I always get depressed when my birthday approaches (Itâ€™s still months away, so thereâ€™s no need to console me). I donâ€™t mean clinically depressed/ catatonic/ tragically sad, just listless, low energy, kind of blue. Itâ€™s not an original or trendy conditionâ€”lots of people get depressed round their birthdays. Maybe itâ€™s the reminder of their own mortality, or disappointment at not having hit all their targets (win Wimbledon, write novel, win Pulitzer, marry and dump Colin Farell. And single-handedly end all conflict in the world), or the sneaking suspicion that this is as good as it gets and your life goes downhill from here. My theory is that when your birthday rolls around, you somehow relive the terror of being ripped out of the womb and thrown into an indifferent, inhospitable universe. Who would feel like blowing out the candles then?
Now there are good years and bad years, and 2003 was my year of horror. It was so horrific that I resolved not to be depressed on my birthdayâ€”it would be redundant. I would ignore the black pit opening up at my feet. Not only would I resist the sadness, but I would enjoy myself! Even if it killed me.
My plan was to start celebrating the day before my birthday. I invited a few chosen friends to dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant. I appeared at 7pm sharp and waited for my guests.
And waited. And waited.
I felt like I had wandered into a Molly Ringwald movie that I was way too old for. The abyss opened up and swallowed my foot.
Finally at 8pm one person, Elmo, showed up. Now Elmo is a fountain of fascinating, useless information, but factoids could not divert my attention from the harsh reality: My friends had forgotten that it was my birthday. We ate our dinner in a strained silence, then I asked Elmo to drop me off at Oscar’s place in San Juan.
Oscar was giving a Party For No Reason Whatsoever. It was held at his shop, where he sold T-shirts with ironic slogans, anatomically-correct stuffed toys, and the occasional fur-covered refrigerator. The party was clearly a success. The place was overflowing with humans eating chips and drinking beer in plastic cups. Everyone was so laid back they were practically invertebrates. I was trying to walk across the room without stepping on anyone when I spotted Something Out of Botticelli. He was standing by the CD player, flipping through the music choices with a look of pained disapproval. True, he was shorter than the average Renaissance angel, but this was a minor consideration.
I grabbed Oscar as he walked by with a tray of snacks. â€œWhoisthat.â€
â€œThatâ€™s Gianluca. Heâ€™s from Sicily. He’s beautiful, no?â€
â€œWhatshedoinghere.â€ When Iâ€™m curious I can say entire sentences in one syllable.
â€œI invited him.â€ Apparently Oscar had met him in a bar and chatted him up. Oscar collects assorted orphans of the cosmos.
â€œHeâ€™s straight,â€ Oscar sighed, as if this were a terrible tragedy. â€œGo talk to him, heâ€™s bored.â€
Before I could plot a course to that side of the room, Susan and Maria turned up. “We’re hungry,” they chorused, and dragged me off to a Chinese restaurant nearby. While we were perusing the menus the clock struck midnight. I was officially a year older. I was about to dunk my head in a bowl of noodles when my phone rang. â€œThereâ€™s a party at Bed,â€ Ernie said. â€œBert and I will pick you up.â€
â€œYou just stood up my birthday dinner!â€ I pointed out.
â€œOh, itâ€™s your birthday?â€
Ernie and Bert appeared at half past midnight. The sight of noodles reminded them that they hadn’t eaten, so they each inhaled a bowlful. Maria mentioned that the bar next door featured girls wrestling in chocolate. “We have to go!” Bert cried, but they only had the show on weekends.
“I once smooshed a mango on my sister’s face,” Ernie said. No one knew what to make of this information.
I don’t know where Susan and Maria went, but at 2 am we were back at Oscarâ€™s. The crowd was thinning out. Gianluca was on the front steps, smoking two cigarettes in each hand. â€œOscar says youâ€™re from Sicilyâ€”â€ I said. Apparently Gianluca was just waiting to be asked, because he didn’t stop talking for the next few days. He delivered a lecture on the misrepresentation of Sicilians in the Godfather movies, the Visconti adaptation of Lampedusaâ€™s The Leopard, and the revival of Italian cinema. When he paused to draw breath, Ernie invited everyone to Malate. â€œCome along,â€ I told Gianluca.
And so we were four. We piled into Bertâ€™s pickup trup, which had recently been in an accident so it groaned and wheezed like an animal in labor. Malate was shutting down by the time we got there, but Bed was still packed with bumping, grinding gay men. As we squeezed through the dance floor I got several declarations of love, which only happens when I am among gay men. We stoodÂ by the fire exit drinking beers while Ernie launched into his inevitable â€œMy first girlfriend dumped me so I punched a window, broke my hand, and needed therapyâ€ story. This was followed by Bert’s “I dropped out of school in New York and returned to Manila for a girl, and then she dumped me” story.
â€œI thought Ernie and Bert were a gay couple,â€ Gianluca said.
â€œNo,â€ I replied, which did not adequately explain why we were in a gay club.
Upstairs I saw a corporate executive I knew slightly, with a girl who looked to be a…professional. They were so wasted they found everything hilarious. “Is the bar still open?” Shrieks of laughter. “You’re a moron.” Hysterical laughter. There were two other girls with them, also pro, surveying the terrain for potential clients. Obviously not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Sure, some of the club habitues might be interested in them, but only for the purpose of doing a “Before” and “After” fashion shoot.
â€œI kind of like that girl,â€ Bert whispered.
â€œSheâ€™s a pro,â€ I pointed out.
â€œNo way,â€ Bert said.
â€œNo way,â€ Ernie said.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you ask her?â€ I suggested.
She said the charge would be ten thousand pesos. Bert lost interest immediately.
At 4.30 the music stopped and everyone went home. We walked back to the truck as street kids swarmed around us. Bert paid them to go away. Ernie offered to break their heads. â€œWelcome to Manila,â€ I told Gianluca.
On Roxas Boulevard Gianluca remarked that heâ€™d never seen the ocean in Manila, so we had to stop and sit by the water. We sat and watched the lights of distant boats while the sky turned from black to blue. If this were a movie this would be the part where the boy and girl watch the sunrise, make philosophical observations, and agree to meet in Vienna exactly one year later.
Except that there were too many characters in this scene, and the two extraneous ones wouldnâ€™t shut up. Also we realized that while Manilaâ€™s sunset is spectacular, the sunrise is no great shakes. Still later we ascertained that no mere female can come between Gianluca and himself, which was fine since so mere male can come between me and myself, either.
Then it hit me that I was five hours into my birthday and I wasnâ€™t depressed. In a bizarre, roundabout way, my plan had worked.