Relay: Happy Birthday, Baby!

It was a big present for a big, round-number birthday

The message on the iPhone was from my son-in-law, a wildlife biologist who spends his days worrying about biodiversity, habitat, and endangered creatures in the farther reaches of Washington State, and rarely if ever emails or texts  unless I’ve written first, which I had.

“Jeff!!” I messaged him on May 29. “We have sent Julia’s birthday present, which will be delivered on June 1 by FedEx. If at all possible can you please somehow intercept the package and hide it away till June 15? No signature required for delivery so maybe you’ll find it on the porch who knows. XX”

“Consider it done,” he replied.

 It was a big present for a big, round-number birthday — a rose-gold, latest-version, Apple iPad with gigabytes up to here. We’d been puzzling over what to get her, until one day, in the wake of the United Airlines insanity where they physically hauled a man off a full plane for refusing to give up his seat to an airline employee, somebody wrote on Facebook that he’d just cut his Chase/United credit card in half.

I had that same card. I decided at once that I’d do that too. It wasn’t the same as picketing with the crowds in front of Trump Tower, but hey, you get to a Certain Age and you protest where you can.

Here now is what happened. While deleting the card, which I’d had for four or five years, from the computer, United’s “MileagePlus Service Center” page popped up, the first time ever. Lo and behold, I had amassed 110,000 miles! Who knew, who ever even bothers to know, when mileage upgrades, as The New York Times reported on Sunday, are almost unheard of today — a remnant of the distant past, unless you’re an airborne jewel of platinum or diamond status.

Eureka! The “service center” turned out to be a Manhasset Miracle Mile, with page after page of temptations, from a field box to see the Toronto Blue Jays play the Cleveland Indians for 10,000 miles, to, you guessed it, a rose-gold, bells-and-whistles-loaded, Apple iPad for 96,000. Plus tax, it left me with 604 miles that I will never use.

June 1 arrived. “Interception Day!” I texted. “Ball is in your court!”

“I won’t let you down,” he promised.

June 10. “The day approaches. Did the Box arrive?”

“It arrived and was intercepted before she could see it.”

Then, on Monday, Jeff called. He’d opened the brown shipping carton, he said, sounding strangled; removed the Apple box inside, wrapped it up in birthday paper, and left it downstairs atop a pile of other presents — visible from outside through a glass pane in the front door. He was working in the basement when he thought he heard footsteps above, but did not go up to check. 

Did I say the front door was unlocked?

Portland, Ore., where they live, is supposed to be low on the crime scale, but someone had walked into the house and taken the first thing they saw, ignoring everything underneath. He’d called the police, Jeff said, who came and said he was “probably out of luck.” 

It was not a happy day.

Sometime later, Julia, who was at work, got a call from someone in the neighborhood whom she’d never met, asking whether she’d left her house a while before carrying a package, and driven off. 

“No. Why?”

This neighbor said she happened to be looking out her window and saw a woman going from house to house along the block, trying every door. She called her son over, she said, and they watched as the woman slipped inside and left a moment later with the box. Mother and son hurried out, she said, and “stood and stared,” and the thief saw them seeing her, dropped the package, ran to a car, and fled.

At 6 that evening the neighbor appeared at the door and handed over the birthday box. “I was still stunned,” Julia said. 

They gave her a fine bottle of Willamette Valley pinot noir, and are thinking of installing a keypad lock. 

Happy birthday, baby.


Irene Silverman is The Star’s editor at large.