“You’re lucky I’m not an asshole,” my father said to me on my 21st birthday. “I could have easily blackmailed you by taking some photos.”
Birthdays have always been a strange occasion for me. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had a “bad” one, but it’s difficult to say that I did anything remarkable or memorable.
As I neared my 21st birthday in August, the feeling of actually becoming an adult took over. And it was scary.
Having a summer birthday usually seemed to take away the stress that came with becoming older and gaining more responsibilities. I always appreciated my birthdate — Aug. 18 — because it acted as a good divider between the other major events in the year. It was also a cushion before the new school year began.
The only time I can remember getting emotional on my birthday was when my family visited my aunt and uncle in the Bay Area during the early 2000s.
After enjoying an ice cream cake shaped like a watermelon, I went to bed that night deep in thought. Maybe it was because I had too much dairy or because I really felt upset, but I went to the bathroom to let it pass.
As I sat there hoping the feeling would subside, I suddenly began to cry. Thoughts of death, getting older and becoming an adult crept in my mind. Perhaps it was triggered by the adolescent thrill of eating a fruit-shaped cake that made tears flow. All I know was that I had stayed in the bathroom for a good 20 minutes, sobbing.
Maybe it had to do with me being the baby of the family. I would never complain that my parents looked out for me more than my other siblings and tried extra hard to imprint what was wrong and right in my head. Being the third child, I guess it all came with the territory.
Still, as I got older and more birthdays came and went, the momentous day was marked with pretty reserved celebrations: going to the Mets game, seeing David Beckham play in person, going out for sushi, having my first beer (at least according to my parents’ knowledge).
For my 21st birthday, my parents suggested going to a shuffleboard club in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where I lived. Though I wasn’t opposed to the idea, it didn’t exactly make me giddy to hang out with aging hipsters at a place that literally could only exist in Brooklyn.
As Aug. 1 neared and my time at home and summer job crept closer to the end, I was reminded that I had been summoned for grand jury duty in Downtown Brooklyn.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was a student soon returning to Michigan for the fall semester, so why would I ever get picked? The only concerning thought that came across my mind was that I had to wake up before 9 a.m. to get to the building.
With my paperwork and phone in hand, I slouched down in a seat at the Kings County Court building, waiting for the moment when I finally got to leave and get along with the rest of the month.
As the man in charge asked all students to come up, I assumed I would verify that there would be no way I could stay in Brooklyn long enough for duty, and accordingly, get on with my day.
“Are you in classes right now?” he asked.
“Well, no, but I’m leaving for Michigan on the 20th,” I replied.
“Great, this goes from the fourth to the 15th,” he quipped back.
As I sat back down confused as to what just happened, I began to realize that, shit, I might just get selected for grand jury duty.
As each name was called, my hopes began to rise again that I would not be called. Then it happened.
“Daniel Feldman. Please raise your hand if you’re in the room. Daniel Feldman.”
Slowly, my hand rose.
I wanted to be angry, but what good would that do? I was later told to report back to the building on Monday for orientation.
After never truly experiencing a stressful August day in my life, I suddenly had two weeks full of stress because my weekdays would be spend in court, following by weekends of working at my summer job in a local restaurant.
With that, my early entry into adulthood had begun. Each weekday for two weeks I woke up at 7:30 a.m., prepped my lunch, packed some reading material and workout clothes, then headed to Jay Street to decide whether people should be indicted for a crime.
I won’t lie, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world; albeit the courtroom was as cold as an igloo and the vending machines only carried Classic Lays.
All things considered, it wasn’t a bad way to make an extra $400 for sitting down in a chair and trying not to fall asleep.
As harmless as it turned out to be, my parents still felt guilty that I had to serve jury duty. Even though I was basically being paid to just sit there, my father said he’d give me $100 if I had to sit all 10 days.
I don’t think he understood at that moment how grand jury duty worked but I wasn’t going to argue with two crisp $50 bills.
As my last day of jury duty came to a close, I felt older for some reason.
Maybe it was because of the tragic nature of some cases I saw. Maybe it was because I was among the youngest on the jury, which made me realize I wouldn’t have to do this again for a while. Maybe it was the concept of waking up early, commuting to “work” and riding the train home with the “work crowd.”
Or, you know, maybe it was all just leading up to the relief I felt because I was finally free from responsibility. I could act young again, like a soon-to-be 21-year-old.
With my last of work at the restaurant Sunday, I made plans to go out with my co-workers to celebrate my last shift and my birthday come midnight.
After getting cut around 10 p.m., I rushed home to take a shower and freshen up before hitting the town. As I tied my shoes, my mother walked in half asleep to wish me an early happy birthday. She also gave me the usual “don’t do anything stupid, be safe” speech.
While I took the message to heart, I really had no idea what was going to happen in the next five hours.
After a brief refuge back at the restaurant, we walked to a bar down Flatbush Avenue. With a SixPoint IPA in my possession and my friends gathered around me, we waited for the clock to reach midnight, signaling the beginning of the next stage in my adult life.
As the clock struck double 12s, I immediately yelled out, “Shots!” The next thing I knew a shot glass of whiskey was in my hands with a beer in the other acting as a chaser.
I knew this could mark the beginning of a path towards blacking out, but I couldn’t care less. After a month of acting like an adult in some capacity, I was finally ready to act my age and, well, do something I might regret, but surely remember.
And so the parade of drinks began, with my coworker Juan floating out the crazy idea of hitching a cab to a strip club in Queens at some point during the point of no return.
What did I have to lose?
From the combination of kind of knowing I was at a strip bar and being very drunk, I was very scared, despite my new legal ID, to confront the bouncer at the door. But after my friend Drea yelled for all to hear that it was my 21st birthday, the bouncer immediately let us in. “Have fun,” I remember him whispering.
So I sat at the bar in front of the stage, drinking a beer and watching the show. I would have enjoyed just sitting there taking in the scene, but I was escorted into the side room for, um, VIP service. I don’t really know how to explain a very drunk lap dance, nor do I care to try.
Returning to the bar, I felt pleased but not really sure if I experienced it all the right way. Fortunately, my friends dragged back in there again an hour later, before last call, to go for round two. At the end of it, I wasn’t sure how to handle the payment.
When we finally left the club at 4 a.m. to return to Brooklyn, I felt the most drunk I’d ever been. Walking into the building’s lobby, I approached the doorman, who I’d had many serious, deep conversations about life throughout the summer.
Finally feeling like an adult, I could have easily had a brief but serious conversation with him. Instead, I have no idea what I said.
Just like when I was 10, I found myself back in the bathroom. But this time, it felt good to grow up and embrace what would come next in my life.
Oh yeah, I also passed out next to the toilet.