photo by EfrankE

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Another Year, Another Birthday

Oh, it’s a long, long time
From May to December,
But the days grow short
When you reach September
. ‘September Song’ (Sinatra sang it best)

After making a few quick calculations based on family longevity, I’ve determined I’m at the margin between the second and third week in August of probable life span. So, I figure I’ve got about a week and a half of long-time span left before the short days kick in, if “Ol’ Blue Eyes” had it right.

In my very young days of the mid 1950’s, birthday parties and dressing up like cowboys were inseparably linked, like scandal and politicians today, or anytime. You just didn’t go to a birthday party back then without packing six-shooters and a couple extra rolls of caps. We all knew that.

This was my birthday party the year I turned three. I’m the cowpoke in the upper left hand corner who looks like he just left the saloon after downing a shot glass of Nyquil with a vodka chaser.

Saloon singers and dance hall girls were also allowed to attend the birthday party under the chaperonage of my mother.

Usually, there was one boy in attendance who either came dressed like a miner or sod-buster. He often, but not always, also was the designated town character, like Festus on ‘Gunsmoke.’ This boy often either came hatless or with the entire brim of his hat pulled down over his ears. The miner is in the middle, in the photo above.

My fourth birthday party was boys only. I think I was starting to feel self-conscious and awkward around girls. No, wait, that was when I was 13. That's right, back at age four it was just that I believed girls gave you cooties. No, that was age 9. Oh, yeah, the message we got from cowboy TV shows was that it was okay to rescue women, but if you hung around afterward, somehow ...well, it just wasn't right.

4th year birthday party: Town character at left middle.

By my 7th birthday party, I was totally consumed with the Lone Ranger, and had been for a couple of years. There was a period of two or three years where I wanted to dress like the Lone Ranger as often as possible and for every birthday party, Halloween and picture day at school (parents said no). This birthday was also males only; my little sister, the exception.

The Town character is at the lower left. Lesson one: If you want to avoid being seen as a town character, never throw your hat into your toybox before you throw in the rest of your toys. Lesson two: Town characters can grow up to be very successful commodities traders on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Oh, and his son, Robbie Hummel, today scored 23 points for the Purdue University basketball team in a 66-46 win over Penn State.

I can’t remember when we stopped dressing like cowboys for birthday parties. My last three birthday parties, if you want to call them that, have been get-togethers with friends to sing songs at Karaoke bars. Karaoke, for those of you who don’t know, literally translates, humiliating performance“empty orchestra” in Japanese. Karaoke started in Japan and then became successful in the Western World when we too came to understand that one man's misery is another man's entertainment.

This is a photo of last year’s birthday Karaoke group, at least the ones who stayed to the bitter end. We forgot to take a group picture this year.

I wouldn’t call us cowboys and saloon girls. Most people wouldn’t call us singers. What you could call us is enthusiastic, and we adhere to the first rule of Karaoke: What you may lack in pitch and tone is more than made up for with volume and intensity.

If you're approaching the September of your years and have never tried singing Karaoke style you might want to give it a shot. Trying to belt out a song you really only half know can be exhilarating. Still, some people may feel more comfortable singing Karaoke after a shot of Nyquil with a vodka chaser. If you decide to go that route, try to take the group photo beforehand.


  1. Great article, Mike! I really loved the old cowboy birthday party pictures! You are amazing!

  2. Thanks, Donna. My mother planned all the parties. All I had to do was pull on my boots, strap on my holster and show up. She took the photos too.