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Tomorrow is Sasha’s 18th birthday, a milestone meant to hold fond memories she’ll carry the rest of her life. How many of you can look back smiling at memories of your 18th birthday? For me that day remains vivid. I had finished high school midyear and wound up working in Worland, Wyoming, on a plumbing crew sent down from South Dakota, to install the heating system in a plant manufacturing soda cans for Pepsi. The plant was something like six football fields long by four football fields wide, and once operational would produce one million cans a day. The logistics involved in moving pipe and fittings to work areas was so immense, we were each allocated a personal forklift.
My foreman made a deal with the electricians to share equipment, but in order to do that, one crew was going to have to work nights. We tried cajoling then bribing the wire-pullers into taking the night shift but they weren’t biting, so we agreed to cut cards. I never got used to working nights but there were moments, like inventing “forklift baseball,” that we played during our lunch break at midnight. It requires a special kind of courage to protect home plate when the suicide squeeze involves a guy barreling down on you in a highspeed forklift. Some nights we’d set up obstacle courses and hold forklift chariot races to determine who’d have to buy beers.
One unintended consequence of working nights was becoming friends with the guys who played in our hotel lounge’s band, since our schedules aligned. They smoked way too much pot for me, but I enjoyed playing Frisbee and knocking around golf balls with them in the park most afternoons. Eating breakfast at four before starting work and supper at six in the morning when we got off though is something I never got used to.
The good thing about working in Wyoming back in the day was that the drinking age was 18. So there I was, a young plumber on my own in Worland, Wyoming, flush with money, friends with the boys in the band, and about to turn 18. It’s amazing how much can be packed into a 24 hour period. There was a road trip stopping at every bar we passed for my free birthday drink, a quick swim in a high mountain lake, meeting those girls in Ten Sleep before winding up back in Worland where we met more girls. All in all it was an amazing birthday filled with magical memories.
Now, fast forward to the day before Sasha’s 18th birthday where everything is COVID constrained. The skydiving she’d been planning for over a year is not going to happen (yeah!). The tattoo she’s been threatening to get in Santa Fe as her first act of adulthood is not going to happen (yeah!). The party she dreamed of having with all her friends, is not going to happen either; that one is really sad. She is however emphatic about wearing her “It’s my Birthday” sash all day.
The pressure on a Dad wanting to find a way to make his only daughter’s 18th birthday special is enormous. I’m already starting out at a disadvantage. For starters, the drinking age in New Mexico is 21, I no longer know anyone in a band, and there’s no way in hell I’d let her have an 18th birthday like mine. To be fair, looking back through the lens of wisdom and perspective, I doubt I’d even redo my 18th birthday.
After days of negotiation, I relented by agreeing to lower my quarantine barrier and allow her to spend the day with her boyfriend. There’s only so far I’m willing to go to appease Governor Grisham’s draconian overreach.
Besides that, what’s a Dad to do to provide his daughter a memorable 18th birthday in the age of COVID? I suggested teaching her boyfriend how to ride a dirt bike; if nothing else it’d be both memorable and entertaining, especially in the age of cell phone video. That got shot down. I suggested sneaking into Bandelier National Park and hiking down the canyon where they transplanted beavers to see how their dams are holding up against spring runoff. That got shot down. I proposed going to a driving range to hit golf balls, but they’re all closed, as are all the restaurants and entertainment venues. We are considering going to the soccer fields to play family soccer, which is at least something.
I’ve decide food can be something special. Sasha’s requested I make her Crème Brulee French Toast with Challah bread for breakfast before her online school starts. For lunch she wants green chili quesadillas because she assumes we’ll be busy doing something. Supper begins with a Poutine appetizer in a gravy made from scratch, followed by a homemade chicken pot pie with flaky crust for the entrée, along side a fresh Cesar salad (her menu not mine). It may not be as exciting as Wyoming bar hopping, but she’ll at least remember I cooked for her on her birthday.
Even still, the big birthday howdy-do remains elusive. I can’t think of anything as dangerous as skydiving or as stupid as getting a tattoo, but the pressure is mounting to come up with something. Whether I succeed or not, one thing’s clear, whatever Sasha does or does not do on her 18th birthday in the age of COVID, it will be a memory she’ll carry with her the rest of her life.
Update: I was channel surfing on internet radio this morning while working on my COVID kitchen project and came across a Chicago radio station playing Rush Limbaugh, who was going off on what was basically my essay from yesterday. It pleases me to know I’ve become “show-prep” for talk show hosts. I also have seen stories in the New York Times that look like they were lifted from my essays. I don’t really mind, a wise man once told me that they way to know you’re on to something is when others take credit for your ideas.