Some birthdays are better than others

TOMORROW IS Orthodox Christmas and with it comes the official end of the Christmas season, at least liturgically. For me, the holidays had ended just a bit sooner. As fate would have it my birthday falls directly in between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Just try asking for that day off in the restaurant business! Well, we all have our own crosses to bear (no pun intended).

Mine manifested itself 50 minutes into my birthday shift and 20 minutes after my co-worker was supposed to arrive. You can plan ahead all that you want, but the holidays have ways of determining things for themselves.

“How are you,” asked a holiday patron.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Really?” she said exuding a familiarity not warranted by our relationship of less than 30 seconds.

Well no, my back hurts, my feet hurt, my co-worker is late, the restaurant is overbooked for reservations, there are five people already waving their hands, I am actually sweating, and I have the sniffles. And now this.

I, of course, did not say any that; I think I just smiled.

“May I get you something?”

“As long as you are having a happy holidays,” she said. I noticed those five people had looks on their faces indicating that their holidays were beginning to head south. Guess who they were going to blame?

“Ma’am,” I said as kindly as possible. “There are other people waiting. Can I get you something?”

“You need to slow down, take a breath and relax. It’s the holidays; you should be in a good place. Are you?”

I looked around at the place I was actually in and just smiled again. Sometimes, it’s best not to say anything.

Hers was a nice sentiment but inappropriate to the circumstances. A friend recently made the astute comment that it’s easy to be the Dalai Lama if you have nothing to do, or more accurately, are actually having other people do things for you. But put his Holiness in the returns department at Macy’s the day after Christmas and let’s see what happens.

Gandhi said something along the lines of, “Be the change you want to see in the world”; but what he didn’t say was, “Go around inflicting that change on people whose circumstances actually prevent it.” Would you tell a fireman to “slow down and take it easy”? Or a wedding planner, “Don’t worry it will all work out”? I don’t think so.

But my birthday was going to get better still. My non-ordering bodhisattva’s companion now chimed in.

“Why don’t I sing you a Christmas song?”

“Please sir, please, don’t do that.”

My plea fell on deaf ears.

“On the first day of Christmas,” he sang loudly and off-key, elongating the notes excruciatingly.

My birthday had just gotten exponentially worse.

“My true love gave to me … ”

The five people at the end of the bar now looked at me with naked loathing assuming that I was encouraging the behavior occurring directly in front of me.

“A partridge in a pear tree.”

Contrary to every Christmas movie I have ever seen, singing someone a Christmas song doesn’t immediately brighten his mood, especially if it interferes with his ability to do his job. Imagine every other person singing the postal workers at the post office a Christmas carol while you wait on line to mail your package. About two carols in and someone probably would go postal (pun definitely intended).

“Please sir,” I begged, “please stop.”

He didn’t. Leaving me with, among other things, the following numerical epiphany. Ironically, also the name of today’s celebration in the liturgical calendar.

• Twelve unhappy servers

• Eleven full barstools

• Ten dirty glasses

• Nine double-picked olives

• Eight Cosmopolitans

• Seven Rye manhattans

• Six grumpy line cooks

• Five unhappy customers

• Four insincere inquiries

• Three Christmas carols

• Two sore feet

• One bad back

And the worst birthday shift ever.