Sunday, April 26, 2009

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is my 58th birthday, and three TSA agents just pulled me aside at the John Wayne Airport for a special frisking. It seems that there is a strange bulge protruding from under my jacket. It’s my stomach, but the TSA agent has to rub it to be sure.

“Today’s my birthday,” I say.

“Lot’s of terrorists blow themselves up on their birthday,” he says. “Seventy-two virgins beats a birthday cake any day, don’t you think Rah-me?” He pronounces my name to make it sound Palestinian rather than Israeli. I’m neither,

“Recent scholarship into older manuscripts of the Qur’an suggests that the idea of virgins is a misreading of the original Arabic which may actually say ‘raisins.’ Martyrs are rewarded with seventy-two raisins.”

“Like raisins, do ya?” the agent asked. “Are raisins worth dyin’ for?”

“No,” I said, “but I often travel with prunes. I get constipated.”

The search took longer than it should. You shouldn’t banter with TSA agents about the Qur’an. Or constipation.

My seat on the American Airline flight from John Wayne airport to Dallas puts me next to a very large woman who has lifted the armrest between our seats so she can use half of mine as well. Very intimate. And sweaty. I think she uses Ice Blue Secret antiperspirant.

I cram up against the window of the airplane, and hum “Happy Birthday to Me,” but no one inquires why, or even seems to notice. Did I mention that today is my birthday? I’ve been on this planet for fifty-eight years.

I’ve had a few successes during that time. When I was very young I learned how to shit in the toilet rather than my pants. It is skill I worry about losing. Sometimes I stand in the adult diaper aisle of Wal-Mart wondering if I should stock up now as a hedge against inflation. Note to manufacturers: it would be cool if there were superhero diapers for adults as there are for toddlers. I’d feel better shitting in my pants if they had the face of the Incredible Hulk printed on them.

Anyway, I’m happy to be fifty-eight. I don’t mind getting older. I’m even looking forward to turning sixty, but that’s mostly because turning sixty comes after turning fifty-eight so looking forward is really unavoidable.

Sometimes when you say you’re getting older someone says, “Consider the alternative.” They mean I should think about being dead. I don’t see the value in that. I’m thinking of treating myself to a birthday snack from the cart on the airplane, instead, but paying $12 for a bag of stale peanuts seems extravagant given the economy. So, I think I’ll just ask for water and tie my shoelace to the cup after I drink all the water, and wear the cup on my head like a party hat. Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy birthday dear Rah-me, happy birthday to me.


Grégoire said...

don't you love those ice guys? sometimes they pull me into the little room and i start wondering whether they've read my last article. they're always very nice about it; but it makes me thankful for the accident of my birth, and reminds me to have some compassion for those who might have some paperwork irregularities.

best wishes for a very happy birthday rav, and many happy returns.

Eliza said...

Happy Birthday, Rami Shapiro.

58 is a cool age, especially for Holy Rascals.

A Sophie Burnham said we do not become truly spiritual until the age of 60, but I don't believe that, do you?

I really do hope you made your day special! Please accept a kosher, strictly elder sisterly, hug. Eliza

Karen said...

Happy belated birthday, Rabbi Rami! I hope you have a prolonged celebration full of all your favorite things. I'm not sure any of us are here by accident, which leaves the possibility that we're all here on purpose, which means that your presence on this planet is purposeful. And thank you for sharing your purposefulness with us!

eashtov said...

Shalom Rami,

" 'Ad me'ah v' 'esrim, u'sh'losha hodashim" May you live to 120 and three months!!! The Rabbis taught that this wish was a good way to honor another's birthday as 120 years was how long Moses lived. So what about the additional three months some Rabbis subsequently asked? The reply was "that it shouldn't be all of a sudden!!"


rbarenblat said...

Happy birthday, Rabbi Rami! I hope it was a good one, air travel notwithstanding.

Jeff said...

Happy post birthday!

Hard to take those TSA folks seriously, except they have the power to make your life and travel much more unpleasent.

Maggid said...

Happy the day after -
Thank you for walking the planet with us - you make it a much better place.


Patti said...

All I can say, is you better be happy your seat partner wore antiperspirant! Glad you still have a sense of humor at your age. ;0)

Phil said...

Hilarious, Rami!

I'm one of those "consider the alternative" (memento mori, carpe diem) types, I admit. Remember, consider, forget, REPEAT... and enjoy all your birthdays, even when they must be spent in detention at John Wayne airport.

Simcha Daniel Burstyn שמחה דניאל בורשטיין said...

Happy belated birthday, holy teacher.

I was struck by your TSA experience. Last fall, I went up to Isabella Friedman for one of the PANIM retreats for rabbinical students, and on the way home, got bumped from a plane in Cincinnati. Which was worth it, because I got a free flight later in the winter. The next morning, I arrived at the Cincinnati airport at an hour when almost nobody was going through security. I put my bag on the conveyor, took off my shoes, etc. And as the bag went through, the x-ray operator asked, "what are those little boxes? Wrapped up in something like plastic?"
"Maybe leather?" I asked, after I racked my brain trying to figure out what it was he saw.
I took my tefillin out of the bag and showed him. He was very polite, no searches like you're describing, but he said "we just wanted to understand what they were. We see people with all kinds of religious accoutrements, you know, like Buddhists with those brass bowls."
It's a good thing it wasn't around the high holidays - I'd have had to blow the shofar for them right there!