C. Noah Pelletier spends his 30th birthday trying (but failing) to write, checking his hometown friends’ lives on Facebook, and going easy on the wine.

HONESTLY, I don’t expect to finish transcribing the band interview today. There’s too much excitement, too many distractions.

A birthday present sits on the Chinese table here in the living room.

The wrapping paper is white and covered with red and blue and green bubbles. Matching red and green ribbon is tied around it. It’s all I can do to not walk over and tear it apart.

Last year I asked Takayo for an espresso machine. Instead we drank too much wine and she gave me a haircut that left me looking like Friar Tuck. To be fair, I hadn’t told her exactly which make, model, and color espresso machine to buy me.

“You’re too hard to shop for,” she explained. “Remember when I got you the sweater and you said it was the wrong one? Remember how you wanted to exchange it?”

The sweater incident happened four years ago, and I haven’t received a properly wrapped present since. Nevertheless, she still asks me what I want for my birthday.

“Oh,” she answers. “You want a nice pen. And where would you find something like that?”

The morning before I left for Amsterdam, Takayo placed two crisp bills on the table. “Go buy yourself something nice,” she said.

This caught me off guard. Isn’t that what TV mobsters say to buy off crooked cops? It sounded familiar, but which character did that make me? As I looked at the bills, I imagined myself as someone in a position of power, perhaps someone dangerous. All you had to do was look around: There were pulp factories to sabotage, and fur coats falling off of trucks.

This might make good television, but I’m 30 years old and financially dependent on my wife. People like me don’t wrap bodies in tablecloths; we go to the department store, buy our own presents, and stand in line to have them gift wrapped.

Throughout the day, my gaze shifts between the triangle of notes, birthday present, and computer. Usually I don’t spend much time on Facebook, but today I’m making an exception. Birthday wishes are starting to roll in from the States now. I click on people’s names, many of whom I haven’t seen since high school. It’s no wonder there’s half a billion users on here: That voyeuristic peek into other people’s lives is one of the darker thrills of social media.

How did he turn out? Click. What’s she doing now? Click. Click.

Of course, most of this thrill lies in the discovery. After that it’s a bit like a conservative reality show.

My back home friends are having babies and buying Japanese sedans. They’re living the American Dream, and I’m glad they’re doing well. On the other hand, it makes terrible entertainment.

I used to have a friend in federal prison – a real life acquaintance – whose wall I enjoyed visiting. The warden allowed prisoners to post one photo. From the natural light and tall brick wall, I’m guessing my friend had his picture taken in The Yard. His head was shaved as he flexed in a prison-issue jumper, which was rolled down to his waist. I used to stare at the photo, wondering if he ever used a shank, and who exactly had taken his picture. But alas, he has since paid his debt to society, and deleted all remnants of the Big House from his page.

When Takayo comes home, she is holding a cake, and a box of candles. I twist the corkscrew into a bottle of merlot, pull out the cork and bring it to my nose. My mind might be buzzed to the core from anticipation, but I have no intention of drinking too much tonight. I pour a glass and watch Takayo mash candles into the cake.

“Just put three on there,” I say.

She looks up at me. “No. You’re thirty. We’re putting thirty candles on it.”

“But it’s an ice cream cake,” I say, “the whole thing’s going to melt.”

“Well, I guess we’ll deal with that when it happens.”

It takes a few minutes, but we light them all, and then Takayo flips off the light.

You know that feeling you get when you gaze into the campfire? When you can hear what’s being said, but still you let your eyes get lost in the dancing, formless flames. You think of earlier, when everyone worked together, how the flames roared up. You couldn’t have gotten there without them, but now it’s just you, alone in you head, watching the fire flicker, and subside, slowly…

I stare into the blaze of thirty birthday candles. I inhale deeply, and blow until my lungs are empty. The room goes dark, and all I can see are the glowing orange wicks.

“Happy birthday,” Takayo says.

“Thanks,” I say.

“Why don’t you open your present now,” she says. “I can’t wait to see what you bought.”

Community Connection

How did you spend your 30th birthday?

What did you think of this article?
Meh
Good
Awesome