It'll be another birthday next week for Sagittarius Assmunch. I won't tell you how many there have been in all, but this will be the tenth one in Century 21. There were several more back in Century 20. Francis Albert Sinatra and I shared a passel of those, but neither of us went back far enough to get together and celebrate with Gustave Flaubert.
I use birthdays like Binx Bolling used movies and J.A. Prufrock coffee spoons — to measure my life's progress by what I've learned from one to the next.
Between one pair of December 12ths, for example, I learned that there's no Santa Claus, and between another pair I learned that oh yes there is. I don't remember now which of those revelations came first, or which one I still cleave to here in middle geezery, but I know they were both milestones. Game-changers.
Twixt another pair of 12/12s I learned what it's like to have a fang. It was better the following year to learn what it was like to have had a fang and to have got shed of the rascal. First time I'd heard the term genetic anomaly. Old Lady Harper turned my celebrity mouth into a kind of traveling juvy dental-health exhibit. If I'd had a Tom Sawyer streak, I could've charged cash money.
One year birthday-to-birthday I learned that if you get into a grudge fight with a water moccasin the size of a pulpwood billet, the sumbitch will stalk you to the ends of the earth if you don't finish him off.
Fortunately, once you've killed a water moccasin that's the end of his story, however epic; whereas with the great white shark, as I learned one year from Jaws 2, and another year from Jaws 3, and another year from Jaws 4, and so forth, the tale of vengeance has only just begun when you shoot the air canister and blow his giant ass up. His mate will come after you then, stumping over dry land if it has to. Then his Mom, like Grindl's. And on down through his next of kin.
One birthday year I learned that it's only deceivers, usually self-deceivers, who say they love it when a plan comes together, because plans never come together. S—t happens, and sometimes it is fortuitous s—t, but that isn't a plan coming together; it's just luck.
One year I realized that society doesn't make a place for us as it did back when the choices were all made coon-ages before, the slots pre-assigned, inured to influence by true love or hairy hands. Earl or serf might be your lot but you knew from infancy. Now we aren't guaranteed a place; we have to make ourselves one; and hold it against the sooners and encroachers; and if we don't have the stomach or starch or guile for that, and if our stars don't ever align, then the best we can hope for is to be able to glom successfully for the duration. Or hit the lottery.
A jungle out there. Rats racing. Dog eat dog. Glad I'm not having to start out again. I know how lucky I was.
One year — one of the early ones I guess it was — I learned that that dog-eat-dog in the graf preceding doesn't refer to actual blueticks and Pekinese eating one another. Little did I know that such figures of speech would come to be my stock-in-trade, how I made a place for myself when my own moron planlessness came together.
Another birthday year I learned the hard way that you don't just make the casual assumption that a handgun is unloaded that someone negligently left lying around the house.
One year I learned that cats have absolutely no sense of responsibility but they're very discreet, not to say circumspect.
One year I learned that it's much easier to uglify a pretty site than it is to prettify a site that's been an old tire dump for three generations.
One year I learned bullwhip theology — no, really! —from Rev. Lash Larue, who'd been my favorite movie cowboy when I was a mere lad. It was pretty crappy theology, but the pulpit visual aids were unsurpassed in my experience. Even Old Milwaukeed far past his prime, Bro. Lash could snap off the lighted end of the tent organist's Pall Mall faster than an eye could see, or faster than mine could anyway.
One year I learned from M. Sartre that Hell is other people. As if there'd ever been any question about that.
One midterm birthday-to-birthday span, I developed an anxiety that it was all getting irretrievably away from me, whatever it was, nothing I could do to stop it — a terrible vertiginous feeling, more acute the following year, moreso with each passing year, until relatively recently, when the piquancy began to fade to a kind of bittersweet. Not so troubling now — now that it has morphed from a quietly desperate sense that it's slowly slip-sliding away to the mildly disappointed certainty, with echoes and hot-dog wrappers, that it's gone. That Elvis has left the bldg. And won't be back.
And just since the most recent birthday, relief in knowing when it starts to sing that it's going to be OK.