Birthday Party-Related Injuries
We had two birthday parties over the weekend. The first was for Jake, who was turning one. His parents had recently moved to L.A. and bought a condo. Unfortunately for them, the woman in the condo below is insane. They made the mistake of showing her around the place after they moved in, and now she positions herself below Jake's room at night, plays loud music, and bangs the ceiling with a broom. This makes our neighborhood problems look minor. It's true that neighbors down the street called parking enforcement on us. But we did leave our car parked in front of their house for more than three days, so they technically had a legitimate dispute even if they were assholes about the whole thing.
So yes, the party. They held it at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, a lovely park in West L.A. with creeks and flowing hills and nice playgrounds. The fact that it seems to have been carved out of a small oil claim doesn't distract from its beauty. The pumping derricks give it a nifty touch. Regina hadn't seen her friend for a while, so I committed myself to watching Elijah for most of the party. We ran over to the playground, which was castle-themed. For a while, I watched him play, but then he started whimpering that he couldn't get over some curvy climbing bars. I gave him a boost. Then I thought, oh, what the hell, and I scrambled up the bars to follow him.
As I reached what I thought was the top of the bars, I stood up. My head connected with a bar above me, straight on. I instantly felt my neck compress. The top of my head, I assumed, had been driven into the base of my throat. The pain was broad and stinging. I collapsed to the floor of the play surface and began to writhe.
"Daddy," Elijah said. "What are you doing?"
"I hurt myself."
"Be careful, daddy."
I continued to buck in pain. None of the other parents at the playground seemed to want to come to my aid. Either they hated melodrama or they enjoyed seeing a gringo in pain. Regardless, I evenutally stood up and assessed my damage. Yep. I had definitely cracked a vertebrae. I just knew I had.
"Elijah," I said. "I have an injury. A boo-boo."
"I know what an injury is, daddy."
"Fine. We still have to go see mommy."
So we walked back toward the picnic tables, Elijah throwing a fit the entire time because I wouldn't race him. I arrived holding the back of my neck, with Elijah clinging to my jeans pocket.
"What the hell happened to you?" Regina said.
"I have an injury."
I explained what had gone down.
"Typical," she said. "You had to go get hurt while I was trying to hang out with one of my friends. If I'd done this at one of your friends' parties..."
"Yes, Regina. I did this on purpose."
Soon, we put this piece of minor marital bitterness behind us, and saw to my healing. There was ice present, and Advil. Fortunately, the birthday boy's mother is a doctor. Her assessment: Nerve irritation. The symptoms resembled whiplash. I would have muscle soreness. She called in a prescription for painkillers and muscle relaxers. Score.
Later, Jake's parents opened his presents. One of them was a Ramones T-shirt. It occurred to me that the shirt had probably cost as much as all the Ramones had spent on clothing combined in 1975, and that a Ramones T-shirt is no more a sign of a "cool" baby than a "Vote For Pedro" onesie.
The party proceeded. I was soon able to converse normally, and Elijah showed everyone his new trick, which is that he pretends to shoot fire out of his right index finger. It's not the superpower I would have chosen, but it works for him.
In the car, Regina said, "Only you could give yourself whiplash at a child's first birthday party."
"True," I said. "But only in L.A. could I go to a child's first birthday party and leave with a Percoset prescription."
There was a dinner party to attend that night. I was determined to make it, despite my injury, because I'd spent the better part of the previous two days trying to find a babysitter. Our regular sitter, who Elijah loves, was at a track meet in Reno. I sent emergency emails to various sources, including to the list serv for Elijah's class, but Craigslist was my bailiwick. Several young women responded to my inquiry. One of them asked why we'd moved to L.A.
"I came to feed the beast," I said.
She did not end up sitting for us. Instead, we found a nice young woman named Megan. She came with a recommendation from one of her co-workers, whose kids she had sat for before. "She's awesome," was the recommendation. I realized that my generation must be in charge now, because no one over 40 would describe anyone as "awesome," much less a babysitter. At least it wasn't "she rocks."
So we went to the party and made merry. I came home full of red wine and THC. Then it was time to pop my painkiller and my muscle relaxer.
"There's no way I'm going to be able to get up with him tomorrow," I said.
"Probably not," said Regina.
"Thanks for understanding."
"I'll cut you a deal. I'll get up with him, but you have to take him to the birthday party tomorrow morning."
"Not a problem," I said.
The party was at 10, and it was nearby, so I slept until 9. The drugs hadn't quite worn off yet, but I muted them with a cup of tea and a Diet Cherry Coke. Elijah and I drove to Kidspace, a children's museum in Pasadena that I've mentioned here before.
This time, the birthday being celebrated was that of one of Elijah's classmates. I've gotten to know the parents in his class fairly well, so the conversation was amiable. Elijah hooked up with a little girl named Ariel, and they spent the entire party pretending to buy everyone candy from a nearby vending machine. At one point, Kidspace employees sat all the kids down for games. Elijah ignored all the games except for musical chairs. There were two supervisors, a perky young woman in a cowboy hat, and a stoned-looking dude in a ski cap.
The cowboy-hat girl perkily arranged the chairs, while ski-hat guy manned the boom box.
"Start the music!" she said.
He pressed play. Out came some grinding guitar, pretty hard-core, and some raspy vocals.
"I told you," she said. "No Motorhead."
This was funny in its own right, but I was further amused by the thought that he'd tried to play Motorhead at a kid's birthday party before. He obviously didn't see anything wrong with it. Either did I, actually. Lemmy probably has kids, too.
I took stock of the other fathers at the party. They were not Lemmy, or even Lars Ullrich. Many of them were wearing fashion jeans. More than one had an argyle sweater with a Penguin logo on it. I saw one guy carrying a Kate Spade diaper bag. I complained to Regina about this when I got home.
"Oh yeah?" she said. "Look at yourself."
Sure enough, I was wearing fashion jeans and an argyle sweater with a Penguin logo on it.
"Fine," I said. "But I wouldn't be caught dead with a Kate Spade diaper bag."
I'd been using a ratty old backpack that had once been attached to a ten-year-old piece of Regina's luggage. It was appropriately downscale. I felt so much better about myself, and nothing is more important, when it comes to attending children's birthday parties, than parental self-esteem.
My neck felt better that night, so I didn't take more painkillers and muscle relaxers. But they're in the medicine cabinet now, waiting to pounce. I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.