I just read a survey where any rendition of "Happy Birthday" sung publicly in a restaurant is the last thing customers want in terms of service. I thought I was the only one who prayed to self-destruct every time three strangers in headbands stood over a cake with enough candles to illuminate a landing strip and sang "Happy birthday from Herculonburgers."

Being a shy person who doesn't even have the confidence to search out a restroom by herself, I rank that ritual right up there with a singing telegram rhyming "Firma" with "Erma" and greetings from a male stripper young enough to be my son.I have always regarded birthdays as personal as female surgery. It's important, but celebrating it isn't going to make it less painful.

It's not that I have anything against birthday celebrations. It's just that I had a waitress lean over me one evening after the annual community sing and whisper, "I don't know how old you are, Myrna, but you look good for it." Call me fussy, but I think it's more meaningful when the person extending good wishes knows your name. Otherwise, it's sort of like getting a birthday card addressed to "Occupant."

It has taken a long time for me to get the family to observe my birthdays on a private scale. For years, we lugged all the presents in shopping bags to the restaurant and stored them under our feet during dinner. Right after they torched the cake and sang, it was my turn to open each gift and hold nightgowns up to my chest for the entire dining room to see.

A good birthday for me is when I don't have to bake my own birthday cake. It's having "Entertainment Tonight" announce my age and inadvertently drop 10 years from it. It's having my kids reach over gently and put their hands on mine in a quiet moment just before I untie the ribbon on their present and whisper, "We can't return it. It was on sale." It's going out to dinner and sitting in a nice dark corner while a waiter named Stud snaps open my napkin and puts it in my lap and reads the menu out loud to me.

If I wanted music, I'd dine with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.