In the Cards

Silly, sappy and sometimes recycled birthday greetings


By Maria Johnson

I just returned from a hunting trip.

I bagged some nice ones: A bear. A chicken. A dog. A couple of old ladies. A handful of little kids.

Yep, if there’s anything more enjoyable than shopping for funny birthday cards, I’d like to know about it.

I buy en masse, hitting several of my favorite racks in a single afternoon and stockpiling the cards in my desk drawer. I hope to avoid the dilemma I’ve faced too many times: Thinking I have the perfect card stashed away, then running to my office before heading out to a birthday celebration, only to find out that — oh, yeah — I gave that card to someone else.

At that point, I have no choice but to bend the sentiments of whatever cards I happen to have, literally writing around the printed messages. “Thank You” for inviting me to your party. “Heartfelt Sympathy” for people who haven’t aged as well as you have. “There’s Nothing Like a Baby Girl,” which is what your parents must have thought on the day you were born.

Even Christmas cards will do. “For God So Loved the World that He Gave His Only Begotten Son,” and much, much later — like, after electricity, but not too much after — you.

Not every birthday requires a card, thank goodness. I usually call my faraway pals for a long chat or text them a GIF — a short, repeating video clip — of something meaningful, like the Seinfeld gang happy dancing or a hamster stuffing cake into its cheeks or Raven Simone chewing gum and shifting her eyes.

In-person gatherings, however, require a card. Especially among women. Showing up to a girlfriend’s birthday party without a card is worse than — showing up to a girlfriend’s birthday gathering without a card.

We like to pass our cards around, so everyone can read them and say, “That’s cute.” Trust me, a sticky note doesn’t cut it, no matter how many exclamation points you put after Happy Birthday!!!!!

So, shopping ahead for cards is smart hedge. If you go the humorous route, there are a few motifs to choose from:

• Young children wearing adult clothing

• Women drinking wine

Old women conversing in talk balloons about memory loss
(see above)

• Animals that appear to have eaten an entire pizza or cake

• Animals wearing adult clothing

And the most popular theme in card-dom: Animals wearing sunglasses.

Recently, I listened to a podcast interview with humorist David Sedaris. The host asked him if he thought any subject was not funny. He said dogs in sunglasses. Which is funny. Because they are. Every animal — except a human — is funnier with sunglasses on. If you don’t believe me, pose your pet with sunglasses on, take a picture and text it to someone in your family. They will text you right back.

I use this tactic to stay in touch with our sons, especially if I know they’re not feeling well. I can text them — “Do you have a fever?” “Should you go to a doctor?” “Hello?”— all-day long. Crickets. But let me send a picture of our long-eared hound in aviators. The response is immediate.

Awww. Haha. Hearts.

At least I know their thumbs are healthy.

Cards with animals in sunglasses — reading glasses and goggles work, too — are safe for everyone, even mothers, and that’s saying a lot because your mom really doesn’t want a card that makes her laugh. She wants a card that says somewhere, under that mountain of unanswered texts, you love her.

Ditto your spouse. Funny is OK. But sincere is better.

My dad got this. He spent a lot of time picking out serious birthday cards. You know, the ones plastered with flowers or sunsets and written in curly script. “On the day you were born …” “I don’t say it often enough …” “Time has a way of . . .” It was pretty sappy stuff, which didn’t mean it wasn’t funny — because my dad insisted that you read his cards aloud. “That’s really good,” he’d say, beaming when you finished.

Sometimes, after you’d read all of your cards, he’d shuffle through the pile, fish out the one he had given you and clear his throat. “Let’s hear this again,” he’d saying, pausing after each line to give it proper dramatic weight.

One year, he gave my mom a card. She read it. He performed the encore. Something sounded familiar.

“Wait,” I said. “Didn’t you give her that one last year?”

He nodded yes.

“You bought the same card again?”

“No,” he said with a slight wag of the head.

“You pocketed last year’s card and re-gifted it just now?”

He nodded again, clearly pleased with himself. “I didn’t think I could find one that said it better.”

He was grinning as he slid the card into his lap.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Send comments — or images of animals wearing sunglasses — to

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