illustration by Alison Seiffer

Laura Kostelny’s Best Birthday Ever

During which the D Home executive editor angered a photographer, dodged head lice, slurped tomato soup, and fell for a guy in a knight costume.

When you get to be my age, every birthday is a milestone. This last one, especially, I felt was worthy of some pageantry. Maybe a tiara. And definitely a little jousting. And so it happened that on a recent evening, four fair maidens and one lovely lord accompanied me across the dangerous moat (otherwise known as I-35) to the huge castle I’d admired so many times on the way to the airport. That’s right: we went to Medieval Times.

As soon as we arrived, we worked our way through a crowd of hundreds and retrieved our tickets. And paper crowns. Apparently Medieval Times is less dinner theater than World Wrestling Entertainment. You’re expected to cheer for “your” knight, the identity of which is determined by the color of the crown. We were green.

After we admired one another in our crowns, a wench (aka “Heather”) asked if we wanted to purchase pictures. Here’s how that works: you get to play head lice roulette by donning a cape and a crown worn by countless other people while you pose for a picture in front of the green screen. You also get to pay $1 million for the privilege. We said, “Yes, please.”

We didn’t take the photo op as seriously as we should have. Apparently, the photographer trained under Richard Avedon. He was that serious about his job. I never saw him crack a smile, even when photographing people he seemed to like, which was everyone but us. Maybe it was our use of flash photography in an area that prohibited it. Perhaps it was the lovely Richard Pryor-like use of profanity well within range of the ears of small children. Likely, the photographer didn’t care for the fact that I inquired about the incubation time of lice nits.

Whatever the case, if I had any doubts about how much he hated us, those were immediately put to rest when I saw the picture—perhaps the worst picture ever taken. Somehow he managed to capture a homeliness that I thought all five of us girls had long ago outgrown. Worse—and I don’t know how he did it—he made the lovely lord look—how do I put this?—special. Lesson: don’t cross the photographer. That’s how good he is.

After that hit to our self-esteems, we stopped by the bar for a quick boost and then entered the arena. It was darker and cooler than we expected. And it was huge. Hundreds of seats facing a sandy center the size of a football field. And it smelled like animals. I was a kid who couldn’t go to the circus because the eau de animal made me vomit. I wouldn’t say the scent is circus strong, but I’ll put it this way: I stopped thinking about the lice nits long enough to fret about the idea of eating in a stable.

Luckily our waiter, Matthew, was exceptionally handsome, and I wanted him to like me. I slurped tomato soup, sampled the garlic bread, and had a bite of the rib. I know what you’re thinking: what about the turkey leg? Sadly, it was missing from the menu, replaced instead by chicken. There were no utensils, and the “menu” was actually printed on the green napkin, which I wanted for a keepsake. So I just wiped my hands on my jeans.

The show was fine. It really is a huge production, with a script, music, lights, incredible horses, and what looks to be dudes really beating the heck out of one another. But after such a delicious meal, I had to excuse myself to ye olde smoking patio. That’s where I found the falconer taking five—along with his bird buddy. The falcon, wearing a tiny sleep mask, was chained to his arm. We visited for a spell, talking about Renaissance-type issues. He told me that the animals were treated very well. “Better than the humans,” he sniffed. He mentioned having to take a pay cut. And we talked about his dissatisfaction with the company’s health insurance coverage.

After discussing whether Obama can fix any of that, I returned in time to see the black-and-white knight win the competition. We were sad, of course, that our green knight had managed to come in only second—especially after springing for the $1 green pennants. But we got over that as soon as we headed to the common area, where the knights mill around for photo ops and autographs. And here’s the thing: the knights were all pretty hot, but black-and-white knight was gorgeous. Like model gorgeous.

Just to recap: head lice. Angry photographer. Eau de horses. Bankruptcy. Chicken legs. Disgruntled worker. Unrequited love for a guy sporting a knight costume. Best birthday ever.

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