Nick came home for his 30th birthday.
At least, I feel like it’s his home here in Santa Cruz, although his mother makes her home in Paris, and he spent half his childhood there, so he could easily feel that Paris is his home. Paris is where he lives now too, but he came here for a well-deserved long vacation, almost two months, and went on a road trip with me to Tahoe before spending his birthday with our family’s Santa Cruz contingent.
What made this extra special was that Charlotte, his girlfriend from Paris, also came for the last two weeks of his vacation, including his birthday, as did his brother Arlo, all the way from Athens.
The latter had not visited here for five years (although we’ve seen each other in Paris a couple of times). Arlo too went on a road trip with me to Tahoe while Nick and Charlotte were on their own road trip to Mendocino. Arlo was a man with a mission this trip, an inspiration to those of us who sometimes need reminding that it is best to forgive. Thank you, young man.
All things considered, these vacations and this birthday were a real peak dad moment!
All the birthday plans went wrong, of course, in one way or another. I wanted to offer Nick a new Wii console for his birthday, once Charlotte suggested one (what? he’s still playing video games!) but the power supply on the one that I found in the local electronics store was wrong for France. Still a fan of birthday cards, I found two which felt suitable. One I had the brothers all sign, and the other was for me. In the excitement of the various parties I forgot to give him both of them! They will be sent shortly to him back in Paris, where they will arrive about three weeks late. Ditto my present.
Then there was the birthday treat. I had arranged for us all, me and the four boys, to go to Levi’s Stadium on the Saturday, his birthday, to watch Liverpool play AC Milan. That looked like it would be a real treat for this soccer loving crew. And it was indeed, with the English team winning and our seats giving us a perfect view of the game.
But I had assumed that it was an afternoon game, and it wasn’t. We figured out the week before that by the time the game finished, it would be too late to do the birthday party that we’d been planning on his birthday.
So we belatedly switched the birthday party to the Sunday, creating confusion because it ended up clashing with a party thrown by one of Nick’s less sensitive friends. Whoops! Three things saved the delayed party: Bill Turner’s easy hospitality and great barbecuing, the inflatable dinosaur that Duncan offered Nick for his birthday, and the appearance at the end of the evening of Alban and Christy. They had been out of town for the weekend, but made it anyway, after I left, of course.
Fortunately, even though we had switched the birthday party to the Sunday, we still arranged to eat and hang out after the soccer game. It was his actual birthday after all. And I had a surprise in store for the birthday boy and his brothers. Their cousins Antony and Courtney were in town from San Diego helping her mother celebrate her 75th birthday, and they were going to come visit Nick for his birthday late Saturday. None of the boys knew this, and it was a bit dicey for a while keeping them all together. But it worked.
Everyone was thrilled to bits when they made their appearance. And with each of us settled down with a soft drink, beer or Jameson’s (in a few cases, both the latter: the Jameson’s was gone by the next morning), Antony came up with a great idea: everyone should tell a favorite Nick story. After all, Nick is the kind of guy who has stories to tell and to be told about him.
Duncan broke the ice with a story about an evening’s revelry years back which ended up with him (Duncan) in the drunk tank and Nick in the isolation cell across the corridor! I am trying to remember the details, which were hilarious as Duncan told the story, but failing. There’s definitely some stuff that a dad does not want to hear, let alone retain!
Then Alex regaled us with a story of Nick picking up him and Charlie at the airport about seven years ago, when he was 11 years old, and lighting up a “spliff” on the way home! Help! No-one could remember why neither Marie-Helene nor I was available to pick them up at the airport, but Nick was, as he often was for his little brothers.
Charlie too told us a big brother story, about an evening when Nick lived in the cottage, the separate studio next to our house that was the privileged older child’s residence after 2001. The atmosphere in the house had apparently been so poisonous one evening that Charlie had sought refuge with Nick in the studio. The house was that way a lot in our later years together: the poison was the main reason that I moved out. Charlie must have been pretty upset this particular evening, because he recounted that Nick had invited him into the studio, and comforted him, and sung him Hey Jude again and again until he fell asleep.
No-one told a story about his passion for coding, a passion that has continued unabated since about his junior year at Scotts Valley High School, but that’s in the mix too. Nick is pretty much equal parts big brother, coder and party animal.
Here’s my story. It was late on a warm summer evening, and Nick’s heavily pregnant mom and I (she asked me not to use her name) were in our Manhattan apartment watching a movie on TV, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” when she had a sudden craving for mangoes. I don’t know how we had them – they weren’t an everyday menu item – but we did, and she devoured them greedily. Then she started complaining about cramps, and maybe an hour later unapologetically threw up the mangoes in our bed. Arlo Guthrie kept playing, but I was beginning to realize something was happening here, Mr. Jones.
The law firm where I began my career, Kronish Lieb et. al., now Cooley’s New York office, offered its associates a good limo service, and we were soon belting up Manhattan in one of those limos. Dr. Mary Wilson, the mother-to-be’s obstetrician, was supposed to be near us at St Vincent’s in Greenwich Village (we were living on 14th Street), but of course she already had a delivery in progress at Columbia Presbyterian way uptown. The limo driver was making good time up 6th Avenue and Broadway as Sunshine wailed and howled with increasing frequency laying across the back seat.
He pulled up to one of the hospital entrances with an audible sigh of relief, until he realized that this particular entrance was locked late in the evening. She howled again, and he took off the wrong way on a one-way street to take the shortest route to another entrance. This one was open, and she was given a wheelchair and the two of us were shown promptly into the delivery room. Dr. Wilson showed up not long after.
I’d never experienced anything like it, of course, and I was the dad! Then Nick was there, pretty quickly it seemed to me in my adrenaline haze, and pretty loudly from day one: some things never change! I walked all the way back down Manhattan, over 100 blocks, as the sun rose over the East River. I found a blood opal ring somewhere on the Upper East Side for the new mom, although how I ended up that far off the straight line home is beyond me, and completely lost my sense of time and distance in the beautiful skyscraper morning. We had a dark-haired, brown-eyed baby boy!
Thirty years ago. Happy birthday, Nico, and thanks forever to your mom.