They Say It’s My Birthday

by Tommi Avicolli Mecca on July 25, 2006

Today, Tuesday July 25, I hit the big 55.

I’m not celebrating. Too many candles to put on a vegan carrot cake or a tofu creme supreme. I gave up on parties a long time ago. It’s just another excuse for people to get drunk and rude. Not that there’s anything wrong with getting drunk. Well, maybe for your liver there is.

I’ve had some amazing parties. For my 21st in 1972, a bunch of my activist friends from the Gay Activists Alliance and the Radical Queens (Philly’s first transgender group) threw an incredible bash at Rick’s place. Rick was a “party animal” before that phrase was coined. He never passed up a chance to get as drunk or stoned as a human could possibly be. His apartment was on the top floor of a fourth floor walk-up in the heart of the city. It was the end of July, so of course Philly was in the upper 90s with humidity in the 90 percentile. In those days you swam from place to place. I never minded. I preferred the heat to the bitter cold of Philly winters.

I wasn’t sure what was up. I mean, it was obvious when Rick told me to come around on my birthday that there was going to be a party. When I walked into his place, I was taken aback by how many people he had crammed into that small space. They screamed the obligatory “Surprise!” and then went back to what they had been doing before I got there–mostly getting high and scoping out possible tricks for the night. Some things never change.

Rick encouraged me to have some of the special punch he made just for me. It was the strangest color I had ever seen. Sort of grayish. It tasted good, I had to admit that. But it packed a punch, and before long my head was spinning. I was always a light weight. Two beers and I was wasted. Rick was laughing about how he had poured every liquor and sweetener imaginable into the bowl. Someone passed a joint. Being a foolish soul, I took a few hits. Then I couldn’t move.

The rest of the night is still a blur. Except that I ended up in the bathroom with this guy I had been crushed out on for a long time. I also performed–lip-synching to one of Streisand’s hits. I was doing drag shows at gay bars with the Radicalqueens revue. We were the trashiest drag act around. More like the Cockettes than anything at Finocchio’s.

At some outrageous hour, someone drove me back to my place. I tried to make it all the way without throwing up but when the feeling became overwhelming, I let out a yelp and Nicky pulled over. Most of the stuff made it to the curb.

Thirty five years ago I couldn’t know what lay ahead. AIDS. Most of my friends dying. My move to San Francisco. It’s been a wild ride with few regrets. I wish I had pushed my novel and short stories more with publishers. Fifty-something rejections is not enough. I gave up too easily. I wish I had pursued that dream of being a rock star. There were attempts: the psychedelic group in the early 70s, the two bands in the 80s, the folkie duo in the 90s. Of course, every kid in my generation wanted to be the next John Lennon or David Bowie.

I wish I had wasted less time on electoral politics and spent more on real changes such as living wage, universal healthcare and community land trusts. Social change has been my passion since I was in my late teens and I marched for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. As I look back from the perspective of a middle-aged man, I realize that true social change will not come in this country until one thing is addressed: the unfair distribution of wealth and resources. As long as both are in the hands of the very few, there will be lots of needy people and a middle-class that thinks it has arrived because it has the latest flat-screen TV.

They say we relive our childhoods when we get to my age. I’m looking forward to it. So, don’t be surprised if you see me at an event with guitar in hand looking like an aging folky. And don’t ask for an old favorite. I’m singing my own tunes.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is an aging queer hippie working-class southern Italian activist, performer and writer who hates labels.

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