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Island Madness

4 July, 2008 (23:43) | Travelogue

Dependence Day

When I was young, I always heard people speak about their birthdays as if they were the greatest day of the year. Sure, Christmas offered presents and Halloween was full of candy, but birthdays were a very special day just for that person. Everyone would get together, play games, have cake, and it was all for him or her.

I never really had that experience. Being born on the Fourth of July was curse. My friends were always with their families, meaning my birthday generally consisted of my parents and me. Rather than my birthday being a special day for me, there wasn’t a person out there who wasn’t celebrating on my birthday. If I wanted a normal party, I needed to have it weeks in advance or weeks late, which somehow lessened things, since it wasn’t really my birthday.

Eventually, my string of bad birthdays caused me to reevaluate what my birthday really was. If my birthday was the best day of the year, wouldn’t that make every other day a let down in comparison? If my birthday is always a bust, why have such high expectations if they always lead to a let down?

My 17th birthday was a revelation. Everything that could go wrong did; I got locked in a bathroom, didn’t sleep well, was woken up early, got stuck in an elevator twice (the same one, I might add), and gashed my foot open. Despite all of this, I simply rolled with punches.

For every birthday since my senior year of high school, I’ve attempted to have a low key birthday. A simple barbecue with some friends hanging out is more than enough to content me. And every year I’ve succeeded, whether nothing in particular happened, or the night was capped with strange hair related incidents.

Every year until this one.

Birthdays Abroad

The best part of being abroad for my birthday is that no one gives a shit about the Fourth of July. Unlike Christmas, the Fourth of July only matters in the US. In Switzerland, the American School hosted fireworks, but besides that, it was a day like any other. In Israel, there were no festivities whatsoever. In essence, my birthday becomes mine alone for just a brief moment. It felt like I found a childhood toy that I had loved and hadn’t seen in years; a subtle warmth that washed over me.

I knew better than to expect Guam to ignore the 4th, being a US territory with massive military installations. But everything leading up to today seemed to indicate it was barely a blip on the radar here. Every celebrates Liberation Day on July 21 instead–or if not instead, at least more fervently.

Radio announcements for the fireworks display at Polaris Point made it seem like a lackluster and over promoted event. No coolers, no pets, no children, no loud noises, no one with two legs–the list of things not allowed was absurd.

All signs pointed toward having a rather mundane and normal day, which was just fine with me.

Best Laid Plans

For my birthday in Guam, I set my sights low. All I wanted to do was go see a movie. Specifically, I wanted to see Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Besides that, I was up for following the whimsy of my hosts.

I was woken to the sound of the phone ringing. Knowing it was Anthony calling for a ride home from being on duty, I attempted to roll over and ignore it. When the answering machine went off, I began to worry. There wasn’t a message, but not 10 seconds later did the phone begin ringing again. I rolled out of bed and answered. Denise picked up at the same time on her cordless phone lying next to her bed.

As she ran out to pick him up, I flopped into bed, hoping to return to my now-foggy dreams. I can rarely go back to sleep once I’m awake and I was certainly too awake to find slumber again now. I hopped in the shower and cleaned myself up figuring that Anthony would come home and roll into bed and I could spend my morning idly whiling away the hours.

My razor hadn’t touched my chin when they returned. I finished cleaning up, tossed on some clothes and wandered out to meet them on the couch.

“Ready to go?” asked Denise.

“Go where?” I asked, completely forgetting my suggestion of grabbing breakfast at Old Hagåtña.

“Breakfast.” I was instantly on board.

When we arrived at Old Hagåtña, it was ten till ten, putting us in just before the wire to order breakfast. A couple who came in a little while later wasn’t so lucky. I wanted to order the quiche, but they were all out, so I settled for a delicious omlete.

We had been invited to a barbecue on base, so we headed over to the supermarket to pick up avocados for homemade guac to bring. Unfortunately, this barbecue never seemed to materialize, so upon arriving home, I sat down to play video games and wait to be told when things were happening. Denise and Anthony ran out again to pick up burgers, buns and soda, just in case.

By around 4, the plan had become to grill here with a few a friends–namely Destiny from next door and Nikki and her husband Rob. I had wasted nearly 4 hours playing Burnout (the last hour and half unwillingly while I tried to beat a difficult level). Denise got hungry soon after I stopped playing and began tossing burgers on the grill.

SIDE NOTE: It’s official. I hate charcoal grills. They’re difficult to start, difficult to control, and an all around pain in the ass. I don’t care if the smokey flavor is better or if a gas grill is too clinical. Charcoal doesn’t offer me the control I want. Even a fire pit is easier to use.

With the patties charring, I pulled the burgers off, much to the dismay of our guests, who wanted well done burgers. The fire was burning so hot it not only singed my knuckles, but it burnt the cat’s eyebrows. A few complaints later, someone else took over the grill as I gladly gave up my accidental grillmaster position.

As dinner wound down, Nikki and Rob finally showed up. We threw a few hot dogs on the now cooling grill and spent an hour chatting while they waited to head off to see fireworks. By now I knew I wasn’t going to get to catch the sunset tonight, though Denise recommended I just take a picture from the front porch. She and Anthony were both drinking by now, despite my meager protests that no one would be able to drive to the movie, but I got the impression that neither of them wanted to go anywhere anyway.

The point was moot. As I ran inside to check movie times, I found that Hellboy II wasn’t opening until the 11th. Unfortunately, between Devin‘s review of the first Hellboy (which I didn’t read as to avoid spoilers and hence thought was a sneak preview review of Hellboy II) and several articles referring to next week’s opening early on this week (which I assumed meant this weekend and not actually next week), I was under the impression that it was a 4th of July opening. That’ll teach me to have any expectations.

Destiny, Nikki and Rob headed off to catch the fireworks, mentioning they’d be back later with drinking Jenga (a prospect that didn’t excite me as I don’t like to drink) and to play Rock Band, if we could get it from Nosedive. Given the fact that we couldn’t do the movie, Rock Band sounded good to me.

We planned to play on Destiny’s new 50″ TV next door, but Nosedive was on duty, so we’d have to go get the key from him on the sub. Denise began calling to set up a meet and clear things with him and it looked like we might be able to salvage the night. As we worked out a plan to trade him a sandwich and a soda for his room key, it struck me that neither Denise nor Anthony had stopped drinking and neither was in any condition to drive. After 20 minutes, this revelation his Denise as well.

Our plans for Rock Band scuttled, Anthony crawled into bed without a word and Denise asked if I wanted to play Burnout. I didn’t, given the amount I had already played, and I said as much. She flopped on the couch and turned the game on and I kept her company, waiting to see what else might happen.

Nikki and Rob eventually returned, Jenga in hand. They woke Anthony up and gathered around the dinner table for the game. I stood by the wall trying not to involve myself and waiting for an opportune moment to slink off to my room and hide. I was already feeling antisocial and the last thing I wanted to do was drink and get more antisocial.

As the first rotation of the game came around, I realized that no one was drinking. Nikki (whom I spent Monday at the hospital emergency room with) couldn’t drink because of medication. Anthony was too tired to drink. Denise wasn’t going to drink if Ant wasn’t drinking, and though Rob had a beer, he didn’t seem to want to get drunk if Nikki couldn’t. I figured I was standing there so I might as well play. This turned into four games, three of which I managed to not lose (which is the point of Jenga). Finally, I dropped out and headed to my room, leaving them to one last game.

With the clock nearing 10:30, our guests gone, and Anthony on a sailor’s schedule, my hosts headed to bed, leaving me to sit at my computer and wind down a rather blase day of disrupted plans.

Overdrawn

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe, due to being in Guam, I expected a completely normal day. Or maybe it was naive of me not to realize that I am living on Big Navy right now. Whatever the case, it was the same shit as the US, different latitude. All these plans for activities and barbecues and fireworks, and not a single thing to set this day apart from all the others.

There’s a strange forlorn feeling that’s washed over me. I’m OK with the fact that today was nothing special; I really hadn’t expected it to be anything special. But somewhere inside, I expected more.

I’m starting to wonder if my disappointment in today isn’t a disappointment in my experience here. When I was in the Philippines, I was in travel mode; I needed to see things, do things, try things, get out of my comfort zone. Here, I’m simply sleeping, eating, and taking my time. And while there are moments of enjoyment, they’ve been sporadic, merely flavoring the boredom.

Today was symptomatic of that. There were plenty of things to do and no drive or desire to do them. I’m not sure what I expected, but I know I didn’t expect that.

At the very least, I expected Hellboy II. Of course, that’s my own damn fault. Besides, there’s always next friday.

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  • Arielle Blum

    Hey Ben,

    Happy Birthday! Oh and the book Jennifer Government was awesome. PS if you were here I would totally bake you a cake in the form of an Orc or some sort of woodland creature. Jaws is on the television right now. That’s about all I have to say about that.

  • Arielle Blum

    Hey Ben,

    Happy Birthday! Oh and the book Jennifer Government was awesome. PS if you were here I would totally bake you a cake in the form of an Orc or some sort of woodland creature. Jaws is on the television right now. That’s about all I have to say about that.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. Woodland creature cakes do kick some serious ass. And knowing you, you would do it too.

  • Thanks. Woodland creature cakes do kick some serious ass. And knowing you, you would do it too.

  • Anonymous

    Birthday greetings from the home front. Glad to hear that your day met your expectations, such that they were. I left you a 15-second voice mail if you decide to check your VoIP. Unless, of course, I had your number wrong — which is possible as I only got a generic greeting when the VM answered.

    Cool that you’ve been in exotic places on a significant number of your birthdays. Maybe you could make it into a tradition on a go-forward basis. The possibilities are interesting: skiing in the Chilean Andes, Paris in the summer, Johannesburg in the winter, Anchorage on a sunny evening, etc.

  • Birthday greetings from the home front. Glad to hear that your day met your expectations, such that they were. I left you a 15-second voice mail if you decide to check your VoIP. Unless, of course, I had your number wrong — which is possible as I only got a generic greeting when the VM answered.

    Cool that you’ve been in exotic places on a significant number of your birthdays. Maybe you could make it into a tradition on a go-forward basis. The possibilities are interesting: skiing in the Chilean Andes, Paris in the summer, Johannesburg in the winter, Anchorage on a sunny evening, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I got your voicemail. It actually emailed me a wav, so that was nifty. I still haven’t set up the VM yet, but you certainly got the number right.

    Interesting note: My senior year of high school was the first year I spent my birthday in Boston. Every year till then, we were in Maine.

    I’m not sure I’d call 3 birthdays a significant number, but being in a different place each year would be an interesting task.

  • I got your voicemail. It actually emailed me a wav, so that was nifty. I still haven’t set up the VM yet, but you certainly got the number right.

    Interesting note: My senior year of high school was the first year I spent my birthday in Boston. Every year till then, we were in Maine.

    I’m not sure I’d call 3 birthdays a significant number, but being in a different place each year would be an interesting task.