Monday, May 7, 2012


My twenty-first birthday was ant-climactic.

After the way I carried on in my teens, my 21st would have had to have been a five-star, red-letter, first taste of Veuve Cliquot, bike ride with Pee Wee Herman, sex with Judd Nelson, front row tickets to Letterman, black Firebird with a giant red bow, ride to the moon on Pegasus' back orgasm to have made an impression.

Bless their hearts, my friends tried. There was no way they could have secured those tickets to Letterman. I mean in 1986, he was the hottest thing in town. They did, however, decorate my dorm room and arranged two nights out. The first, the appetizer, so to speak, involved Chi Chis, a plate of nachos and a couple of big as a baby's head frozen strawberry margaritas. This was exactly midnight of my birthday.

The next day, the guy I was dating gave me a bottle of Liz Claiborne perfume. I'd pretty much already decided we were through after he stood me up to go to a fraternity rush party, but I couldn't be an ass, could I? I thanked him, spent some time being nice and sent him on his way. Probably to another fraternity function. I didn't inquire. I had plans and he wasn't twenty-one yet.

Another young romantic went to the trouble of chalking a beautiful birthday message on the sidewalk leading up to the dorm. He scattered rose petals and gave me a single red rose. I'd met him at the student union a couple of days before. He was sweet, a great conversationalist and good looking. He also had severe acne scars.

I ran downstairs and gave him a hug and thanked him. We took a short walk and he gave me a poem I've since lost because my understanding of what held real value wasn't fully formed even at twenty-one. I remember he had these green eyes. Uniquely green. We kissed and he said he'd call me. And he did. And did and did. And I was always busy. I was so shallow.

Shallow and still recovering from heartbreak. Ethan and I ended our relationship in June and this was only October, after all. I was still looking for him everywhere, walking around with this huge hole in my heart because I'd lost not just my boyfriend and roommate. I'd lost my best friend. And that sucked so hard.

But my birthday was about fun and celebration. It would not be about waiting around for the phone to ring. I told myself this over and over. So. My friends planned a progressive celebration. We shared a large, decorated chocolate chip cookie in the dorm hallway. Very wholesome. We grabbed our IDs and strolled across campus to Kirkwood Avenue. The real heart of Bloomington, Indiana. Some people think Assembly Hall is the heart. They've obviously never sat on the wall of People's Park reading Vonnegut.

We were treated to a round of the traditional Long Island Iced Tea at Kilroy's. And beer at Hooligans. And more Long Island Iced beers at Nick's. Beer and wild dancing with the pale, black-clad Collins folk at Second Story. And more Gilligan's Island Iced Icees at the Blue Bird. Happy birthdays and kisses from strangers at Jake's (where one year later, I would proposition the hot guy who would become MathMan). Shots of this, shots of that, something that would feel like a shot to the head a few hours later. And somewhere in there I threw up. Which meant I had more room for a coke. Loaded with rum.

Because my friends were the responsible types, they waited until I was half a drink away from requiring a piggyback ride home before we headed toward the dorm. We had to make a pit stop at the library. You know the gorgeous limestone library from Breaking Away? I may have desecrated a library carrel there. The stories conflicted.

My friends wished me one more happy 21st and then left me to the guy I had a crush on. He removed my jacket, shoes and jeans, poured me into my bed, kissed me on my forehead, curled up next to me and let me drunk snore in his ear until we were awakened by my friend Mary Moss who was banging on my door because we had a date to go tour Nashville, Indiana.

Clearly, I'm an optimist. Otherwise, why would I agree to a long, curvy drive in a fifteen passenger van? When we were little, our mother told us that roads like State Route 46 were made by throwing a snake on the ground and following its zigzag path.

I tried not to think of my mother and her zigzagging snakes as I sat with my head pressed against the cool window and hoped that I could hold off being sick until we arrived at our destination. Someone in the van smelled strongly of garlic and I made the mistake of squirting myself with some of that Liz Claiborne cologne to cover up the smell of alcohol seeping from my pores. I may have wished for a speedy death somewhere in there.

Thank goodness there was a huge tree behind which I could hide while I gulped in breaths of fresh air and castigated myself for thinking that drinking legally would make me impervious to the withering effects of alcohol. Oh youthful naivete.

I'm reminded of those days because today we're celebrating another twenty-first birthday. And I'm having a hard time believing it.

Your twenty-first - partying like it was 1999, rockin' around the clock or more like one of Mary Richard's parties? Or can't you remember?


  1. Oh man. Here in Canada, 19 is the legal age. For me it was tequila. Mostly shooters. About an hour in, everyone was cross-eyed and biting into each other's used lemon wedges. Sounds kinda dirty. Anyhoo. I was not happy the next day. Took a good 10 years before I'd try tequila again.

    Your daughter is beautiful and looking at her mother, I can see where she gets her beauty.

    Thanks for your laugh-out-loud comment on my blog. It was my turn to snort at the computer screen at work. That was a gem.

  2. I celebrated TWO legal drinking birthdays. One in Norway at 18 - and Two in Minnesota at 19. Then moved to Indiana to attend DePauw to find I was no longer legal. WTF? :) I moved back to Minny but good.

  3. I am a good girl. an 11 on a scale of 10. 21st birthday i had a drink with my sisters at Hala Kahiki in River Grove. Never been drunk, tipsy and buzzy but never drunk. it never seemed fun and enjoyable. i have always found myself more fun without additives. I was happy to be the designated driver and was for my own bachlorette party. more because the point would be to not drink and i was never sure I could trust anyone to actually resist. It sounds boring but it wasn't, nobody died, and I kept all the blackmail memories intact.

  4. and good girl was supposed to be in quotes

  5. I am catching up on your posts. Your hair looks great, glad you have left it long. I can't remember 21, I had a fake ID for so long it was anti-climactic. Plus, I was sprouting the gray hair back in college so... I refuse to read Joan Didion and I agree that those uber rich women have no idea how alienating they are with their name and label dropping. They think it is glamorous. Yuck.

    Hope the job is fitting well. Mine is going ok.

  6. Um. I'm 29 and I don't remember what I did for my 21st. That sounds all kinds of party girl "exciting" but ... more than likely, it just wasn't impressive. I was married, no longer on campus and also am a summer baby so who knows which of my friends was actually in the country. Geesh, what *did* I do? Whelp. The next year I had a baby for my birthday... so there's that. (This comment is all of the pointless. you're welcome.)

  7. Two beautiful women! Happy Birthday!
    I was legal at 19, but I can't remember much about it. (Let's blame the passing decades.)

  8. Happy birthday to C.! She is your spitting image, you gorgeous ladies.

    As for my 21st, I don't recall it but being that I had bartended for a couple of years by then and had the tolerance and liver of a long-haul trucker, I imagine I drunk some people under the table, played some foosball, and went out to a diner at 4:00 a.m. for fries and gravy. The good life being lived in an upstate NY college town.

  9. I had two celebrations, thanks to New York raising the drinking age from 18 to 19 when I was sixteen, then, just before I turned 19, raising it again to 21. The nice thing was the delay in implementing the law meant I was a legal drinker for exactly 53 weeks, then was not allowed to drink legally for 51 weeks. My first legal drink, purchased by my oldest sister's husband, was two double-shots of Jack Daniels in a bar downtown in my hometown. The building is gone now, so, you know, can't go home again and all that.

    I honestly don't think I "celebrated" my 21st only because, well, I'd already gone legal, hadn't I? Besides, the bars in the town where I went to college were careful not to put their reading glasses on when they checked IDs so it was kind of no big deal.

  10. Probably telling a two-year-old to keep it down because I was busy going through my NBA Draft Nerd paperwork. Man, you *always* have way better stories than I do, and I'm not ashamed to not hide my jealousy.

  11. Heh. When I turned 21, the drinking age was 18.


  12. Dammit, zrm!

    But yeah, except that where I was, all any bar wanted to see was your collage i.d.

    So I was basically legal at 17. Don't remember 21 at all.

  13. I turned 21 in Madison, Wisconsin. Drinking age there was 18 for beer and wine so alcohol was no big deal.

    The Mifflin Street block party riot, on the other hand, made an impression. For years I associated my birthday with the smell of tear gas and police brutality.

  14. A lot of similarities here. My 21st birthday was very anti-climatic as well. And my daughter will be 21 this September and thinking of how to make her birthday memorable.

    Happy birthday to your girl.

  15. What Nan said... eighteenth was no big deal....having a very dark and thick beard at 17 meant I had been buying beer for over a year already. By 21 I had progressed to , ah, other substances. I am not sure if I remember my 21st birthday or not. Sometimes I think I do but I am sure I am mistaken.

  16. Until this minute, until you asked, I've always just assumed I remembered my 21st birthday. But I don't. Not a single detail. Not even a single generality. How sad.

  17. Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Happy 21st Birthday to your daughter!

    My 21st Birthday?
    I spent home, PREGNANT, and playing Rummy 500 - with my brother all night.

  18. Me? I have no memory but then again it was the 60s.

    I hope Chloe's birthday was wonderful.

  19. I went to see Neil Diamond at the Royal Albert Hall London for my 21st :)

  20. Like you, I had spent so many of my teenage years drinking Bali Hi and Coors that my 21st was a big "eh." Or maybe not. I was doing a lot of acid in those days. Hmmm...

    Is that beautiful young woman your daughter?

  21. Holy shit! No way Chloe is 21 already. Hoe the hell did that happen? Oh, and Happy Birthday to the first born. Wow.

  22. On my 21st, my friends decorated my dorm room; I received a really fancy and expensive stuffed bear from a guy who liked me but who had no chance; my friends and I ate dinner at Pizza Hut, where I drank a Coors Lite (the height of class, I tell you!); and finally spent the rest of the evening at the best dive bar in town with my best friend. It was a quiet Tuesday night and the place was mostly empty except for some old men who bought me many a 50-cent plastic cup of beer. All in a all, a fabulous bday.

  23. Chloe looks so beautiful here Lisa. I hope it was a lovely birthday.


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