby be referred to as 30-Deuce because it sounds cooler.

To celebrate, I’m going to spend the weekend in Chicago at the Cubs Convention with my good friend Becca and going to meet some of my Cubs fan Twitter friends for the first time. It’s going to be a lot of fun (I don’t give things like this any other choice).

This also means I’ll be taking the next four days off. No blog posts ’til Tuesday!

Happy birthday to me!

What Do You Do When Thousands of People Die On Your Birthday?

A year ago today I turned 30 years old. While I did that hundreds of thousands of people died in a devestating earthquake in Haiti.

Unlike most other people, particularly the people around my age, I actually had been looking forward to turning 30 and deep down I wished I could have been able to do something really spectacular to celebrate. I wanted my 30th to be memorable.

I should have been more specific.

No matter what I do on my birthday, it’s my special day. I’ve been sick on my birthday (more than is fair, in my opinion). I’ve worked on my birthday. I’ve had parties. I’ve spent it alone. But no matter how I spend the day, in my head it’s always special because it’s mine.

My 30th was no different. I went to the DMV to renew my license. It’s never much of a hassle in a town of 7,000, but that day it was almost enjoyable. My new picture is the first ID picture I’ve taken in my life that didn’t look like a mugshot following a night of booze and a misused pool cue. Lunch was just a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, but that was one delicious chicken sandwich. It was all due to the charm of my birthday and the glow of turning 30.

And then there was an earthquake.

I saw it first on Twitter. Initially, it was just another earthquake in a country I never planned to visit. Earthquake reports come across my Twitter feed all the time about other countries, one tweet maybe retweetted by two or three different people, and that’d be the end of the earth-shaking news.

But Haiti didn’t disappear.

More and more news came over my wire, mixing the birthday wishes with death toll numbers. The shine of my birthday had no affect on that kind of devestation. Turning 30 couldn’t compete iwth the destruction of pretty much an entire country.

So I didn’t try. I didn’t speak Haiti’s name all day and though I was aware of the news and kept up to date on the rising numbers and mounting wreckage, I kept it in my peripheral view.

Because it was my birthday, dammit! My day! And the Earth had no right to go heaving up and crushing people on my birthday. Really, it shouldn’t be doing it on any day, but this day in particular. I felt bad enough when Maurice Gibb died on my birthday. But a huge percentage of a country’s population? That’s a black cloud that lingers. Even if  I wasn’t do very much to celebrate it, my 30th birthday was now tainted, haunted, by the deaths of thousands.

I ignored that fact. I really did.

In a move that was purely and unabashedly selfish, I stuck my fingers in my ears and LALA’d in the face of a natural disaster and the dead people it brough with it. I averted my gaze from teh tragedy and focused my eyes on the glory that was the anniversary of my birth.

The rest of the day proceeded as planned. I made shrimp pasta for dinner. I wallowed in the birthday wishes from friends and family. I got a few presents. I ate cupcakes that my mother had gotten for me. My friend and roommate, Carrie, took pictures of me while I ate one, goofy, smiling pictures that belied the bizarre kind of survivor’s guilt that I felt.

Here I was celebrating a day that was seen by the rest of the world as a tragedy. And I was going to celebrate that day in teh years to come as a day of birth while everyone else would see it as an anniversary of death.

Against my will, I find myself a member of a very unique club. It’s a club of people who share their birthdays with 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Columbine shootings, the Christmas Day tsunami, Pearl Harbor, and other notorious days known better for death than life. I’m not sure how to deal with that.

It’s a silly thing, I know. It’s a selfish thing, I know. But it’s my first birthday since this huge tragedy, so I’m still working out how to share my birthday with death.

I admit that last year I hid my head in the sand and really indulged in my selfishness, but I think I redeemed myself a little bit at the end of the day.

My birthday money went to Haiti.

Plans for 31

On Wednesday, I’ll be turning 31 (or as I prefer to say, 30 bonus year because it sounds less dull). I don’t have big plans to celebrate my birthday. First of all, it’s on a Wednesday and Wednesdays are rarely good for rockin’ parties. Secondly, by this point after the holidays, people are tired of celebrating.

Lastly, it’s supposed to be really cold this week. Nothing kills a partying mood like the potential for sub-zero windchills and frostbite just going out for dinner.

Even though I don’t have grand plans for my birthday, I do have plans for being 31. I had plans for being 30 and I admit, most of them fell through. I had really high hopes for being 30, too. I’d been looking forward to it for years. Yet, despite all the high hopes and goals and plans and trying, being 30 wasn’t as great as it should have been. Actually, it was pretty disappointing.

But, with my birthday looming, the disappoints of being 30 fade in the light of the freshness of turning 31. I’ve got new plans, new hopes, and an unblemished optimism.

31 is going to be great like 30 wasn’t.

I plan on selling a few more stories this year. I plan on getting a novel ready to submit. I plan on fixing my finances. I plan on getting out and socializing more. I plan to continue to work on getting healthy. I plan on having a good time. I plan on improving my existence.

These plans actually don’t vary much from the ones I had for 30. They’re also not all of the plans I have for 31. As open as I’d like to be with this blog, some things are just too personal to mention. But even so, they could easily fall into the categories of either having a good time and/or improving my existence.

At the very least, I hit the high points.

Okay, so most people wouldn’t think my plans are very big. I’m not trying to run fifty marathons in fifty states or visit every baseball park in a season. Hell, I’m not even trying to skydive, rock climb, or go to Vegas. And I’m sure a few people would think there are some plans missing from my 31 To Do List. You know, like find a man or a “real” job or lose all the weight that offends other people’s delicate sensibilities.

In my defense, the plans don’t have to be big for me to be happy. So long as those plans are in line with what I really want and I make them happen, then that’s what counts. Maybe one year I’ll make an attempt to visit all of the ballparks in a single season, but this year is not the year.

This year can’t even be the year to think about it.

This year is the the year to get my house in order so next year I can think about those things.

As for the standard plans that most people make in high school and achieve in their twenties that I haven’t gotten around to yet, this year isn’t going to be the year I get around to those either. That’s not to say I’m not open to meeting someone or losing a few pounds while I work on being healthy. I plan on getting a “real” job just to help my financial situation, but I already have a real job, writing. But to be honest, I’ve just never been good at the traditional plans. If I were, then I’d already have the college degree, the career, the husband, the 2.5 kids, the house, the debt, and judging by the other people I know my age, a pending divorce, if not a finalized one.

I do better with the less-than-traditional plans and to a certain extent, I’m stellar without a plan at all.

My plans for 31 have been made and like with the plans I made for 30, I’m going to try to follow through with them.

Unlike 30, though, I’m going to put a lot more effort into 31.

Friday Five: Birthday Presents

My birthday is next Wednesday and I, like so many other people, love my birthday. It’s my special day even if I don’t do anything more out of the ordinary than going to McDonald’s for lunch to celebrate it. It’s my day because it’s the anniversary of my birth and therefore, it is automatically a fantastic day.

Also, I like free stuff and birthdays are great for free stuff.

Here are five presents I would love to get for my birthday this year:

1. Tickets to a Cubs game. It’s a sin that I’ve only been to Wrigley twice in my life. Maybe they’d actually win the game so I could hear “Go Cubs Go” in person.

2. Books. I’ve got a whole wishlist of them on Amazon and I am desperately low on new reading material.

3. iTunes gift cards. I love music. I’ve got lists of songs that I’d like to acquire. Some of it recorded after 2001, even.

4. Monkees Present and Changes CDs. Yes, downloadable music is where it’s at, but they’re the last two CDs I need for my collection of original Monkees music (I’m not counting Missing Links vol. 1 and 2; I need those, too, but they’re all outtakes and alternative takes). I’ve got a great collage of the cover art going and I need those two pieces to finish. Also, the music.

5. Donations to The Dempster Family Foundation, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, a local children’s hospital, or a local humane society or no-kill shelter. One of the biggest bummers to being broke is not being able to contribute as much as I’d like to charities. I think it’d be cool to have people do it for my birthday.

If you read my Christmas list, I bet you were expecting something just as wild and extravagant, huh?

Well, I’m a complex person. Get used to these sorts of surprises.

The Holiday Gauntlet

Every year I run the holiday gauntlet. I’m sure lots of people do it, but this isn’t about them; it’s about me.

The gauntlet starts with Thanksgiving. I attend dinner with my dad’s side of the family at my Aunt Jo’s. Some years I’m responsible for shuttling the nieces down, too. It’s a nice way to ease into the craziness that follows in the weeks to come.

From that point on, it’s a matter of wrangling presents, buying them if I can afford it or making them if I can’t, wrapping them, mailing them, piling them up with the rest of my Christmas paraphernalia in the corner of my room. This likely takes me until the week of the holiday because I’m lousy at coming up with gift ideas in a timely fashion, and if I do come up with something, then I tend to misjudge the amount of time I have to get it. Somehow, I always managed to squeak in under the wire.

My middle niece was cursed with having her birthday exactly a week before Christmas. My mom doesn’t put out any Christmas decorations until afterwards so she can have the day and of course, I’m there for it to give her present and enjoy some cupcakes. It’s like a warm-up.

The week of Chrstimas is probably my most dreaded week of the year. It’s the logistics of trying to squeeze in as many Christmases as necessary so everyone is satisfied (this happens when you have divorced parents, divorced grandparents, and traveling grandparents). One year, I ended up doing six Christmases in four days. It was a nightmare and I’ve resented Christmas ever since. Typically, though, I usually have no more than three. Last year, I only had two. This year I’m only having two. It’s like a vacation only having two.

Part of the headache of doing the Christmases is the traveling. A trip to my mom’s is usually no big deal, just a twenty minute drive. A trip to my Aunt Jo’s is about the same amount of time, but in the opposite direction. But there have been years in which I drove to my mom’s on the 23rd and 24th for Christmases and then on Christmas drove north to her house, picked up the nieces, drove south to my Aunt Jo’s, had Christmas, then drove north to take the girls home, then drove south to take myself home. The entire Christmas ping pong trip ends up being about 150 miles. It’s a lot of driving for a day full of food and presents and sometimes crappy weather.

Sure, other people drive that distance in a day. My grandparents pretty much have to in order to make their Christmas rounds. But, I think it’s more exhausting to drive it like a fish on speed trapped in a small bowl.

After the mania that is Christmas begins the slow cool down. New Year’s Eve is a raucous affair for a lot of people, but for me, it’s a quiet business of a marathon of some sort (last year it was Mystery Science Theater 3000) with some snacks, sparkling grape juice, and a friend or two. Nothing big, nothing drunken, nothing fancy. Just a quiet ringing in of the New Year.

My oldest niece’s birthday is January 11th and, you know it, I’m there for cupcakes (or cheesecake) and presents. It’s the last trip I have to make and by that point, I’m tired of driving 51 North.

The gauntlet ends on my birthday the next day, January 12th. My mom usually just lumps my birthday in with my niece’s, which has led to some interesting birthday cakes over the years. I can’t blame her. By that point, all of my friends and relatives are tired of celebrating things. Even if I had the energy to do anything special, I’d most likely be doing it alone. The last time I went out on my birthday, I was twenty-six and ended up puking at the bar, so maybe it’s just best I’m too tired to do anything anyway.

It then takes me until Thanksgiving to rest up for the next run.

This is why the people who love Christmas baffle me. I think of them like I think of people who enjoy running marathons; it’s hard for me to enjoy anything when I’m struggling so hard just to breathe.

Despite the craziness and my Grinch-like demeanor, I do enjoy the quiet, sweet moments with family and friends. And the food. And the free stuff.

Rob Whoville!