52 Pick-Up

In which Citizen Jim arrives and demands presents from Chicken Sheets on her birthday.

I woke up earlier than usual on Sunday morning. In fact, Sunday morning was earlier than usual since we’d had to allow our clocks to “fall back” at 2 AM.

When I mentioned this to the cats, they just stared at me as if they’d never heard of Daylight Standard Time. When I referenced Daylight Savings Time, they also stared.

I looked into their eyes and asked who threw up all over the bath mat in the middle of the night: nothing.

I gave up. It was as if they’d suddenly lost their ability to understand English.

This meant, of course, that they probably wouldn’t be wishing me a happy birthday, despite the fact that I’m the person who allows them to live here rent-free while also buying the food that they vomit everywhere while I’m sleeping.

I guess that was okay. I really didn’t want to be reminded of how many years had passed since I took in the first of all my ragged breaths on Earth. I was ready to just settle into a low-key day of forgetting, listening to “Desert Island Discs” and writing a Citizen Jim story.

And then I heard the cowbell, followed by the loud crash of cymbals which was followed by the kazoo playing the tune of the chorus to “Happy Birthday, Darlin” by Conway Twitty.

Since I didn’t feel like listening to this cacophony for the rest of the morning, I opened the door. I was pretty sure I would find Citizen Jim on the other side, and I was not wrong. Nor did I expect him to actually tell me “Happy Birthday,” and in this I was also not wrong.

“Hello, Precious Lamb!” I said, trying to put on a happy birthday face.

Citizen Jim said, “If someone should ask you what I got you for your birthday, well, you can say, ‘Why, he didn’t give me anything. But he sure took a lot of things away.’ And we’re gonna start with that extra laptop you have just sitting around collecting dust. I need that thing real bad.”

“So you want me to give you something even though it’s my birthday?” I asked. “You’re as bad as my cats!”

“Look, I’m just trying to make you forget how old you are, you complainy old crone,” he said. “How old are you, anyway? Wait! Don’t tell me!”

“Okay,” I said.

He held up his hand. “No, I mean it, don’t tell me! I can figure this out.”

“Good,” I said.

“Shut up! I’m figuring it out!” he said, pushing me out of the way and walking into the house. He lifted his nose in the air and started sniffing.

“I smell cat puke. That means you’re past the age of 30, since the Millennials can’t afford to have pets because of all their student loan debt. And they wouldn’t have time to spend with pets, anyway, because they all have, like, three or four crappy jobs they have to work throughout the week.”

Then he closed his eyes and put a cupped hand on each ear. “I just heard, ‘…so now it’s time to cast you away to your island…’ And nobody under the age of 40 listens to that Desert Island Discs crap,” he said.

“That’s pretty impressive, but I can just tell you how old I—”

He opened his eyes and said, “Ahtatatat. Ssssshhhh! I see you’ve got exercise equipment that looks barely used even though you’re pretty chubbo, which means you’re probably past the age of 45.”

He walked into my living room and scanned the bookshelves. “Would you say you have more books you haven’t read than books you’ve read on these shelves?”

I’d given away about 400 books during the Great Book Purge of 2013, and I’d read most of them. Now my shelves were packed with books I hadn’t read but hoped to read sometime before I either die or move away.

“I haven’t read most of those,” I admitted.

“Okay, that puts you nearer to 50,” said Citizen Jim. “Okay, I say 50. Am I right? Are you 50 today?”

“Close. I’m 52,” I said, frowning. “It’s awful.”

“Sit down, you idiot,” said Citizen Jim. He shoved me backward into one of my comfy chairs and started pacing in front of me between the bed and the bookcase.

“Oh my! Fifty-two is a great age! It’s a great number!” he said. He was still pacing, his eyes on the floor, chin in his hands. “Think about it! A Round on the Mayan Calendar is made up of 52 years. Playing cards? Fifty-two! White keys on the piano? Fifty-two! There’s 52 weeks in an Earth year!”

“Wow! Yeah! And Billy Joel’s second-best album is 52nd Street!” I said.

Citizen Jim stopped and glared at me. “Don’t pull that bug-eyed old drunk into this,” said Citizen Jim. “And besides: his first best album is The Stranger, and his second-best album is Turnstiles. I only see 52nd Street in third or fourth place, if that.”

“Okay. That’s your opinion,” I said.

“Not quite. You know I only deal in facts,” Citizen Jim said. “And another fact is, you might be old but you aren’t ancient.”

“Good to know,” I said. “Would you like a cup of tea and some air-fried oyster crackers?”

“That’s nice of you, but I can’t believe someone your age can’t offer me something better after I came all the way down here to tell you Happy Birthday. Which reminds me—I need that laptop. Go on and wipe the hard drive and wipe the screen and sterilize the keys so I can get out of here. I’ll also need that seven-port USB hub you have and your Bluetooth speaker.”

I stood up and started pushing him toward the front door. “I’d rather wrap them up in beautiful paper and give them to you for Christmas,” I said.

“Fine! But I hope you don’t think I’m going to be getting you a Christmas gift, too.”

“Honestly, I’d rather you didn’t,” I said, remembering the dirty baby doll with wild hair and no clothes he’d given me one year for Christmas.

“And anyway, this’ll give you time to load all the expensive tax software I need, and bookmark all the best porn sites that don’t cost any money,” he said. “And I’ll need you to win a few thousand games of solitaire between now and then so I can look like a real big shot to my trophy wife.”

“Haha! You said ‘Big Shot’! That’s a song off of 52nd Street!”

“Shut up about that record, or I’m gonna punch you!” he said as he left the house.

I knew that was his code for wishing me happy birthday.