A week before Kirk’s birthday I had bought and stashed away a new pair of boardshorts for him. Hiding with the shorts in the top cabinet of our wardrobe was a box of cake mix, a bag of sprinkles and twenty-six candles – a pair of them actually being the obnoxious candle numbers “2” and “6”. Kirk knew I was going to make him a cake, but he didn’t know what kind or that there were candles. I was trying to keep whatever I could a surprise. I knew that he suspected the boardshorts so I went to great lengths to remain ambiguous about the cake. I bet the preparation of the whole endeavor amused me even more than it did him.

We had a jam-packed day scheduled. Not even allowed to sleep in, I had breakfast ready for Kirk at 7:30AM. Some mild misfortune had us planning the day around getting Kirk’s laptop into NextByte yet again (yes, the newly replaced logic board wasn’t exactly living up to expectations), however this wasn’t to spoil the day. If anything, it provided the impetuous for birthday carpe diem. After bacon & egg croissants, fruit and hash browns, we tugged on wetsuits and headed out for our early surf date we had planned with Stacey. I know Stacey because she works at the surfboard shop right next to Ash’s Table. Friends in high places? Mm, yes. We got to take out a couple of boards for a spin on the house. Stacey plucked a bright yellow 7-foot longboard from the racks for her and me to share. Basically a log raft, longboards are the easiest board to learn to ride. Kirk selected for himself a 6-foot fish-style board. Wide at the middle with a swallow-tail end, a ‘fish’ is great for catching waves easily but also cranking out the turns once you’re up. His daily practice over the past month has caused him to outgrow his current board and triggered the itch to move to a shorter board. This surf session would serve as a great test run for him on a more challenging board.

We grabbed the boards, crossed the street to the beach, and paddled out through the whitewater. Only a handful of surfers bobbed in the clear, green-blue sea. The waves were sizable, but mercifully spaced out for the more-or-less beginner in the midst, yours truly. Or so I thought. If you’re not paying attention, a wall of water can come from nowhere. “Here we go!” yelled Stacey. CRASH! then THUNDER came the wave, a five-foot high body slam. Then and there I decided to try the grab-n-roll method of evasion. First, grab the rails (sides) of your board. Second, roll upside down, so you’re “hanging” from your board, serving as a weight to keep it just below the crashing wave. If all goes well, the wave should pass right over you like a cumulous cloud floats by in the sky. I gave it a whirl, and it actually worked! I popped back up unscathed. A bit more wave dodging, and we were out past the breakwater.

Paddle, float, paddle, CATCH THE WAVE! fall, crash, paddle out again. Stacey and I passed the longboard leash back and forth, taking turns. I stood up on a couple of rollers, and even rode down the face of one! Kirk ripped it up on his fish. Despite the skills discrepancy between us, we managed to paddle for a few waves together.

Just like that, it was time to get out, clean up and get to Sydney. At the Manly wharf we bought day transit passes which allowed us unlimited rides on buses, trains and ferries. Once arriving at Circular Quay, we dropped off Kirk’s laptop to be fixed. With our single obligation fulfilled, it was time to relax. We hopped on a train that took us across the harbour bridge to Milson’s Point. Underneath the bridge supports stretched a couple acres of nice green lawn. We found a spot in the shade and spread out the beach towel. We talked, soaked up the sun and played a couple hands of cribbage.

Mid-afternoon we caught the Milson’s Point ferry back across the harbour to the CBD. When visiting Sydney with his family four years ago, Kirk had walked past a particular bar that caught his eye. Since then he wished he could have gone in, but didn’t think he’d ever get the chance. With only a faint idea of it’s relative location – “I think it’s that way,” Kirk said, pointing vaguely southeast – we went on a mission to find it. Surprisingly after only retracing one block, we found it. It was the Customs House Bar, nestled on a small diagonal street across from a stamp-sized park.

Kirk had a Boag’s Premium, and I a cappuccino. Because it was only late afternoon on a Thursday, the bar wasn’t quite as Kirk had remembered it – bustling, lively, musical. That was alright, we might try it again another day.

Finished with our drinks, we moved on to our final port of call for the evening. Kirk’s parents so kindly gave him $100 to have dinner in Darling Harbour for his birthday. It was still early to eat, so we grabbed a tiny table at the Tokio Hotel and took advantage of the drink specials. Here in Australia, bars are very often called “hotels” which can become confusing when you’re jetlagged off the plane just trying to find a place to sleep, or contrarily, you’ve got a buzz on and keep bypassing the bar, thinking it’s an accommodation establishment.

The sun baked us as it crept slowly lower in the sky. We drank a few $3.50 Toohey’s Extra Drys, and then decided to move on to mixed drinks. Kirk wanted a caipirinha (kah-PREEN-ya) if they had Cachaça (kah-SHA-sah). I ventured to the bar to find out. I ordered a rum & coke and asked about the Cachaça. The bartender went on a hunt at the other end of the bar dusting off bottles – kidding – and discovered the Cachaça. He held up his found treasure to me, and I gave him an “OK!” to make the drink. Then, he cracked open the recipe book. Uh oh.

Five minutes later, he came back with the caipirinha. “Nineteen dollars, fifty.” WHAT? So much for taking advantage of the specials. “ASK how much it’s going to cost before you order it!” a mildly exasperated Kirk scolded me. It was a good drink though, in my opinion.

On to dinner. Circling Darling Harbour in its entirety, we inspected each menu at every restaurant. We settled on a smaller place called I’m Angus. The hostess seated us at a table with a lovely view of the harbor. Reflections danced on the water, lighting up its inky color. When the waitress arrived, owing to our extensive prior analysis of the menu, we ordered immediately. I chose the Atlantic salmon with prawns, and Kirk picked the kangaroo fillet (pronounced here with the T, as in “fill-IT”). My entree was exceptional. A drizzling of beurre blanc made the seafood savory and – as our British flatmates would say – just brilliant. Kirk’s kangaroo was also very good, tasting sort of like lamb (in Kirk’s opinion), and sort of like duck (in my opinion.) The jury’s hung on that one. You’ll have to try for yourself.

Ah, but no birthday without a cake right? And no birthday cake without candles. Upon arriving home, I kicked Kirk out of the kitchen so I could bake. With forty minutes to wait while it sat in the oven, I had a problem to solve. Not one of my flatmates was a smoker – which I’m not complaining about – but when all you need is a lighter, my goodness it was like trying to find a cupcake at Passover. No matches to be found either, and I wasn’t about to start rubbing sticks together. I quickly called the restaurant. “Are you guys still there?” I asked urgently. “Yeah! Come on down, no worries,” said my co-worker Toyah.

I slipped on my flip-flops and grabbed the key as Kirk click-clicked on his computer.

Jetstar has some cheap flights to Melbourne,” he said from his spot sitting on the bed.

“Oh really? Cool. Cake will be done in about twenty minutes.”

“OK.”

And out I went. Down the elevator, sprinting down the sidewalk. After a short explanation about non-smoking roommates and birthday business to the manager, I procured the lighter we use to light the table candles. “Good luck!” Toyah yelled after me while she stacked chairs. Back the four blocks, up the elevator and into the flat. I slipped off my shoes.

Clickity-click click. “I think I want to invest in real estate in Michigan.”

“Oh ya? Sweet. Cake will be done in a couple minutes.”

“OK.”

After getting it out of the oven and letting it cool for a few, I frosted it. White cake with sprinkles inside, white frosting with more sprinkles on top. I stuck in all twenty-six candles and lit them just outside the bedroom door. Reaching with my free hand into the room, I switched off the light. Slowly, so as not to accidentally let a draft blow out any of the precious candles, I stepped into the room.

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…!” I sang, pretty terribly. But Kirk loved it anyways.

Kirk had his cake. And ate it, we did too. ☼