You work down at the nickel arcade. You tear it up on Q*bert although you've never paid, because that's the perk of the place you work: you've got the skeleton key card to all of the machines.

I met you at the bike rack outside. You told me about your brother's stunt with formaldahyde and some vegetable blend. You're a friend of a friend. You were fresh into town and yet you never did strike me as green.

The arcade pays you minimum wage but everybody knows you were born for the stage, in a bright green suit and some flamboyant boots, for your parents to cheer on some Connecticut road. I don't think I know your real name. Ever since you moved here they call you "Anthony Flame," but it's no big deal because names, they reveal much less than what a person is actually owed.

At SE 35th and Belmont you looked out at the cars shuttling east and west below the streetlights on pavement black as tar. You wondered, "Am I destined forever to run?" I have asked myself that question, too. You're not the only the one.

You traded me some nickels for dimes. We came to see the movie and we bypassed the line — we entered through the back as the loud soundtrack played some lame jam that all the rest thought was sweet.

You told me about some cards you'd received. You expressed your satisfaction and told me how relieved that you felt to be gone, far away from the lawn where you played as a child with all the kids from the neighboring streets. I wondered how you'd stayed so long, because in my own experience, influenced by some songs, I left my hometown before age twenty rolled around for a place by the sea where the salt water flowed.

I imagined all your family back east and I pictured them gathered for a big birthday feast, but they were all far away on that first birthday which you spent ten states from that Connecticut road.

At SE 34th and Belmont you pointed at the stars, shining faintly up above the streetlights, light-years from where we are. You admitted, "Sometimes I think I'll never find my home."

To which I responded softly, "Tony, you are not alone."


Lyrics submitted by delial

That First Birthday song meanings
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