I was born 38-years ago today. That’s 13,880 days or 1,982 weeks. Or simply put, a long time ago.
Richard Nixon was president, gas cost 42-cents a gallon, segregation was legal nine years earlier and the Godfather Part II won the Academy Award. Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s home run record, Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was published, the Watergate scandal is broken by the Washington Post and the Rubik’s Cube was released for the first time.
I share a birthday with Saddam Hussein (1937), President James Monroe (1758), writer Harper Lee (1926), comedian Jay Leno (1950), my buddy John Wormdahl (1976), golfer John Daly (1966), the ugliest man in the NBA Chris Kaman (1982) and I am the exact age as Penelope Cruz.
Benito Mussolini was executed on the 28th (1945), Maryland became the seventh state to ratify the Constitution (1788), the munity on the Bounty occurred (1789) and I got royally drunk on my 21st birthday in Reno (1995).
As days go there are a lot worse.
My mother gave birth to me in El Cajon California. Her name is Kathy. El Cajon is in the eastern part of San Diego and it is where she grew up. My father is a doctor and his name is Richard. I never knew why I was born where I was but I do remember my father telling me that he ate a huge steak dinner after I was born. For whatever reason, I have always associated a child’s birth as an excuse to eat a ribeye.
I spent the first eight years of my life bouncing around California and Washington DC before my parents settled in Las Vegas in 1983. I spent grades fourth through high school in the western part of Las Vegas reading comics, watching movies, playing soccer, exploring abandoned desert lots, hiding from the heat of the Southern Nevada and doing everything you did in the various towns you grew up in. The only difference being is that I could see the Strip from my front door and you probably couldn’t.
I am fortunate to have three siblings that I am incredibly close with and love unconditionally: my sister, Tee, and brothers, Mike and Pat. Those years wallowing in Vegas were a blast furnace that cemented my relationship with my siblings. I might have been deprived of a healthy adolescence growing up in Las Vegas but I was lucky enough to double down on having three of the greatest playmates.
I graduated high school in 1992 and went to the University of Nevada Reno for college. Without a doubt, the four and a half years I spent at UNR are the best days of my life. I wrote a weekly column for the student newspaper for four years, Raskin’s Rhetoric, played rugby, caused havoc, got drunk, tried to get laid, ran for student body president and learned how to be a man. Best of all, I met my best friend Fitz Whaley.
Fitz was living on the same floor of Lincoln Hall my first year and we became fast friends because we both liked the same girl. For whatever reason, we became fast friends and inseparable companions. There was an expression that there were no benefits in knowing Ben and Fitz. No one person has ever shaped my world view more than Fitz Whaley. He was a good friend, trusted confidant, loyal partner in all crimes, great travelling companion and the world’s best drinking partner. He tolerated my pussyfooting and I endured his bravado. If I had one suggestion for any freshman entering college it would be to meet your Fitz Whaley. You’ll never regret spending the next four years of your life with him.
After college, I detoured back to Las Vegas after a stint at the Nevada State Legislature. In Vegas, I went blue collar and worked as an electrician for a couple of years. I split time between construction sites and playing men’s rugby with the Las Vegas Blackjacks. I was living with my mother and pretty much spinning my wheels. I was taken care of but not happy. It wasn’t until I was invited to move to Salt Lake City with a friend that I knew that I had to make a break with the daily drone I was enduring.
I moved to SLC in 1998 and discovered home. I didn’t know it at the time but Utah was where I wanted to live. Like most transplants, I found the liquor laws obnoixious, the politics ridiculous and the environment amazing. If the Great Salt Lake was a freshwater body of water, property would be more expensive than Santa Barbara.
I became a bartender not out of necessity but opportunity. I got a chance to sling drinks at Gastronomy and haven’t looked back in 12 years. I know I am decent at my job but not the best. To be the best I would have to apply my trade in a variety of markets. Sort of a have gun will travel. Because of this, I have taken jobs throughout Salt Lake to be the resident gunslinger. Some were good and a bad. In the end, I learned to become a gunslinging bastard behind the bar and it has been good to me. I am lucky to both like my trade and be good at it. Even though the liquor laws are horrible in the state pouring drinks in Salt Lake has been the best experience. I have learned to master both the slow play behind the bar and the chest squeezing rush of gunslinging. I might not be the best bartender in town but I like to think my name is in the conversation.
The best part of bartending in Utah wasn’t the 2002 Winter Olympics. It wasn’t the after-shift parties, free Jazz tickets and meeting some of the coolest people in town. The single best part of becoming a bartender in Utah was the chance encounter to meet Erin almost nine years ago. Kind of like my dad dating my mother who is a nurse, I met my girlfriend years ago when she was my cocktail waitress and we hit it off. Would I have met her if we weren’t working at the same place at the same time? Maybe but I have never been happy to exploit a chance encounter more than the first time I met Erin. Kinda like Fitz—when you meet an Erin don’t ask any questions. Just have the wherewithal to recognize a gift horse when presented to you and go with it.
That is our truncated story. If you want anymore, you’re going to have to buy me a beer and ask for details. Even after a couple of steins, I don’t think I would want to share our story.
Since meeting Erin, we’ve bought a house, opened a bar, gone on vacations, adopted three dogs, meet great friends, gotten older, fought, made up and etched out a living for ourselves. Is it the best? Maybe not but it is a Hell of a lot better than the years before we were together. Ask me to trade it for anything and I would decline. There is nothing of worth that can match the time that I have spent with her.
I think the last six months of my life have the best. I finally found my groove at Keys On Main. I fell into a comfortable writing schedule for my blog, got hired as a stringer for the Salt Lake Tribune and started a podcast. My blog and podcast is getting great traction but more than that, I feel really proud of my contribution to the conversation in Salt Lake. I might consider myself to be a Nevadan but I appreciate that I am cog (albeit small) part of Utah’s counterculture. There is no better way to get an inflated sense of self-worth than hosting a podcast. I’m sure that is how Mussolini felt moments before the noose was thrown around his neck.
So, here I am at age 38. I look like a 250-pound bag of wet bar towels, smell like Ron Jeremy and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since getting food poisoning. I drink too much, can’t deny any place in town with a decent chili dog and haven’t been to the gym in three months. Still, I have a bit of Lou Gehrig when I think of the life I lead. Is 38 going to be better than 28? Maybe but frankly I don’t give a hoot. The best years of your life are the ones you have your paws around and from where I am sitting I have the best paws in the world.
Saddam Hussein might have blown candles out the same time I might have but that means next to nothing. Age is what you make of it. I have been fortunate to be with those that take care of me and if there is anything better than that I would like to know about it. I would just like to meet Penelope Crus and tell her to knock it off with the birthday hijinks.
Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his podcast, the SLCPubCast on iTunes. All though he would try, he would probably act weird around Penelope Cruz.