The Birthday Bandits by Desi Roc

Today was his 43rd birthday. “Happy Birthday Dear Armandoooooo. Happy Birthday to youuuuuuu!” Cue obnoxious birthday horn, followed by enthusiastic applause, spirited throwing of confetti and our Saturday evening birthday rendition was complete. By the song’s end, Armando’s face and hands were already covered in the sticky remains of a pink and blue Cotton Candy swirl.

Unlike many people getting on in their years, Armando (somehow thin as a rail) looked forward to his birthday like a sugar hooked kid thirsts for Halloween. It was his favorite day of the year.

I know this because I’d celebrated his last 4 birthdays with him and his family in this very same space. He’d turned 42 less than 6 months ago and 41 a mere 4 months before that. Apparently the Arnez family operated on some type of calendar other than the mostly universally accepted Gregorian one.

The Arnez family was special in that way. Their birthdays didn’t fall annually like the rest of us. They were kind of sporadic, spread randomly across the calendar, and frequently falling multiple times a year. Without fail however, they chose to celebrate every family birthday with us because, (as our owner will not hesitate to remind you) “Every Birthday, no matter your age, deserves a little sugar!”

And a little sugar they got. A 2-foot high basin worth of cotton candy, filled far beyond the brim with what I promise you is the most elaborate combination of sugar and colors that one can find in North America. This heavenly basin was now being devoured by Armando and the rest of the Arnez’s…and me, of course. I mean they were my table and it would be impolite to not share in the festivities.

The rest of the crew hung around a bit to socialize with the family, asking what else Armando had planned for this day and if his partner and children had gotten him anything special. He glowed with humility and gratitude.

Yael, who’d just joined our staff somewhere between Armando’s 42nd birthday and his partner Teresa’s 46th, wandered over to where I conspicuously munched with her face contorted into a question mark. She asked what you’ve probably been wondering up until his point. “How in the hell does he pack it away like that and stay so thin?!” Well maybe you weren’t wondering that. “Plus” she continued “Don’t they come here and pull that birthday stint like once a month?” I burst out laughing, completely disregarding the fact that we were on the floor and that patrons were present.

I loved the Arnez’s. We all did. They were everyone’s favorite customers but I too wondered, what made them think for a second that we bought their bogus birthday schedule. “They just love the cotton candy, Yael. And we love them so we don’t question it.”

It was something our owner decided after about two years and 23 birthdays. The Arnez family of five would get “the works”, whenever they dined with us. And on the occasion that they did, someone always seemed to be having a birthday.

Now, without a doubt, the cotton candy is that good and customers have been known to pull some crazy things to get it.  Whipped freshly in our kitchen, we save it specifically for birthdays much to the dismay of graduates, wedding processions and new pet owners. For the Arnez’s however, with their wide smiles, kooky anecdotes and erratic sense of time we always made an exception. “Happy Birthdaaaaaay, to youuuuuuu.”

And many, many, more.