Ryan’s youngest son Rory sent him a text from his upstate college.
“Happy Birthday, Dad, hope you have a great one. Love you.”
Ryan texted back, “Thanks, but I gave birthdays up for Lent this year. So, your old man will not be an older old man.”
Rory replied, “Last year you said you gave up giving thing up for Lent — for Lent. For good. Lol.”
“Good. That’s why I’m driving Anthony’s car up to see you tomorrow. To take you out for lunch — for my birthday. Tell your buddies we’ll go to the Italian joint near school.”
Anthony is the father of two of Rory’s classmates at the upstate college on the glittering Hudson.
But first Ryan had to see his other adult kids and grandkids scattered around the city.
He took the LIRR into Manhattan and boarded the slowest subway line in the MTA system called the R train from Penn Station all the way out to the last stop of 95th Street in Bay Ridge in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge. The R-train’s glacial slide — you couldn’t call it a ride — took about an hour, stopping almost as often as a city bus. The R train is so slow that most riders pack lunch or stretch out for power naps. Ryan thought this train should have been eligible for Medicare and an MTA half-fare card by the time it wheezed to the last stop.
Ryan detrained and climbed the stairs where he met his youngest daughter Frances and granddaughter Lilah, age nine, in a great pizza joint called Nino’s on Third Avenue.
Ryan gorged himself on Grandma slices and read the funny and touching birthday cards and ate half the bag of jelly beans Lilah gave him for his birthday.
They weren’t done fattening Ryan up yet, as they invited him back to their apartment for a cup of tea, and next he knew, they were marching an ice-cream cake with flaming candles toward him.
Lilah helped him blow out the candles. She didn’t help Ryan eat the two hunks of cake plopped on his plate. Pizza, jellybeans, and ice-cream cake made him feel his age.
He didn’t have a car, so he couldn’t swing out to see his older son Seamus and his son Donovan in Marine Park. They promised to catch up soon. Thank God, Ryan thought. Another slice of cake and he’d need to take an ambulette home.
The next day, Anthony arrived outside his door in his brand-new Audi and asked Ryan to drive north for the birthday lunch with his youngest son Rory and Anthony’s kids and their other pal, John.
Ryan drove the LIE to the Cross Island to the Throgs Neck Bridge and then headed north on the Hutchinson State Parkway to Route 684.
Driving the Audi, he felt like Aladdin on his magic carpet; a machine so quiet, it was creepy. Somehow, the speedometer is superimposed in a digital specter in middle space. Ryan saw it hit 80 in a 65-mph zone and the car didn’t so much as jolt.
He slowed to 70, gliding to the Italian restaurant in the upstate town.
The four sophomores were already waiting, on their second basket of bread and olives, ready to eat their menus.
Ryan embraced his boy who’d become a man in two years, standing six-foot tall and with a growth of beard, his voice as deep as the sparkling Hudson that was visible through the big clean windows.
Anthony ordered appetizers — fried calamari, clams casino, Hudson Valley meatballs, beers, wine, and more bread and olives. Ryan didn’t drink an adult beverage because he’d be driving back home.
The kids laughed and joked, each one more educated and full of 21st-Century slang, marveling that in a month they’d already have two years of college under their belts.
After the appetizers and bread, here came the entrées, salmon and swordfish, chicken parm and spaghetti, and penne a la vodka.
The kids talked about how they would spend their summers, seeking internships or straight-up summer jobs. They chatted about friends they missed back home, and how they would soon be able to legally imbibe in local watering holes that had occasionally over-served their parents.
Mercifully, no singing waiters arrived with a slice of birthday cake. It just doesn’t occur to guys unless it’s to break chops.
No one even ordered dessert.
In the parking lot, Rory hugged Ryan goodbye, whispering a “Happy Birthday, Daddio,” in his father’s ear.
Ryan drove south to the city when Anthony pulled out the bag of assorted Hershey chocolates. “C’mon, chocolate is good for ya. Eat the dark ones. Good for your heart.”
Ryan ate the dark ones. And half the milk chocolates too.
Two hours later, they were home.
That night, Ryan stumbled in a sugar rush and fell from the Verrazano Bridge into a giant vat of bubbling chocolate. He awoke with a start, the caffeine from the chocolates short-circuiting his sleep.
Saturday was already planned out, another LIRR into Manhattan to have a birthday lunch at his eldest daughter Bridget’s home, where he’d babysit his granddaughter, Ruby, four-going-on-40, and Lilah, who was visiting for a sleepover, while Bridget and her husband, Jon, had some rare, kid-free time to themselves.
Jon cooked and Bridget served quiche, pepperoni, soppressata, and then the main course of mashed garlic potatoes, chicken, and peas.
Then Ruby switched off all the lights and Bridget and Lilah and Ruby marched in with a buttercream chocolate cake with flaming candles, which the kids helped Pop Pop blow out. They did not help him eat a hunk of birthday cake the size of a cornerstone in a public building.
Then the two grandkids grabbed Ryan by the hand, leading him down to a playground, where they helped Pop Pop burn off his cake calories for two solid “no-cell-phone-allowed” hours.
This kind of getting old will never get old, Ryan thought. Next year he decided he was giving up sugar for Lent, which might gift him a few more birthdays for his birthday.