I once wrote that Melancholia provides the only possible answer for what to do when you know for sure you’re going to die and yet you still have agency up until that moment. In that situation, where every action would be meaningless, there are no good options — indulging in one last pleasure would be hollow, pretending everything is normal would be pathetic, etc. The only possible choice is to make a gesture that is consciously meaningless, like the building of the shelter at the end of Melancholia.

In many ways, adult birthdays share a similar structure with the apocalypse of Melancholia. They are inevitable and utterly meaningless, and yet we are forced to respond in some way. Why not, then, take a parallel strategy by consciously choosing to do something just as contrived and silly as the convention of birthday observance is after the age of 21? Why not — as The Girlfriend suggested and as became inevitable the second the idea left her lips — celebrate my birthday this evening by going to Olive Garden?

11 thoughts on “Being-toward-birthdays

  1. oooh, I like this. We have coupons to Chilli’s that I’ve been staring at, wondering when they could ever be put to use. Now I have my answer.

  2. If you tell the waitstaff it’s your birthday, they sing a terrible song while clapping.

    I don’t think you get any free food on your birthday at The Olive Garden, but they do have (awful, freeze-dried) birthday cakes.

  3. Once my dad told me a story. He was out for his birthday and got up to go to the bathroom. While he was in there, he heard a birthday song start and thought, “That poor sucker…” Then it started to awkwardly trail off and he realized — it was for him! So he snuck out to the car and refused to go back into the restaurant. I was proud of him.

  4. My grandparents had waiters sing for my mom’s birthday every year when she was growing up, and she hated it. Once she moved out she would only see them on her birthday on the condition that they not have waiters sing for her. This was strictly enforced.

    On her 40th, my grandfather managed to slip a note to a waiter while my mom wasn’t looking. She was not happy.

    Oh, “Breaking Bad” taught me that Denny’s gives you free food on your birthday. Also sometimes you can get good deals on assault rifles in the parking lots.

  5. The breadsticks were a little stale. The Girlfriend actually found a recipe to make her own Olive Garden breadsticks, which were much better than the real deal — like I remember them from when I was a kid.

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