It’s your birthday and we are all compelled to make you the awkward center of our unwanted attention. Try to enjoy it.
– A birthday card
A few crotchety old men have told me that my generation only cares about what has happened in their lifetime and ignore the rest of history. The arthritis ridden finger waggers have a point. I imagine everyone in my generation would love learning about all the state sponsored coups, socially-accepted racism, and diseases, that can now be cured by Advil, that preceded our births. And also how the previous generations were thankful to only get discriminated against once a day.
That said, I am mildly obsessed with a factor about my own personal history: my birthday. Today is my 21st birthday. As you can tell by the picture, I have been preparing for it for two decades.
When I learned that people other than my twin brother shared my birthday, I was infuriated. How dare someone else encroach upon my sacred day. Also how dare Apple create World Emoji Day to celebrate the emoticon language that causes kids to cringe every time their parents use it. “Dad, I know you own a grocery store but can you please stop using the eggplant and peach emojis in the family group chat?”
When I got older (and owned a computer that didn’t crash every time I tried playing a Winnie-the-Pooh computer game. Oh bother!) I began looking at all the lists famous people that shared my birthday. Some days I still fantasize about being born a few hours later so I could share my birthday with Hunter S. Thompson, Nelson Mandela, and Vin Diesel. The delay might have caused my mother a lot of pain, and also caused a few awkward explanations as to why two twins don’t share the same birthday, but it would have all been worth it to be born on the birthday and death day of Machine Gun Kelly, the gangster not the rapper that every private school bully blasts from his Jeep Wrangler.
In November, I looked up all the deaths and events that also happened on my birthday for a creative writing class assignment. After about a minute of scrolling and wincing, I came to the conclusion that my birth was the one bright spot in the history of July 17th.
So let’s start with the funny stuff.
July 17th seems to be the International Day of Let’s Depose the Former Regime. In 1918 The Romanovs were murdered by some murderers that will be murdered in turn in about 20 years and then idealized by college students everywhere for the next 100 years.
July 17th 1936 was the day the Spanish Revolution started. The Spanish Revolution spawned For Whom the Bell Tolls, Homage to Catalonia, and one of the best running jokes on SNL. It also led to the emergence in Spain of one of the more popular fads among the youngsters these days: fascism.
In 1791 General Lafayette didn’t throw away his shot and murked a crowd of Jacobins. On the bright side, if you take the whole French Revolution into account, it was a slow day.
I am terrified of flying and I should be because July 17th is also the National Day of Planes Blowing Up. TWA Flight 800 blew up killing 320 in 1996; TAM Airlines Flight 3054 killed 199 people in 2007 after forgetting the key step to land an airplane: slowing down; and in 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shot down around the border of Russia and Ukraine killing 298 people.
And worst of all, in 1984 the drinking age was raised to 21. For the last 6 birthdays of mine (and Saturdays, Fridays, Thursdays, and an occasional Tuesday) I have been protesting this unjust law.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to survive my birthday. In 1790, Adam Smith felt a different kind of invisible hand. Billie Holiday died in true pop star fashion: handcuffed to her deathbed by narcotics agents while dying of liver and heart disease. Speaking of drugs, John Coltrane, the reason most mid-20th century New York intellectuals (read as: pedantic snobs) tried cocaine, died on July 17th 1967.
But you must be thinking something besides your gift to humanity–my noble entrance into this world–must have happened on July 17th? Yes! In fact, Disneyland opened on the day of my birth in 1955. Yay! Disneyland! Nothing bad could happen with Disneyland, right? Wrong.
To condense a great History Channel article, the opening was literally a shit show: “Even by southern California standards, the seven-mile backup to Disneyland on the Santa Ana Freeway was epic. Passengers baked in their cars, and kids were forced to take bathroom breaks on the side of the freeway and even in the Disneyland parking lot.” Rides didn’t work; there were over 13,000 gate crashers; and to make the shit show even worse, there was a plumber’s strike in the area which caused a shortage of water–on a hot summer’s day in California.
In all seriousness, some pretty cool people share my birthday. Triggers for bad middle school dance memories Darude and Jeremiah were born in 1975 and 1987, respectively. July 17th is the birthday for world leaders such as Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel; Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei; and Defender of L.A. County beaches and Bikini Bottom David Hasselhoff. People white people like such as Luke Bryan; John Cooper, the designer of the Mini Cooper; and Donald Sutherland are also my birthmates.
For how much I want to be a rock star (and how little musical talent I have), it seems fitting that the following music legends share my birthday: George Barnes, the first person to play an electric guitar; Wolfgang Flür, electronic percussionist (i.e. punching a computer until it works) of Kraftwerk, the band who inspired a generation of half-talented people who liked doing drugs during weekdays to become DJs; Ron Asheton, guitarist of The Stooges; Geezer Butler, bassist of Black Sabbath; and, most importantly, Vince Guardini, the jazz composer of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
I used Wikipedia to research this essay because when I was a little kid without any famous relatives–well that is not exactly true: my uncles were in the Rescue Squads during 9/11 and (allegedly) my great-great uncle [Insert Catholic First Name] Fitzpatrick was an infamous pirate who used to Shanghai people. I’m still not sure how I can live up to that family legacy–I used to spend hours pouring through Wikipedia looking for connections. My biggest goal in life at 12 years old was to one day have a Wikipedia page.
But as I learned while researching this essay, connections to yourself are interesting but ultimately meaningless. What really matters are the people around you that aren’t you or related to you. Or as my birthmate, James Cagney (July 17th 1899) once said, “Absorption in things other than self is the secret of a happy life.”