Last Saturday (September 6) I was in full-blown birthday party mode. And as I loaded up on cake and alcohol on the Upper West Side, I took a pause in the back of a cab and put my finger to my chin, “What are you going to say about your birthday?”
I turned 30 this week. It means nothing, it looks like nothing and feels like 29, and 21, and 18 and 8-years-old all at once. I talked myself into throwing a birthday-slash-housewarming party (after a little encouragement from friends). 20 invitations were delivered via email and Facebook, and in a short two weeks, I agonized over cocktail choices, appetizers and well, throwing a damn good party. I took advice from everyone, but Philippa’s was the best:
“They key,” Philippa said, “is to make sure everyone’s glasses are full.”
Saturday morning I went to pick up a Momofuku cake tall enough to fulfill my “Pollyanna Cake” dreams. Then I stopped at the liquor store, a moms-and-pops place, where a burly man ushered me to the prosecco.
“What are you making?” he asked.
“Aperol Spritz,” I said.
“Ah,” he chuckled, and then with an accent, “dhis is ghood.”
Then, after deliberating between brands, he took me to the counter and looked at my face.
“You are 21, aren’t you?”
“I’ll be 30 next week,” I said, straightening my posture so that I looked a bit taller. I sounded like those seven-year-old's who respond to questions about their age by saying that they’re “seven-and-a-half”.
After that exchange, I had a long ride home. This would give me time, I surmised, to start drafting a post about my birthday. Instead, I looked out the window, I hugged the cake closer and closer to my chest. Writers block and nerves. I’d never thrown a house party before of any size. So much could go wrong.
I arrived at home in the afternoon and cleaned for hours, taste-tested my cocktail, set out the food and danced around to jazz music to settle the nerves.
By eight o’clock in the evening, the first guest arrived and we sat on the couch with our cocktails and I turned her attention to the building courtyard. My building is shaped like a “U,” with apartments on the inside facing each other.
“See that window,” I said to my guest. “Those are the Naked Start-Up Guys.”
“The Naked Start-Up Guys!?”
“Yes, well, I don’t know if they have a Start-Up but I always assume they do because they are always writing on white boards. But they never wear shirts. They sometimes look down at me and make eye contact. But we never wave.”
This, would become as key to the party as the endless cocktails. At nine, guests were spilling out over the living room rug and in small groups in the kitchen. The Start-Up Guys waved to us from their apartment, and my guests waved back, “Come over!” They beckoned.
Eventually, the Start-Up Guys were at the front door and drinking and talking with the guests. The rest of the party exists in my memory as a blur: a lot of rushed conversations, a lot of running down the stairs to meet guests at the door (the buzzer is out), lots of Aperol Spritz’s and the like. Midway through, I snuck my sister to the kitchen for the piece de resistance: a sparkler candle that I went all the way to West Village to find. (And yes, that picture above was taken at the party, that’s the actual cake and sparkler.)
The cake was a hit. My friends sang happy birthday and I looked at the crowd, a dizzying mass of faces I now know well. It’s an odd feeling, to feel loved. Even then, I wondered what I could write, in the weird way that I never stop writing even when I’m speaking. But sometimes it’s the best moments that are the hardest to write about. It’s sappy, but it’s true.
The party wound down shortly after. Only a few people reclined on the sofa for wine and conversation: my dear friend L., hilarious Topper Harris, and handsome Bo (with whom I take day trips). Bo stayed the longest, and into the early morning hours we spoke until words were replaced by yawns.
When I closed the door after him, I shrugged to myself, “See that wasn’t so bad! In fact that was quite fun! In fact, that was quite amazing.”
My actual birthday, September 10, was just as fun and magical. I expected to work a late night since I’d been working late nights all week. I didn’t make plans, but Bo, despite the hour wanted to cook me dinner. We sat in the window of his Upper West Side apartment and looked down on a typical street scene as we talked. It was a quiet, unexpected celebration and just like my party – everything I wanted.