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The Column

What Do You Want For Your Birthday?
9/7/03

If you've been reading this column for at least a year, you'll know by now that my birthday is September 11th. Which means I'll be 21 forever, because I haven't had a birthday since the year 2000.

Actually, I'll be 24 this Thursday. I know, I'm getting old. Hitting on college freshmen has gone from sketchy to really sketchy. The good thing is that it doesn't get really, really sketchy until I'm 28, so I have a few more years of just "really sketchy."

I still celebrate my birthday, but it's different now. My birthday has become a reminder of what I have by showing me what I could have lost. It used to be my most selfish day of the year. Now I use it to look at how I relate to other people. And other people definitely relate to me differently.

I get hugged by bouncers when I show them my ID. I got out of a noise violation for a party I threw. And last year, I got more phone calls asking me how I was than I did the year the tragedy actually happened. For the last two years, people I know have been looking out for me. Though some people need a bit more tact while they're looking.

When people find out my birthday is the 11th, they all have the same reaction: "I'm sorry." What do I say to that? "You're sorry? Wait, that was you? You bastard!"

Obviously, I'm kidding. Kidding is how I deal with the unfortunate. And having a birthday on the worst day of the year is pretty unfortunate. Though there always seem to be a lot of candles around.

Offended? So am I. But not by that joke. I'm offended by people who try to outgrief each other on a day like this. As a lifelong New Yorker with a 9/11 birthday, I hear about that day a lot. Everyone seems to have a story about where they were, who they knew, what their cousin's brother's uncle did when he heard of someone two blocks away.

"My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 flavors last night. And they were totally in New York on September 11th. I guess it's pretty serious."

Everyone relates to the 11th in their own way. And that's alright in my opinion, as long as they're not competing with anyone to see who has grieved the most. Arguing about who has more grief is extraordinary self-centered. Much like how I used to celebrate my birthday.

I used to remind everyone about my birthday for about four months before it happened. Then I'd find clever ways to drop it into conversation that day, like writing about it in my Spanish class, or asking people when THEIR birthday was, or saying subtle things like, "That movie was great - it reminds me of this one birthday I had. Today."

And people forgot my birthday anyway. There was one year I didn't get a single birthday present from anyone other than my grandmother. I got used to people not acknowledging that I'd made it through another year, but then September 11th, 2001 came. And people still forget my birthday. Jeez, what has to happen?

Again, I'm kidding. And I'm glad I am able to. Because September 11th, 2001 was the only day in my entire life where I didn't smile once. The following year, I was all smiles. Making it through one more year means a heck of a lot more when you know a few people that didn't.

I don't mind people forgetting my birthday now. The important thing is that I remember it, and I remember what the day means to this country. I no longer care about getting things in a box with a pretty little bow. I care about the presents I've already been given. Like a family who supports me when I toss aside 9 to 5 to become a standup comic. Like friends who take my calls when things on the road aren't going as well as I'd planned. Like all the wonderful people who have written to me telling me that I have, in some small way, enriched their lives. I couldn't ask for better presents.

But if you happen to be at Radio Shack this week, those camera phones look kind of cool.

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