Popcorn, pie and panties: Corporations say "Happy Birthday!" in delicious and strange ways

There is no purer love than that which exists between a corporation and a person who 1) ages and 2) gives out her email address too freely.

On June 1, my inbox started filling up with birthday offers from companies, many of them with Inland Northwest locations. My actual birthday wasn't until late June, so this gave me plenty of time to come up with a rough birthday-freebie ranking system, one I'm still perfecting.

The free thing should make me feel at least a little bit important. That's critical in my 30s, when birthdays don't matter as much because there aren't a ton of milestones left. To paraphrase essayist Meghan Daum, at this stage of my life, the only thing I'm too young to do is die. And speaking of death, the freebie should not force me to confront my own sense of mortality, at least not any more than just being alive in 2019 does.

With that said, here are some highlights and lowlights:

AMC Theatres gave me a large popcorn. Popcorn at the movies is a simple pleasure that is usually very expensive. Without looking, I estimated this item to be worth somewhere around $40. Even better, the free popcorn was redeemable all month. I like having a little leeway. Even a week or two is better than the deals that require you to redeem your gift within an hour of your exact birth time (looking at you, Starbucks birthday drink). And ordering popcorn does not generally require you to wrestle with your mortality, at least not until the moment when the concession stand worker asks if you'd like to add butter.

The pie slice from Shari's was another welcome treat (I picked Dutch Apple). I can't speak for everyone, but if you're looking for a birthday gift for me, it's hard to go wrong with some type of food. Eating is a very common activity, one I feel like most people are already planning to do on that special day. You don't have to say, "Well, I wasn't planning to require nutrients today, but then I got this email from Red Robin." Red Robin, by the way, offered me a burger or chicken sandwich anytime in June.

I could also redeem the above offers with little more than a phone number or a quick login on my mobile phone. Which is why Ben & Jerry's free ice cream offer felt like a bit of a letdown. Sure, they gave me three weeks to redeem it, but the email's fine print specifically said I had to print out the coupon before taking it in. I do not have a printer. I could have and should have gone to the library and printed it out for a few cents, but I didn't. I'm not sure why; maybe I was too busy digesting all the pie and popcorn and chicken.

All the free food I was getting made exercise seem more critical than usual. And so a few days before my birthday, I tried taking a barre class. It did not go well. I've had middle school PE classes that were less embarrassing, and those happened when I was going through puberty. But apparently the barre studio employees saw more room for progress than I did, because they sent me a very kind email inviting me to take a free class on my "big day," as they put it. And it would have been a big day indeed if I'd taken them up on it, because I'd have died in their barre studio.

But I knew their heart was in the right place, at least. And that brings me to the worst birthday freebie of all: free underwear. Yes, Victoria's Secret tried it. I rarely shop there, yet they still send emails calling me "Angel" way too often. It's too familiar, like a guy on Tinder texting you "Good morning, beautiful" before you've even gone on a single date. I must have signed up for an Angel Card in my 20s and been too tired to cancel it in my 30s.

The email promised "a free panty." I put that in quotes because saying it feels like writing "my pant" when referring to a pair of jeans. It might be technically correct, but it's awkward.

Reader, I did not redeem that birthday freebie. Because I knew they would want me to buy other things while I was there, just like all the other companies on this list. And I was unwilling to do that, but I also didn't want to barge in and announce, "Where's my free panty, singular? It's my birthday!" Trying to find parking at the mall isn't worth that. I'd rather buy my underthings online like a normal person. ♦

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