My family was never into lavish or extravagant celebrations. Though we were well-off, our holidays were, for the most part, modest affairs.
The lone exception was the birthday parties my parents would throw for my brother and I. At least until I was age 9.
I say, “my parents”, but my father’s contribution was mostly just of the monetary variety. My mother was the one who planned and orchestrated the events.
When my brother turned six, he had a party for his whole class at Chuck E. Cheese that I think ended up costing them about three thousand dollars.
When my dad got the bill, he flipped out. He decided he was going to put an end to this glorious tradition, once and for all.
The problem was, I still had my own birthday coming up and I felt it unfair that things weren’t even. I was a crier back then and my girlish tantrums were legendary.
I also figured out that if I recorded these outbursts onto a tape, I could just stick that tape in my boombox, hit the loop button, sneak out the window and sleep soundly in my treehouse while my father raged at an absent me through my barricaded door all night.
So, I got my way. I would have one final, grand birthday party to end all birthday parties. Then everything would be even and the lunacy would end.
As a compromise, my mother decided on a location: Shenanigans!
Shenanigans! was a restaurant in downtown Hartford that her friend’s daughter ran. I liked it because it had curly fries and a trolley car inside the building that you could eat in. I guess my mom’s thinking was that this lady was gonna cut us some sort of deal. So everyone was happy.
She didn’t plan on my bitter resourcefulness, though.
I was allowed to bring ten friends and we could all order whatever we wanted. In order to screw my parents over, I had instructed them all to select only the most expensive items on the menu. I could tell my dad was onto my plan by the sight of the blue vein on his forehead that appeared when ten lobster dinners were served to a bunch of 8 year olds.
I don’t even like lobster. I’m actually allergic to it, but I would do anything to outdo my brother. And I did. By nearly $18,000.
If you’re an astute reader, you’re right now doing the math in your head and thinking, “There’s no way that ten lobster dinners at 1980′s prices can equal 23 grand!” And you’re right!
But ten lobster dinners at 50 dollars each plus $22,500 worth of damage to an antique New York City trolley car can.
It was my birthday and I felt it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t even eat my own dinner. Plus, no matter how I worked the numbers, my parents were still getting off cheap. I kindly excused myself and went to the pay phone, where I pretended to place a call.
I waited til a group of drunken businessmen were within earshot and then I loudly said into the handset that my dad was always saying he was glad the glorious Republic of the Soviet Union had shot down that plane because America sucks and is a piece of shit and plus Ronald Reagan is gay.
Well, this was just a few weeks after the Korean Airlines disaster and I think Reagan had an 85 percent approval rating and their was a general consensus at this time that the country was great and commies were the devil, so these guys got pretty fired up.
“Hey young man, this is America and you shouldn’t think awful thoughts like that.”
“Piss off, dickweed,” I said, “if you’ve got a problem with Russia, take it up with my dad, he loves that place!”
I pointed them in the general direction of my father and grabbed a front row view of the carnage.
So anyways, they kicked my dad’s ass, the place got trashed, eventually the truth came out and I was grounded for a couple weeks.
Inevitably, my brother presented his case that he was the one who had now gotten screwed, so by his calculations, he was owed at least a fifteen thousand dollar birthday party.
Next April, my mother, the great peacemaker, hosted my brother’s compromise $10,000 party at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Him and 3 of his friends got to circle the track in actual NASCAR automobiles.
Obviously, these cars aren’t designed to be driven by 7 year olds, so it was no surprise to me when they all had a massive pileup, 2 kids died and my brother ended up in the hospital bed he would live in the rest of his life.
At this point, my parent’s marriage would be termed ‘strained’ at best. I don’t see what the hubbub was all about, as my brother’s misfortune and our lawsuit against the owners of the track had actually resulted in a tremendous economic windfall for my family.
My father had moved out of the house and was staying with some friends, a few towns over. Towards the end of the summer, he showed up and took me for a drive; just me and him.
He wasn’t the man I was used to seeing. His eyes were wild and his hair unkempt. He didn’t speak at all, until we reached our destination: a turnoff on a scenic byway that went through the woods and past a lake.
It was very remote and secluded. The thought occured to me that he might have brought me there to murder me. He sure as shit would have had the motive.
We sat in silence for a few moments. I tried to scan the car for a gun or some rope, maybe a few cinder blocks, anything to clue me in as to what this was all about.
“Eric, I’m sorry.”
I wasn’t prepared for his remorse.
“I’ve let you down. I’ve let your brother down. I’ve let your mother down. I’ve let everyone down.”
He slouched over til his head hit the steering wheel and he started to sob.
I felt like I should comfort him, tell him that he was being too hard on himself, but I didn’t want to lie.
I was about to suggest some things he had left out of his apology, when he reached into his pocket. Instinctively, I dove for the door, but instead of the revolver I was expecting, he pulled out a card.
It was long and boring, but the gist of it was that I needed to be a man now and stop being so selfish. Our family had gotten carried away in our pursuit of material things and we needed to come together and focus on what really mattered. Which was apparently, “each other.”
I wasn’t really sure what to do after I read it. I looked up at my dad and he looked back at me with a knowing look, as if he thought I was on board for this new attitude or whatever. I figured the truth could only delay my return home, so I nodded back at him.
When we got back, my mother was waiting at the door. She seemed relieved that we both had returned.
“Well, I guess you’ll be going,” I told my dad, hopefully.
“Your father is joining us for dinner tonight, Eric,” my mom informed me.
“As a family,” he said, ever the master of the obvious.
We sat down to the most awkward meal in history. My parents looking at each other over the green beans and mashed potatoes with doey eyes. The only sound, the steady beeping of my comatose brother’s respirator.
Finally, my father spoke.
“Well, Eric and I talked it over and he’s agreed that we’re all going to have to change around here.”
The hell I had!
“Oh honey, that’s great news!” My mom was my greatest ally and protector, so I didn’t want to alienate her. I just smiled back and chewed my overly dry turkey.
“Say, I think someone’s got a birthday coming up! How’s about this year we skip the big parties and just have a nice meal out, anywhere you want!” Ugh. His faux-cheery demeanor was nauseating.
Going out to eat, just me and the family. This was the world’s biggest screw job!
“Anywhere I want?” I asked.
“Yep, just name it.”
My parents went back to their food, leaving me to think it over.
OK, shithead, this is how you want to play it? I’ll be damned if I was gonna let them bilk me out of what was mine. Especially now that we were flying high on my sack-of-potatoes brother’s settlement money.
“How about Pecos Bill Cafe?” I suggested, hopefully.
“Pecos Bill Cafe, it is!” said my dad, triumphant.
My parents smiled at each other.
“What is that, honey? Tex-mex? That sounds like fun,” I could practically see their hearts overflowing with joy. I savored the moment.
“Actually, we’ve already been there,” I informed my mother, wiping my face and placing my napkin carefully on the table beside me.
“Oh really, we have?” my father asked. I could see them both racking their brains.
“Yes, a few years ago, I actually have a menu from there, if you’d like to look it over.”
They thought this was a great idea and I went up to my room to fetch it. I opened the box that I kept my most sacred treasures in and pulled out the guidebook, flipping through the restaurant pages until I had found the right one. I smiled and prepared myself for the great triumph ahead.
I returned to the dining room but had barely rounded the corner when my father saw what I was holding. He stood up and shouted, “NO! Forget it!”
“What?” I said, innocently, “You said anywhere I wanted!”
My mom was confused, she looked around and then she too saw the Fromer’s guide with the giant geodesic spehere on the front.
“Oh Eric, honey, that’s not part of the deal,” she pleaded with me.
“This asshole said anywhere I want. I said Pecos Bill Cafe. You both agreed!”
“No way! Fuck this! I knew that little shithead was lying! He’s never gonna change!” My dad had run over and tried to grab my 1983 Walt Disney World Guidebook, but I held on with all the strength in my little boy heart. He gave up and began tearing at his own hair as my mom rushed to my defense.
“Don’t yell at him like that!”
“You always take these brats’ side! In everything! Goddamit, I hate this fucking family!” My dad had taken the table and overturned it with all the strength of a madman, consumed by rage.
In all the ruckus, nobody had noticed that the beeping of my brother’s machines had ceased. It was only later, when it was too late, that we saw the smashed breathing apparatus underneath the carnage of our turkey dinner.
Well, when he saw what he had done, my dad ran for it. He booked it the hell out of there and we never saw him again.
My mom sorta fell to pieces. My brother had died, my father had left her. I was all she had left.
I moved out a few weeks later. Now that my father’s immense wealth had been bestowed upon me, I didn’t need her anymore.
I didn’t need anyone and I still don’t. I’ve got money. Enough to buy anything I want. I don’t visit Disney World, anymore, I fucking live there. All my dreams have come true and there’s nothing anybody can do to hurt me, ever again.
You hear me, dad? I don’t need you anymore. I can throw my own fucking birthday party now.