Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Here's Why I Don't Do Dishes On My Birthday

I’m not sure if it’s a Leo thing, but many of us with August birthdays don’t just celebrate the day we were born, we celebrate the whole week. Sometimes the whole month. For me, celebrating doesn’t entail much more than saying, “It’s my birthday!” To which someone will respond, “Oh, Happy Birthday!” and I’ll offer a big, gushy, “Thanks!” and, voila, I feel celebrated.

I usually keep my birthday expectations very low. Similar to Mother’s Day, if no one ends up in the emergency room and/or I don’t have to clean up vomit, I consider the day a resounding success.

I was not born with this perspective – it’s been acquired.

In my twenties, I spent a bit of time as a PA. PA is short for Production Assistant and can mean many things in terms of skill and responsibility. For me, it meant doing all the impossible things that no one else wanted to do. Keeping someone’s ice coffee cold in a heat wave. Trying to find magenta duct tape. Fixing a broken Xerox machine.

You can often tell which are the PAs at any shoot. They’re the ones running ragged to prove themselves while simultaneously stifling their fury about being the lowest paid, least respected members of the crew.

The first PA job I was ever given was for a Man-On-The-Street interview spot. We were going to shoot at the Willowbrook Mall and we had a call time of 10 AM. I remember all those details, including the exact date of the shoot not because it was my first time, but because it was my birthday.

Most of the crew was traveling from Manhattan, but I already lived in New Jersey, as did Steve, the production manager, so he and I were going to drive to the mall together. I don’t remember what time he was scheduled to pick me up, but I do remember that our plans changed substantially, because early that morning, as I was washing my breakfast dishes, a glass broke in my hand. The sink filled with blood and I could not get the bleeding under control. I called Steve, “I’m going to be a little late. I have to go to the ER.”

Steve offered to bring me to the hospital. Our first stop was the triage nurse who listened to my story and started taking down my information. “Birth date?” she asked. “Today!” I said.

For the first time she looked up from her notes. “Today is your birthday?”

I smiled and nodded like a 7-year-old.

“Honey, what were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

At first, I couldn’t tell if she was sympathetic or chiding, but it soon occurred to me that this must be some special brand of ER levity because the admitting nurse, the nurse who administered the Tetanus shot and the Physician’s Assistant who sewed my finger up all came up with the same sentiment.

“How did you do this, young lady?”

“Washing dishes,”

Then, looking at my chart, “What were you doing washing dishes on your birthday?”

An hour or so later, my index finger stitched, bandaged and throbbing, we headed to the mall. My finger garnered lots of attention, which I ended up exploiting over the course of the day.

My assignment was to find “men in business suits” who would agree to be interviewed. It was 11 AM on a weekday. “There are no men in business suits here,” I told the producer. “Men in business suits are all at their businesses.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Go find me some suited men.”

I scampered off with my clipboard and throbbing finger and boldly approached the one and only business suit clad man in the mall. I told him what we were doing and asked if he’d be willing to be interviewed. No, he wouldn’t, he said. And he walked away.

I ran after him and began to beg. “Please, my boss is going to fire me if you don’t do it. I cut my finger open this morning and I got nine stitches and it’s really killing me and won’t you just give me this one break?”

I could see by the look on his face that I was getting through to him. He was on the verge of saying yes. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do what I was about to do, but it seemed the only way to secure his participation.

“Please,” I whined. “It’s my birthday.”

“It’s your birthday?” he said. Yes, it really is, I told him as I pushed my clipboard with the photo releases just a little closer to him. He took the release and my pen and said he’d be happy to do it.

“How did you cut your finger?” he said while he was signing his rights away.

“Washing dishes,” I said. And, before the words came out of his mouth, I added, “I know, I know. I shouldn’t do dishes on my birthday.”

Does no one wash dishes on their birthdays? Or take out the garbage? Or make the bed? My birthday is coming up and for the most part it’s business as usual. But if my kitchen looks a little more unkempt than usual, now you know why.

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