Worst Birthday Ever (Dedicated to my under-30 friends)
The day I turned 25 was a drizzly bleak Tuesday in San Antonio, not cold but biting in the way that only Sunbelt cities can be in the grip of below-normal temperatures. I worked the 3-midnight police shift and Tuesday was my Friday. The first call of the day was a fatal fire on the West Side; two children had been killed. The fire was long over by the time I visited the site, but a sweetish smell hung in the air. At the time, I thought the odor was caused by something I didn’t want to contemplate, but many years and several fires later, I think it was probably insulation.
The rest of the shift was uneventful, but a bad car wreck came in just at quitting time. I was sent to the scene, just in case. A young woman, critically injured, was being cut out of her car with the jaws-of-life. It wasn’t the kind of story worth “flying” into the final edition, but I stayed to make sure she left the scene alive. The a.m. cop reporter would check her condition when he started his shift at 5.
I bought a pound of peanut M&M’s and went to my boyfriend’s house. I ate and cried, bemoaning my lot in life. I was a police reporter, working Fridays through Tuesdays. (Alas, police reporting was generally considered an entry-level position, so young reporters felt they must move beyond it. One smart fella I know resisted that conventional wisdom and built a brilliant career out of his decision to remain a cop reporter.) The San Antonio Light was a good paper, but it didn’t have a great rep, so it would be hard to move on. And if I had known where my current relationship was headed in the next 12 months, I would have cried harder.
Best Birthday Ever (Dedicated to my over-30 friends)
I got up earlier than usual, so I had written 1,500 words by 10 a.m. The work-in-progress is in the early stages, full of discoveries not unlike those in the beginning of a love affair. (“You like Chinese food? I like Chinese food!”) A character not even in the original scenario has appeared and whispered a fascinating secret in my ear. Meanwhile, the cops are cracking wise about Penelope Pitstop and the infamous “methane probe” from MANHUNTER.
I stopped at Cross Street Market, the one must-visit Baltimore locale for anyone coming to Bouchercon 2008. I bought tulips and dark-chocolate peanut clusters, walked home and fixed a mug of tea. My parents called and I’m grateful for the fact that they don’t sing to me, the way Amy Irving’s parents do in CROSSING DELANCEY. Later today, I will eat homemade squash soup, topped with almonds and shredded coconut. I’ll go to the gym, where I’ll do my Tuesday routine, 30 minutes on the elliptical, then however long it takes on the treadmill to get my mileage to a minimum of five miles. At some point, I should open my mother’s present, but I’m pretty sure it’s Fiestaware, a ritual that makes both of us happy. (She gets to cultivate antique dealers; I get more Fiestaware.) My oldest friend, Nancy, has sent me a foam Statue of Liberty crown, reminding me that I was once a kick-ass Statue of Liberty in our summer camp pageant, trained so well in immobility that I didn’t even flinch when an immigrant pinched me in the ass.
I’ve had extraordinary things happen on my birthday – the arrival of my acceptance into Northwestern (“It’s thick! It’s thick!” my friend and I screamed when we saw the envelope.); the news of an Edgar ® nom, the news that one of my short stories had been chosen for Best American Mystery Stories. But at this point, each birthday is the best birthday. Or, to quote the T-shirt sold by the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston: “Every day above ground is a good day.” Really, the only thing that could make this day better is if I owned CROSSING DELANCEY.
Send no cards, no gifts, no flowers, just share your own best and worst stories, please.