Birthday presence—food, music and baseball
My birthday has always been in May. Every year of my life. All 54 of them. I’m not totally sure of that number, but I know it’s been at least 54.
I have eaten dinner at Tommy’s on Coventry on my birthday for, I believe, 42 of the past 46 years.
One birthday that really stands out in my memory was the one in 1978, when a woman I was dating at the time convinced Tommy Fello to sell her an entire restaurant-size Cherry Cheese Pie—my favorite dessert for many years—which she presented to me for a birthday present. I took it home and didn’t share it with anyone, not even that kind, thoughtful woman (I lived alone, which made that easier), and I ate the entire, enormous Cherry Cheese Pie. In two sittings, in a two-day period. I kept thinking, while I was indulging in that exercise of gluttony, that I would really regret consuming so much of it in such a short amount of time. But I was wrong. I didn’t. I felt great afterward. And back then, in an era during which I was super-skinny, I remained so, even after ingesting so many calories, carbs, fat grams and whatever else.
My mother was well known among her family and friends for several things, two of which were her cooking and baking, and her imaginative creation of themed birthday cakes. The first one I can remember was for my fifth birthday: a sheet cake on top of which was a complicated, and mostly edible, playground scene. And then my birthday party took place at a playground—the one that was in the section of Forest Hills Park on Superior Road, at the north end of the street where I grew up, Belmar.
And, for some reason, I remember that my main birthday present that year, when I turned 5, was a record album I had actually asked for—Rossini’s William Tell Overture, That was the last year of my life that I didn’t want rock or folk records. I knew the music because it was the theme from "The Lone Ranger" TV series, but I wanted to really hear the music—all of it, and without the narration over it. (Narrator: "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty, 'Hi Yo Silver!' The Lone Ranger!" The Lone Ranger’s voice: "Hi Yo Silver, away!" Narrator: "With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!")
Another unforgettable birthday was just five years ago, 2014, when I went to the Cleveland Indians game (and, by the way, there were no Cleveland Indians named Tonto). The game started at noon. It had rained all night and all morning before the game, and it rained again after the game, but it had miraculously turned sunny and 75 degrees by the time the game started, and it stayed that way for the whole game. And when I say the whole game, I mean, all five and a half hours of it.
This was the third game of a three-game series with the first-place Detroit Tigers. The Indians had lost a bunch of games before this series, but they had won the first two of this one. We kept giving up runs, but then coming back and tying the score. We were losing in the last half of the 13th inning, when, with two outs and two on, Detroit’s best relief pitcher intentionally walked a batter to load the bases, and then, in the funniest and oddest ending I’ve ever seen, that pitcher, with an injured Asdrubal Cabrera on third base, balked, allowing Cabrera to walk home and score the winning run.
Then we went to Tommy’s for dinner. An Uncle Gay and a Fresh Fruit Freeze for me. Tommy’s no longer offers the Cherry Cheese Pie. But I didn’t need to order dessert there, because my mother had made me a batch of my lifelong favorite cookies—Hurry-Up Butter Cookies, chewy diamond-shaped cookies made of just flour, butter, sugar and lemon juice, with nuts on top. I was not living alone, but I still managed to eat pretty much all of them. And that’s memorable—not that I ate them all, which is, sadly, normal, but that my mother made them, because that was the last time she made them. She moved to a nursing home a year later, where she spent the next four years. She died a couple of months ago. And I do have her cookie recipe, if you’re wondering.
So, anyway, this month, for my birthday, I’ll be back at Tommy’s, as usual.
I’ll probably see you there.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history. If you'd like the recipe for Hurry-Up Butter Cookies, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.