It is a beautiful late summer night on a rooftop in New York City, and I am surrounded by close friends at my 30th birthday. All night, I bound from conversation to conversation never really feeling like I get to spend enough time with any one person. Then IT happens.
Suddenly everyone around me is quiet, I turn and there is Emily; looking beautiful and holding a cake. The crowd parts between us as the light from the candles illuminates her face; she’s smiling widely. On the cake, “Happy Birthday Zac!” Surrounded by small candles. Two large candles one shaped like a three and one like a zero.
In unison the crowd starts to sing “Happy Birthday,” and gazing through a slightly drunken haze I see those numbers clearly for the first time and it hits me. Whoa. I’m 30.
A few weeks earlier I dropped off a bunch of MiniDV tapes to get transferred onto a hard drive; they were tapes I had kept since forever in a Clementines box, and I had no idea what was on them. I hoped it would be footage I shot in high school of the Richie Castellano School of Acting in mid-swing. You know, the acting classes he gave before he got sued by 25 people and went to jail. (That’s another story.)
A few days before my birthday party the hard drive was ready. I plugged it into my computer. It whirred to life. An icon popped onto my desktop. I clicked it. Ten video files. One by one, they came to life.
A freshman NYU project about a breakup. Ugh. Click.
A late night interview with an old roommate. Haven’t spoken in years. I should call him.
A younger version of myself. My eyebrow ring. Yikes. Click faster.
An ex-girlfriend. Click.
A Civil War movie I edited. I could never get that one quite right, could I?
Last clip. An old friend and I playing video games. We have since fallen out of touch. Click.
None of the high school Castellano footage I was looking for. Nothing I had expected or wanted to see. I ejected the hard drive.
I didn’t plug it in for a couple of weeks, but the second time I did, I had a different reaction. Maybe it was that I knew what to expect; maybe it was that I was in a better mood, but this time a grin crept across my face.
My old dorm room. The view from my window. A John Coltrane poster. An old alarm clock.
The forgotten film projects were better than I remember. (Not good, but not horribly embarrassing as my memory had preserved them.) I was suddenly very glad to have these moments preserved. Maybe I should have even shot more.
Back at the party with that flaming “30” headed right toward me. No escaping it now. I take a deep breath, glance around the party, think about how lucky I am, and I blow the candles out.
A grainy image of myself. Sitting in my dorm room. Looking at something above the camera. Laughing about it with friends. My face is thinner and my hair is fuller. I look happy.
What happened to that T-shirt? A soft dark blue with the MGM lion mid-roar.
That was a great T-shirt.