It’s early, but I wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday, just in case the Big day sneaks past without me realizing it. You know, remembering wasn’t a problem last year because you had that party at Harry’s Bar. Did Takayo and I bring you a present? Funny how things like that can slip the mind. I recall the year before, however. We bought you a present at the Shanghai Art Museum, but we never gave it to you. It was a mug with naked baby dolls falling from the sky with umbrellas. Surprise! It lived in our cupboard for the longest time. Still wrapped. Then we left China, and it became our housewarming gift. The dishwasher in our new German apartment washed away all of the babies. So goes the youth in Asia.
OK, I’ll be honest. I didn’t really remember your birthday. I just happened to flip through my notebook and stumble upon an entry. This is what I wrote about your birthday dinner: “Two nights ago, we were at Harry’s Bar for ---‘s birthday.” Most of what I remember -- the round table upstairs with its huge Lazy Susan, the old wooden rafters overhead -- is mundane. Other memories, such as the tattoo on the inside of your wrist that you sometimes cover with a sweatband, flash! to mind, but provide you with no insight.
You showed up late, guest of honor, which was a nice touch. There was an open seat next to me and you sat down, but we didn‘t talk much. You were fairly enamored with your new boyfriend. He sat to your left, and I considered speaking to him, but didn‘t for one reason or another. Drinks were sipped moderately, and the steaming plates rode the Lazy Susan round and around. I had the sweet and sour pork. After dinner, the smokers walked through an omega-shaped doorway in the adjoining room to enjoy cigarettes. My wife was in there. I sat at the table, smiling and pretending to be interested in a conversation between you, your boyfriend, and some other forgotten soul. A woman across the table asked me, “You don‘t smoke?” “No,” I replied. Then she said,“How do you feel about you wife smoking?” I socked my fist into my hand and told her, “just wait till we get home.”
We all sang the Happy Birthday song, and you became flustered and blushed. Who cares if the Happy Birthday song is your kryptonite. Don’t worry, you’re still tough 364 days of the year. But tell me, was there any birthday cake? Candles? What did we all do after singing? Food fights are exciting, but I would have remembered that. Perhaps things fell apart, and everyone filed out of the room as if nothing ever happened. Something did happen downstairs, in the bar. I wrote this in my notebook:
March 22, 2009
“Some of the guests were at a table near the exit. A standard issue Filipino band was playing American songs on stage. Between songs, a Chinese guy storms the stage with a full pint in each hand. He’s middle-aged and hammer drunk. The band pretends the guy isn’t there, hoping he’ll find his way off stage. The drunk grunts, extends his right hand which is all beer, urging the singer to take it. The singer asks the guy his name and he growls into the microphone. The singer takes the beer and the drunk pressures him to gambae (Bottoms Up!). The singer obliges, reluctantly, and they finish at the same time. Instead of leaving the stage, the man staggers over to the drummer. There are no security guards, only waiters. The singer coaxes the drunk to the front of the stage where a few waiters lightly shove him off. The guy doesn’t like being pushed and his friends aren’t for it either. A strange pushing circle ensues as more waiters arrive, and more of the drunk’s entourage tangle in the mix. Out of nowhere, the drunk from the stage shoves a manager blind sided, knocking him to the floor. ‘Face’ has been lost, and the shoving circle explodes into a shoving match, ending with the drunk Chinese guy (who started it all) getting carried out under the arms of three scowling waiters. The band is chanting “NO MORE ASSHOLES” while the man is being carried out. There’s a return to normalcy after 2 minutes. At that time, the ejected drunk walks back in, composed it seems. A waiter accosts him (at the door) but the drunk opens his palms (and holds them up) to the waiter, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’m OK now.” This disarmed the waiter, and the drunk walked back to his table, lit a cigarette, and sat down in front of his table-keg. He behaved himself for a few minutes. In the middle of “Sweet Child Of Mine,” the drunk got up, stood in front of the stage, and rocked back and forth. It didn’t take long. The shoving match reignited with new fury. Now there were white people caught up in the cyclone along with a female waitress who came up behind the drunk to hit him on the head with her cell phone. Once again, the drunk is hauled out in a writhing protest, with glasses crashing to the ground and incoming patrons wide-eyed and back-tracking to make way. Everyone was yelling, or requesting “FREEBIRD” and Chinese people laughed or frowned at the sloshing display. Tak and I leave (sober), walking past the drunk who was still milling about 15 minutes after getting kicked out (again). He hung onto other Chinese people, apparently no where else to go, and we took a cab into the night.”
And now, looking back, I can’t help but wonder: Were you even there, birthday girl? I remember a blue dress for some odd reason, but that wasn’t yours. Neither was that glass of white wine. It just sat there sweating on that table by the door. You must have gathered a few friends and made a quiet exit. That’s more your style, anyhow. Never too big on those sappy good-byes. Or birthday songs, for that matter.