When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.- Mark Twain
I know celebrating a birthday is a bourgeois idea. But in a capitalist society we desperately seek ways to maintain a sense of identity and purpose. Once a year we want people to remember us as individuals even though we need to see ourselves as part of larger communities.
Well January 30 is my birthday. I was born in 1940, a year before the United States formally entered World War II, and nine months before Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his third term as president.
Ever since I was a kid I knew I was connected to the personage of FDR because WE HAD THE SAME BIRTH DATE! This connection was formalized in 1942 when an aunt of mine who had been the press agent of "fan dancer" Sally Rand in the 1930s got a picture of me dressed in a soldier suit in the old Chicago Sun. The picture showed me in uniform, celebrating my birthday the same day President Roosevelt was celebrating his.
In another Chicago paper a whole story connected me with the President:
"PATRIOT 2, HOLDS SOLDIERLY BIRTHDAY
This is the birthday of the president of the United States and it is also the birthday of Harry Targ 2....Harry, with some help friom his elders, is to have a special kind of birthday party, for which he has organized what he calls the Junior Soldiers Corps..."
So I grew up pridefully connecting myself to this great President. Probably my aunt's efforts to give this 2 year old some visibility shaped my political consciousness and self-concept. (Unfortunately when I showed the picture and story to my draft board in the 1960s arguing that I had already worn the uniform of the United States army back in 1942 my appeal for deferment based on prior service was denied).
All was well with my self-concept until the new century when trivial information became more readily available to us all. I was able to google birth dates and their significance. I discovered two that were very troubling. First, on January 30, 1933 President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany. And if that wasn't bad enough, I discovered that former Vice President Dick Cheney was born on January 30, 1941.
So this year I celebrate my birthday confused and dismayed. Maybe in the end I need to come to grips with the fact that celebrating birthdays is at best frivolous and at worst depressing.