How film noir made me appreciate my daughter’s birthday celebration even more

My eldest daughter (let’s call her MyED) turned nine yesterday.

I know that MyED turned nine yesterday not only because I was at my wife’s side nine years ago yesterday when MyED was born, but because it is practically all anyone has heard from MyED, since…well, since her younger sister turned seven four months ago.

As a kid, back in the early 1970s, I anticipated each upcoming birthday with a similar fervor. What I don’t recall, however, was beginning to celebrate these birthdays as many as five days before the actual day.

When, exactly, did kid birthday celebrations become so elaborate and drawn out?

Hold on a minute, I hear you saying. Isn’t this blog supposed to be devoted to “data-driven storytelling?”

A fair question. As a general rule, I use data analysis to frame a story in these posts, be it about the “noirness” of Noir City, or where it all went wrong (and sometimes right) for Democrats in 2016, and how post-2005 Doctor Who episodes have been rated, and why Jamie Moyer ABSOLUTELY should be in the baseball Hall of Fame someday.

But I also reserve the right simply to tell a story…to make an interesting connection or two between various elements of my life.

And, by the way, I will sneak some data in here later. Just bear with me.

MyED’s birthday fell on a Tuesday in 2017. However, the first act of celebration was a sleepover (in our home) which began in the early afternoon on Thursday (Spring Break week) and lasted until late Friday afternoon. MyED planned the dinner menu for Thursday night, though my talented and patient wife cooked it. The first round of presents was opened Saturday morning during a special breakfast meal MyED had planned. This round consisted of a “birthday bucket”—analogous to a well-stuffed Christmas stocking (writes the Jewish-raised Agnostic), whose contents were selected by her younger sister and her dad.

Then the four of us trekked to my mother-in-law’s home for a lunch, a cake and the second round of presents. The lunch and cake were scrumptious (cooked and baked by my talented and patient wife), and based (well, not the asparagus) on MyED’s requests.

On the drive to and from “Grandee’s” home, we listened to a 22-track mix—the Birthday CD—I had prepared especially for MyED. Along with the “birthday bucket,” this has become a birthday tradition for both daughters.

And now I will present some data, because I am quite proud of these mixes!

I try to balance songs the relevant daughter would like with an appreciation of musical history. [Seriously, I want to sit both girls in front of School of Rock’s “rock flowchart” scene. I am not quite ready to subject them to all of Ken Burns’ Jazz yet, however.]

MyED’s current favorite musical artists are Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Adele. She likes what she calls “girl singers” and leans toward highly melodic what used to be called “synthpop.”

No complaints there, given my own New Wave proclivities.

But now, kid, let’s meet (or re-meet) some other excellent women in music. Chrissie Hynde. Suzanne Vega. Pat Benatar. Donna Summer. Aretha Franklin. Barbra Streisand (forget the diva nonsense; Streisand can SING). Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks. Gwen Stefani. Terri Nunn. Debbie Harry. Bjork. Dale Bozzio. Alison Moyet. Carol Decker (the lead singer of T’Pau).

My friend from Noir City, the excellent jazz singer Laura Kelly Ellis.

And…before Perry and Swift…there was the great Debbie Gibson.

Overall, 16 of 22 tracks (and 16 of 19 featuring vocals) have a female lead singer.

Being a musical child of the 1980’s, 11 of the CD’s 22 tracks come from that decade. The oldest track was “Symphony #9 In D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral” – 4. Allegro Assai” (i.e., Ode to Joy) by Ludwig von Beethoven, while the second oldest was Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk.” The most recent tracks were Murray Gold’s “Doctor Who XI theme” (2010) and Ellis’ rendition of “Laura” (2011).

Thus, while the average release data was 1977.6 (1984.9 without Mr. Beethoven), the median was 1983.5. Yeah, that sounds like a mix I would put together.

Did I mention the CD closes with The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” (1968)? All 7 minutes and 11 seconds of it. Recorded from vinyl.

All of which brings me back to the ongoing birthday celebration.

Sunday and Monday were relatively quiet on that front.

But yesterday MyED got to celebrate her ACTUAL birthday by…getting a cast put on her left wrist! She had fallen hard off her scooter nine days earlier, and today the orthopedist decided to switch from a heavy splint to a full cast, making MyED deliriously happy.

Seriously, she can’t wait for everyone at school to sign it. [For those keeping score at home, I was the third signer, after MyED’s mother and sister].

Once she returned home from Boston Children’s Hospital, however, there was a third (but not final—we anticipate more arriving in the mail) round of presents to open. And then the four of us went out to a delicious feast at MyED’s favorite Mexican restaurant, bringing these five days of celebration to a close.

While I might sound like I am being a curmudgeon, kvetching about “these darned kids today” with their iPads and their Kids YouTube…and while my wife and I spent a lot of time shaking our heads about contemporary birthday culture…and observing that there might be just a bit of overkill here…and dreading the post-birthday emotional hangover (from BOTH daughters)…that is neither my intention nor my point.

Here is the point.

Readers of this blog know that as a rabid fan of film noir, I am constructing a massive database of published film noir lists. Besides providing fodder for ongoing data analysis, this database provides a checklist of titles I have not yet seen (I have only seen 550 [11.5%] of the 4,803 films in the database).

This is how I came to watch Nora Prentiss (1947; 20 LISTS, 22 POINTS) over the weekend.

I will spare you a full plot synopsis, but there is one scene of particular relevance to discuss.

In the film, Dr. Talbot, a respected doctor held to a rigid schedule by his wife (who clearly has Daddy issues), happens to go off schedule one night. As a result, he is on the scene to treat the titular Nora Prentiss after she is hit by a car across from the building housing his practice. The two ultimately have an affair, inexorably leading Dr. Talbot to lose track of his wife and two children—and his well-regulated life.

One child is his daughter “Bunny,” who turns 16 about halfway through the film. It is clear from their morning interaction that her father has completely forgotten it is his daughter’s birthday. A rather opulent birthday celebration takes place that evening, except that her father neglects to attend much of the party. But for the fact that he and Nora have a fight, he would not have appeared at all. Luckily, his wife intercepts him as he is entering the house to slip him a wrapped present (“exactly what I wanted, Daddy, thank you!”), somewhat redeeming her churlish and distant behavior toward him for much of the first half of the movie.

The ending of Nora Prentiss is one of the bleakest and most intriguing in the classic film noir canon, but it is this scene—a father completely forgetting his own daughter’s birthday party—that continues to haunt me.

And it is exactly why, for all of my mumbled grumbling about “these endless birthdays,” I secretly loved every minute of it.

Now, let me just get some rest before my youngest daughter’s birthday in eight months!

Until next time…

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