July 19, 2007


By Change100 © 2007

I turned 10 in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandfather had fallen ill and my mother decided to move my sister and I out there with her for most of the summer of 1987 so she could take care of him. The three of us squeezed into the pullout couch at night in the living room of my grandparents' doublewide trailer on Route 71, which was certainly not designed to accomodate five. Mandy and I spent most of our afternoons wandering around town, taking bike rides around Lake Como and hitting the dime stores with Nana, where she'd buy scores of useless trinkets for the already crowded shelves in the trailer.

On my birthday, she came home from her morning jaunt to Shop-Rite with a value-pack of M&Ms and a bag of chicken wings to cook for dinner. Nana's chicken wings were my favorite thing that she cooked... well, really the only thing I would eat that she cooked. And since it was my birthday, I got my meal of choice for dinner. We ate a light breakfast to "save" ourselves for the dinner. The only problem was... Mandy, my mother and I were already starving by about 1 PM. As the three of us zoned out in front of an episode of "Three's Company" with my grandfather, we began to pick at the M&Ms, which had been poured into one of Nana's tacky candy dishes that sat on the coffee table.

"What the hell are you eating those for?! You're going to spoil your dinner! Why am I slaving in this kitchen if you're not going to eat it!" shrieked Nana as she brushed the wings with marinade.

This was always the Catch-22 with Nana and her dishes of candy. Eat the candy, you'll spoil your meal. Don't eat it and why the hell did she bother to go out and buy the candy for us?

So my mom and Nana got into it over the M&Ms, which ended in her storming out of the trailer with the two of us in tow. We piled into Nana's white Ford Escort and took off down Route 71.

My mom pulled up to "The Sundae Times" aka the best ice cream parlor in town. They served their famous ice cream concoctions in plastic mini-baseball caps and you could pick the team of your choice. Mandy got strawberry ice cream in an Angels cap while I opted for mint chocolate chip in a Yankee hat. We were in sweet air-conditioned heaven and the lines across my mother's forehead finally began to relax.

"You're gonna have to hide the hats when we get home" she warned. "DON'T tell Nana I took you here-- this is our secret trip for Nicky's birthday."

Just as we'd rinsed out the hats and stashed them in my mom's purse, we ran into Nana's neighbor walking through the front door. My mom completely froze and tried to look for another way out of there, but we'd been made.

"Jo! What are you all doing here?"

"Patsy... do me a favor and don't tell my Ma you saw us here. It's so bloody hot the kids were gonna pass out if I didn't get them some ice cream."

"No worries, Jo. I get ya" she said with a wink.

Nana still made her chicken wings that night and I savored every one. Though I still got shit for not eating more than I did.

* * * * *

I turned 20 in New York City. College in the frozen midwest didn't agree with me and I'd defied my parents' wishes and moved to Manhattan for the summer of 1997 instead of coming home to L.A. They thought it was just to work a theatre internship, but I was more interested in converting that temporary gig to a full-time job I could take in lieu of finishing my last two years of school. My birthday was my eleventh day in my sparsely furnished studio apartment in Chelsea. I had a futon I'd borrowed for the summer, one end table, a twin bed I'd purchased for $10 from a sorority that was getting rid of old furniture, and a 13-inch television. I'd arrived in New York with $55 in cash in my pocket and only about $4-- all of it in change-- remained. I'd been eating most of my meals at the Seventh Avenue Papaya on the corner of 23rd Street where they sold 50 cent hot dogs. I could eat about three a day along with a 32 ounce Diet Coke and get by without any serious hunger.

Two days before I'd auditioned to be a singing waitress on a cruise ship. Showcase and a number of our theatre major friends had done it before as a summer job and it paid well. It was one of those touristy boats that took brunch and dinner cruises around the lower tip of Manhattan, passing the Twin Towers along its way to the Statue of Liberty, turning back north to the South Street Seaport, and ducking under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges before making a wide U-turn and heading back to Chelsea Piers. All the waitstaff took one solo turn a night along with performing a hideous group disco number. I thought I'd had a good audition, but not having heard from them for 48 hours, panic had set in. I needed a paycheck in the worst way.

At about 7:00 that evening, my phone rang. It was them. I got the job! And could I start tomorrow? Visions of cash tips and food other than hot dogs danced in my head.

I called up Sarah, my best friend from high school who was also living in the city for the summer with the good news. She zipped over to my apartment and took me out for happy hour at a bar on 16th Street where she knew we wouldn't get carded. Elation and relief spread over me as I drank my glass of Merlot.

Because if I could make it there, well, I could make it anywhere.

* * * * *

I turned 30 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the World Series of Poker. I was covering a PLO8 event inside the Poker Pavillion Sauna Wind Tunnel Death Trap Freezer and was watching Chau Giang's teeth chatter as he tucked his arms inside his shirt to fend off the chill when Pauly instant-messaged me a Happy Birthday. I hadn't even noticed the time. Or the day it had suddenly become. Such was my focus on the task at hand. 30 had come quietly. Even unnoticed.

I worked on my 30th birthday. It was like any other day at this seven-week circus of gamblers. I didn't make a big deal out of celebrating it, nor did I have the time to. I've always had an odd relationship with this day and I've celebrated the occasion on every point of the spectrum. From my 13th birthday that I spent grounded and locked in my room to my 16th birthday when my closest friends threw me in the car blindfolded and surprised me with a trip to Disneyland, to my 25th birthday where my party took over a chic Hollywood club and boasted 150 guests, to my 27th birthday that I spent bent over the porcelain god ravaged with food poisoning.

I'm 30 now but I don't feel it. I don't look it. And I certainly don't live like it. I smoke weed, date a 34-year old homeless man, gamble every day, travel a lot and share an apartment with a borderline homosexual actor-slash-dog walker. When my parents were my age, they owned our house and I was spitting up applesauce in the crib. I'm still many years away from anything like that.

So like the many women who have gone before me, I think I'll remain 29 forever. I think it suits me well.

Change100 is a writer from Los Angeles, CA.

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