Opinion: The sorrowful tale of a lonely notch
It’s coming again. Another notch on the staff of life. This particular staff is nearly filled with notches. For the past decade and a half, that notch had a brother notch next to it. This year, it will be all alone.
For several years, I believed that I shared a birthday with Chuck Doud, the late editor and publisher of the Madera Tribune. He shared this belief. But it was a lie. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we discovered that I was actually two days older than Chuck. Therefore, I felt fully justified in referring to him as the “kid editor” of the local rag.
The confusion about sharing a birthday started fifteen years ago. As I recall, I was at home, sitting at my computer, and doing some serious calculations while talking with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the phone. Neil, Director of the Hayden Planetarium, was very upset because the International Astronomical Union had recently demoted Pluto — his favorite planet — to a “dwarf planet.” I was finally getting him calmed down when there was a beep on my receiver, indicating that I had another call coming in.
It was Chuck’s wife Annette. She invited me to accompany Chuck and her to a restaurant in Fresno on Sunday night to celebrate Chuck’s birthday. Of course, I accepted because I never turn down a free meal. However, I did not tell her that Sunday, September 10, was also my birthday.
Because Chuck looked so much older than I, it was quite a shock to me to learn that we were the same age. The only other person I know with whom I share the exact same birthday is Jimmy Bishop of Palo Alto and Nevada City, my chemistry lab partner at now-defunct Cubberley High School in Palo Alto. Jimmy and I share the distinction of accidentally breaking the most laboratory glass tubes in the history of California secondary schools. I think that Mr. Granholm, our chemistry teacher who developed a distinct tic halfway through the semester, had a special name for us.
The following year, I felt that I should reciprocate. However, September 10, 2007, fell on a Monday when many restaurants are closed. So, I phoned Annette and invited Chuck and her to dinner at the Vineyard on Tuesday night, Sept. 11. Well, that date was right between my birthday and Chuck’s Sept. 12 day of celebration. But, at the time, I didn’t know there was a two-day difference in our day of birth. I assumed that we’d be observing our birthdays a day late.
A few years passed when, for one reason or another, we weren’t able to get together on our “mutual” birthday. Then, in 2011, again I was at home, sitting at my desk, and composing a response to the President of the United States who had asked my advice about the Libyan Civil War. On August 27, Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown as leader of the Middle Eastern country, and the National Transitional Council had taken control of Bab at-Azizia.
I was summing up my comments when my phone rang. Wonder of wonders! It was Annette again. This time, she had planned a surprise party for her husband at their home. I asked, “Won’t Chuck figure out what you’re doing?” She said, “Of course he will. That will give him plenty of time to practice being surprised.” Then she added, “You’ll have to act surprised, too. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a surprise party?”
The following year, a woman whom I was dating at the time decided to take me to dinner on my birthday, Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Because restaurants maintained the tradition of being closed on Mondays, we decided to make reservations for Tuesday night at the Vineyard. Again, we’d be a day late.
Because the meal would be on her credit card, I phoned Chuck and invited Annette and him to join us. Chuck — who wasn’t nearly as cheap as I — accepted, but he insisted on paying for the coffee. During the evening, a number of mutual friends stopped by our table to express their condolences. That’s pretty much what one can expect when one reaches a certain age.
Tom Brady was sitting in my living room a few days after U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman overturned his four-game suspension in the Deflategate Scandal. Naturally, he was happy with the outcome, but he was bemoaning the announcement that the NFL would appeal the decision. I was pouring him another Stolichnaya and Gatorade when the phone rang. You guessed it; it was Annette. She invited me to a birthday dinner on Saturday night, which was Sept. 12. She told me that Chuck would attain one of those ages that is evenly divisible only by 1, 2, and 37.
I told her that having dinner on Saturday would break a precedent of always celebrating our mutual birthday either a day early or a day late. She said, “What are you talking about? Chuck was born on September 12.”
What a jolt! Chuck was actually born two days AFTER I came into this world. But, in a way, that made sense. September 12 was my father’s birthday. Perhaps that accounted for the generational difference in appearance between Chuck and me.
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Note to Readers: This year, there will be no mutual birthday celebration and only one notch on my staff of life. Chuck died on January 6, 2021.
Note to Chuck: You may find a few points of disagreement in today’s column. But I know you would have printed it because that’s the kind of guy that you were. You once told me that running a newspaper and getting paid for it was the most fun one could have without taking one’s clothes off. I miss you, bro.
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Jim Glynn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.