Smile Politely

The birthday celebration


4:00 a.m. – Watch Sing a Song of Sex, Nagisa Oshima’s 1967 movie about roving bands of lustful Japanese youth set against protests of Vietnam. Strange, especially the singing.

5:30 a.m. – Greet unusually expressive sunrise.

6:00 a.m. – Stretch and bask, remembering that I killed at poker last night, trouncing JD and the Admiral and adding $3.17 to my tally.

6:05 a.m. – Find excuse (espresso pot #1) to delay writing my column, even though the world may stop cold without my latest thoughts made public, I am sure.

6:06 a.m. – Suddenly remember it is my birthday. Cringe.

6:07 a.m. – Turn on computer. Watch a sporadic stream of congratulation messages parade on my Facebook news feed. Make moves on four of my seven ongoing Scrabble games. Curse all vowels — particularly “I”s and “U”s.


6:20 a.m. – Feel the impending heat of the Illinois summer day. Watch through my office window to the street below as Champaign-Urbana News Agency driver tosses New York Times accurately onto my doorstep.

6:20:35 a.m. – Begin reading the Times. Paul Krugman details Republican plan for revisionist history to revive Bush policies. Accept the overdue inevitability of the end of the world. Read box office returns, theater reviews, Living section. Lift eyebrows at the Business news that Amazon sold more electronic books last month than hardcovers.

7:00 a.m. Eat bowl of yogurt I made from scratch last week, two bright-yellow yoke eggs, scrambled, from the Admiral’s farm, and a slice of Indiana cantaloupe with salt and extra pepper.

7:15 a.m. – Check the thread on Smile Politely about Howell, the religion professor who was discharged. Would an ousted astronomy professor, who insisted to his students that the earth was flat, claim his right of free speech was violated? Add comment vowing to stay out of the fray.

7:20 a.m. – Defying my promise, start out to write an Onion-style story about said Professor Howell, employing the phrase “Icky Butt Sex” repeatedly.

7:59 a.m. – Give up obnoxious parody idea and write a sober letter to the News-Gazette instead.

8:15 a.m. – Receive text message from Son #2, who states he is planning cross-country move, to follow my own vagabond footsteps. Heave tremendous sigh.

8:20 a.m. – Make three more Scrabble moves.

8:45 a.m. – Vow solemnly to begin a column about Taoist precept of Do Nothing. “Practice non-doing and everything will fall into place.” Watch my fingers begin to type. Listen to the sound of the curved keyboard, as well as the birds, crickets, the hot air seething through the window. The cat, Whitman, is sitting on a pile of papers beside the keyboard, preventing me from paying the stack of bills or sorting through clippings.

9:15 a.m. – Realize essential contradiction in writing a column extolling doing nothing.

9:30 a.m. – Lee comes in to ask if I want to walk the dog. “My column sucks so bad,” I say. “You always say that,” she says.

9:35 a.m. – Walk dog. Snap picture of purple volunteer lilies with phone and transmit to Facebook page.

10:10 a.m. – Espresso pot #2. Read more birthday tweets. Receive call from Son #1, who explains the dilemma of his new-versus-his-ex-girlfriend.

10:42 – Overcome by heat, string up the El Salvador hammock I got for my birthday in the downstairs air-conditioned room. Feel guilty as I do the Times crossword. Fall asleep. Cat sleeps in front of the TV and watches ESPN.

11:30 – Roused by my elderly parents, who have come to remind me of the grisly story of my birth and take me to lunch at the all-you-can-eat buffet, even though I had expressed an interest in Steak ‘n’ Shake.

12:09 p.m. – During second round of seafood salad and chewy chicken, receive tweet that Daniel Schorr has died. Take time to lament his passing. Family asks, “Daniel who?”

1:15 p.m. – Sweat. Go swimming at Urbana Aquatic Center. Sweat in the pool.

2:25 p.m. – Take a nap. Awakened by text message from Son #3, expressing birthday greetings.

3:15 p.m. – Join cat in watching CNN news. Follow the unending list of violent headlines on the crawl, confirming that the end of the world already occurred sometime in April.

5:30 p.m. – Get treated to dinner by my sister-in-law at Holyland restaurant. Order the quail dinner with hummus and baba ganoush. Discuss article in the Times about rooftop bars and latest mixology trend: drinks with fruits, vegetables, and meat.

7:00 p.m. – Drive home past the Mennonite and Muslim peace garden on Springfield and Lincoln.

7:15 p.m. – Play Scrabble instead of writing column.

7:30 p.m. – Give up on column. Watch “Chopped” on the Food Network. Talk with Lee about upcoming season of “Mad Men.”

8:00 p.m. – Check my Facebook page. Remind myself what a relief it is not to be young, still inexperienced with life’s uncertainties, always on the precipice of heartbreak, and in denial about the end of the world. Feel thankful somehow.

8:15 p.m. – Stop thinking. Fall asleep.

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