The morning of my second birthday in the Desh, Babul and I go to the meat market and choose the goat we want to cook. I have withdrawn several 500 taka notes from the bank. I hand across seven crisp, purple, over-sized bills, then watch the merchant butcher the animal and cube the meat. I don’t remember what we do with the organ meat; probably, Babul passes it along to one of his brothers. We make our way, via rickshaw, to the spice market. I buy several kilograms of long-grained rice, salt, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, oil, potatoes, onions, garlic, chilies. Babul borrows a giant cooking vat from his neighbor. At the video store, we pick up Evolution, just available on bootleg. Babul makes a fire behind his house and starts cooking the meat. I watch the movie and drink Tang. Babul’s kids and I fill cardboard boxes with oily rice, goat meat, raw onion, and green chili. Rachel and Eric come to town, although Eric gets stuck in Dhaka and doesn't make it up until the following morning. At the party, everyone takes a boxed dinner. We eat in the open room/balcony of my hostel. The wife of a local politician, who I tutor in English, brings a gold chain and several bolts of silk fabric. It is a very extravagant gift. Kartik, the art instructor, paints my portrait. The staff of the school gives me a few nice batik button-down shirts. The next morning, Eric, Rachel, and I leave for the forest. A few weeks later, I meet Katie at a British guest house in Saidpur. We are the only guests that weekend. As a birthday present, she brings the fixings to make a spaghetti dinner. We drink a box of red wine. When Katie would tell this story, she would always mention that I insisted that night on having ground cinnamon for the sauce, so she had gone out at some random hour of the night—out of the air-conditioning, away from the seclusion, the bideshi shell of a guest house—and bought about a nickel’s worth of cinnamon.
July 1, 2004 (Islamorada, FL)
For our honeymoon, Katie and I get PADI-certified in the Florida Keys. We spend five days in the Keys and a week in Miami, staying at a hotel, then with Sheila’s godfather and his family. Three days into our scuba coursework, Katie makes a reservation at Pierre’s, a five-star restaurant in Islamorada. Exhausted from two dives, we nap all afternoon and watch “About A Boy” on HBO. That evening, we put on our nicest clothes and make our way to the restaurant. I remember the menu pretty well. Katie: coconut curry soup, mesclun salad with goat cheese and vinegar, redfish with some spicy rub and small potatoes. Me: lobster bisque, heritage tomatoes with basil and mozzarella, ahi tuna served blue. It is the only restaurant we will ever visit by ourselves that employs a sommelier. We take the cork and label home, but I don’t remember the name of the wine. After dinner, we walk out to the bandstand by the beach, where a guy with a guitar is singing John Prine songs, “Angel From Montgomery” and “All The Best,” (two Katie favorites, especially the latter) as well as a few Leonard Cohen covers. Earlier that week, Katie hears “The Great Compromise” while driving to the grocery store, which she finds really amusing, given that it is our honeymoon. Having maxed out our food budget—recently unemployed, headed to graduate school—the rest of the week, we eat rice and beans, and fried plantains, take-out style from a small Cuban grocery near the dive shop. Certified, Katie decides she is not a big fan of scuba diving, and we only dive once more together, that following Thanksgiving, when Judy and John come down to Miami for a visit.
July 1, 2005 (North Miami, FL)
Kelly and Derek are moving out to California that 4th of July weekend, so we offer to host them during their last few days, post-lease, in North Miami. That night, Katie and I order pizza and invite a bunch of FIU people over, including some incoming MFA students. Many of us drink a lot of beer. For dessert, Katie assembles a massive pile of various fresh berries, which, for those of you who don’t know her so well, well, Katie hated all varieties of berry, despised their very existence. How she withstood getting them into such a massive pile is beyond my understanding. She buys several cans of whipped cream. After dessert, we head out to North Beach and sit by the water playing guitar and singing songs. At the time, Kelly, Mike Creeden, and I are in the habit of playing music together, but the only songs we all three know are by the Gin Blossoms, Bob Dylan, John Prine, and John Cougar Mellencamp. We swim in the ocean. At some point, more friends join us. I remember an especially spirited cover of “Little Pink Houses.” On the drive back to our apartment, Jeff calls me on my cell phone and I remember telling him I can’t talk because we are listening to the new John Prine CD, which Katie has given me for my birthday.
July 1, 2006 (Istanbul, Turkey)
When we are planning the details of Katie’s then-internship in Bucharest, she asks me, if I could travel anywhere for my birthday, where would I go? I look over the map and shrug. “Istanbul.” A travel agency in Bucharest offers four-day/three-night tour packages, at every level of amenity. We spread out all of the brochures and spend way too long debating the merits of traveling 2-star versus 3-star. Katie arranges to take the weekend off. The deputy director of operations, visiting from the States, tells Katie that things are looking good for them to offer her a full-time job at the end of the internship. We spend much of the trip debating the pros and cons of taking the positions. Beyond what the job might entail, salary, her taking a job at a level of responsibility several rungs higher than entry-level, post-MPH, we talk out the possibility of living so far away from family, leaving my MFA program a year early, leaving Miami and friends, presumably, for good. On my birthday, we tour Topkapi Palace, walk out on the pier to eat fresh fish sandwiches for lunch, watch England lose a World Cup match while smoking a hookah and drinking draft beers. On our way back through the city, we stop at the Blue Mosque, to sit and watched the Friday evening call to prayer. The call reminds us of living in the Desh, except here it is louder and more frequent, the services more ornate and open to public witness. For dinner, we eat at Hamdi Et Lokantasi, which The Lonely Planet assures us serves the best mezes in Istanbul. Stuffed, sated, we walked back to our hotel, winding various back streets until we come out near Istanbul University, which serves as a kind of landmark for our hotel. At a nearby storefront, we buy a variety of helva to take back to the room, where we watch France win its World Cup semi-final against Brazil.
July 1, 2008 (Indianapolis, IN)
I wake up early, thankful to have slept a dream-less night. I go for my usual 70-odd minute bike loop, listening the whole time to one song, “Did I Tell You.” I have recently discovered Yo La Tengo, whose songs Rob Sheffield featured in the various mixes that introduce the chapters of Love Is A Mix Tape. While biking, I get lost in several Yo La Tengo-themed daydreams: forming a rock band and playing Yo La Tengo covers in bars all over San Francisco; listening to Yo La Tengo as I drive through the Dakota badlands; finding Yo La Tengo on the jukebox at Carol’s, in Chicago, at some past New Year’s throw-down. Coming back into the neighborhood, I pick up the mail. Netflix has sent season 2 of Battlestar Galactica. A local baker delivers a chocolate-chip cookie pie, with a note from my parents, which I enjoy with some Café Istria house blend coffee that Dave and Meghan have mailed. In my room, I fire up the disc and do my pilates routine. The colonials, yet again, barely manage to thwart an incoming Cylon attack. Post-pilates, I sit down to blog about favorite birthdays of the last seven years, and get to feeling pretty sad. Last year, I put the kebash on any birthday acknowledgment at all. This year, it feels good to invite as much conspicuous attention as possible. My door is closed, to keep the cats in. Twice, Chase and Chloe knock, and I tell them I am busy doing pilates but will be out soon enough (the surest way to prevent small children from entering your room unexpectedly is to dangle the prospect of their witnessing your holding, say, downward facing dog or active moving cat in a ratty pair of swim trunks). Sheila calls, I assume, to wish me a happy birthday. I don't pick up. I’ll get back to her later. Chloe and Chase come to the door a third time, this time with Beth, who asks me to let them all in. Annoyed, I put on some clothes and open the door, to find Sheila, Aidan, and Connor down from Chicago for an overnight birthday visit. We play on the swingset, go for a long walk to Starbuck’s, watch Phineas and Ferb. We order pizza, and after Sheila puts the boys down for the night, she and I sit out on the back porch, drinking wine and debriefing the last few weeks. The LaPlantes come back from the last swim meet of the summer, with some friends visiting from Arizona, which makes for 9 visitors in the house for one night. They order more pizza. Sheila and I watch the Cubs playing the Giants, a late game, in San Francisco, until everyone makes their way to bed.