A tradition I can live without
Last week I was attending yoga practice at the OM Zone in Edwards, and as it turned out, that day was our instructor’s birthday. Monica was turning 30-something (although to see her you would think that she was actually 20-something) and I’m certain that she would tell you that her appearance was in large part due to her long-time participation in yoga practice.
Yoga instructors joke that the worst part of their birthday is the tradition of doing the same number of sun salutations as are the number of candles on his or her birthday cake (metaphorically speaking, of course, because people who practice yoga on a daily basis are in all likelihood the people who seldom indulge in empty carb foods like cake).
But this is not a commentary about a low-carb diet. It’s about a peculiar tradition that continues despite the fact that few people enjoy it when it’s happening to them.
When practice ended, Monica thanked everyone for attending class and commented that leading practice with many of her friends was a wonderful way to spend the morning of her birthday.
After Monica thanked the group, one of the women in the class began singing “Happy Birthday,” and of course everyone joined in. Monica was seated on her yoga mat in front of the class while 15 people were singing and staring at her, which made me think to myself, What a terrific way to make someone feel really self-conscious.
Later that day and I called my daughter Kate in L.A. and told her about the event because she once wrote a monologue about birthdays for a popular daytime TV show host. Kate joked that just as she wrote in her script, whoever came up with the song “Happy Birthday” was definitely trying to embarrass the birthday boy or girl.
To begin with, the song is just too long when the individual is over the age of 10. Adults get all awkward and embarrassed when friends, friends of friends, relatives and co-workers and start singing “Happy Birthday.”
To the recipient of the birthday serenade, the 10 seconds it takes to sing the first verse seems like 20 minutes. To begin with, while people are singing the birthday person has to smile whether they feel like it or not. Then about halfway through the ditty, the individual becomes aware that they’re just sitting there with a forced and stupid grin on their face and they begin thinking that they had better change their expression so the singers think that they’re still actually interested in what’s going on.
Because the melody is rather puerile, most people sing along simply because they’re there and don’t know what else to do. Of course, there are those who sing along but don’t really sing along (like me) and just half-mouth the words with nothing audible coming from their vocal chords.
To make matters worse, sometimes these celebrations occur in public settings, like, say, a restaurant. In these cases the individual now has all sorts of strangers looking at him or her, many of whom are annoyed because they either don’t give a damn or the singing just interrupted an important business conversation, a proposal of marriage or some other essential exchange.
Then if someone brings out a birthday cake, the individual has to endure the insufferable remarks about the number of candles the cake has or doesn’t have, along with a series of interrogatories about his or her birthday wish. It seems that the cake ritual is designed to make the individual even more uncomfortable in case the singing wasn’t embarrassing enough.
Assuming a restaurant setting, the waiters and waitresses are also a bit annoyed because the embarrassing celebration has slowed down their service. If the waiter or waitress is close enough to birthday boy or girl’s table, then they are also stuck singing “Happy Birthday” to a perfect stranger.
Many chain-type restaurants have their own snappy version of a happy birthday song because someone in upper management felt that the original version was just too sappy, so they spiced it up and the entire wait-staff is forced to gather around clapping and singing their doggerel while every eye in the restaurant to focus on the embarrassed birthday boy or girl.
At times the “celebration” is taken to the extreme. Sometimes the birthday boy or girl’s “best friends” make arrangements for a birthday stripper, which exacerbates an already uncomfortable situation and creates a whole other set of potentially controversial circumstances, which I’ll save for another commentary.
Since my own birthday is coming up, I make this one request to family and friends: Please don’t send a 20-something stripper or serenade me with a song or prepare a cake with enough candles to illuminate Bridge Street on a dark night. Just send a card and spare me the embarrassment.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com