Birthday Buddies

me in my Yankees uniformToday is my birthday.

Like many of you, at some times in my life, I have looked up who else shares my birthday.

The names you find online are, of course, famous folks.  A part of me must have once believed that by some astrological magic we would share some characteristics.

Today is also the birthday of NY Yankee great Mickey Mantle.  I may have worn #7 as a young baseball player (everyone wanted that jersey but a kind-hearted coach let me have it because of the birthday connection) and I did usually get put into the outfield like Mickey, but I was no Bronx Bomber at the plate.  (More of a Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto.)

I do have a bad knee and back like Mickey, but luckily no drinking or liver problems.

NY Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez not only shares October 20 with me but was born the same year!

I was not a good first baseman, but my older son was a great one. Are there astrological genes? As a lifelong NY Yankees fan, it was impossible for me to be a Mets fan. Though they never posed a threat to the Yanks, they were in the local news and on TV all through my New Jersey childhood.

I did love Keith’s appearances on Seinfeld as himself. “I’m Keith Hernandez!” he declares after a moment of self-doubt.

Viggo/Aragorn
Viggo as Aragorn

I don’t see myself as all that similar to Viggo Mortensen who is an actor, author, musician, photographer, poet, and painter. Although in my own small ways I do work in all those fields.

I’m certainly not like his Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. But I do like many of his films, most recently two that he got Academy Award nominations for in Captain Fantastic (2016) and Green Book (2018).

Viggo founded the Perceval Press to publish the works of little-known artists and authors. Maybe I should contact my birthday buddy about my poetry manuscript. Unfortunately, they are not accepting submissions right now. Okay, I’m patient. I do like the name of his press. Perceval was the original hero in the Grail quest tales, before being “replaced” in later English and French literature by Galahad.

The late Tom Petty was a great singer, songwriter and guitarist who has the same birthday and was only a few years older than me.

I do play guitar (though I often refer to myself as a “guitar owner” rather than as a “guitarist”) but not at a level anywhere near Tom.

But I do like Tom Petty’s music.

Sir Christopher Wren, portrait c.1690 by John Closterman

As a young teen, I wanted to be an architect in the Frank Lloyd Wright style. I did some reading and came across Sir Christopher Wren who was born on October 20 way back in 1632.

He was an English anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist, but is best known as an architect.

He was responsible for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666. His masterpiece is  St. Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710. He caught a chill on a trip to London in February 1723 and died a few days later.

His remains were placed in the south-east corner of the crypt of St Paul’s (beside his daughter, sister and her husband. There is a plain stone plaque marking his resting place. But the inscription is also found on a circle of black marble on the main floor beneath the center of the dome. It reads:

“ SUBTUS CONDITUR HUIUS ECCLESIÆ ET VRBIS CONDITOR CHRISTOPHORUS WREN, QUI VIXIT ANNOS ULTRA NONAGINTA, NON SIBI SED BONO PUBLICO. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE Obijt XXV Feb: An°: MDCCXXIII Æt: XCI. ”

I wouldn’t mind such a tribute after I am gone – though I’ll pass on the Latin, which translates as “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 91.

In high school, I discovered that I shared a birthday with composer Charles Ives. I had never heard of him and was not much of a classical music listener. I found his records in that section of my town library but it turned out that Ives was an American modernist composer of experimental music. I listened to it and started to enjoy it and learned a bit about polytonality, tone clusters, and quarter tones – all of which I have mostly forgotten.

My favorite Ives back then was “Central Park in the Dark.” It is a mostly quiet piece and a bit creepy – like my impression at that time of the real Central Park at night. He first titled it “A Contemplation of Nothing Serious or Central Park in the Dark in ‘The Good Old Summer Time'” (good title change, Charles). This 1906 piece and his “The Unanswered Question” were tone poems to me as a teenager and I wrote some quite pretentious poetry based on his work.

I was pleased when I went off to college and got more serious about writing to discover that there were some poets who were birthday buddies.

Robert Pinsky was Poet Laureate of the U.S. (1997-2000) and is not only also a Jersey kid like me but also attended Rutgers as I did.

He’s a Jersey Shore kid (Long Branch) and I read his poetry before I knew that we shared a birthday. He is 13 years my senior, but I found some connections to my own life and work in his writing.

The first time I met him, I mentioned our shared birthday and he said, “And Mickey Mantle and Rimbaud!”

Rimbaud at 17The French poet Arthur Rimbaud (pronounced ræmˈbo)  was a libertine, restless soul, who had an at-times-violent romantic relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine.

As a poet, he was known as a Symbolist. His most famous work is A Season in Hell, which I bought and read, but didn’t really connect with as a young poet.

I read recently that Rimbaud has become the “Jim Morrison of poets” due to fans visiting his grave in a little cemetery in northern France and making it a kind of shrine (as fans have done with rock singer/poet Morrison in Paris).

Sadly, what appealed to me more about Rimbaud in those college days was that he seemed to be alone and unhappy which was a periodic state for me back then which I misunderstood as being literary and Romantic states of being.

I’m sure it would really piss off Arthur to know that near his grave you can buy Rimbaud plates, mugs, Rimbaud’s terrine, honey and confit, Arthur’s vintage craft beer cider, juice, lemonade or cola. Escape to Paris and you can stay at the Best Western Hôtel Littéraire Arthur Rimbaud with a framed poem in your room. Truly a season in Hell.

Rimbaud’s affair with Verlaine ended after Paul left his wife and child for Rimbaud and then shot Arthur (not fatally) when he tried to end their affair. Rimbaud left for Paris then traveled the world, fought as a mercenary on Java (now Indonesia), worked as an explorer and trader in Ethiopia and Yemen, and finally returned to France when he was struck by cancer that took his left leg and his life. He died at the age of 37 with only his sister at his side.

If you do a search for October 20 or your birthday on Wikipedia, you will turn up a long list of people that share your birthday and also events in history. Unless you are a believer in astrology, I don’t think you’ll find answers to your life’s mission by finding out who shares your birthday. I hand picked ones from the long list that I felt some kinship with, but there are many more that I feel no connection to via our shared day of birth. Still, it was a fun journey.

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Ken

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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